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)

Editorial: Still time to negotiate on Yucca Mountain

Tunnel inside Yucca Mountain (Energy Department pix)

The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly, 340-72, this past week to restart the licensing process to make Yucca Mountain in Nye County the nation’s permanent repository of nuclear waste. H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, also ups the ante, increasing the storage cap from 70 metric tons of highly radioactive material to 110,000 metric tons — a 57 percent increase.

All four of Nevada’s representatives voted nay, even Northern Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei, a Republican who in the past has held out for negotiations that might provide some benefits for Nevada.

Amodei issued a press release explaining that he voted against the bill after the House Rules Committee rejected an amendment he had proposed.

“Since I was elected to Congress, I have always said I do not believe Yucca Mountain should be a simple dumping site for our nation’s nuclear waste,” Amodei said. “Additionally, I have always been cognizant that policy makers should not consider Yucca Mountain to be a ‘dead’ issue, meaning Nevada’s congressional delegation should use this opportunity to dictate the terms of the repository under the best conditions for our state. That’s exactly what I chose to do this week by offering an amendment to H.R. 3053 that would have given Nevada a seat at the table to expand upon the mission of the repository.”

His amendment would have directed that the state’s higher eduction system would head up nuclear research and development, designated proper routes for transportation, cleaned up contaminated facilities in Nevada and required the Department of Energy to locate reprocessing facilities at Yucca Mountain instead of just burying the waste. He said reprocessing could create thousands of jobs and recycle spent fuel for further energy production.

Nevada’s Democratic representatives were all in over-my-dead-body mode.

“I have fought the misguided and dangerous Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump project for my entire career and I’m not giving up,” said Rep. Dina Titus. “This legislation is fundamentally flawed and going nowhere in the Senate.”

Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is running for Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s seat in the upper chamber, called permanent storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain a “reckless and ill-conceived plan that could put communities across the country in danger, jeopardize our military testing and training, waste billions more in taxpayer dollars, and harm Nevada’s tourism industry.”Though 119 Democrats voted for the bill and only 67 against, Rosen blamed the Republican-controlled Congress.

Lame duck Rep. Ruben Kihuen lamented, “I am disappointed that Congress has once again chosen to ignore the will of Nevadans and residents of Nevada’s Fourth Congressional District. 30 years have passed since Nevada was unfairly targeted by the ‘Screw Nevada’ bill and this new bill is nothing more than lipstick on a pig.”

Perhaps, Nevadans are not as knee-jerk opposed as some would have us believe.

Earlier this year, in an op-ed penned for the Reno newspaper, Dan Schinhofen, vice chairman of the Nye County Commission, noted that a poll taken by that newspaper showed 29.3 percent of respondents believed the project, if it included reprocessing, would be good for the economy, while 17.7 percent said Yucca Mountain would be OK if the state cuts a good deal, and 6.4 percent said Nevada should do it for national security — 53.4 percent open to discussion, as opposed to 43.4 percent who said the state should just fight the project.

Schinhofen wrote, “It is time to stop the unfounded fearmongering just to delay this multigenerational, multibillion-dollar project. Many, if not most, Nevadans want to have an honest discussion about Yucca Mountain, and the state’s politicians and opinion writers should start to listen.”

In a recent online article, retired Air Force Col. Bob Frank, chairman and co-founder of Nevadans CAN (Citizen Action Network), noted that recent breakthroughs in technology make it possible to safely and efficiently recycle spent nuclear fuel.

“The advanced reactors no longer require huge volumes of circulating external water to cool them,” Frank writes. “They can be independently installed anywhere in remote or populated areas where power is needed. They can produce uninterruptible power for 24/7/365 at varying levels for up to 30 years without needing more recycled fuel.”

He argues that Nevada has been an international pioneer in nuclear technology and could continue to lead the nation. Explore the possibilities instead of throwing a futile tantrum.

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.

 

Grounds for impeaching Trump enough for Titus

There were 58 Democrats who voted to move forward with debate on articles of impeachment of President Trump on the grounds that he is an uncouth oaf. Nevada Rep. Dina Titus was one of them.

Although Texas Rep. Al Green’s House Resolution for impeachment contains no text, Politico has linked to what it calls the articles of impeachment, nothing more than a recitation of Trump’s faux pas.

“Donald John Trump, by causing such harm to the society of the United States is unfit to be president and warrants impeachment, trial and removal from office,” Politico quoted Green as saying on the House floor.

Among the agregious deeds listed by Green are Trump’s attempt to block immigration from certain majority Muslim nations, banning transgender persons from military service, denigrating football players for kneeling during the national anthem and calling a Florida representative wacky.

Titus thought these worthy of debating whether to remove the president from office. All other Nevada representatives voted against moving forward.

Get serious.

 

Newspaper column: Tax reform debate falls down a rabbit hole

If you are trying to follow the debate in Washington about tax reform in its various and evolving iterations, you are likely to come away muttering: Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.

This past week the House passed its version of tax reform by a vote of 227-205 with not a single Democrat voting aye. The 13 Republicans who voted nay on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are mostly from high tax states such as California, New York and New Jersey, where constituents would no longer be able to deduct high state and local income and sales taxes.

Also this past week and on a party line vote of 14-12, the Senate Finance Committee, where Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller is a member, passed a slightly different tax reform bill with the same name.

Nevada’s Democratic delegates to D.C. were all singing from the same hymnal.

Democrat Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who represents northern Clark County and the southern portion of rural Nevada, declared the House bill “nothing more than a handout to big corporations and the wealthiest Americans that unfairly sticks working and middle-class families with the bill.”

Kihuen said the bill also will increase taxes by an average of $680 for 113,000 middle- and low-income Nevada families.

This figure apparently comes from the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), which calculated that in 2027 about 11 percent of Nevadans in the lowest 60 percent of earners would see taxes increase by $680. Kihuen neglected to mention that in that year 89 percent of those Nevadans in that earning range would still have a tax cut of $490, according to ITEP.

Nor does he mention that ITEP calculates that in 2018 only 3 percent of those lower tier earners would have a tax hike of $460, while 79 percent would see a tax cut of $610. How these number were derived is not explained.

The average tax cut for 84 percent of all Nevadans in 2018 would be $2,670, according to ITEP. Yes, the tax cut for the richest 1 percent would amount to more than $100,000. The poorest 20 percent would only save $270.

Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto chimed in by claiming the House bill would raise taxes on 36 million working and middle class families, without bothering to mention that in 2017 there were more than 145 million IRS tax returns filed.

Democrat Rep. Dina Titus of Las Vegas lamented, “Of the 50,000 constituents in my district who itemize their taxes, the majority earns less than $75,000 per year.” She failed to note that the standard deduction is being doubled and thus eliminates the need for itemizing for many of them. Nor did she mention that only 25 percent of Nevadans’ tax returns are itemized.

First-term Democrat Rep. Jacky Rosen of Henderson, who has already announced she is a candidate for Heller’s Senate seat, wailed, “This partisan plan adds $1.5 trillion to our deficit and could trigger a $25 billion cut from Medicare as well as further cuts to other programs, unfairly shifting costs onto Nevadans who rely on commonsense tax reliefs policies that help those saddled with high-cost medical expenses, students struggling to pay off their college loans, and teachers trying to buy basic supplies for their classrooms.”

But Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents Northern Nevada, counters that such deficit claims fail to take into account the anticipated growth in GDP that should increase wages and jobs and actually grow federal tax revenue.

“Even a 1% increase in GDP generates about $3 trillion in revenue over 10 years — more than covering the anticipated $1.5 trillion deficit,” Amodei reported in an email. “The accuracy of this projection can be further evidenced by going back to the Clinton Administration where GDP growth was at 3.9% – the highest it’s ever been under the last five administrations – and the government was operating under a surplus.”

The congressman also pointed out that for those in his district with an annual income of around $64,000 the federal tax cut effect is more than $1,200 a year with the new brackets and increased standard deductions.

Amodei and Sen. Heller both cited the calculations by the Tax Foundation which estimates that both the House and Senate bills could bring 8,000 additional jobs to Nevada and boost middle-class income by $2,500 a year.

What are you going to believe? Historic precedence or cherry-picked examples of a handful of outliers?

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: An ounce of wildfire prevention worth a pound of cure

A house burns in Napa County, Calif., in October. (Getty Images)

Wildfires have become an increasingly costly and devastating problem in the West over the past decades as federal land managers have increasingly restricted logging and road building and maintenance.

The average number of acres burned each year in the past decade has topped 6 million, compared to 3 million a year in the 1970s. As of the end of October of this year there already had been nearly 53,000 fires that burned more than 8.8 million acres. In 2015, 9.7 million acres burned by the end of October.

The cost just for fighting wildfires this year is approaching a record breaking $3 billion, and that doesn’t take into account the economic costs of burned homes, agriculture and infrastructure. The wine country fires in mid-October in northern California are estimated to have resulted in $85 billion in economic losses.

The cost of fighting fires for the Forest Service has grown over the recent years from 15 percent of the agency’s annual budget to 55 percent.

Currently there are efforts on two fronts to change land management practices and spending from the costly and dangerous battling of fires to actually preventing them from occurring.

Earlier this year, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who is over the Bureau of Land Management, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who heads the Forest Service, directed all federal land agencies to adopt more aggressive efforts to prevent wildfire through robust fuels reduction and other prevention techniques.

“This administration will take a serious turn from the past and will proactively work to prevent forest fires through aggressive and scientific fuels reduction management to save lives, homes, and wildlife habitat. It is well settled that the steady accumulation and thickening of vegetation in areas that have historically burned at frequent intervals exacerbates fuel conditions and often leads to larger and higher-intensity fires,” said Secretary Zinke in a press release. “These fires are more damaging, more costly, and threaten the safety and security of both the public and firefighters. In recent fire reviews, I have heard this described as ‘a new normal.’ It is unacceptable that we should be satisfied with the status quo. We must be innovative and where new authorities are needed, we will work with our colleagues in Congress to craft management solutions that will benefit our public lands for generations to come.”

On that Congressional front, this past week the House passed and sent to the Senate the Resilient Federal Forests Act, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican and licensed forester, that would shorten the environmental review process for forest thinning, curb frivolous litigation by self-styled environmentalists and allow federal land managers to contract with private lumber mills to remove dead and dying trees and use the proceeds of the timber sale to better manage the lands.

The bill passed 232-188, largely along party lines, with less than a dozen Democratic votes. Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei voted in favor of the bill, while Nevada Democrats Dina Titus, Jacky Rosen and Ruben Kihuen opposed it.

“This is a bill based on a simple idea — that we must do more to expand active management in federal forests,” Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, was quoted as saying. “With this bill, we tackle not only the symptoms of the crisis but also its root causes. We provide the resources for our firefighters, but also tools for our land managers to improve conditions on the ground and proactively mitigate the threat of wildfire.”

Rep. Amodei spoke on the floor of the House in 2015 in support of a similar bill that passed the House but died in the Senate, noting the need for fire prevention because once high desert forests in Nevada burn it takes a hundred years for them to grow back. He also noted that the fires devastate endangered and threatened species and their habitat.

Oddly enough, one of the main arguments against the bill by the environmentalists is that logging threatens endangered and threatened species. More so than raging wildfire?

We applaud the efforts by Secretaries Zinke and Perdue to spend our money more wisely and encourage the Senate to pass the the Resilient Federal Forests 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: Tax reform bill divides Nevada delegation along party lines

Like everything else to come out of Washington, the House tax reform bill introduced this past week has turned into a partisan hissing match in a fact-free zone.

Republicans hail it as an economy stimulating second coming, while Democrats decry it as a sop to the wealthy and a death knell for the middle class.

The bill lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, doubles the standard deduction, lowers the individual tax rates for all but millionaires, allows 100 percent expensing of business costs instead of the current 50 percent, eliminates deductions for state and local taxes, except for property taxes, and allows mortgage interest deduction.

Republican Dean Heller said the bill will provide tax relief for middle class families, while Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto said the bill rewards corporations and the rich at the expense of working families, seniors and the poor.

“As a member of the U.S. Senate’s tax-writing committee, I’m waking up each and every day with the sole focus of ensuring that Nevada’s hardworking families and small business owners come out ahead when the Senate passes its final product,” Heller said in a statement, adding, “I’m going to continue fighting for a major tax overhaul that will help my state and push for policies that will create jobs, boost growth, and make it easier for Nevadans to provide a better life for their kids.”

A Cortez Masto press release fulminated, “Republicans in Congress have one priority: ripping off America’s middle class and working families. Rather than transparently writing a bill that puts economic growth and American’s financial security first, the current Republican tax proposal targets Nevada families. The latest Republican proposals would put our country even further in debt, take money out of working families pocketbooks …”

Cortez Masto also claimed, “The average tax increase on families nationwide earning up to $86,100 would be $794.”

But the Washington Post fact checked that claim and found it was based on a report by Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee who actually said, “If enacted, the Republican tax reform proposal would saddle 8 million households that earn up to $86,100 with an average tax increase of $794 …”

But you see, there are 122 million households making less than $86,100. Thus only 6.5 percent of those households would see a tax hike of that amount. The Post reported that more than 97 million, or 80 percent, of that group would get a tax cut averaging about $450.

Republicans say the bill would result in a tax savings of $1,182 for a typical household of four with gross income of $59,000, resulting in their tax bill being only $400.

Las Vegas Democratic Rep. Dina Titus joined the partisan fray by calling the bill “a red herring tax plan that relies on the myth of trickle-down economics in order to give the nation’s top earners a handout.”

Titus said she could not see how working families could save money if the bill removes certain deductions, including the one for state and local sales taxes — ignoring the fact 70 percent of Americans take the standard deduction and do not itemize, nor the fact Nevadans who do itemize can deduct only about 10 percent as much as taxpayers in high-tax states such as California and New York and thus are subsidizing those states.

Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who represents southern rural Nevada and northern Clark County, used the occasion to solicit contributions while slamming the bill by saying, “We expected Paul Ryan and the Republicans would bend over backwards to make big corporations and the super rich the winners in this plan, and that’s exactly what they did. Meanwhile, it’s all at your expense.”

Republican Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, took a more nuanced approach, promising in an email to constituents to thoroughly research the 429-page bill, while also saying, “I think we can all agree the American taxpayer would be better off if Congress were to reform our current tax code in favor of a system that is simpler, fairer, and has lower tax rates.”

The bill also eliminates the $7,500 tax credit for purchasing electric cars, such as Teslas, whose batteries are built in Sparks, and drops the tax exemption for municipal bonds to finance sports stadiums, such as the one planned for Las Vegas for the Raiders.

Next, Congress needs to address the runaway federal spending.

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.

(AP pix)

Newspaper column: Zinke’s national monument modifications too modest

Frankly, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s memo to President Trump recommending modifications to a few national monuments — including the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Clark County — is far too modest, but it has the Democratic contingent of Nevada’s Washington delegation squealing like a pig stuck under a gate.

Zinke recommended unspecified changes to the Gold Butte boundaries but totally ignored the massive 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument that straddles the border between Nye and Lincoln counties, even though members of the Congressional Western Caucus recommended reducing it to 2,500 acres — “the smallest area compatible,” as the law says, to protect the Indian petroglyphs there.

The Interior Secretary noted in his memo that the Antiquities Act of 1906 gave the president authority to protect historic and prehistoric landmarks and objects of scientific and historic interest, but the monument designation has instead been used to block use of vast landscapes. “It appears that certain monuments were designated to prevent economic activity such as grazing, mining, and timber production rather than to protect specific objects,” the memo observes.

Ryan Zinke visits Gold Butte (R-J pix)

He also noted that the public comment process has been usurped by well-organized, well-funded, self-styled environmental groups, drowning out local officials, ranchers, miners and loggers.

These environmental groups and their Democratic cohorts are dead set on protecting every inch of barren dirt and rock from the invasive non-native species known as mankind.

Not that any of them has ever worked as a roughneck or roustabout in the grease orchards, castrated a calf or branded a steer, driven a Euclid filled with ore or operated a jackhammer or a chainsaw or cashed a pay check for doing so.

Democrat Rep. Ruben Kihuen of North Las Vegas, whose district includes Gold Butte, screeched about Zinke’s modest memo, “This decision will not only be detrimental to Nevada’s economy and shared cultural heritage, but it is further proof that the monument review process has been rigged from the start. Secretary Zinke promised that Nevadans’ voices would be heard. Instead, we got half-hearted attempts to meet with stakeholders and secret memos cooked up behind closed doors, all when the outcome was predetermined from the beginning. When it comes to altering our monuments and impacting our livelihood, Nevadans deserve more than unofficial leaks and uncorroborated reports. Secretary Zinke should look Nevadans in the eye and give it to us straight, rather than hide behind the administration’s continued shroud of secrecy.”

Actually, his constituents in Mesquite welcome the reduction, especially if it assures the town it will have access to springs in the region that will be needed to supply the growing community with drinking water in the future.

Zinke’s memo specifically noted that the water district has historic water rights to six springs and five of those are within the Obama-designated national monument boundaries. The memo further said that there are four active grazing allotments in the area, though the proclamation claimed there were none.

Democrat Rep. Dina Titus of Las Vegas weighed in by declaring, “Gold Butte’s opponents have created a straw man argument about water rights without mentioning that the monument’s proclamation includes language to protect them. Now we must recommit our effort to protect these precious public lands in the courts and send a strong message to Zinke and Trump to keep their hands off our monuments.”

Democrat Rep. Jacky Rosen of Henderson claimed, “This rash decision by the Trump Administration will not only endanger Nevada’s natural beauty and chip away at our cultural heritage, but it will also hurt our state’s outdoor recreation economy by eliminating jobs that have contributed significantly to our local tourism industry.”

Democrat Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Las Vegas has opposed reducing the footprint of any national monument.

Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei both opposed the designations of Gold Butte and Basin and Range.

Heller said, “As a strong proponent of states’ rights, the Obama Administration’s decision to bypass Congress and designate two national monuments in Nevada despite widespread disagreement at the local level is an example of extreme overreach and the failed Washington-knows-best mentality. That is why I welcomed Secretary Zinke to Nevada to see first-hand the impact of monuments designated under the Antiquities Act with no local input.”

The monument designation does nothing to add actual protection for the few petroglyphs and other artifacts that are located on the sites, but Zinke did recommend the president seek funding to actually protect those artifacts.

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.