Editorial: Let Trump decide who stands on his soapbox

The First Amendment prohibits the federal government abridging one’s free speech, but it does not, as a federal judge has ruled, require anyone to provide the soapbox for that speech.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of New York ruled recently that President Donald Trump may not block Twitter users who criticize him because that violates their right to free speech.

“While we must recognize, and are sensitive to, the president’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him,” the judge said in her 75-page ruling, somewhat exceeding the 140-character limit of Twitter.

Any Twitter user can block people from accessing their online posts and replying to that user and their followers. Trump reportedly has posted 4,000 times on his personal @realDonaldTrump account to nearly 32 million followers. How that cacophony constitutes a public forum in which anyone can be heard strains credulity. But why should the president be obligated to give someone else unfettered access to those who have agreed to follow him?

The president should be treated no differently on his personal @realDonaldTrump account. His official presidential Twitter account, @POTUS — and why there is one of those is a mystery to us — is another matter entirely. He certainly may not block people from commenting on their own social media apps, but he is hardly obligated to accommodate anyone who wants to glom onto his personal Twitter account and use it as platform for their views. It is his soapbox. Create your own.

But the judge said Trump could not block people from following him on Twitter just because they had posted comments to which he objected, because that amounted to “viewpoint discrimination” by a public official in a public forum.

As Ronald Reagan once said: “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!”

If Trump were to make a televised speech from the Oval Office, should the networks be required to keep the cameras rolling while any clown with a rant can piggyback on the speech by dashing up to the microphone? 

It is like freedom of the press, which belongs to anyone who owns one.

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.

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Newspaper column: Being ‘green’ is easy, ignore facts

If you thought the “green movement” was more about self-righteous politics than clear-headed science, here are two tales that prove the point.

In Arizona a petition is being circulated in an effort to get on the ballot an initiative called the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment. This would require 50 percent of the electricity generated in the state to come from renewable sources by 2030.

The petition states: “The Amendment defines renewable energy sources to include solar, wind, small-scale hydropower, and other sources that are replaced rapidly by a natural, ongoing process (excluding nuclear or fossil fuel). Distributed renewable energy sources, like rooftop solar, must comprise at least 10% of utilities’ annual retail sales of electricity by 2030.”

To get on the November ballot petitioners must gather nearly 226,000 signatures by July 5.

If the measure passes it would necessitate the closure of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix, which currently provides about 35 percent of the state’s electricity, even though it produces no carbon emissions.

If the state were to achieve the goal of 50 percent of its power coming from mostly solar and wind, both of which are intermittent, there would be no room on the grid for Palo Verde’s power, because reactors can’t be quickly turned off and on — it takes weeks of preparation.

“We would have to shut Palo Verde down during the day every day,” one plant official was quoted as saying by Cronkite News. “But that’s not how nuclear plants really work. Nuclear plants can’t just be shut down and then started up again.”

The most likely source of rapid start-up generation would be natural gas, which produces carbon emissions, especially when frequently idling.

Adding wind and solar to the power grid could increase the carbon dioxide output.

Retired electrical engineer Kent Hawkins wrote in February 2010 that “the introduction of wind power into an electricity system increases the fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions beyond levels that would have occurred using efficient gas plants alone as the providers of electricity equivalent” to the wind generated power.

This is because every kilowatt-hour of intermittent electricity introduced into the grid must be backed up by a reliable fossil-fuel generator. When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, the demand for electricity remains.

Starting and stopping natural gas-fired generators is inefficient, comparable to operating a car in stop and go traffic instead of steady and efficient on the open highway. Just like the car, the fuel consumption can double, along with the carbon emissions, negating any presumed carbon savings by using solar or wind.

Opponents of the measure say it will drive up power bills in the state. Proponents argue long-term benefits of solar power and reducing nuclear waste offset any immediate cost spike.

Meanwhile, in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced plans to build $6 billion worth of offshore wind turbines while shutting down the nuclear-powered, emission-free Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, N.Y.

Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, explained in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that the wind turbines will produce only 60 percent as much power as the nuclear plant being closed.

How will this gap be covered? You guessed it, natural gas.

“The irony here is colossal. Mr. Cuomo, who banned hydraulic fracturing despite the economic boon it has created in neighboring Pennsylvania, and who has repeatedly blocked construction of pipelines, is making New York even more dependent on natural gas, which will increase its carbon emissions,” Bryce writes. “At the same time, he has mandated offshore wind projects that will force New Yorkers to pay more for their electricity, even though the state already has some of the nation’s highest electricity prices.”

This past week NV Energy announced plans to contract to build six new solar power projects at a cost of $2 billion and double the state’s renewable energy capacity, but only if voters reject the Energy Choice Initiative on the November ballot that would end the company’s monopoly in most of the state and allow competition. No mention was made of how this might impact power bills.

In all three states emissions would likely increase, as well as power bills.

Being green is a state of mind. Just never let the facts get in the way.

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.

Palo Vere nuclear plant

We are still waiting for the voice of Nevada voters to be heard — 22 years and counting

Facebook has this algorithm that pops up something you’ve shared online in the past and asks if you’d like to repost it. It might a cute pix of your dog or a vacation remembrance.

This time it turned out to be a reminder that the will of the voters of Nevada had been ignored for 16 years. It was a link to a blog based on a column that appeared in the Battle Born Media newspapers. Oh yes, it was first posted in February 2012, six years ago, so now the will of the Nevada voters has been ignored for 22 years.

Here is the column appeared in the newspapers but has long since disappeared into the ether:

By Thomas Mitchell

This is not federalism. It is feudalism.

As most Nevadans know, the federal government holds sway over somewhere between 83 and 92 percent of the land in this state, depending on which official government source you cite. That is the highest percentage of any state in the union, including Alaska.

This is the result of something known as a Disclaimer Clause included in the statehood act admitting Nevada as a state. As a condition of entry into the union, the state was required to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”

The federal government, not the state, controls the land known as Mount Wilson. (Pix by Jo Mitchell)

Putting aside the extortionate nature of the demand and that it was agreed to under duress and that it encumbered generations not yet born, nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government granted an enumerated power to deny any state sovereignty over its own lands. Even sharecroppers have more rights than that.

Over the years it has been unsuccessfully argued that the Disclaimer Clause violates the spirit and letter of the Equal Footing Doctrine under which every new state admitted to the union does so under the same conditions as the 13 original states.

On Oct. 31, 1864, the president proclaimed:

“Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by the act of congress aforesaid, do hereby declare and proclaim that the said State of Nevada is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.”

In fact, in 1911 the U.S. Supreme Court in Coyle v. Smith opined, “No prior decision of this court sanctions the claim that Congress, in admitting a new State, can impose conditions in the enabling act, the acceptance whereof will deprive the State when admitted of any attribute of power essential to its equality with the other States.”

That seems clear enough, but it has been roundly ignored.

Grazing rights are routinely canceled for arbitrary reasons. Roads are closed in order to protect some minnow or bug no matter how much it inconveniences the residents. Permission to obtain rights of way and mining permits languish for decades in the federal bureaucracy. All should be responsibilities of the state of Nevada.

It is estimated that 13 Western states forgo $4.2 billion a year in property taxes due to the vast holdings of untaxed land by the federal government.

In 1993 Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver wrote a lengthy letter to the governor and the various heads of the federal agencies controlling public land in the state. He convincingly argued:

“The people of the Nevada Territory had no authority to pass this act. Research has shown that first, the people of the Territory of Nevada had to give up all their ‘interest’ in the unappropriated lands of the Nevada territory to the Congress of the United States so Congress could pass said lands to the State of Nevada upon acceptance of Nevada into the Union. Then Nevada would become a free sovereign state as the original thirteen states relating to land.”

What many have forgotten is that in 1996 the citizens of Nevada voted to change the Nevada Constitution and strike the Disclaimer Clause. It passed with more than 56 percent of the votes.

Ballot Question 4 read simply: “Shall the Territorial Ordinance of the Nevada Constitution be amended to remove the disclaimer of the state’s interest in the unappropriated public land?” Yes or no.

Nearly 16 long years later, the state Constitution still contains a footnote explaining that the amendment was “proposed and passed by the 1993 legislature; agreed to and passed by the 1995 legislature; and approved and ratified by the people at the 1996 general election, effective on the date Congress consents to amendment or a legal determination is made that such consent is not necessary.”

Congress has not consented. There has been no legal determination.

Speaking of feudalism, the right to petition for redress of grievances was first embodied in the Magna Carta in 1215.

The Founders thought this so fundamental they included it in the First Amendment as one of five key rights delineated there.

For the voters of Nevada, this right has not been denied, just simply ignored.

In the subsequent blog I noted that I had emailed the office of Gov. Brian Sandoval and asked what he would do, if anything, to address the vote of the citizens of Nevada taken nearly 16 years earlier, but roundly ignored ever since.

I wrote, “I’ve had no reply yet. Just like the voters. I wonder if I will still be waiting 16 years hence.”

Well, it has been six years, only 10 more to go.

YouTube video posted with the blog six years ago:

 

 

Editorial: Nevada challenges California’s sanctuary cities

This past summer Nevada joined with other states in challenging a California federal judge’s decision to block President Trump’s executive order that would deny some federal funding for sanctuary cities, saying that such cities near Nevada pose a threat to public safety.

The judge sided with Santa Clara County, the city of San Francisco and other jurisdictions who argued that taking away federal funds from cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement could be unconstitutional.

With the case now going to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt has again joined with other attorneys general to file a friend-of-the-court brief.

“It is common sense that dangerous felons should not be released into neighborhoods, and that law enforcement must work together for public safety,” Laxalt was quoted as saying in a press release announcing the filing. “Sanctuary cities in California pose a danger to neighboring states like Nevada by making it easier for those not lawfully in this country and with violent criminal histories to evade law enforcement and travel out of state. What’s more, these cities undermine the rule of law and prevent cooperation between federal and local officials.”

The filing points out that one of the states seeking to overturn the judge’s ruling, West Virginia, is near Baltimore, which has adopted sanctuary city policies and is the source of illegal drugs that spill into West Virginia. “Sanctuary policies deprive jurisdictions of important tools that could assist with preventing such out-of-state drug trafficking,” the brief argues.

Days after taking office President Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to deny certain federal funding to cities and jurisdictions that “willfully refuse” to comply with federal immigration laws, but a federal judge blocked the order.

The current brief states, “Sanctuary jurisdictions can cause harm to neighboring States by making it easier for people who are not lawfully in this country and have committed civil or criminal offenses to evade law enforcement and travel out-of-state.”

The brief also counters the argument that denying federal funds for failing to voluntarily cooperate in immigration law enforcement is unconstitutional by pointing out the case of South Dakota v. Dole. In that case the Supreme Court held that it is constitutional for Congress to withhold federal funds from states that failed to raise the legal drinking age to 21.

The brief also notes this issue is not just an executive order by the president but is merely an instruction to enforce the law as passed by Congress.

“The Tenth Amendment prohibits the federal government from commandeering States by forcing them to administer a federal regulatory regime or conscripting state officers to do the same,” the brief explains. “But that is not what Congress did. Rather, the Order provides States with voluntary inducements to comply with federal law. And for its part, the Act simply displaces or preempts state laws that prohibit localities or local law enforcement officials from voluntarily communicating with federal officials, with a goal to further the comprehensive federal immigration regime. Congress thus acted within its enumerated powers and under the Supremacy Clause to preempt state laws that stand as obstacles to the creation of this uniform policy.”

Laxalt notes that all 17 currently elected county sheriffs have consistently opposed sanctuary-city policies. “Today, in the vast majority of cases, an individual must be arrested for committing a crime and booked into a jail or detention facility before Nevada law enforcement agencies check whether the individual is sought by federal immigration authorities and, if so, alert those federal authorities. Sanctuary-city policies that prohibit this communication allow violent offenders to be released back into the community,” his press release states.

We appreciate the attorney general sticking up for the rule of law and the safety of Nevadans.

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.

Lisa Benson cartoon

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.

Editorial: Good riddance to Clean Power Plan

President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has pulled the plug on the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which called for power plants in every state to reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 — a not so thinly veiled plan to destroy the coal industry.

It was a senseless and futile gesture that would have cost Americans dearly while doing nearly nothing to protect the planet from global warming.

The U.S. Supreme Court had already blocked enforcement of the plan after 29 states filed suit saying the plan violated the law and the concept of federalism. Nevada filed an amicus brief with the court agreeing with those claims.

According to a Heritage Foundation report, Obama’s plan by 2030 would have cost an annual average employment shortfall of nearly 300,000 jobs with a peak employment shortfall of more than 1 million jobs. It also would have created a loss of more than $2.5 trillion (inflation-adjusted) in aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) and reduced total income per capita by more than $7,000 (inflation-adjusted).

According to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the EPA proposal would increase the price of electricity in Nevada an average of 18 percent between 2020 and 2029.

Nevada’s friend-of-the-court brief noted, “EPA’s expensive economic experiment, imposed by fiat, will increase electricity prices for consumers and may well compromise the reliability of electric power service. The best estimates of how much prices will rise, performed by the NERA (National Economic Research Associates) economic consulting group, projects increases of as much as 14 percent per year costing Americans as much as $79 billion in present dollars.”

Although Obama’s EPA administrator Gina McCarthy insisted those costs were well worth it in order to save the planet, Obama’s own former Assistant Secretary of Energy Charles McConnell said at a congressional hearing in 2016, “The Clean Power Plan has been falsely sold as impactful environmental regulation when it is really an attempt by our primary federal environmental regulator to take over state and federal regulation of energy.”

McConnell told the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology that he estimated the plan would only reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 0.2 percent, and the rule would only reduce projected warming by 1/100th a degree Celsius and reduce projected sea level rise by 1/100 of an inch.

“We can now assess whether further regulatory action is warranted, and, if so, what is the most appropriate path forward, consistent with the Clean Air Act and principles of cooperative federalism,” said EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in announcing the rescinding of the Clean Power Plan. The previous rule, he added, “ignored states’ concerns and eroded long-standing and important partnerships that are a necessary part of achieving positive environmental outcomes.”

The change will not affect Nevada as much as other states since the state’s lawmakers, at the behest of former Sen. Harry Reid, have already dictated that all coal-fired plants in the state be shuttered prematurely and the ratepayers pick up the tab. The move is expected to destroy 2,630 jobs by 2020 and cut real disposable income by $226 million per year, according to one study.

The EPA rule change should be a boon to the national economy for years to come, and is a welcome breath of regulatory fresh air, so the speak.

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.