Editorial: Democratic House bill is a naked power grab

With Democrats firmly ensconced in power in the House of Representatives, the first order of business is, of course, to hold onto that power in perpetuity.

The 600-page H.R. 1, dubiously dubbed “For the People Act,” wrests voting law decisions from the states and shreds the First Amendment right of free speech. It is co-sponsored by all three of Nevada’s Democratic representatives — Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford.

The bill would require automatic voter registration, online voter registration and registration on Election Day, allow felons to vote, require 15 days of early voting, end the automatic purging of voters from registration lists when they don’t vote or fail to respond to mailed inquiries, dole out a 600 percent government match for certain “small” political donations and make Election Day a holiday — all of which erode the integrity of the ballot.

H.R. 1 also seeks to curb the free speech protections for corporations, unions and other groups upheld by the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC by requiring increased disclosure of donors and online advertisers. 

In what is an embarrassing ignorance of history the bill declares, “The Supreme Court’s misinterpretation of the Constitution to empower monied interests at the expense of the American people in elections has seriously eroded over 100 years of congressional action to promote fairness and protect elections from the toxic influence of money.”

The very first such congressional action mentioned is the Tillman Act of 1907 that prohibited corporations from making contributions in connection with federal elections.

Lest we forget, the sponsor of the legislation was none other than Democratic Sen. Benjamin “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman of South Carolina — the leader of a Ku Klux Klan-style lynch mob known as the “Red Shirts,” a man who declared, “The Negro must remain subordinated or be exterminated” in order to “keep the white race at the top of the heap.”

The sole purpose of Tillman’s bill was to gag northern corporations who hired blacks and tended to favor Republicans.

Also, as Justice Clarence Thomas noted in his dissent in Citizens United, disclosure requirements have spawned a cottage industry that uses donor information to intimidate, retaliate, threaten and boycott individuals and businesses with whom they disagree. 

Thomas wrote, “The disclosure, disclaimer, and reporting requirements in (the law) are also unconstitutional. … Congress may not abridge the ‘right to anonymous speech’ based on the ‘simple interest in providing voters with additional relevant information …’”

The Founders frequently engaged in anonymous speech and protected it with the First Amendment. The Federalist Papers were penned under pseudonyms.

In addition to Nevada’s Democratic House delegates, the state’s two Democratic senators — Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — have both railed against the free speech funded by what they pejoratively call “unaccountable dark money.”

Nevada Rep. Lee called H.R. 1 “a sweeping package of pro-democracy, and anti-corruption reforms that will put electoral power back in the hands of the American people. H.R. 1 will curb the influence of big money in politics, make it easier, not harder for Americans to practice their fundamental right to vote, and ensure that politicians actually serve the public — not special interest groups.” Special interest groups like the Democratic Party?

While the House is likely to pass this legislative and constitutional abomination, its chances in the Republican-controlled Senate are slim. 

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky rightly stated in an op-ed in The Washington Post, “They’re trying to clothe this power grab with cliches about ‘restoring democracy’ and doing it ‘For the People,’ but their proposal is simply a naked attempt to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party. It should be called the Democrat Politician Protection Act.” 

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: Nevada still has a role to play in nuclear deterrence

After learning this past week that the Department of Energy had secretly shipped a thousand pounds of weapons-grade plutonium to the Nevada National Security Site in Nye County before the state had filed a federal lawsuit in November seeking to block such shipments, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and the state’s entire Democratic delegation to D.C. flew into paroxysms of apoplexy, accusing the Trump administration of deception and dealing unfairly with the state.

Sisolak put out a statement declaring, “I am beyond outraged by this completely unacceptable deception from the U.S. Department of Energy. The Department led the State of Nevada to believe that they were engaging in good-faith negotiations with us regarding a potential shipment of weapons-grade plutonium, only to reveal that those negotiations were a sham all along. They lied to the State of Nevada, misled a federal court, and jeopardized the safety of Nevada’s families and environment.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was similarly indignant, charging that the Energy Department had “negotiated in bad faith, hiding the timing of their shipment and refused to share crucial information with Members of Congress who had the security clearance to know.”

Rep. Dina Titus said, “Time and again, we have seen Trump Administration officials treat Nevada as the dumping ground for the nation’s nuclear waste.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen called the shipment “deceitful and unethical” and said “the lack of transparency from the Department of Energy is absolutely unacceptable.”

Rep. Susie Lee decried, “Nevada officials were deceived by sham ‘negotiations’ while the safety of millions was jeopardized, as was the environment and economy of dozens of states. Nevada is not the nation’s nuclear dumping ground. Period.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, whose district includes what most Nevadans still call the Test Site, also bemoaned, “Our state is not a dumping ground for the nation’s hazardous waste, and we have no intention of letting it become one.”

The Energy Department responded with its own statement, saying it was inaccurate to state that the Nevada delegation was not informed and the agency made efforts to ensure members of Congress and state officials representing the states involved were notified as early as August 2018.

The agency also said, “It is also inaccurate to characterize this material as ‘waste’. This material is essential for maintenance of the U.S. weapons stockpile, and is handled with the highest standards for safety and security. NNSA routinely ships this type of material between its sites as part of our national security missions and has done so safely and securely for decades.”

Of course the shipment was secret. No one wants to give potential terrorists an itinerary. As for deceiving the court, the shipment had already been sent when the state’s suit was filed and the court was told this past week when the information was declassified.

What does anyone think the test site is used for in the first place? Since the Cold War it literally has been ground zero for nuclear tests and development of our nuclear deterrence. It is remote and secure.

Speaking of deterrence, the ruckus over the plutonium shipment came mere days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. is pulling out of a nuclear arms control pact with Russia because of its ongoing and flagrant violations.

“When an agreement is so brazenly disregarded and our security is so openly threatened, we must respond,” Pompeo said. “Russia has jeopardized the United States’ security interests and we can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it.”

This means the U.S. will need to catch up with its potential adversaries, Russia and China, both of which have deployed long-range, nuclear-tipped missiles. That means maintaining and, yes, even adding to our nuclear arsenal.

The very reason the plutonium was shipped to Nevada was because a federal court had ordered it removed from the Savannah River facility in South Carolina because the government had failed to build a facility to convert the plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel. It is being stored here until it can be shipped to Los Alamos, N.M., where it can be processed for weapons with which to defend our country.

That is the role the test site has fulfilled for decades and needs to continue to do, despite the histrionics from Democratic politicians.

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.

Newspaper column: Ending net neutrality speeded up Internet

It has been a year since the Federal Communication Commission repealed net neutrality rules created by Obama’s FCC in 2015. Yet, the Internet miraculously survives. In fact, it is running 36 percent faster now that the meddlesome feds have been removed from the equation and the free market has been allowed to compete and innovate.

Net neutrality resurrected 1930s-style Ma Bell regulations to prohibit Internet service providers from charging anyone different rates, even the bandwidth gluttons such as Netflix and Google.

Back in May the Senate even passed a resolution seeking to bring back net neutrality. Though the effort fortunately stalled, Nevada’s Democratic delegation to D.C. was all for putting the Internet under the heavy hand of the central planners.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto took to the Senate floor in support of the resolution, saying, “Net neutrality has leveled the playing field for every American consumer, allowing everyone to access and enjoy an open Internet. … We can’t afford to repeal net neutrality. (FCC) Chairman (Ajit) Pai’s misguided decision to repeal net neutrality protections threatens to change the Internet as we know it. It threatens our small businesses, access to online education, job growth and innovation by giving those who can afford to pay more the ability to set their own rules.”

Rep. Dina Titus declared, “I agree with the vast majority of Americans who want the internet to promote innovation, access to information, and a competitive economy. All of that is at risk without strong net neutrality protections.”

Getty Image via WSJ

Then-Rep., now-Sen. Jacky Rosen stated, “This administration’s reckless decision to repeal net neutrality gives internet service providers the ability to stack the deck against Nevada’s hardworking families and small businesses who could be forced to pay more to connect to an internet with slower speeds. This resolution would reverse the FCC’s misguided ruling, which places large corporate profits ahead of people, and restore access to a free and open internet for Nevadans.”

Sen. Dean Heller at the time reasonably argued for the free market approach. “I do not want the federal government to determine content. …” Heller said. “I also don’t want the federal government to tax the Internet. I believe the Internet is the last bastion of freedom in America, frankly both good and bad, but it’s freedom. … Access to free and open internet service providers is especially important for Nevadans living in rural communities.”

Heller was right. Rosen was wrong.

According to Speedtest, fixed broadband speeds in the United States are rapidly increasing. Data for 2018 revealed a 36 percent increase in mean download speed and a 22 percent increase in upload speed. This meant the U.S. ranked seventh in the world for download speed and Nevada ranked seventh in the nation.

Back when the net neutrality rules were jettisoned many in the news media predicted doom and gloom. CNN declared it was “the end of the internet as we know it.”

But The Wall Street Journal correctly stated at the time that net neutrality created uncertainty about what the FCC would allow and thus throttled investment in new technology, because it prohibited paid prioritization — under which bandwidth hogs, such as video streaming companies, could have opted out of heavy traffic and switched to a toll road — which could increase profits to pay for innovation and greater speed.

The newspaper predicted both content providers and consumers would benefit from increased investment in faster wireless and fiber technology in the free market.

The invisible hand of the free market has again proven itself superior to the heavy hand of the central planners.

As economist Milton Friedman once said: “When government — in pursuit of good intentions tries to rearrange the economy, legislate morality, or help special interests, the cost come in inefficiency, lack of motivation, and loss of freedom. Government should be a referee, not an active player.”

Be forewarned, when Democrats take control of the House, expect another ill-advised attempt to resurrect net neutrality, despite empirical evidence to the contrary.

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: Democrats pushing for socialized health care

In a speech in Illinois this past week former President Obama called “Medicare for all” a “good new idea.”

He said, “It’s harder for young people to save for a rainy day, let alone retirement. So Democrats aren’t just running on good old ideas like a higher minimum wage, they’re running on good new ideas like Medicare for all, giving workers seats on corporate boards, reversing the most egregious corporate tax cuts to make sure college students graduate debt-free.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders actually has such a bill pending that would nationalize and socialize the U.S. health care system and claims he has 16 Democratic senators supporting it. Sanders has argued that the United States spends almost three times as much on health care per capita as the British, who have a socialized system.

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said in August she supports an eventual move to a “Medicare-for-All” but that it is not immediately plausible.

“I applaud the concept, I understand what they’re trying to do at the end of the day, which is get us to the day where we have health care that everybody has and they can afford,” she said in an interview with the online news site The Nevada Independent. “And what it looks like, you can call it whatever you want, but we’ve got to take incremental steps along the way and bring everybody along.”

Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller meanwhile is said to be leaning toward supporting a move by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who would take money spent under the Affordable Care Act and give it to states in the form of block grants.

As for Medicare for all, a recent George Mason University’s Mercatus Center study found Sanders’ plan would add $32.6 trillion to federal spending in its first 10 years and costs would steadily rise from there. Doubling corporate and individual income taxes wouldn’t cover the costs.

The proposal also would amount to a roughly 40 percent cut across the board in payments to doctors and hospitals, a devastating blow to the economy. With rural hospitals already going out of business, image how many more would have to close and how many doctors would retire or change professions.

As if the costs were not enough, that aforementioned British socialized health system earlier this year was forced to cancel 50,000 non-emergency surgeries due to hospital overcrowding. Emergency room waits were said to be as long as 12 hours.

You don’t have to pay as much for something you don’t get.

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.

Obama calls for Medicare for all. (Getty Images pix)

 

Newspaper column: Rosen’s DISCLOSE Act really CHILL Act

Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is seeking Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s seat in the November election, has come out strongly in support of a bill that would require disclosure of donors to groups seeking to influence political issues and campaigns.

Rosen announced that she is a co-sponsor of the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act of 2018. She touted the bill using the latest Democratic hot button — the alleged use of foreign money to influence elections.

“Foreign money and influence have no place in American democracy,” Rosen proclaimed in a press release. “This legislation will help restore people’s trust in our democracy by shining light on dark money spending influencing our federal elections. Congress needs to step up and reform our broken campaign finance system, and I will keep fighting for measures that protect the integrity of our elections.”

The DISCLOSE Act has been backed by both Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and her predecessor Harry Reid. In 2010, Heller voted against the DISCLOSE Act and in 2012 he missed the vote while campaigning.

One of the chief sponsors of the bill, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, recently declared, “The American people should control our democracy, not special interests. Since the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, corporations and a small group of wealthy donors have smothered our democracy with sophisticated influence campaigns. Attack ads from their dark money groups flash on our screens with no way to know who’s behind them. And the same loopholes Citizens United opened for those special interests are available to the likes of Vladimir Putin or other foreign actors looking to undermine American democracy.”

But the bill, which has been stalled in Congress for years, would do far more than require disclosure of foreign cash.

It would mandate any group spending more than $10,000 on political ads to file a report within 24 hours with the Federal Election Commission and reveal the names of those who donate more than $10,000.

The Citizens United ruling in 2010 overturned a part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that prohibited corporations and unions from spending money on “electioneering communication” 30 days before a primary or 60 days prior to a general election. Specifically, the law prevented the private group Citizens United from showing a video called “Hillary: The Movie.”

Though the ruling barred the censorship of electioneering communication, it did not go so far as to allow anonymous spending, thus leaving the door open for Congress to require spending reporting.

But in a dissent to this aspect of Citizens United, Justice Clarence Thomas took issue, saying the disclosure, disclaimer, and reporting requirements in McCain-Feingold were also unconstitutional.

“Congress may not abridge the ‘right to anonymous speech’ based on the ‘simple interest in providing voters with additional relevant information’ … In continuing to hold otherwise, the Court misapprehends the import of ‘recent events’ that some amici describe ‘in which donors to certain causes were blacklisted, threatened, or otherwise targeted for retaliation.’”

Thomas was referring to the 2008 California ballot initiative that attempted to prohibit same-sex marriage, noting that many supporters suffered property damage, and threats of physical violence or death. He wrote that requiring disclosure would chill protected speech.

“I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this Nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in ‘core political speech, the “primary object of First Amendment protection,’” Thomas concluded.

Then there is the 1959 case in which the Supreme Court held that Alabama could not require the discloser of the names of donors or members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People because such disclosure had resulted in “economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of public hostility.”

There was a reason Paine and Locke and Montesquieu wrote anonymously — lest they be hanged. There was a reason the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers were penned anonymously. There was a reason why Thomas Jefferson was an anonymous backer of Philip Freneau’s National Gazette, which savaged President Washington while Jefferson was in his cabinet.

Perhaps, instead of calling it the DISCLOSE Act, they should call it the CHILL Act — Citizen Harassment Initiative to Limit Locution.

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: Forget PILT checks, transfer federal land to Nevada

It’s that time of year again, when counties in Nevada and across the West squat on the street corner with their alms cups extended anxiously awaiting the tinkling sound of a few coins from the federal till — otherwise known as Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) — and certain politicians pound their chests and boast of their generosity.

Since 1977 Congress has parsimoniously paid out pennies on the acre to local governments to make up for the land the federal government controls but on which it pays no local property taxes. Since 85 percent of Nevada land is controlled by various federal agencies that is a lot of property tax to forgo.

In a recent press release the Interior Department announced it is doling out $552.8 million in PILT payments this year. Of that, Nevada counties are slated to net almost $27 million.

“Given that 85 percent of Nevada’s lands are managed by the federal government, the PILT program makes it possible for communities in Nevada to maintain critical public services across large swaths of federal land,” said Nevada Sen. Dean Heller in a statement. “That is why I welcome the Department of the Interior’s announcement that Nevada will receive nearly $27 million in PILT payments, and increase of more than $800,000 from last year. This additional funding will help ensure that Nevada’s rural communities can continue to provide public services such as law enforcement and road maintenance. As a strong supporter of the PILT program, I thank Secretary (Ryan) Zinke for recognizing my state’s needs and reaffirming his commitment to Nevada’s rural communities.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto also chimed in with a nearly verbatim crowing, “I applaud the Department of Interior for awarding nearly $27 million to our rural counties through the PILT program — an increase of $800,000 from last year. These funds are vital to local governments to provide essential services and enable local leaders to invest in development projects.”

Secretary Zinke put out a statement noting his Montana roots and saying, “Rural America, especially states out west with large federal land holdings, play a big part in feeding and powering the nation and also in providing recreation opportunities, but because the lands are federal, the local governments don’t earn revenue from them. PILT investments often serve as critical support for local communities as they juggle planning and paying for basic services, such as public safety, fire-fighting, social services, and transportation.”

What they didn’t say is that this year’s PILT payments increased by 19 percent over the previous year’s handouts, but Nevada’s check only increased by 3 percent, and the payments to four counties — Elko, Esmeralda, Eureka and Lander — actually decreased.

Nor did they make note of the fact the Interior Department alone collects more than $9.6 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on public lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting — a portion of which is shared with states and counties — meaning the PILT payments amount to only 5.7 percent of that revenue. And that doesn’t take into account revenue generated by Agriculture Department federal land holdings.

Also, Nevada got short shrift when compared to most nearby states. While Utah also saw PILT checks increase by a meager 3 percent, California’s payments went up 25 percent, Arizona’s 11 percent, Idaho’s 20 percent, New Mexico’s 11 percent and Oregon’s a whopping 88 percent.

PILT payments are based on a formula that takes into account the number of acres of federal land in each county, as well as the population. It is a formula that defies explanation.

Nevada on average is getting 48 cents per acre, having a population of 2.9 million and 85 percent of its land under federal control. But New Mexico, with a population of 2 million and only 35 percent of its land under federal control, gets $1.90 per acre. Utah, with a population nearly equal to Nevada at 3 million and 65 percent of it land in federal hands, is getting $1.24 an acre.

Every state adjacent to Nevada is getting at least twice as much per acre.

A report from the legislatively created Nevada Public Land Management Task Force noted a couple of years ago that, while the Bureau of Land Management loses 91 cents an acre, the average income for the four states that have public trust land was $28.59 per acre. The task force estimated Nevada could net $114 million by taking over just 10 percent of BLM land.

Transferring federal land to local control is a much better solution than federal handouts subject to the whims of the current administration and Congress.

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.

 

Travel ban about national security, not religious bias

Many of the news articles and opinion pieces penned about the Supreme Court ruling upholding President Trump’s so-called travel ban totally ignored a key word that was at the core of the 5-4 ruling — the verb “to vet,” which appears 32 times in the syllabus, opinion, concurrences and dissents.

The travel ban was not about banning Muslims from entry, but was about restricting travel and immigration from nations that fail to or, due to unrest, cannot adequately document whether individuals from their jurisdictions might pose a threat to public safety.

In the court opinion Chief Justice John Roberts explains:

The Proclamation is expressly premised on legitimate purposes: preventing entry of nationals who cannot be adequately vetted and inducing other nations to improve their practices. The text says nothing about religion. Plaintiffs and the dissent nonetheless emphasize that five of the seven nations currently included in the Proclamation have Muslim-majority populations. Yet that fact alone does not support an inference of religious hostility, given that the policy covers just 8% of the world’s Muslim population and is limited to countries that were previously designated by Congress or prior administrations as posing national security risks.

But the plaintiffs harped on Trump’s campaign stump rhetoric, claiming it was a window into an ulterior motive of religious animus that they claimed was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. For example, Trump once called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

In his concurrence Justice Clarence Thomas observed:

Further, the Establishment Clause does not create an individual right to be free from all laws that a “reasonable observer” views as religious or antireligious. … The plaintiffs cannot raise any other First Amendment claim, since the alleged religious discrimination in this case was directed at aliens abroad. … And, even on its own terms, the plaintiffs’ proffered evidence of anti-Muslim discrimination is unpersuasive.

Roberts pointed out the crux of the rationale for the travel ban was adequately backed up, “The Proclamation (as its title indicates) sought to improve vetting procedures by identifying ongoing deficiencies in the information needed to assess whether nationals of particular countries present “public safety threats.” … To further that purpose, the Proclamation placed entry restrictions on the nationals of eight foreign states whose systems for managing and sharing information about their nationals the President deemed inadequate.”

Thomas also took the opportunity to thump the lower court judges for engaging in issuing “universal” dictates that no law or constitution grants them the power to do.

The travel ban is and was about national security not religious bias.

Of course, the decision also revealed to Nevada voters where certain candidates stand on this matter. Television station KRNV in Reno quoted both senatorial candidates.

Republican Dean Heller’s office issued a statement saying, “Sen. Heller believes that the Supreme Court got this right. The policy reviewed was significantly narrowed in scope compared to the initial version of the travel ban, and the court’s ruling affirmed its legality based on legitimate national security interests.”

His Democratic opponent, Rep. Jacky Rosen of Las Vegas, said, “Denying individuals entry to the U.S. based solely on religion or nationality is wrong and out of touch with our American values. This travel ban won’t help keep us safe, and I will continue to stand up against this Administration’s ignorant and xenophobic policies.”

Nevada’s other Democratic representatives in Washington joined the chorus in opposing anything any Republican ever does no matter what.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto declared, “This decision flies in the face of our nation’s founding principle of religious freedom. President Trump’s Muslim Ban is in direct opposition to American principles and sends yet another prejudiced message to Muslim-Americans, refugees and immigrants.”

Lame-duck Rep. Ruben Kihuen complained, “Today the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s racist and discriminatory Muslim Ban which further erodes our leadership position in the world and is just another example of the Trump Administration tearing families apart. The United States is made stronger every day through our diversity.”

Rep. Dina Titus sweepingly declared, “Today’s decision upholds a misguided xenophobic ban that does nothing to make us safer. Banning the people of an entire religion from immigrating to the U.S. is a betrayal of our nation’s founding principles of religious freedom and tolerance.”

We assume she missed the part about the ban affecting only 8 percent of Muslims or that people can seek case-by-case waivers.

Protests in front of Supreme Court. (Getty images)