Don’t let the door hit you in the behind on the way out, Mr. Smith

Just as I suspected.

John L. Smith

The management of the Las Vegas newspaper is treating the departure of 30-plus-year columnist John L. Smith as if he were an anonymous copyeditor. There is no mention in the paper today, a scheduled column day, of Smith’s Tuesday resignation over being told he could not write about two of the most prominent casino owners in Las Vegas because they had unsuccessfully and frivolously sued him for libel years ago.

They could not even inform their readers that Smith had left the paper to “pursue other opportunities” — the old, frayed, hackneyed standby for departing employees.

This simply shows a total disregard for the paper’s readers. Smith is arguably the most recognized writer in Nevada not named Twain or Laxalt, but the newspaper managers wad him up and toss him out.

The newspaper’s subscribers are just left to speculate and ruminate, while management chews its cud.

our gang

A 1991 photo of R-J editorial board, from left, Thomas Mitchell, managing editor; John L. Smith, general columnist; John Kerr, editorial writer; Rafael Tammariello, editorial page editor; Jon Ralston, political columnist; and seated Sherman Frederick, editor. Kerr had left the paper several years ago but recently returned as editorial page editor. All others are now departed in one manner or another.

 

Mirror, mirror? Who is reflected in this diagnosis?

From The Wall Street Journal’s “Notable and Quotable” comes this clip. Can anyone think of anyone who this describes?:

 

From the Mayo Clinic’s online entry on narcissistic personality disorder:

If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement—and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having “the best” of everything—for instance, the best car, athletic club or medical care.

At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior. Or you may feel depressed and moody because you fall short of perfection. . . .

[The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5] . . . criteria for narcissistic personality disorder include these features:

Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance

Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it

Exaggerating your achievements and talents

Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate . . .

Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner.

One less reason to pick up the paper in the morning

smithletter

John L. Smith has resigned from the newspaper where he has been a columnist more than 30 years.

I was there when he was sued by Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson over books he had written, mentioning them — “Running Scared” and “Sharks in the Desert.” He won in both cases but the Adelson suit bankrupted him.

Good luck, John. In this economy and news business environment, you’ll need it.

According to Politico, the instruction that Smith not write about Adelson came out at Society of Professional Journalists meeting at UNVL Saturday at which the newspaper editor Keith Moyer said it would be conflict of interest for Smith to write about Adelson because of the lawsuit.

 

“I will tell you that John Smith and Sheldon Adelson have some personal — they have a long history, a legal history. Frankly, I personally think it was a conflict for John to write about Sheldon. The fact that he was [writing about Adelson] was a problem. It wasn’t right,” Politico quotes Moyer as saying during the meeting. “As long as I’m editor, John won’t write about Sheldon Adelson.”

Moyer later learned Wynn also had sued Smith unsuccessfully for libel and told him Monday he could not write about Wynn, either.

I wrote in 2008:

In libel law, truth is an absolute defense.

The three-year legal battle waged by Las Vegas casino operator Sheldon Adelson against Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith came to a sudden halt this past week when Adelson agreed to dismiss with prejudice his libel lawsuit over passages in Smith’s book “Sharks in the Desert.” Adelson also will pick up some of Smith’s expenses incurred in defending himself from the libel suit.

Adelson sued over what his attorneys say were false implications in the book that Adelson “was associated with unsavory characters and unsavory activities.”

Adelson originally filed suit in California, where he said he had a residence, and sought $15 million. That was back when he was the third-richest man in America, before his stock in Las Vegas Sands tanked.

After spending what must have been millions on some of the priciest lawyers in legaldom, what could have prompted Adelson to scrap the case? In court on Monday, one of his attorneys offered a feeble explanation that he was satisfied with a settlement reached with the book’s publisher, Barricade Books.

Attorney Kathryn Catherwood told the court one libel judgment was enough and Adelson was satisfied with the $250,000 he had won in a New York bankruptcy court.

She made that statement in bankruptcy court here, where the libel case has landed because Smith filed bankruptcy as a result of his legal expenses and medical bills resulting from his daughter’s continuing fight against brain cancer.

U.S. District Judge Bruce Markell, who had read the New York settlement, later put it in perspective, noting that the $250,000 settlement was last in line behind a number of other creditors, and that Barricade Books wasn’t worth $250,000 “soaking wet.”

What really prompted Adelson to suddenly settle?

As a part of the discovery process while preparing for a scheduled trial in December, Smith’s attorney, Don Campbell, managed to gain access to confidential Gaming Control Board records relating to Adelson’s gaming license. That was a feat of legal skill and audacity accomplished only one other time in history.

Had the case gone to trial, Campbell could have placed those documents in evidence, possibly showing that what Smith had written in his book was substantially correct, even though he admittedly did make a couple of mistakes.

Since the trial has been called off, those records remain confidential.

Campbell said in court that Adelson would have pursued the case “to the end of the Earth” but that since he obtained those gaming records Adelson now “wants to call it off and walk away.”

At several points during the hearing, Judge Markell raised doubts about the strength of the libel lawsuit, specifically questioning Adelson’s attorneys about the lack of any evidence of malice. In libel cases brought by public figures such as Adelson, not only must the statements in question be false, but they must be made either with malice or with reckless disregard for the truth.

“I have not seen any evidence that Mr. Smith acted with malice,” the judge said.

Markell also noted that as a journalist and author, Smith’s reputation is a valuable asset. He made it clear several times, despite the settlement by the book publisher, that Smith is the “prevailing party” in this case and that any characterization to the contrary by Adelson might itself be defamatory.

And Campbell noted that the settlement “deprives Mr. Smith of the opportunity to clear his name at trial.”

In an affidavit filed in response to Adelson’s motion to dismiss the case, Campbell wrote that the “most compelling reason for Adelson’s dramatic desire to dismiss was unquestionably the fact that Smith was about to acquire evidence from the Gaming Control Board which would, by any reasonable analysis, lend itself to thoroughly impeaching critical portions of Mr. Adelson’s sworn testimony as it related to his personal and business history. …

“In short, Adelson’s claims were about to be exposed for what they were … false and vindictive.”

After all the money that’s been spent on this litigation, Adelson’s attorneys are quibbling over the amount of the expenses. What brass.

The truth may not always set you free, but it is a very good libel defense.

What is in those Gaming Control Board records, anyway? Why should background information about a gaming licensee be kept from the citizens and taxpayers of Nevada?

_______

As for the Wynn suit, it began as a libel suit, not over the book, but over a catalogue advertisement that teased by saying the book ”details why a confidential Scotland Yard report calls Wynn a front man for the Genovese crime family.”

But the book itself reported that the New Scotland Yard report was riddled with errors and was “not entirely accurate” and was politically motivated and largely based on investigative efforts of U.S. authorities who did not reach the same conclusion. The report was largely an excuse to block an American company form opening a gambling operation in Great Britain.

In 2001 the Nevada Supreme Court rejected a $3.2 million libel judgment awarded to Wynn because the lower court judge failed to properly instruct the jury. In order for a public figure to win a libel case it must be shown that the writer was malicious or reckless, and in order to do that it must be shown the writer harbored “serious doubt.” The jury instruction failed to use the word “serious.”

The suit was settled in 2004. The terms were not disclosed. Smith had been dropped from the suit because he did not write the book advertisement.

 

They dart horses, don’t they

Wild horses in Nevada (R-J file photo)

When you are a lawyer, the solution to every problem is a lawsuit.

Gov. Brian Sandoval put out a press release today saying he plans to pursue legal action to force the federal government to fund wild horse population control.

The statement said the Bureau of Land Management is already telling ranchers they may face a reduction in grazing permits due to the overpopulation, meaning there will be major economic impact for the state.

“The BLM has underfunded the wild horse program for years and as a result, the livelihood of our local economies is now being threatened. For too long, Nevada has been forced to compensate for the federal government’s inability to manage these growing populations without the appropriate resources,” the release quotes the governor as saying. “If the Department of the Interior refuses to adequately fund this program, the State will pursue all legal options to protect our local producers and communities.”

In response Attorney General Adam Laxalt sent out a statement saying, “I remain committed to defending our state, counties and local economies from actions by the federal government that endanger our future.”

The governor’s press release notes that the problem is particularly severe in southeast Elko County, where there are more than 5,000 wild horses — 350 percent more than the range can sustain appropriately.

Jim Barbee, director of the Nevada Department of Agriculture  was quoted as saying, “Livestock producers could see anywhere from 25 to 100 percent grazing reductions on their allotments. Elko County could see an estimated $1.8 million loss as a result of the decision, negatively impacting jobs and the economy on a local and state level.”

Also today the Las Vegas newspaper has an AP report on public-private efforts near Virginia City to dart horses with a contraceptive. The wild horse lovers call this a commonsense approach that is less expensive than rounding up the horses and putting them in pens for the rest of their lives.

Even though the wild horse law passed in 1971 specifically states, “The Secretary (of Interior) shall cause additional excess wild free roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist to be destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible,” congressional budgets since 2009 have stipulated that no funds are to used “for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros …”

Perhaps it is time to think outside the box.

Since wild horses are an invasive species, perhaps Nevada should take a page from Louisiana’s playbook.

When the swamps were being overrun by non-native nutria — basically giant rats — they came up with the idea that they could reduce the population and make a few bucks, too, by convincing Yankees that nutria is a culinary delicacy. If you can convince people to eat crawfish, basically mudbugs, why not nutria?

Nevada could use the slogan: “Not the other red meat, but the really red meat.”

Nutria

 

Orwell was right: Control the words, control the thoughts

When you control the language, you are closer to controlling the argument.

The press lexicon all across the state of Nevada has settled on calling Republicans who voted in the 2015 legislative session for Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $1.5 billion tax hike — at least it now $1.5 billion instead of $1.1 billion as it was wrongly called for so long — “moderate” and “traditional” Republicans, while those who are challenging them in the GOP primary in June are “conservative” Republicans, which I thought was a redundancy.

What is moderate or traditional about passing the largest tax increase in state history, while doing absolutely nothing to rein in spending, not even repealing the prevailing wage law that jacks up the price of every public works project in the state by as much as 40 percent, as well as no public pension or collective bargaining reforms?

George Orwell wrote in 1946:

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous …

Sadly, the mislabeling is not the only problem, as one of the “moderate” Republicans notes in today’s newspaper account of this issue, “But when you go knock on doors, few souls even know that there was a tax vote or that taxes had been increased at any level.”

Both sides of the GOP split are predicting primary victories, but the Democrats are claiming they will regain a majority of the Assembly in November, making it all for naught.

Republican Assemblyman Brent Jones, said to be leading a group of primary challenges to Republicans who supported tax hikes. (R-J file photo)

A little musical interlude

Bela Fleck, on banjo, and Chick Corea, on piano.

Now, for something completely apolitical.

Saw Chick Corea and Bela Fleck again last night at the Smith Center in Reynolds Hall. (Shouldn’t the people who helped earn the money that paid for it get a discount?)

First saw them perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September, and had to catch them again.

It is an unexpected blend of a 74-year-old jazz pianist, Corea, and a 57-year-old bluegrass banjo player, Fleck. Corea is known for his strange innovations. Some have been a bit too strange for my tastes, but this duet works surprisingly well.

The stage is empty except for a huge piano and its tennis shoe-wearing diminutive player and stooped-over, mop-haired banjo player. Some tunes are duels — though out-gunned 88 keys to four strings, Fleck holds his own. Some tunes are so well blended that if you close your eyes you can’t always tell which notes are coming from the piano and which from the banjo.

They play each other’s compositions, as well as the classics of more than one variety.

After playing one classical tune, Corea asks the audience to name the composer, and one astute listener correctly shouts out Scarlatti, a 17th century composer of more than 500 sonatas.

After playing one of Corea’s tunes, “Continuance,” which was not exactly written for the banjo, Fleck announces that he gets his revenge by polling the bluegrass community, who chose for the duet Bill Monroe’s bluegrass classic “Jerusalem Ridge.”

Here is a sampling from their second album:

 

 

 

 

Editorial: Let the political parties choose their candidates without the state’s interference

A change in election law in the 2015 Legislature has some claiming they are being disenfranchised.

Previously, when the state-run Democratic and Republican primaries resulted in only one of the two major parties having contested primaries, the top two vote earners in the contested primary would advance to the November General Election or, if only two candidates sought a seat, there would be no primary and both would be on the November ballot.

But Senate Bill 499 changed the law to now read: “If a major political party has two or more candidates for a particular office, the person who receives the highest number of votes at the primary election must be declared the nominee of that major political party for the office.”

Thus, for example, if there are only Republicans seeking an office, one of them is the party nominee and appears on the ballot in November, leaving Democrats and independents and those of the minor parties in the district little choice save the one Republican Party members handed them.

The bill also moved back the deadline for independent and minor party candidates to qualify for the General Election from June to July, so a Democrat could still file as an independent but not as a nominee of the party.

In one state Senate race and three Assembly races there are candidates on the June 14 primary for only one of the two major political parties, according to press accounts.

The change in law creates some different dynamics.

Take for example Assembly District 19, which includes Mesquite. Incumbent Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards is being challenged in the primary by Republican Connie Foust. Only 39 percent of the district is Republican.

Edwards has the distinction of voting for most of the $1.4 billion in tax hikes in 2015 before voting against them.

Conceivably Edwards would have a better chance of re-election if he faced Foust in a General Election with Democrats and others also voting rather than in a GOP-only primary.

Foust is thumping on the tax issue in her campaign against Edwards. “The current incumbent broke his promise when he said, ‘Now is not the time to raise taxes’, and then proceeded to vote for tax increases in 26 out of 32 tax bills!” Foust’s campaign website declares.

Similar dynamics could be a factor in other races and alter the outcome of the election.

As originally introduced SB499 was a weird form of open primary. All candidates of all parties would have appeared on a single primary ballot and the top two vote recipients would advance to the general, unless they both were of the same party.

As signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval the gutted bill now just changes minor party and independent candidate filing deadlines and allows only one Democrat or one Republican to advance to November.

This is why some are saying they are being disenfranchised by having limited choices.

Frankly, lawmakers are the last people who should be telling the parties how to choose their candidates. The parties are private entities that should choose their candidates in any way they see fit — privately funded caucuses, primaries, smoke-filled backrooms or “American Idol”-style voting via text message or arm-wrestling competition.

The state doesn’t conduct primaries for the Libertarian, American Independent, Green or Communist parties, why do it for just two?

Not only is the U.S. Constitution silent on political parties, our Founders were actually disdainful of political parties.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789, “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other,” John Adams wrote in 1780. “This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

Let the parties choose their candidates without lawmakers dabbling in the process.

A version of this editorial appeared this past week in many 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. It ran as a column in the Elko Daily Free Press.

Nevada primary voting in 2014 (R-J photo)