Freedom is threatened by rampant and abject ignorance

Here is proof positive that ignorance is hazardous to freedom.

The Freedom Forum’s 2018 First Amendment survey in May and June asked 1,009 Americans to name the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment — only one person could name all five. One out of more than 1,000.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the survey was when knowledge of the First Amendment was compared to a willingness to have the government censor social media online. Fully 63 percent of those who could name not a single freedom agreed the government should censor speech, while 87 percent of those who could name four freedoms disagreed. The curve of ignorance runs counter to the curve of freedom. Knowledge is power and ignorance is hazardous.

This chart shows the just how few are those who would protect our rights to free speech:

That is dangerously close to a majority willing to let government do what the First Amendment says it may not.

For the record, the First Amendment states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

I been writing about this annual survey with considerable angst since at least 2000, though most of the links have long since disappeared into the ether.



Some news folks have no sense of history

Merchandise pulled at Newseum (Newseum pix via Ad Age)

Proprietors of the Newseum in Washington could use a history lesson and a sense of humor.

Over the weekend the Newseum, which is dedicated to commemorating a free press and the First Amendment, pulled merchandise off the shelves that included T-shirts that proclaimed “You Are Very Fake News” and “Alternative Fact — a false statement delivered with deliberate intent to mislead or deceive,” as well as caps that read “Make America Great Again.”

“We made a mistake and we apologize,” Sonya Gavankar, director of public relations for the journalism museum, wrote in a statement emailed to Ad Age. “A free press is an essential part of our democracy and journalists are not the enemy of the people.”

A couple of days earlier, Gavankar had sent an email to Ad Age saying, “As a nonpartisan organization people with differing viewpoints feel comfortable visiting the Newseum, and one of our greatest strengths is that we’re champions not only of a free press, but also of free speech.”

But Twitterdom lit up with profanity-laced criticism, such as: “This is a very bad idea @Newseum — you exist to honor, examine and protect the news media, not embrace the bywords by which others seek to undermine it.” The Newseum caved.

Perhaps someone should explain the term “reappropriation” to those at the Newseum and on Twitter.

That’s when someone calls you a pejorative name, you embrace it. The Brits called Americans Yankees, a term used by the British to refer to Dutch pirates, but Americans proudly adopted it. When people called Southerners red necks, they embraced the term. When the Society of Friends were dubbed Quakers, they latched onto it. Likewise terms like Cavalier, Tory, Whig, Paddy and Methodist.

Reappropriation is a time-honored method of turning the tables on those who taunt you.

Lighten up already. Laugh at those who denigrate you by laughing at yourself.



Front page coverage for futile and senseless gesture?

Admittedly Mondays are slow news days, but why would the morning newspaper give front page coverage to a ballot initiative that has netted only 10 percent of the needed signatures with only three months to go?

Perhaps it is what editors call a brite — an amusing though unimportant or trivial matter. The story even says the chances for the petition being successful are “looking bleak.”

The ballot initiative — The Greater Choice-Greater Voice Statutory Initiative — would end party primary elections altogether and have voters at the General Election in the fall rank their top three candidates. Thus far it has been largely ignored by the media since it was first filed with the Secretary of State in September 2017. Backers — Nevadans for Election Reform PAC — did not get around filing the actual petition until April.

Don’t bother looking for the story on the paper’s website today. That’s because it was inexplicably posted this past Friday afternoon.

The story reports that the initiative is being pushed by a 69-year-old man who switched from being a Republican after three decades to nonpartisan and is now miffed that he can’t vote in either major party primary — duh.

Perhaps one reason signatures are hard to come by is that the petition is 25 pages long.

Also, it ignores the fact that anyone who wishes to actually, you know, vote in a primary election can easily change party affiliation online shortly before the election and then change it again after the primary. That’s practically the same as having open primaries.

Reportedly the measure would save the taxpayers money by eliminating the primary election, but one can only imagine the bewildering  number of names that would subsequently appear on the fall ballot and then having the task of having to rank three different candidates in every race from president to dogcatcher.

By the way, the 600-plus-word newspaper account contained not a single negative comment about this hare-brained initiative.

Here is a cliche-ridden, logic-distorting video posted by the group:





Editorial: Courts are solidifying gun rights

The courts in recent years have been nailing down ever more solidly the right to keep and bear arms.

In the District of Columbia the U.S. Supreme Court struck down restrictive ordinances that required that guns be kept at home disassembled or nonfunctional with a trigger lock mechanism, saying this violated the Second Amendment.

Justice Antonin Scalia opined that the Second Amendment reference to a “militia” is a prefatory clause that does not limit the operative clause of the amendment, which guarantees “an individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.”

In the case of McDonald v. Chicago the high court overruled a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and held that the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense apply to the states. This overturned a Chicago ordinance banning the possession of handguns.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote that rights “fundamental to the Nation’s scheme of ordered liberty” or that are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” are appropriately applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

Now, a panel of the usually reliably liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 2-1, in the case of Young v. Hawaii, that states may not prohibit open carry, though the ruling still lets states require permits for concealed carry.

“But, for better or for worse, the Second Amendment does protect a right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense,” writes Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain. “We would thus flout the Constitution if we were to hold that, ‘in regulating the manner of bearing arms, the authority of [the State] has no other limit than its own discretion.’ … While many respectable scholars and activists might find virtue in a firearms-carry regime that restricts the right to a privileged few, ‘the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table.’”

Nevada is one of 30 states that currently allow open carry, while 15 require permits, including neighboring Utah, for open carry and five states, including California of course, plus the District of Columbia prohibit open carry.

Judge Scannlain further pointed out that the right to self protection is one of those unalienable rights that existed prior to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights merely restrained Congress from infringing.

The ruling cited the English Declaration of 1689 as having enshrined “the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence.”

“In McDonald, the Court incorporated the Second Amendment against the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, invalidating a Chicago law that effectively banned handgun possession by residents of the city. …” the judge explained. “In determining whether the pre-existing right codified by the Second Amendment was ‘fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty,’ the Court stressed the centrality of self-defense: ‘Self-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day …’”

Perhaps, such sound reasoning will deter Democratic legislators in 2019 from trying to restrict gun rights, as they have so often in the past.

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: Can Nevada lawmakers correctly introduce energy choice?

Let’s get one thing straight, the Energy Choice Initiative — Question 3 — on the November ballot is not deregulation of the electricity market. It would replace Nevada’s regulated energy monopoly with a regulated competitive energy market.

It would amend the Constitution to require lawmakers by July 1, 2023, to “establish an open, competitive retail electric market, to ensure that protections are established that entitle customers to safe, reliable, and competitively priced electricity …” This would include provisions to reduce costs to customers, ensure reliable service and prevent unfair practices. It would not require competitive transmission and distribution systems.

The initiative passed in 2016 with 72 percent voting in favor, but, since it amends the Constitution, voters must again approve of it this fall.

The ballot measure is being pushed by several large power users — chiefly the Las Vegas Sands hotel-casino company and the data company Switch. NV Energy, the monopoly power company that serves 90 percent of Nevada was silent on the issue in 2016, but has now pledged to join with opponents in spending $30 million to defeat Question 3. This past week four organizations that favor renewable energy — the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and Western Resource Advocates — announced opposition to the measure, saying they feared it would hamper efforts to increase “clean power” generation.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt supports Question 3, while Democratic opponent Steve Sisolak opposes it.

Recently the Guinn Center — named for former Gov. Kenny Guinn and self-described as a nonprofit, bipartisan research and policy analysis center — put out an analysis of the ramifications should Question 3 pass that squarely straddles the fence.

In a conference call with the press, Meredith Levine, Guinn Center’s director of economic policy, said the organization was not taking a position but was providing historic and analytical data for the voters.

As to whether the initiative would result in lower or higher power bills, Levine said, “We have no idea what will happen. We could only say this is what could happen, what may happen, what other states have experienced.”

The report indicates the success or failure of Question 3 depends on how lawmakers write the rules.

One of the principal concerns seems to be whether NV Energy would be required to divest, or sell off, its generating plants and its power purchase contracts — possibly at a loss that would have to be passed on to customers.

“Question 3 does not require divestiture explicitly,” the Guinn report states. “However, as one industry expert explained to the Guinn Center, it might be inferred: in order to afford meaningful choices among different providers and ‘to promote competition and choices,’ if the utilities were to retain control over generation assets, it would contravene the spirit of the initiative petition.”

NV Energy has estimated this so-called stranded cost to be as much as $7 billion that would have to be paid by existing customers. The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada estimates those stranded costs could cause electricity rates to rise $24.91 a month in Southern Nevada and $6.52 Northern Nevada for residential customers.

But a report by the Garrett Group presented to the Governor’s Committee on Energy Choice recently on behalf of the initiative backers said such a sell off should be profitable, and, when coupled with the recent tax law changes, should cause power bills to drop by $11.16 a month.

The Guinn Center reported that some states that have instituted competitive power markets have seen prices rise due to fluctuations in fuel costs and other factors.

But it also noted that a Pennsylvania PUC commissioner reported its introduction of competition resulted in residential and commercial customers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh paying 40 percent to 56 percent less for power in inflation-adjusted dollars than they did in 1996 and residential customers saved $818 million in 2016.

A 2015 study found that overall competition has been beneficial. From 1997 to 2014 states that had adopted customer choice for power saw inflation-adjusted residential rates fell 5.2 percent, while monopoly states saw those rates rise 3.9 percent.

So, the question for voters this fall may not be whether Question 3 is good or bad but whether we trust our lawmakers to be able to learn from the experiences of other states and write regulations that will be beneficial. Of course, that may also depend on what lawmakers are elected on the same ballot.

Frankly, we are torn.

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.

Poll shows tight races for senator and governor

A poll for the Reno Gazette-Journal by Suffolk University of Boston shows both the race for Nevada’s governor and U.S. senator to be almost dead even. The paper concluded undecided voters could play a major role come November.

The poll of 500 likely voters has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

This is how the race for governor stands:

This how the race for senator stands:

It looks like the campaign to defeat the Energy Choice Initiative, Question 3, is being effective. The measure passed with 72 percent of the vote two years ago:

Notice who has the highest unfavorable rating in the state:

Then there is the question of turnout by county. Those polled were:

The current active voters, according the Secretary of State, breaks down as Clark 69.3 percent, Washoe 17.7 percent and others 13 percent. But in the last mid-term election in 2014, the actual turnout was Clark 61.8 percent, Washoe 21.1 and others 17.1 percent. So, if the rural turnout is greater than the turnout in heavily Democratic urban centers that might make a difference. But as June the number of active voters in the rurals had dropped to 13 percent, down from 15 percent in 2014.


Judge Wallach explains to law grads the role of the press

Federal Judge Evan Wallach — who once represented the press in Nevada, including the Las Vegas newspaper while I was editor — recently gave an hour-long commencement address for the Master of Law graduates at Berkeley School of Law. He spoke about honor and truth the roles of lawyers and judges. The full speech is worth your time. But I’ve clipped a three-and-a-half minute segment specifically about the role of the press: