Editorial: Give Nevadans a voice in land use

Gold Butte (R-J photo)

Gold Butte (R-J photo)

Nevada’s two remaining Republican representatives in Washington have joined forces to introduce legislation that would prevent future presidents from usurping Nevada land without first consulting Nevadans.

This past week Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents Northern Nevada, introduced the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act of 2017 (H.R. 243, S. 22). If passed, it would block executive fiats designating or expanding national monuments without congressional approval or local support, they say.

In just more than a year President Obama has unilaterally declared off-limits to productive economic uses 1 million acres of Nevada land — first the 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument in Lincoln and Nye counties and in recent weeks the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in rural northeast Clark County. Basin and Range alone is larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Obama used the authority granted him by the Antiquities Act of 1906. Though more recent legislation has required environmental reviews and public comments, none was undertaken.

The legislation introduced by Heller and Amodei is terse and to the point. It basically piggybacks onto current law that reads: “No extension or establishment of national monuments in Wyoming may be undertaken except by express authorization of Congress.” The current proposal would amend this by simply adding the phrase “or Nevada” after the word Wyoming.

“Whether you agree with our proposals or not, I have always supported a public and transparent process which includes input from interest groups, local communities, and elected representatives,” Congressman Amodei was quoted as saying in a press release announcing the legislation. “Unlike all of our Nevada lands bills that allow stakeholders an opportunity to voice their concerns and ultimately reach a consensus agreement that achieves bipartisan support, the Obama administration has repeatedly bypassed Congress and local input. I continue to be amazed by the fact that some people hug unilateral, non-transparent monument designations, while at the same time, protesting vehemently over the introduction and public discussion of congressional lands bills proposals. In contrast to the last eight years of this administration’s one-sided approach on major land management decisions in Nevada, our bill simply ensures local stakeholders have a seat at the table going forward.”

Sen. Heller was quoted in that press release as saying, “Late last month, without even having a say in the matter, Nevadans witnessed the executive branch quickly lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of local, public land with an effortless stroke of the pen. No matter which political party is occupying the White House, these types of unilateral federal land grabs by the executive branch should not be allowed. Public input and local support remain critical to the decision-making process of federal land designations. This legislation prevents actions like last month’s Gold Butte land grab from occurring without input from Congress and local officials. I’d like to thank Congressman Amodei for his partnership on this bill.”

One hurdle for this proposal may be that all four of Nevada’s current Democratic members of the Washington delegation expressed support for Obama’s Gold Butte land grab.

Whatever one’s opinion on the end result, wouldn’t it be preferable for Nevadans to have a say in how the land here is used, instead of having it crammed down our throats?

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: Education savings accounts would increase public school funds

Nevada’s education savings account (ESA) law is in dire straits thanks to a convoluted state Supreme Court ruling that said ESAs are constitutional but the funding mechanism devised by lawmakers was not and the fact that this year’s roster of lawmakers, who could fix that funding flaw, includes a majority of Democrats in both the Assembly and state Senate. Not a single Democrat voted for the ESA law in 2015.

Disturbingly, the argument being foisted by the opponents of ESAs is a bald-faced lie.

The opponents posit that letting parents keep a small portion of their tax money to allow them to take their children out of public schools and spend that money on private schooling, tutoring or even home schooling reduces the funds to support public education. In reality, the exact opposite is the case. Per pupil funding would actually increase.

Under the law, parents who opt out of sending their children to public schools would be given an education savings account that would equal a portion of the statewide average the state spends per public school pupil, currently that is about $5,700. Low-income parents and parents with special needs children would get 100 percent of that amount, while all others would get 90 percent, or about $5,100 currently.

Thus far, about 8,000 families have applied for ESAs.

This past month ESA opponents sent a letter to state Attorney General Adam Laxalt and state Treasurer Dan Schwartz demanding Schwartz stop accepting applications for ESAs while the law is in limbo.

In an accompanying press release, UNLV law professor Sylvia Lazos, policy director for Educate Nevada Now, one of the litigants that challenged the ESA law, declared, “It’s time for Treasurer Schwartz to face the fact that ESA vouchers were declared unconstitutional because they would have drained tens of millions of dollars from Nevada’s public schools, with Clark County schools losing over $30 million in the first year alone. By blocking this program, we’ve prevented further cuts to public school budgets, which would have increased class sizes and reduced essential programs for students, including English language learners and other students in need of additional supports.”

The problem with this is that the ESAs are earmarked only to state funding — and only 90 percent of that in the vast majority of cases — and have no impact whatsoever on public school funds derived from local taxes and federal revenue.

According to National Education Association’s most recent figures, Nevada public schools spend nearly $9,000 per pupil on average. So, for every pupil who takes the $5,100 savings account, there is about $3,900 more in funding for public education for those who remain — in less crowded classrooms.

In fact, the impact is far greater in many rural counties where the ratio of local funding is even greater due to mining related tax revenue and other factors. According to data for fiscal year 2014 provided to lawmakers by the Legislative Counsel Bureau, local revenue accounts for more than 80 percent of public school funding in Eureka, Humboldt and Lander counties, while the state provides only 10 percent or less.

The state provides about half or more of the K-12 funding in Churchill, Lincoln, Lyon, Mineral, Nye, Pershing and White Pine. Statewide, federal revenue accounts for more than 9 percent of funding.

This discrepancy is even more pronounced when one takes into account that state funding for each school district is adjusted to account for lower local revenue and higher costs, such as transportation in rural areas.

The distributive school account approved in 2015, for example, sets aside for Esmeralda County $24,331 per pupil; Lincoln, $10,534; White Pine, $7,799; Eureka, $9,633; Mineral, $8,980; Clark $5,512; but Lander gets only $4,374.

But the education savings account in each of those counties is still only 90 percent of the statewide average, or $5,100.

Thus, when public schools have fewer pupils to teach, transport and feed, there is more money for those remaining.

So, when lawmakers meet in Carson City in the coming weeks they should take the opportunity to increase K-12 per pupil funding by finding a constitutional funding source for education savings accounts.

It is simple math.

countyskuls

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.

 

How do you blackmail someone who brags about their peccadilloes?

So, according to that much-maligned 35-page opposition research posted online by BuzzFeed, Russian intelligence agents attempted to gather “kompromat” (compromising material) on both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton by eavesdropping and spying on both of them during travels to Russia and elsewhere.

While Russians certainly are and were capable of attempting to find material that could be used to blackmail Trump and Clinton, one must wonder about the utility of any such endeavor, since neither has ever been embarrassed about anything they have ever done or said — from bimbo eruptions to boasts about crotch grabbing.

Blackmail would be futile.

trumpblackmail

 

What is the meaning of the newspaper motto: All the News That’s Fit to Print?

Put on your pressman’s newspaper hat and pretend that you are the editor. What would you do?

On a Tuesday afternoon major news organizations were reporting that both President Obama and President-elect Trump had been briefed on an “unsubstantiated” report that Russia had collected “compromising and salacious personal information” on Trump. The document even contained verifiable errors.

The New York Times was reporting Tuesday afternoon, “The material was not corroborated, and The New York Times has not been able to confirm the claims. But intelligence agencies considered it so potentially explosive that they decided Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump and congressional leaders needed to be told about it and informed that the agencies were actively investigating it.”

BuzzFeed posted the 35-page document that reportedly was compiled by a person who claiming to be a former British intelligence official, while noting, “The allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors.”

What is the difference between this and a rumor?

The salacious aspect included claims Trump hired prostitutes at Russian hotels. The compromising aspect involved efforts to financially entice and entangle him for the purposes of blackmail. The Kremlin denied it.

For some reason the Las Vegas morning newspaper decided to not print anything about this report, but it did post online at 9:38 p.m., well before what should be its print deadline, an AP account that included a Trump tweet calling the whole account: “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”

The New York Times has a motto: All the News That’s Fit to Print. It’s editors saw fit to print, but for some reason the editors at the Las Vegas newspaper did not. Or did they simply fumble the ball?

As usual Trump went on a Twitter rampage. Here are the latest posts as they appear on his feed:

trumpsextwit

Whether the salacious stuff is worthy of reporting is a good question for an ethic debate, but Trump’s strained ties with the intelligence community should not be ignored.

According to the AP account:

The report had been circulating in Washington for months. In October, former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wrote the FBI asking the bureau to publicly disclose what it knew about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Reid was aware of the dossier before he wrote the letter, according to a person knowledgeable about the subject who spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Trump just held a press conference. Here is a clip on this topic:

 

When entertainment is political and politics try to be entertaining

 

I guess the line between politics and entertainment has been obliterated — along with any pretext of showing respect for people.

An actor can become president. A reality TV performer can become president. An actress can use an award acceptance speech to play politics.

At least Meryl Streep delivered her own speech instead of like Marlon Brando, who four decades ago sent an American Indian to turn down his Oscar statue and deliver a tirade about the treatment of American Indians.

“It sank its hooks in my heart,” Streep said at the Golden Globes ceremony Sunday. “Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back.”

The sad part is that the target of this criticism is so thin-skinned he had to launch a fusillade of Twitter rejoinders in the middle of the night.

trump1 

trump2

trump3

Trump now claims he does not know what the reporter in question looks like and was simply imitating someone groveling. Videos have been posted online showing him mocking others for so-called groveling.

“Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years,” says the reporter in question, Serge Kovaleski. “I’ve interviewed him in his office,” he added. “I’ve talked to him at press conferences. All in all, I would say around a dozen times, I’ve interacted with him as a reporter while I was at The Daily News.”

“Trump 2016” posted a video claiming to prove his point. You be the judge:

Serge Kovaleski

Serge Kovaleski

 

Of course, Trump could not resist calling Streep an over-rated actress. That’s just his way.

Columnist takes aim at target-rich topic

It is good to see NPRI alum-turned-R-J-columnist Victor Joecks take on one of the false shibboleths of the progressives by pointing out that ever expanding pre-K education is little more than a hugely expensive futile gesture.

The gist of the piece:

In the past 50 years, government-funded pre-K programs have grown considerably — and so has our understanding of their impact. The federal government started the Head Start program in 1965 to

Joecks

Joecks

help improve the school readiness of low-income children. We have since spent more than $180 billion on this program.

In 2012, the federal government released the results of a random-assignment study of 5,000 Head Start participants. The Heritage Foundation notes that the scientifically rigorous examination found “no statistically measurable effects on any measure of cognitive ability, including reading, language, and math.”

Futile education programs could be fertile ground for Joecks.

After all, Nevada high school students are dead last in the nation in college preparedness, according to the ACT test scores. That means 90 percent of Nevada students failed to achieve benchmark scores on all four of the test categories — English, math, reading and science. ACT reports that this compares to 34 percent nationally, who failed to pass any of the tests.

Add this to the recent Education Week’s 2014 Quality Counts report that ranked Nevada K-12 education 51st in the nation, behind every other state and the District of Columbia. Nevada has never ranked higher than 48th.

This despite the fact Nevada since 1990 has spent close to $2.5 billion on class-size reduction in the early grades with nothing to show for it. A 2001 report by the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau found that, while principals, teachers, and parents were very positive in their attitudes toward class-size reduction, achievement data did not produce results. Students in larger classes outperformed those in the smaller classes.

Over the past four decades, according to a Cato Institute analysis, Nevada has increased K-12 public school funding by 80 percent per pupil, adjusted for inflation. During those four decades student test scores have actually fallen slightly.

This past legislative session the governor pushed through nearly a $1 billion dollars more per biennium spending on feel-good education programs that may or may not improve anything. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Editorial: Universal gun background check law unenforceable

Question 1 has been impaled on a Catch-22.

You remember Question 1, don’t you? It was on all the ballots in Nevada and passed with a mere 50.45 percent of the vote, failing in every county except Clark. It requires almost all private sales or transfers of firearms to be cleared by a criminal background check. Failure to comply would result in up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

But Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office has opined that the drafters of Question 1 were too smart for their own good and created a law that cannot, at this time, be enforced, because the federal agency that is specifically required by the law to carry out said background checks refuses to do so.

The ballot summary stated: “The background check would be conducted using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and the federally-licensed dealer would be able to charge a reasonable fee for conducting the background check and facilitating the firearm transfer between unlicensed persons.”

But earlier this month the official in charge of the FBI’s criminal background check system sent the state a letter saying his office would not conduct those background checks because Nevada is one of the many states that has entered into a sort of mutual aid pact in which the state becomes the Point of Contact for background checks. The state Department of Public Safety is given access to the NICS data bank and uses that and its own resources to conduct background checks for firearm sales.

The head of NICS said a state law cannot require a federal agency to expend resources and it will not.

Since the law specifies that background checks must be conducted through the NICS, the Department of Public Safety is prohibited from conducting the background check, the AG opinion states.

“The FBI’s refusal to carry out the central function required by the Act effectuates an unconditional ban, at present, on all private firearm sales or transfers in Nevada,” the opinion concludes. “Criminal conviction, the only method by which the Act may be enforced according to its terms, is the ostensible penalty for selling or transferring a firearm in violation of this unintended ban. As a matter of due process, this makes the Act unenforceable as a criminal law. The Nevada Supreme Court long ago adopted the doctrine that the law does not require impossible acts. When a law imposes a requirement that cannot be performed, a party is relieved of compliance until the obstacle to performance is lifted.”

Catch-22.

The law specifies one and only one method for conducting criminal background checks, thus prohibiting the state from doing so. Therefore, the law is unenforceable.

In his book of the same name this is how Joseph Heller explained Catch-22: A doctor said a certain pilot could be grounded from flying World War II combat missions because he was crazy, but first he would have to ask to be grounded, which would indicate he is sane, because only an insane person would willingly fly dangerous missions.

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind,” Heller wrote. “Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.”

Here is how the AG opinion signed by Bureau Chief Gregory Zunino further explains it: “Here, similarly, while the Act imposes a duty on every Nevadan who seeks to privately sell or transfer a firearm, the Act has also created an obstacle — wholly beyond their control or that of the State itself — that currently presents them from meeting that duty. As a consequence, a law that the voters clearly intended to impose mere conditions upon the private sale or transfer of a firearm now operates as a total ban, clearly at odds with the intent of voters. When criminal penalties are threatened, the doctrine against requiring impossibilities is strengthened by due process and other constitutional guarantees. It is manifestly unjust to criminally penalize someone for failing to perform an act that is impossible to perform.”

We hope this law just disappears down the rabbit hole from whence it came.

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.