Gun-Free School Zone law was an unconstitutional overreach by Congress

Rand Paul (AP pix)

I thought Rand Paul was closing the barn door after the horse had left.

He has introduced a bill to repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which made it a federal crime to possess a gun in a school zone, according to the Washington Examiner. But in 1995 the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Lopez declared that law unconstitutional, saying Congress did not have the power under the Commerce Clause to make such incredibly local laws.

But it turns out Attorney General Janet Reno got Congress to amend the law, adding the requirement that the gun had to have crossed a state line at some point — a meaningless add since nearly every gun has crossed a state line at some point and has nothing to do with regulating interstate commerce. But that was good enough for several federal appeals courts.

So, the repeal is apparently needed after all.


Newspaper column: Another senator spotlights federal wasteful spending

Back in the 1970s Wisconsin U.S. Sen. William Proxmire began handing out his monthly Golden Fleece Award, recognizing wasteful spending by government agencies, such as a $4 million advertising campaign by the Postal Service to encourage Americans to write more letters to each other.

After his retirement, along came Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who published an annual “Wastebook” list of 100 wasteful government boondoggles and debacles, which one year criticized the IRS for allowing $17.5 million in tax deductions for business expenses at Nevada brothels, such as breast implants, costumes and “equipment.”

With Coburn retiring, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has compiled his periodic waste reports to provide taxpayers with an amusing litany of imaginative ways federal bureaucrats have found to waste their money. For 2017, Paul just scratched the surface and uncovered more than $563 million worth of boondoggles, extravagances, profligacies and imprudences.

Some were huge and some were petty. All outlandish.

“Hard to believe it has been another year already. Seems like just yesterday our national debt was inching closer to $20 trillion, and now it’s pushing $21 trillion,” the senator writes in introducing “The Waste Report.” “And what a year it was!!! Wonder Woman dominated at the box office. For the first time ever, the Houston Astros won a World Series, and the world got a new iPhone (and lost a home button in the process). Yet while our homes and cars continued to get smarter, the same cannot be said for our federal government and how it spends and wastes hardworking Americans’ tax dollars.”

The big ticket item from Paul’s roster of wasteful spending was a whopping $233 million in U.S. tax dollars to build a 63-mile highway, not in the United States but in Afghanistan. That’s $3.7 million per mile, folks.

A New York Times report on the project found that millions of dollars were spent not on construction but for security, much of that going to a mysterious figure who was suspected of staging attacks on the project in order to wring more money from the project. “Security contractors, meanwhile, would seemingly only show up for pay day, though on paper they were working every day,” Paul writes.

On the petty side of the ledger, there was the $125,000 from something called the Rural Energy for America Program to pay for solar electric panels for a luxury golf course on the resort island of St. Croix in the Caribbean.

“And are solar panels really an agricultural priority for taxpayers?” asks Paul. “Probably not. Even if they were, solar powered golf courses in the Caribbean certainly do not fit the bill.”

For sheer audacity, it would be difficult to top the National Endowment for the Arts spending $20,000 to film something called “Traffic Jam,” which features “[a]rtists working with local youth” to “choreograph automobiles, bicycles, golf carts, and pedicabs to perform skilled movements in a parking lot, making art inspired by Austin’s traffic congestion.” Honk if you love this one.

If that doesn’t give you a charge, take a gander at the “Power UP” project, which “showcased 50+ linemen, electrical technicians and Austin Energy employees in a choreographed full-length dance with cranes, bucket and field trucks,” as well as “a set of 20 utility poles.” This cost taxpayers a mere $10,000 — a bargain no doubt.

You’ll be glad to know your benevolence also doled out $130,000 to develop digital down markers for football games, $75,000 to pay for British bloggers to vacation in the U.S., $1.5 million for a bathroom in a Queens, N.Y., public park, $500,000 for a parking lot for an Indian casino and $1.5 million to study how to make tomatoes taste better.

At least those monies were spent here. Our support overseas was also magnanimous: $14.8 million to finance international versions of

“Sesame Street,” $1.7 million to remind Cambodian motorcyclists to wear helmets, nearly $100,000 to teach Kenyan farmers how to use Facebook, $15 million to train cashiers for Walmart in Mexico, $21 million to buy motorbikes for Pakistani dairy farmers, $98 million to promote tourism in war-torn Myanmar and nearly $24 million to help Moroccan college grads find jobs.

Doesn’t it make you want to pop your suspenders with pride? Or pop someone.

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: Police should not seize property without a conviction

President Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a reputation as a law-and-order guy, but the plan he announced this past week to step up civil asset forfeiture efforts skirts the law and jeopardizes order.

The plan is to reverse an Obama administration policy that restricted how often federal agencies would accept property — cash, vehicles, homes, airplanes — seized by local police agencies under suspicion it was used to perpetrate a crime such as drug dealing. That seized property is sold and the local police get 80 percent of the profits to spend as they see fit. This is called “equitable sharing.”

Sessions rationalized his policy change by saying “civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed, and it weakens the criminals and the cartels. Even more importantly, it helps return property to the victims of crime. Civil asset forfeiture takes the material support of the criminals and instead makes it the material support of law enforcement, funding priorities like new vehicles, bulletproof vests, opioid overdose reversal kits, and better training.”

Often property is seized and no one is ever convicted of an actual crime. The owner of the cash or property essentially must prove themselves innocent in a civil court.

In a 2010 report called “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” the Institute for Justice (IJ) noted that the practice provides an incentive for local police to seize property to boost their budgets.

Humboldt County deputy seized cash.

Sessions’ revised seizure policy allows local agencies to skirt state laws that restrict civil asset forfeitures. In 2014, the Justice Department reported $4.5 billion in asset forfeiture revenue.

In this past session of the Nevada Legislature Sen. Don Gustavson of Sparks filed a bill that would have required proof of a criminal conviction, a plea agreement or an agreement by the parties concerned before property could be forfeited. The bill died without a vote.

“Nevada forfeiture law provides paltry protection for property owners from wrongful forfeitures,” the IJ reports. “The government may seize your property and keep it upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence, a higher standard than many states but still lower than the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. But the burden falls on you to prove that you are an innocent owner by showing that the act giving rise to the forfeiture was done without your knowledge, consent or willful blindness. Further, law enforcement keeps 100 percent of the revenue raised from the sale of forfeited property.”

Still, Nevada local law enforcement often engages in “equitable sharing” with federal agencies, according to IJ, which resulted in $21 million accruing to the local agencies over a decade.

There have been a number of instances in Nevada in which property was seized without anyone ever being charged with a crime.

In January 2013 police seized $167,000 from a man driving a motor home westbound along Interstate 80 in Elko County. A judge just recently ordered the money returned.

Over a two-year period Humboldt County deputies seized $180,000 in cash from motorists. One deputy was caught on tape telling a tourist, “You’ll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you.”

The U.S. attorney’s office in Las Vegas demanded a local woman forfeit the $76,667 in salary she earned while running an office for her brother, who was later convicted of mortgage fraud. The sister was never charged. A federal judge called the forfeiture effort “the most egregious miscarriage of justice I have experienced in more than twenty years on the bench.”

This happened though the Fifth Amendment provides: “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law …”

In his policy announcement Sessions admitted there can be problems with asset forfeitures, but he promised to “protect the rights of the people we serve. Law-abiding people whose property is used without their knowledge or without their consent should not be punished because of crimes that others have committed.”

That promise hardly constitutes “due process of law.”

Congress should rein in this abuse-prone practice.

In fact, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan have reintroduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act.

“The FAIR Act will ensure that government agencies no longer profit from taking the property of U.S. citizens without due process,” Paul said, “while maintaining the ability of courts to order the surrender of proceeds of crime.”

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: Where the presidential candidates stand on public land issues

Basin and Range National Monument (R-J photo)

With the Nevada presidential caucuses just weeks away we are offering readers a glimpse into the stances of the candidates on a key issue — federal public lands control.

For the Democrats there is not much choice.

Bernie Sanders has not taken a stance on letting states and counties have a greater say in public land use, but he has called for raising grazing fees and prohibiting logging and oil drilling on public land.

Hillary Clinton during a press conference in Las Vegas a couple of months ago said the country should preserve federal public lands and add even more.

“We certainly should not be giving in to this ideological argument from the right that we need to put more public lands into private hands,” she exclaimed. “I don’t agree with that.”

On the Republican side, most have called for some level of privatization of federal lands.

The exception is Donald Trump, who was asked at a gun show in Las Vegas recently about whether he would support relinquishing federal land control to states.

“I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do,” he replied. “I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold.”

While John Kasich has been silent on the topic all the other Republican candidates have expressed some degree of favor for transferring control to states and/or privatizing.

As a senator from Texas Ted Cruz voted in favor of an amendment to facilitate the transfer of public lands to the states. In 2014 he also offered an amendment to a bill that would have prohibited the federal government from owning more than 50 percent of the land in any state.

Rand Paul has also said federal lands should be transferred to the states. He has met with Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy and expressed sympathy for his plight.

“You run into problems now with the federal government being, you know, this bully — this big huge government bully,” Paul has said. As a Kentucky senator he introduced a bill to give states more power under the Endangered Species Act. It failed.

Like both Cruz and Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio supported an amendment to facilitate the transfer and sale of public lands.

He also backed transferring control of federal energy resources to the states. “This common sense bill will empower states to develop our domestic energy resources responsibly and effectively,” Rubio said. “Ensuring states have more authority in our nation’s energy development will help keep energy costs low, create jobs and grow our economy.”

Businesswoman Carly Fiorina in a recent newspaper interview said, “The federal government does a lousy job of managing forests. The private sector does a much better job of managing forests. The federal government controls too much land in this country.”

Retired surgeon Ben Carson also has expressed the need to allow more local control of the lands. “We the people of the United States are the only ones capable of preventing uncontrolled government expansion and abuse,” Carson wrote in a column in the conservative National Review. “Like the ranchers in Nevada, Americans must find the courage and determination to maintain a free and vibrant nation.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, during a speech in Nevada, said he favored more development of oil and gas exploration on federal lands. “One of the real challenges in the western states is that energy in those areas is often not able to be explored,” he said.

Huckabee also said something is wrong when the federal government can put “a gun in a citizen’s face and threaten to shoot him” over a cow eating grass.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has called for moving the headquarters of the Interior Department to the West.

“I think these lands have to be managed in a true partnership,” Bush said during a speech in Reno in October, noting that public lands “should be viewed as something that creates economic activity, can create cultural values, create wins for citizens and residents of the West.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, while not addressing directly privatization of federal land, has been a strong advocate of privatizing public services such as parks in his state.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has supported transferring or privatizing public lands. “We need to get it back into the hands of the states and even to the private sector,” Santorum told an Idaho newspaper. “And we can make money doing it.”

A version of this editorial appeared this past week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record. It ran as a column in the Elko Daily Free Press.

When economic reality slaps liberal fantasy in the face

Don’t you love it when irresistible reality smashes into immovable liberal fantasy? It creates a critical mass of illogical proportions that blows the mind.

On the pages of the Las Vegas Sun today is reprinted a four-day-old editorial dismissing all the Republican tax reform plans out of hand. (The paper has yet to print its online editorial questioning the state’s “most conservative newspaper” editorial about a polluting solar thermal plant.)

Meanwhile, in the pages of Investor’s Business Daily, there is a column about how GOP candidate Ted Cruz’s flat tax plan would create jobs and grow the economy, and the Tax Foundation has created a webpage comparing the various Republican tax plans, showing all the plans would create more jobs and grow the economy.

The Timesmen (and Timeswomen, to be politically correct) assert that the proposed “big and broad cuts” mostly benefit the wealthy — with their customary knee-jerk class envy without any inkling that the wealthy might spend that  windfall on cars, yachts and other luxuries made by American workers.

“All of these candidates deny fiscal reality,” the editorialists insist, with fiscal and historic blinders firmly in place. “In the next 10 years, revenues will need to increase by 40 percent simply to keep federal spending even, per capita, with inflation and population growth. Additional revenues will be needed to pay for health care for the elderly, transportation systems and other obligations, as well as for newer challenges, including climate change. And interest on the national debt will surely rise because interest rates have nowhere to go but up.” They conclude taxes have to go up. It is inevitable. It is dogma. It is in stone.

To begin, why must revenues increase? Can spending never be cut? Secondly, they ignore the concept of elasticity and dynamism. Letting people keep and spend their own money can and does grow the economy and has done so in the past.

The IBD columnists point out that working people currently bear 80 percent of the tax burden in the form of reduced wages that would otherwise be paid. Of Cruz’s plan, the writers note, “The Tax Foundation scores the 16% business flat tax as raising $25.4 trillion in federal revenues over the next decade, which would account for 71% of all federal revenue.”

Meanwhile, the Tax Foundation shows every GOP presidential candidate tax plans so far announced would increase GDP by more than 10 percent, wages by at least 6.5 percent, jobs by 2.7 million to 5.8 million, and only slightly reduce federal revenue — except Rand Paul’s plan, which would actually grow tax revenue.

tax compare

Find online at Tax Foundation.

GOP candidates relegated inside Las Vegas paper, while Hillary gets front page

There used to be a time in the newspaper business that papers tried to balance the significance of the news with the fairness of the coverage. For example, the announcements of candidacy for elective office by the major contenders were given similar “play” in the paper whenever possible — same page in the paper and same size photos was ideal.

That doesn’t seem to be the case now.

On March 24 the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Republican Ted Cruz had announced his presidential candidacy. The story was on page 5A with no photo.

On April 8 the paper reported Rand Paul’s announcement that he too was seeking the Republican nomination. That ran on 9A with a photo. When he held a rally in Las Vegas a couple of days later, that garnered 1B coverage with a small photo.

When Hillary Clinton announced her Democratic presidential run, on April 13 the paper carried two stories and a photo on the front page.

Today the paper reports that Marco Rubio has announced his Republican bid. That appears on 6A with a photo. The story makes no mention of the fact that Rubio lived in Las Vegas and attended school here from third through eighth grade while his father tended bar at Sam’s Town and his mother was a maid at the Imperial Palace. While living in Las Vegas the family attended Mormon Church services, according to his cousin Mo Denis, a Democratic state senator.

I guess you could make argument there is only one Democratic candidate and there may a dozen GOP hopefuls.




Legislation and litigation take aim at Endangered Species Act

Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei have joined with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky to introduce a bill that would take the power to regulate intrastate endangered and threatened species away from federal agencies and give it to state governors. It is called, appropriately enough, the Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act. 

A Mono Basin sage grouse. (National Park Service photo)

The bill points out that since passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, less than 1 percent of the total number of species in the United States have been recovered and removed from the ESA list, and those were largely due to data errors or other factors. Additionally, there has been no study of the costs or benefits of ESA and no accounting of how much state and federal governments and the private sector have spent to comply with the law.

“(T)he ESA effectively penalizes landowners for owning endangered species habitat by forcing them to bear the cost of conservation,” the bill says, without mentioning that it can lead many landowners to shoot, shovel and shut up. It goes on to point out that ESA “has become a tool for environmentalists to undermine, slow down, or halt construction of infra structure projects, hampering economic growth and employment …”

The bill would basically restore a modicum of plenary power to the states, which, under the 10th Amendment, is where it belonged in the first place, since there is no enumerated power allowing Congress to regulate species.

In a statement announcing the bill, Amodei said:

“Giving governors greater flexibility would go a long way mitigating the one-size-fits-all impact of the ESA, which is threatening to shutdown vast swatches of the American West, including Nevada. Governor Brian Sandoval has met the challenge posed by the looming sage grouse listing and that kind of leadership deserves respect from federal land managers.”

Heller commented:

“We have a responsibility to be good stewards of wildlife and the habitat that they rely on.  In Nevada, we have been working hard to protect both the sage grouse and our economy, which is why I am working hard with the Governor, the delegation, and Nevadans to prevent a listing for the bird. The Endangered Species Act already has an abysmal success rate, so it is time to give the states to the opportunity to step in where the ESA has largely failed.”

Paul said:

“By removing the red tape, state governments will be better equipped to manage, regulate, develop and implement recovery plans for their critical habitats. This bill will better protect endangered species by allowing a more tailored response as implemented by the states.”

While the bill is a good move short of outright repeal, perhaps the best solution to the problems of the ESA is a declaration by the courts that the law is unconstitutional in the first place.

Utah Prairie dogs. (National Park Service photo)

The Pacific Legal Foundation is challenging the ESA on behalf of the residents of southwestern Utah suffering from an infestation of Utah prairie dogs , which are listed as threatened.

The PLF notes that the supporters of ESA argue Congress has such power under the Commerce Clause, which is ludicrous on its face. “In Cedar City, Utah, residents are suffering the loss of their constitutional rights, their private property, and — perhaps most distressingly — the disruption of their loved ones’ final resting place,” PLF’s Jonathan Wood writes. “The city is overrun with Utah prairie dogs, a species that is subject to the federal take prohibition despite existing only in Utah and having nothing to do with commerce.”

In Nevada the sage grouse are probably going to be listed as threatened or endangered, which will affect mining, oil and gas exploration, grazing, power lines and pipelines and recreation.

Two fronts is better than none.