Editorial: Universal public service has constitutional flaw

For the past year a national commission has been studying the issue of whether all young Americans should be required to perform public service — either military or some form of civilian service — and whether women should be required to register for the draft as men are currently required to do, even though the draft has not been used since 1973.

The National Commission on Military, National and Public Service is chaired by former Nevada Congressman, emergency room physician and Army Reserve Brig Gen. Joe Heck. He was interviewed on NPR public radio this past week about the status of the commission’s endeavors.

“For the first time in our nation’s history, a commission was tasked to holistically and comprehensively review the Selective Service system along with Military, National and Public Service. It is truly an historic opportunity,” Heck said on the air.

On the topic of whether women should register for the draft, he said, “People have very definitive opinions on this issue. It’s not like when you ask the question, they have to take a moment to think about it. It’s a visceral response. It’s either, yes, they should have to register, it’s a matter of equality — or no, they should not have to register because women hold a special role in American society. I mean, that’s what it basically comes down to. I don’t think there are many people that are on the fence when it comes to deciding whether or not women should have to register.”

Heck said the commission has not yet come to a decision on this aspect of the commission’s mission.

But beyond the draft, Heck signaled a desire to require universal service of some sort, “Our goal is that there should be a universal expectation of service, that instead of the person serving being the odd person, it’s the person who doesn’t serve is the odd person. So that within a generation or two, every American is inspired and eager to serve.”

Fourteen more public hearings are planned, with a final report and recommendations due in a year.

There might be one thing the commission should take into consideration before making its final recommendations. That would be the 13th Amendment. Passed after the Civil War, that amendment states categorically: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Involuntary servitude.

In fact the 13th Amendment was used during World War I — ineffectively as it turned out — to argue against conscription itself as involuntary servitude.

Charles Schenck was convicted under the 1917 Espionage Act for distributing pamphlets urging resistance to the Selective Service Act. The pamphlet on its first page quoted the 13th Amendment.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in his 1919 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that was unanimously supported by the court: “In impassioned language, it intimated that conscription was despotism in its worst form, and a monstrous wrong against humanity in the interest of Wall Street’s chosen few. It said ‘Do not submit to intimidation,’ but in form, at least, confined itself to peaceful measures such as a petition for the repeal of the act. The other and later printed side of the sheet was headed ‘Assert Your Rights.’ It stated reasons for alleging that anyone violated the Constitution when he refused to recognize ‘your right to assert your opposition to the draft,’ and went on ‘If you do not assert and support your rights, you are helping to deny or disparage rights which it is the solemn duty of all citizens and residents of the United States to retain.’”

Holmes famously declared this rhetoric was a “clear and present danger” and was tantamount to “falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

The Espionage Act of 1917 is still on the books, but so is the 13th Amendment. Mandatory public service does appear to be a lot like involuntary servitude. Voluntary service, of course, should be encouraged.

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.

John L. Smith: The tweets heard ’round the newsroom

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While the management of the Las Vegas newspaper wimps out and refuses to acknowledge to its readers that its 30-year star columnist, John L. Smith, has resigned, the Las Vegas Sun insert in that paper today broke the news with a story in print that it had first posted online on Tuesday evening. A little slow on the uptake over at the Sun.

That Sun story relates:

On Saturday, editor Keith Moyer (editor of the Review-Journal) told a meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists at UNLV that Smith would no longer be allowed to write about Adelson “as long as I’m editor,” according to an R-J reporter who tweeted details of the event. Smith had written numerous times about Adelson, including in a December 2015 R-J column following the revelation that the billionaire Las Vegas casino magnate and his family had purchased the paper.

In that column, Smith called Adelson “precisely the wrong person to own this or any newspaper.”

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According to a Politico source, Smith was first told not to write about Adelson on Jan. 28, the same day that Craig Moon was named publisher of the paper, but that did not become public until Saturday, when Moyer used the excuse of the lawsuit as a conflict of interest, even though the suit was thrown out and Smith had written about Adelson many times over the years since then.

Apparently Moyer was not aware that Smith had also been sued unsuccessfully by casino owner Steve Wynn, because the reporter tweeted:

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This series of exchanges prompted a retweet by Smith and some additional commentary of the 140-character variety:

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Reportedly Smith and the reporter were chewed out for embarrassing the paper with their Twitter comments, though it was the editor who publicly embarrassed the paper. Smith was also told he could not write about Wynn, though he had recently been writing about the legal power struggle between Wynn and his ex-wife.

Smith resigned on Tuesday and the paper has since been silent on the matter.

“If I can’t do my job, if I can’t hold the heavyweights in the community to account, then I’m just treading water,” Smith told NPR in an interview. “It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but there was no other decision to make — at least in my mind.”

Adelson sued Smith in 2005 over a passage in a book called “Sharks in the Desert” that Adelson’s attorneys said were false implications that Adelson “was associated with unsavory characters and unsavory activities.”

The case was dismissed in 2008 when Smith’s attorney obtained access to confidential Gaming Control Board records relating to Adelson’s gaming license. Had the case gone to trial, that could have become evidence. But with the dismissal it remains sealed.

In an affidavit filed in the case, attorney Don 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.”

Moyer wrote in an email to NPR, “I was sorry to see him resign and I wish him the very best. I decided that the strongest measure was best for the Review-Journal. John had thousands of other people, things and news events from which to choose to write about.”

According to NPR, then-interim managing editor Glenn Cook had told Smith he could not write about Adelson, to which Smith replied, “He’s the one who sued me, he lost, and I’m conflicted?”

Smith says Cook told him: “You can’t do it or you’ll be fired.”

Moyer told NPR, “I never suggested or believed John would use his column to settle a personal score, but if his writing on Adelson and Wynn created even a perception of score settling in the minds of readers, then it would have reflected on the credibility of the institution. Invoking ‘conflict of interest’ restrictions might not be common in Nevada, but they are elsewhere.”

Moyer took the opportunity to lecture those who might deign to criticize the paper’s management and/or ownership: “The real question reporters should be asking is: ‘Did Sheldon Adelson order the ban?’ But I suspect they’re not asking that because they’ve already made up their minds that he did. Shame on them.”

Shame?

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Trump wants to make it easier to sue for libel when the media hurts his feelings

The GOP in Houston (Zuma photo via WSJ)

Donald Trump can dish it out but he can’t take.

In Fort Worth Friday he called for shredding the First Amendment and making it easier for thin-skinned politicians like himself to sue newspapers and others who criticize him by telling the truth.

Apparently with a stroke of his presidential pen or a call on the phone — but not an iPhone because he is boycotting Apple — he plans to “open up libel laws” to make it easier and more profitable to sue the media.

Never mind that the Supreme Court in N.Y. Times v. Sullivan held: “A State cannot, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, award damages to a public official for defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves “actual malice” — that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.” But Trump never lets case law or the Constitution get in the way of one of his rants.

Here is a bit of what Trump had to say as reported by Real Clear Politics:

I’ll tell you what, I think the media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met. They’re terrible. The New York Times, which is losing a fortune, which is a failing newspaper, which probably won’t be around that much longer, but probably somebody will buy it as a trophy, keep it going for a little longer. But I think The New York Times is one of the most dishonest media outlets I’ve ever seen in my life. The worst, the worst. The absolute worst. They have an agenda that you wouldn’t believe. And they’re run by incompetent people. They are totally incompetently run. Washington Post, I have to tell you, I have respect for Jeff Bezos, but he bought The Washington Post to have political influence and I got to tell you, we have a different country than we used to have. We have a different — He owns Amazon. He wants political influence so that Amazon will benefit from it. That’s not right. And believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.

And one of the things I’m going to do, and this is only going to make it tougher for me, and I’ve never said this before, but one of the things I’m going to do if I win — and I hope I do and we’re certainly leading — is I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So that when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected. You see, with me, they’re not protected because I’m not like other people but I’m not taking money. I’m not taking their money. So we’re going to open up those libel laws folks and we’re going to have people sue you like you never got sued before. We have many things to do. We have many, many things to do.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal, who Trump has threatened to sue for pointing out his utter ignorance on various topics, said in an editorial today: “Ripping the press is old political hat, but it’s not every day that a potential President promises to use government power to punish critics. This follows his attack earlier this week on the Ricketts family of Chicago for donating to a Super Pac that has criticized him. ‘They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!’ he tweeted. Does he plan to sic the IRS on them?”

Trump is little more than a bully who can’t take the insults he is so frequently and vilely dishing out.

Now Trump has been caught in still another lie. He claims he can’t release his “beautiful” tax returns because he is being audited. NPR, among others, checked with various authorities and found there is nothing stopping him from releaseing his IRS form, whether he is being audited or not. Perhaps, he fears the embarrassment of the voters learning he is not such a fabulous and successful businessman after all.

Marco Rubio also caught Trump in being two-faced on immigration. As that WSJ editorial points out, despite his railing about illegal immigrants taking American jobs, he is one of those hiring those illegals.

“According to a New York Times report, some 300 Americans have applied or were referred to work at Mar-a-lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, but 94% were turned down,” the editorial notes. “The resort filled the slots with foreign guest workers. Mr. Trump explained there aren’t enough ‘qualified’ Americans to go around, especially in season, and that without these foreign workers ‘you hurt your business.’ Wait a minute. That’s our argument for immigration reform and more legal immigration. Mr. Trump fails his own immigration test.”

Rubio also challenged Trump on hiring illegal Polish workers for a demolition project in New York and paid a settlement for doing so, but it is under seal. He uses the courts to hide his misdeeds. On stage he just stammered, denied and called everybody in sight liars.

George Will writing in Investor’s Business Daily notes that born-again conservative Trump is really running to the left of Bernie Sanders by promising, without any substance or details, to take care of everybody.

“Donald Trump, unencumbered by any ballast of convictions, would court Bernie Sanders’ disaffected voters with promises to enrich rather than reform the welfare state’s entitlement menu — Trump already says, ‘I am going to take care of everybody’ — and to make America great again by having it cower behind trade barriers,” Will writes.

Train wreck.