In trial testimony, Laxalt recalls too little to resolve his Lev-and-Igor story

Photo of Igor Fruman, Adam Laxalt and Lev Parnas.

If Adam Laxalt imagined his testimony on Friday in New York federal court would lift the cloud of controversy hanging over his connection to shadowy defendants charged with violating campaign finance laws, then the U.S. Senate candidate is likely to be disappointed.

Given the opportunity to clear up serious questions about his interactions with Eastern European-born businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman during the 2018 gubernatorial run, Laxalt’s own words handed his political opponents a gift that figures to reverberate throughout the 2022 senate campaign.

Parnas and co-defendant Andrey Kukushkin are accused in U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken’s courtroom of using $1 million funneled from Russian financier Andrey Muraviev to make “straw donor” political contributions in 2018 in a failed effort to enter the lucrative recreational marijuana business in Nevada and two other states. Fruman pleaded guilty in September to soliciting illegal campaign contributions. Alleged co-conspirator Andrey Kukushkin is on trial with Parnas in the alleged scheme.

Glib one moment, vague the next, at times Laxalt’s memory lapses were painfully acute. He hasn’t been accused of a crime, but I’m guessing Laxalt wishes he could amend some of the statements he made during a methodical cross-examination by Parnas defense attorney Joseph Bondy.

On the bright side for those who have wondered how a milk-drinker like Laxalt wound up gripping and grinning with hustlers Parnas and Fruman, the answer has been hiding in plain sight. The politically ambitious and consummately well-connected grandson of Nevada Republican political icon Paul Laxalt was introduced to Parnas in 2018 at Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. by no less a Trumpworld insider than Rudy Giuliani. Parnas immediately volunteered to help contribute to and fundraise for Laxalt’s campaign.

Parnas, Fruman and associates took it from there with Laxalt waving them on. That’s hardly surprising. Large political campaigns aren’t financed by passing a collection plate. But at a time when at least one of Laxalt’s advisors ought to have had his back and vetted his breakneck fundraising efforts, the wild and crazy guys with the thick Eastern European accents shuffled in and made their play.

Laxalt tried to dismiss Parnas as a “clownish guy with a gold chain” and a “Brooklyn guy with a Florida home.” Yet, Laxalt testified that as Election Day approached, he badgered Parnas on a daily basis for last-minute contributions that might help keep him in a competitive position against eventual winner Steve Sisolak.

In the end, their plan failed. Although a Parnas assistant testified Friday under a grant of immunity that Fruman refinanced a Florida condominium to further their investments in select campaigns, only approximately $100,000 of “Big Andrey” Muraviev’s largesse appears to have entered the political bloodstream. The campaigns of Laxalt and unsuccessful state attorney general candidate Wes Duncan received just $10,000 apiece, contributions they reported returning.

All that is history. What remains is Laxalt’s testimony. Some of his memory lapses on the witness stand and lack of demonstrable responses during Bondy’s cross-examination only add fog to a story he ought to be putting behind him.

Bondy briefly queried Laxalt’s understanding of campaign finance law regarding donations from foreign citizens. An attorney since 2005, Laxalt is a former state attorney general and Navy JAG officer. He is a member of the state bars of Illinois, Nevada, and Washington, D.C. Under oath, he claimed he didn’t know much about campaign finance law – and apparently hadn’t cracked a book on the subject.

From my transcription made via phone link:

Bondy: And would you agree that a corporation that has foreign shareholders can still make a $10,000 to your campaign?

Laxalt: I’m not sure about that. I don’t believe so.

Bondy: A publicly traded company, where people purchase shares, say, through eTrade or something, you don’t think a publicly traded company with thousands of shareholders could donate money to your campaign?

Laxalt: Yes, that’s allowed.

Bondy: And you could have thousands of shareholders that are part of that company, and the company still makes a contribution to your campaign, no problem, right?

Laxalt: Honestly, I never addressed the issue, but I am just not sure.

Bondy: You were the attorney general of the state of Nevada at some point, correct, the top law enforcement guy in the state of Nevada, were you not?

Laxalt: I’m not disputing it. I’m just not categorically positive. It’s just I never thought of it. It’s never come up.

Bondy: You agree there’s some aspects of election law or campaign financing that you have not thought of or hasn’t come up, right?

Laxalt: Absolutely.

All of which absolutely might help Bondy raise an interesting question with the jury: If a fellow with Laxalt’s legal background had so few clues about foreign donor campaign law, how could a reasonable person expect the “clownish guy with a gold chain” to know about it?

A little common sense punches holes in Laxalt’s balky memory. Setting aside the fact that credible campaigns maintain relationships with attorneys and consultants who are versed in election law, Laxalt’s lightweight testimony wasn’t a good look. It made me wonder about the level of trial preparation he received, and whether he found his law degree in a Crackerjack box.

Then came his lack of a demonstrative response to questions about meeting Fruman, and whether his campaign had been promised $250,000 from the would-be marijuana moguls. The hard sell of Parnas and Fruman was surely difficult to forget, but Laxalt managed to do just that.

Bondy: Have you ever spoken to Igor Fruman before in your life?

Laxalt: As I said before, every time—the few times that I met with Lev, he would have a couple of people with him. Lev was always the guy that spoke the most and the person that I obviously stayed in touch with as far as supporting my campaign. So, I spoke with a number of his associates, but unfortunately, I just can’t connect names with the people.

When Bondy inquired about Parnas pal Giuliani’s support for his gubernatorial candidacy, Laxalt replied, “He already said he was supporting, in general, my race.”

Then came questions about Laxalt’s memories of Fruman, whose signature was on the group’s campaign contribution.

Bondy: Now there’s been some evidence presented in the case in the form of messages from Mr. Fruman speaking to another person about how they have to get $250,000 to their guy in Nevada, more or less. Let me ask you, did you ever receive $250,000 from Mr. Fruman?

Laxalt: No, sir.

Bondy: You would have remembered if you did, right?

Laxalt: Not to my knowledge.

Bondy: You never had any kind of pledge or an agreement from Mr. Fruman to contribute $250,000, either, did you?

Laxalt: Not that I recall.

Bondy: And certainly not to aid a cannabis venture, right?

Laxalt: No.

Bondy: And anyone who said that was true would be mistaken, right?

Laxalt: That’s correct.

Gubernatorial candidates of Laxalt’s breeding receive hundreds, even thousands, of campaign contribution pledges. They can’t be expected to remember every one. But this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill approach. By his own admission, Laxalt said he pursued Parnas for donations as the campaign reached its crescendo.

At the risk of playing armchair legal quarterback, after that exchange I’m left wondering whether anyone close to Laxalt told him to be emphatic when denying whether he remembered anything about receiving a pledge or having an agreement from Fruman to receive a quarter-million dollars.

It’s not the sort of conversation even a Nevada gubernatorial candidate with plenty of wealthy benefactors would likely forget. If it didn’t happen, then it didn’t happen. But Laxalt doesn’t recall.

Nor did he recall whether he included on his legal bar exam applications the details of a teenage drinking binge that resulted in the police being called. The query was an attempt by Bondy to explore the witness’ candor and credibility, but ended up raising yet another question about the candidate’s memory.

Laxalt survived his day in court, and escaped with a few bruises, but he missed his best opportunity to put an infamous interaction behind him. 

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. He is also the author of a new book, "Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War Over the West’s Public Lands." On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

Will climate change and technological progress end Nevada's beef industry?

According to Bloomberg, the CEO of Danish Crown, Europe’s top meat processor, believes beef “will be a luxury product that we eat when we want to treat ourselves” due to beef’s climate impact. If this is true, how will this impact Nevada’s cattle-centric agricultural sector? 

Before we answer that question, it’s important to acknowledge that “if this is true'' is carrying a lot of weight. If the Flying Spaghetti Monster is real and the United Church of Bacon is the one true church, all things are, perhaps, possible at Zombo.com — but if turn of the century atheist meme churches are stale parodies, perhaps the only thing possible at the most useless site on the internet is nostalgia for a simpler, less self-serious internet. Similarly, there may be a limit to how seriously we should take pronouncements about the impending scarcity of beef from the CEO of a meat processing company that not only focuses more on pork, but is facing a lawsuit for allegedly making misleading claims about how comparatively carbon-friendly pork production is.

Even so, the stakes for Nevada’s agricultural sector are high.

According to the most recent US Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture, cattle, calves, and the hay that feeds them accounted for over 70 percent of Nevada’s $665 million worth of agricultural output in 2017. This shouldn’t be particularly surprising — grazing animal husbandry has been a reliable method of producing food on lands that wouldn’t otherwise support crop agriculture for thousands of years and Nevada’s lands are some of the least suited for crop agriculture in the nation. Where Nevada’s lands can be irrigated (at least for a while), the soil is frequently too saline to efficiently produce food crops, so saline-resistant forage grasses are planted instead. Even alfalfa, which grows best in alkaline soils like Nevada’s, is only moderately salt tolerant

Put it all together and Nevada’s lands are far better at feeding food than they are at feeding people. If raising ruminants becomes unpopular for environmental, economical, or ethical reasons, there isn’t much else Nevadans can offer the world’s dinner tables.

Unfortunately, cattle have a problem — they stink. 

As anyone who’s eaten too much cabbage during dinner can attest, digesting vegetable matter can produce a lot of methane, a rather potent greenhouse gas. This is especially true when you’re eating hard to digest grasses with high amounts of cellulose (an organic compound humans can’t digest) and process the resulting cud through four(-ish) stomachs. Consequently, each cow belches about 220 pounds of methane — which is why cattle are not only the top agricultural source of greenhouse gases worldwide, but also produce more greenhouse gases per gram of protein than any other widely available protein source.

The good news is methane, unlike carbon dioxide, oxidizes quickly in the atmosphere. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Overview of Greenhouse Gases, methane breaks down within 12 years. Additionally, as the CLEAR Center at the University of California, Davis takes pains to point out, cattle are simply converting existing biomass into methane, which then oxidizes in the atmosphere and is eventually respirated by future plant life. Cattle, in other words, are carbon-neutral — or, at least, more carbon-neutral than my Mazda hatchback, which runs on refined fossilized carbon deposits.

The bad news, however, is two-fold. First, before methane oxidizes, it’s a 25 times more efficient greenhouse gas, at equivalent volumes, than carbon dioxide. Second, methane oxidizes into carbon dioxide and water vapor, two considerably longer lasting greenhouse gases. 

This is part of the reason why the CEO of the European Union’s largest meat processor is, pardon the expression, not bullish on the future of beef consumption (well, that and nakedly obvious self-interest as a continent-leading pork processor). The European Union has been trying to tackle carbon-caused climate change through a variety of policies, including through an Emissions Trading System, which caps total EU emissions and auctions off a fixed number of allowances to power plants, factories, and the transportation sector, and a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which taxes imports according to the amount of emissions produced during their manufacture. As long as these policies remain in place, it will consequently become increasingly difficult and expensive to raise or import beef into the European Union.

Luckily, at least if you’re one of Nevada’s cattle ranchers, political will for meaningful carbon reduction is virtually nonexistent in the United States. Though a supermajority of Americans polled by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation claim climate change is either a major problem or a crisis, a majority of Americans aren’t even willing to accept a $2 monthly tax on residential electrical bills to do something about it — this is what economists would call a textbook difference between “stated preferences” and “revealed preferences.” 

For now, in other words, the vast majority of Americans would love somebody to do something about climate change, provided absolutely anybody else pays for it and doing so doesn’t meaningfully affect our lifestyles or consumption habits at all. Consequently, the chances that the United States will adopt a European Union-style cap-and-trade system or any other carbon tax is, regardless of the political party in charge, utterly fanciful. We can’t even talk ourselves out of buying new gas stoves (don’t feel bad, I’m not giving up mine, either). 

Still, there remains some bad news on the horizon for Nevada’s beef producers — and good news for those of us who would like to do something about climate change without actually meaningfully inconveniencing ourselves at all:

Plant-based meat substitutes are here and they’re very similar to the real thing now, actually.

J. Kenji López-Alt is an almost insufferably curious chef who, among other exploits, once cooked over 100 different batches of chocolate chip cookies (1,536 cookies in all) to identify which ingredients, in what ratios, cooked according to which techniques produced the optimal chocolate chip cookie. Applying that same level of over-the-top experimentally-driven curiosity to plant-based meat substitutes produced by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, he came to a conclusion: If properly cooked, they’re actually really good and are perfectly serviceable meat substitutes in many dishes.

This means, for the sort of person who might find meat consumption ethically questionable for whatever reason (utilitarianism is just morally motivated reasoning with extra steps) but doesn’t want to give up on the taste and texture of meat, there are acceptable plant-based substitutes on the market which Nevadans can buy today. Though these substitutes won’t substitute a steak anytime soon, they’re a serviceable substitute in many applications which would normally call for a hamburger. Given enough time, uptake, and incremental improvement of the product, plant-based substitutes are going to cut into the bottom end of the beef market.

On the brighter side for Nevada’s cattle ranchers, however... Despite the clearly obvious increase in quality in plant-based meat substitutes, market demand isn't quite there. Additionally, the top end of the market is probably safe, at least for now. The ability to artificially cultivate anything steak-like in a lab at an acceptable cost using current production methods remains an expensive pipe dream — meat cells remain far more efficient to produce as part of a living thing than in a medical-grade lab. Though there are likely to be future breakthroughs in lab-grown meat production, it’ll probably take multiple paradigm shifts — fundamental and radical changes in how we produce lab-grown meat cells, in other words — to get from where we are today to something which you can afford to buy in a grocery store. 

One thing Silicon Valley venture capitalists frequently miss when they throw money at moonshots like lab-grown meat is an appreciation of their industry’s own history. Though Charles Babbage’s gear-driven Analytical Engine, which would have been a Victorian-era general purpose mechanical computer if he found someone willing to fund its construction, was an interesting idea, it’s probably impossible to miniaturize sufficiently to function as a handheld calculator. Similarly, though pre-transistor electronic computers like Z3, Colossus, and ENIAC are impressive, given the manufacturing constraints and technology of the time, throwing money at ever-smaller vacuum tubes would have been a colossal waste of time and resources. Only after the invention of the transistor, and the subsequent invention of the integrated circuit, was it possible to miniaturize computing hardware enough to achieve Moore’s Law and experience the regular breakthroughs in affordable computing we take for granted today.

That’s not to say people didn’t learn a lot from those early abortive attempts to manufacture general purpose computers. They did, and the legacy of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, remains felt to this very day. The story of Alan Turing’s analytical brilliance during World War 2 — and his subsequent chemical castration for homosexuality — are Hollywood fodder now, all while his theories of computing are routinely taught in computer science programs throughout the world. Similarly, attempts to produce large scale lab-grown meat may produce similar insights — provided we don’t overcommit to our current processes, economically unsustainable as they presently are.

Then again, if plant-based meat keeps getting better, it might not matter whether we can download and print a steak cell-by-cell or not. Regardless, Nevada’s cattle ranchers are undoubtedly happy we’re not quite there yet — at least as long as we continue to avoid plant-based hamburger substitutes at the drive-thru.

David Colborne was active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he blogged intermittently on his personal blog, ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate, and served on the executive committee for his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is now an IT manager, a registered non-partisan voter, and the father of two sons. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david@colbornemmx.com.  

Are we finally going to talk about CCEA’s billion-dollar sales-tax proposal?

It looks like Nevada voters will soon be asked to decide if we want to have the nation’s highest average sales tax.

In 2020, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) began collecting signatures in support of a pair of tax hikes that would total more than a billion dollars — one of which would push up the state’s weighted average sales tax rate to a national high of nearly 10 percent. Despite the economic turmoil of the COVID shutdowns, CCEA managed to acquire enough signatures to force the Legislature to entertain the proposals, lest they be put on the ballot in the following election. 

Under Nevada law, initiatives which successfully garner the requisite number of signatures will land on the next election cycle’s statewide ballot… unless the Legislature adopts the policies therein, verbatim, during the legislative session. Of course, given that Democrats didn’t control two-thirds of the Legislature, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that these issues would land on the ballot. 

However, that result could still be used as leverage

As the session came to a close, Democrats and the CCEA offered to withdraw the petitions from the 2022 ballot in a deal aimed at encouraging enough Republicans to give their support to a smaller (and less economically damaging) tax on the mining industry. 

The plan worked well. And, as a result, Democrats largely got what they wanted: a revenue increase for education without the hassle of debating a massive and controversial tax on ordinary Nevadans. 

Not unlike their supposed “non-tax” of 2019, however, it seems leadership might have been too clever by half. Last week Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske announced that, despite the Legislature’s attempt to allow the withdrawal of these proposals, her office had a constitutional obligation to submit the initiatives to voters anyway. 

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Cegavske told the attorney general’s office “the Nevada Constitution requires the Secretary of State to follow a procedure once an initiative petition has obtained the required number of verified signatures… As such, a statute cannot interfere with that duty.”

As a Republican who is undoubtedly opposed to the idea of a billion dollars in new taxes, it would have been politically tempting for Cegavske to simply concur with an opinion issued by Attorney General Aaron Ford’s office that the petitions be withdrawn. However, just as she resisted the populist GOP hysteria over voter fraud last year, she is once again demonstrating a sober respect for the boundaries and obligations of her public office. Rather than relenting to political pressure, she has remained loyal to her understanding of the Constitution and law. 

Barring some successful legal challenge, what this means is that a debate over imposing a billion-dollar sales-tax increase will take place after all — the late-hour political maneuverings of the 2021 legislative session notwithstanding. 

There are plenty of reasons to dislike the notion of hiking sales taxes—even if more funding alone actually could correct the woes currently plaguing Nevada’s system of public education. Even before the pandemic, Nevada ranked near the bottom for private-sector median income earnings. And now, we’re facing stubbornly high unemployment rates and steadily increasing price inflation

As a result, an inherently regressive sales-tax increase would disproportionately burden the Nevadans who have the fewest financial resources—hardly the kind of redistributionist theory that progressives usually embrace.

Many in the Democratic Party seem to agree—at least implicitly. After all, it was Democratic leadership, working with a handful of Republicans and the CCEA, who arranged a backroom deal to replace these burdensome taxes with a much smaller and less damaging tax against the mining industry. At minimum, the lawmakers who struck that deal did so because they felt the political advantage of such a compromise was more valuable than putting a controversial tax question to the voters — which is hardly a ringing endorsement of CCEA’s initiatives.  

Even CCEA seemed far more interested in the leverage it could gain than the actual proposals themselves.  The union’s willingness to withdraw its petitions was a tacit admission that the entire spectacle was little more than an extortion tactic to motivate Democrats, and cajole enough Republicans, into supporting some sort of politically palatable alternative. 

Unfortunately, that pesky Constitution has a habit of interfering with such political maneuvering. Now, Nevadans are stuck with both the “compromise” and the looming possibility of a tax increase so politically toxic that lawmakers from both parties were eager to avoid its discussion during the session.  

Cegavske’s reading of the constitution is unlikely to make her many friends in today’s political climate, however, pleasing the political preferences of elected officials isn’t her job. (And constitutional requirements are similarly dispassionate to such considerations.) 

For voters, the inclusion of the tax hike question on the ballot might actually prove to be a gift of sorts, the risks of its passage notwithstanding. After all, should ordinary Nevadans be expected to vote directly on such a proposal, its merits might actually have to be debated, discussed and considered in front of—and among—the very people it would directly impact. 

And those discussions generally lend themselves to more transparency than the political shenanigans that take place during the final days of the legislative session.

Michael Schaus began his professional career in policy and public commentary over a decade ago, working as a columnist, a political humorist, a radio talk show host and, most recently, as the communications director for Nevada Policy Research Institute. In 2021, Michael founded Schaus Creative LLC, a creative branding and design agency dedicated to helping organizations, businesses and activists tell their story and motivate change. Follow him at SchausCreative.com or on Twitter at @schausmichael. 

Resignations of central committee stalwarts a reminder of growing dysfunction in Nevada GOP

In a time of endless political intrigue, the departures of a couple loyal Nevada Republicans from their positions in two county central committees may seem unimportant.

Beyond the national political climate’s perfect storm, with a scandal in every news cycle, Nevada is already careening headlong into the 2022 campaign with the races for U.S. Senate and governor garnering national media attention.

So that makes this past week’s resignations of Washoe County Republican Party Central Committee Chairman Michael Kadenacy and Carson City GOP Central Committee official and former state Controller Ron Knecht appear pretty trivial.

They’re anything but that.

As I see it, they’re clear and public signs of the greater ongoing dysfunction inside the state Republican Party under Chairman Michael McDonald’s dogged grip. Add to the Washoe and Carson blowups the meltdown and litigation over the leadership of the Clark County Republican Party Central Committee, and you’re watching a party in crisis at precisely the wrong time in what promises to be a lively campaign season.

The Clark County GOP’s woes have been chronicled, and continue after what has been described as a purge of party loyalists whose greatest sins appear to have been questioning the party’s leadership and fiscal sobriety.

The latest resignations of respected, red-to-the-bone conservatives Kadenacy and Knecht are more signs of a state party gone off the rails.

In his letter this week to members of the Washoe central committee, loyal soldier Kadenacy spoke about how each volunteer having only so much “Time, Treasure, and Talent to contribute. My personal goal remains the same as when I started as a volunteer for the Party over seven years ago, to have Republicans regain the influence over public policy that it once had. This goal has translated into a highly effective field program that targeted non-partisan voters in key state legislative races. Neither the primary goal nor the program has changed.”

This is the kind of often-thankless work that central committees of either party do. These are the folks who, year in and year out, volunteer to invest their sweat equity into the game a long way from the political spotlight.

When they start announcing they’re planning to spend their time elsewhere, the party as a whole has real problems.

How chaotic is it? As signs of madness, Kadenacy alluded to an April 2019 Washoe GOP central committee meeting that ended in a shoving match and the police being called, and the April 2021 state central committee meeting that resulted in the Trumpian censure of the Republican’s only statewide officeholder, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske. Her egregious transgression: refusing to falsely claim that the 2020 presidential election in Nevada was marred by widespread voter fraud.

Immediately following the censure, which gained national traction after it was reported that members of the far-right Proud Boys were involved, Kadenacy accused state party leaders of treating Cegavske unfairly and failing to give her anything approaching a fair hearing. He wrote in a statement, “If our goal is to win elections in this next cycle, I fail to see the value of the State Party attacking the sole Republican Constitutional Officer.”

In his recent letter he concluded, “I am saddened to see that same behavior infecting the County and State Parties again.”

The mindless bullying and promotion of Trump’s big lie have turned Nevada’s GOP into a party of chaos and conspiracy, and Kadenacy had the decency to be taken aback.

Although he didn’t directly address questions about the state party’s fundraising and spending in his letter, its final sentence left little doubt: “For additional context, I am attaching the resignation letter of Ron Knecht, former State Controller, from his office in the Carson City Republican Party and Nevada Republican Party.”

Knecht minced no words.

In a resignation letter dated Sept. 21, Knecht expressed his gratitude to others on the central committee who had volunteered so many hours in the name of the party they had long known. He was clearly concerned that the party in Nevada to which he had devoted much time and effort had changed, and not for the better.

It was Knecht in April 2019 who proposed an audit of state party financial records. His concerns were drowned out by others perhaps enamored of the state party leadership’s undeniable cheerleader relationship with the Trump administration.

“Such groupthink is contrary to common sense and GOP principles,” Knecht wrote. “I’ll not miss those efforts to control others and falsely impugn people’s motives.”

Like Kadenacy, Knecht also referred to only so much time in the day to volunteer for the increasingly difficult duty of grassroots party work. After alluding to his plans to join Kadenacy, Jim Sievers and others in an effort to regain the party’s footing inside the state Legislature, where Democrats hold majorities that drive the policy narrative, he again raised a concern that is becoming an increasingly common topic of conversation inside some elements of the state GOP.

“Another reason [for his resignation] is the State CC has become dysfunctional,” he wrote. “Its leadership claims they raised $5 million in one election year. Reviewing the books, I found the state party got that money from the RNC [Republican National Committee] and other out-of-state organizations – and it was simply passed through to select statewide candidates and to political employees the RNC and other groups placed here. Very little of it was new money raised from Nevadans, and State CC did little for legislative and local contests. They and national operatives have systematically bent their efforts to raising money for the RNC, consultants and vendors at the expense of local races. The State CC has also raised damaging turmoil in Clark County and continues to do so.”

When you choose a big lie and big money over honest sweat and a strong grassroots network, you’re a political party sliding toward irrelevancy.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. He is also the author of a new book, "Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War Over the West’s Public Lands." On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

Erosion of women’s rights is wrong

Nevada passed legislation on May 14, 2019, stating that a fetus can only be aborted prior to 24-28 weeks gestation. This is the standard from the 1973 Roe V. Wade decision for fetus viability. It is federal law. I am grateful that Nevada legislators seem to understand two things: First, that Roe V. Wade is indeed the law of the land. Second, a solid majority of Nevadans (60.4 percent) favor the law, according to a recent survey, along with 62 percent of Americans, per a Pew Research poll, 

But I am greatly concerned that the hard work American women did in the past to advance and protect women’s rights, including abortion rights, is being eroded by some state and federal legislators and the judiciary. We need only look to the not-that-distant past to remember some of the archaic and absurd restrictions placed on women. A New York City law banning women, but not men, from smoking in a taxi; women unable to inherit a husband’s property. I won’t bore you with a longer laundry list of laws restricting women over the years; you get my point.

I remember a time before birth control pills when women died from illegal abortions. (Catholic girls laughed about the birth control pill being an aspirin held between the knees!) Desperate women may do desperate things, which is why abortions should be legal and safe. No woman should have to risk her life in a backroom procedure when modern clinical abortion is relatively simple and safe.

Part of the history of this issue is how women have often been characterized as temptresses with power over helpless men. Any unwanted pregnancies were her fault. What was she doing, wearing that sexy outfit? Her partner could not resist her, poor guy. Hapless and helpless, he need not carry an unwanted child — or, for that matter, care for the child after the birth. She alone must bear the responsibility for her wicked ways.  

Actual responsibility included and still includes making decisions in difficult situations. My second daughter was born with a birth defect that was “incompatible with life,” according to a medical journal I read at the time. When I became pregnant the third time, we were not sure whether the defect would be present. We were given the option of terminating the pregnancy if it was. I am not sure I could have chosen to abort the fetus, had it gone that way, but I was comforted knowing the law gave me that option. Every woman should have that comfort. Every woman should have that choice.

And don’t get me started on the adoption option. Just look at the number of children no one wants to adopt! And incest or rape? The emotional and physical toll on these women is unimaginable, and then add another 9 months of a constant reminder of the horror. That woman should, of all people, be free to make her own choice.

And if we are concerned about when life begins in the human body, we must also be concerned with how a child, after birth, will be raised and nurtured.  I have seen too many struggling parents abuse their children, both physically and emotionally. Some people do not seem to care about what happens after birth, just that it should occur regardless of a woman’s wishes and needs. The well-being of children plays into this conversation — or should.

Texas, just as an example, leads the nation with 1.5 million children living below the poverty level. They have 32,000+ children in foster care, about 750,000 living with grandparents as the sole caregivers and a teen pregnancy rate of 27.6 percent for ages 15-19 (statistics per Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity). The statistics are just as bad in many other states. As legislators debate abortion law and support for childcare and other programs, I hope they think about how many children will grow up in homes where they are not given the love and support each child needs to become a well-adjusted, happy and successful citizen.

In closing, I realize that this is a difficult and emotional issue. I realize there is disagreement. My view is that women should have control over their own bodies, and men should stay out of the decision-making when it comes to a woman’s body. But I also think we all should stop demonizing those with differing opinions and beliefs. Most of us are crazy in one way or another, but differences make our communities richer in so many ways. Let’s lift each other — and the children we choose to have — up.

Barbara Francis holds a B.A. from SUNY Potsdam and received her Masters degree from Sage Graduate School. She was a special education teacher at the primary level and retired to Northern Nevada in 2017. She is the mother of four daughters and the grandmother of six. 

Texts in illegal ‘straw donor’ case further complicate Laxalt’s Igor and Lev problem

Photo of Igor Fruman, Adam Laxalt and Lev Parnas.

The embarrassing picture that’s already painting a thousand words in Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt’s latest political campaign is now augmented by text messages.

Laxalt’s race to unseat Democrat incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto is shadowed by the grip-and-grin photograph he posed for at a Venetian fundraiser during his 2018 gubernatorial campaign flanked by accused campaign finance schemers Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

In a business where impressions matter, communications emerging from an illegal campaign contribution trial in federal court are not helpful.  The “straw donor” case is revealing confident men who believed their donations to Laxalt would throw open doors to their plans to enter Nevada’s lucrative marijuana market despite the fact that they had already missed the legal deadline. They also made donations to Republican attorney general candidate Wes Duncan.

Laxalt and Duncan would go on to lose their elections, but Parnas, Fruman and others wound up on government and press radar for their suspicious political generosity.

The Soviet-born Parnas and Ukraine-born investor Andrey Kukushkin are on trial in the Southern District of New York for making illegal campaign contributions to further their business interests. It’s alleged Parnas and Fruman were funded with up to $1 million by high-flying Russian businessman Andrey Muraviev.

Prosecutors haven’t alleged that Laxalt and other politicians on the receiving end of the political largesse knew the money came from a prohibited source. Moneyman Muraviev is not charged in the case.

Fruman pleaded guilty in September to soliciting illegal campaign contributions. Fellow co-defendant David Correia in October 2020 pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and making false statements to the Federal Election Commission. Communications produced this week from Parnas and Fruman reveal Correia and Fruman as central figures in the straw donor conspiracy. Duncan and Laxalt came out with statements saying they returned the money. 

The text messages came to light in a letter submitted by prosecutors Monday to presiding U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken, in which they sought to bat down defense arguments that proposed summary charts would prejudice the jury. The charts show the chronology of communications between the defendants at key moments in the alleged conspiracy. Illustrating phone, email, text and social media evidence sequentially is commonly used to help jurors understand facts in evidence.

Defense contentions aside, some of the texts appear to reveal their knowledge that they were making illegal foreign donor contributions. An exchange between America First Action director Joseph Ahearn and Parnas in May 2018 with a link to an ABC News article headlined “Special counsel probing donations with foreign connection to Trump inauguration” is interesting. Ahearn’s personal history of fundraising on behalf of Trump and Laxalt’s own undying fealty to the former president add to the intrigue.

The defense called such texts prejudicial. I suspect the jurors may deem it evidence of knowledge of wrongdoing.

The prosecution appears to think so. From the letter: 

That is hardly sensationalist, but it does plainly inform any reader that campaign-finance conduits and efforts to mask the actual sources of political contributions are “illegal.” … The defendants thus cannot reasonably ask the court to find that a risk of unfair prejudice from this article—or the other disputed evidence.”

Although the texts also raise the specter of whether Parnas was a better hustler than closer – Kukushkin to Fruman, July 19: “Igor, we are going in circles with Leva” – they also reveal nothing short of a relentless pursuit of a political inside move that was backed by hundreds of thousands of foreign dollars.

By July 25, 2018, Parnas had received the bad news that the Federal Election Commission had lodged a complaint alleging he, Fruman, and their front business Global Energy Producers had violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by making contributions in another person’s name.

Instead of taking that as a sign, they boldly doubled down. Did they imagine their connections in Nevada and in the Trump administration would eliminate the annoyance of an FEC violation?

In September, the group’s Nevada plan was heating up. By Sept. 5, text exchanges by Parnas, Correia, and Ahearn discuss their Las Vegas reconnaissance trip. Correia talks about the effort to coordinate “the attorney general meeting …” It is unclear whether the attorney general referred to was then-AG Laxalt or AG candidate Duncan.

It becomes clearer when on the same day Ahearn sends Parnas and Correia an invitation to a fundraiser two days later for Laxalt, “with special guest Mike Pence.”

In a separate text, Ahearn adds self-assuredly, “Let me know if you guys want to go. I can make sure laxalt speaks highly”. 

In what would become something of his trademark move, Parnas responds with a “thumbs up” emoji.

More planning ensues the following day as Kukushkin mentions the attendance at “Friday’s Laxalt for Nevada event with Vice President Mike Pence” in a message to Parnas, Fruman, Correia and others. It was at this event that Laxalt is supposed to have met with the two Eastern European amigos, with whom he would eventually be photographed. 

Although Laxalt’s name is not mentioned, ensuing conversations among the alleged co-conspirators focus on concealing the origin of the money they plan to spread around in Nevada, New York and elsewhere.

Then on Sept. 11, Kukushkin sends a message to his associate Slava Krasov, describing the friends in high places the group was making. “I had a good meeting with Attorney General of Nevada and he is willing to help in Vegas.” The message is accompanied by a photo of Kukushkin and Laxalt.

Did Laxalt meet privately with co-defendant moneyman Kukushkin, who according to the indictment admits he met with several Nevada officials?

It appears so. I just can’t remember Laxalt mentioning it before. Perhaps he’ll explain everything the next time he gives a press conference. (Sometimes I just crack myself up.)

Although it’s only prudent to question the veracity of the source now that he’s a convicted felon, on Sept. 13, Fruman messaged Kukushkin with what can be described as genuine confidence: “… It’s important to transfer 500 … The man whom you met with us in Nevada called, said that he was personally waiting for us with his deputy, who would take over from him when he becomes governor, to discuss our issue! … one can’t say there is not money… the transfer must be done tomorrow morning!!!!!”

For the record, Fruman and his five exclamation points were talking about $500,000 for the marijuana project. He was also talking about Laxalt and Duncan, in line, respectively, to become governor and the state’s highest law enforcement officer. By Sept. 18 Fruman messaged Parnas and Correia with a Chase bank note regarding “incoming wire transfer of (USD) $500,000.”

Another message was sent four days later to the interested parties from Muraviev, who appears to traffic in intrigue, and included a photo of the Time magazine cover with the title, “How Putin’s Oligarchs got inside the Trump Team.”

As expected, attaboy emojis from Fruman and Parnas followed.

By October, the 2018 election was just weeks away and Kukushkin and his insiders were planning another trip to Las Vegas after meeting with Laxalt’s college roommate Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis in Miami. Fruman tells Kukushkin. “We need to open an account urgently and to deposit 500 [thousand] there,” he said, referring to the upcoming meeting with DeSantis. “We have to fork over a check for 250 [thousand] to him at the event.”

The Las Vegas fundraising would take place on Oct. 20 at a make-or-break time in Laxalt’s gubernatorial race. With his own VIP badge, Parnas, ever the Trump lapdog, followed the president to Elko to a rally for Laxalt and then-Sen. Dean Heller. By then, the would-be players in Nevada’s competitive marijuana industry understood that they had missed the dispensary license application deadline and were stuck “unless we change the rules,” according to the indictment, which alleges “they needed a particular Nevada state official, the position for which Candidate-1 (Laxalt) was running, to green-light to implement this.”

In two messages on Oct. 25, Kukushkin appears to make reference to Laxalt and Duncan when he somewhat cryptically informs his associates, “Together with lawyers, we have to write something beautiful and, together with the Attorney General, help the current Governor establish … They know we need to change the rules from the top but only after the elections. This is our only chance.”

And their money was on Laxalt.

In the ensuing days messages between the alleged co-conspirators mentioned Nevada, Las Vegas, money and the high prospects for the success of their plan. At one point, Parnas expressed his embarrassment that Laxalt’s campaign had yet to receive a promised $12,500 check.

Before the final fundraiser, Fruman in his messages spoke with consummate optimism about the Nevada project. “Everything is according to the program of preparation of penning up the licensing in the key states,” he wrote to Kukushkin, again alluding to the need for the $500,000 cash infusion.

“After the 6th, nobody will need anything here” followed by 16 exclamation points. The 6th referring to Nov. 6, Election Day.

A funny thing happened on the way to the fix. For all the foreign money they were willing to funnel, and all the photos they snapped of the politicians they believed were going to help them achieve their goal, Laxalt and Duncan lost their races.

Duncan wisely returned the donation as word of the straw donor scandal broke and recorded it on his campaign report.

This week, as reported in The New York Times, prosecutors said in a court filing that Laxalt at some point became “suspicious” about the provenance of the $10,000 his campaign received from Fruman. He didn’t return it to the sender, but cut a check to the U.S. Treasury “in order to avoid continued possession of the illegal donation without returning it to a potential wrongdoer.”

Inspector Clouseau would be pleased, but lagging so far behind Duncan in the hand-washing race makes Laxalt look either slow on the uptake or clueless about the stakes involved.

It’s also worth noting that the trial’s juror questionnaire, which seeks to vet areas that might reveal signs of partiality by the triers of fact, mentions the late casino magnate, newspaper publisher and Republican campaign mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. Don’t be surprised if the name of Laxalt’s political sugar daddy is uttered more than once in the coming days.

Adelson is beyond public scrutiny. He died in January. He’s not around to help everyone understand how the shady Russian and Ukrainian who aren’t residents of Nevada waltzed into a private fundraiser sealed off from the press.

It’s Laxalt whose campaign and political career are at stake.

And every text and reference by the defendants that refers to him is an ugly reminder of an infamous moment the US Senate candidate would surely like to put behind him.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. He is also the author of a new book, "Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War Over the West’s Public Lands." On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

Extreme heat in Nevada is a daily reminder that climate change is a current threat

A recent report from the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) confirmed the undeniable link between human activity and the climate crisis. This portends devastating impacts for states like Nevada. The longer we delay action, the worse climate change will become and consequently severe and extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts, floods, and wildfires will become more prevalent.

While many shout this from the “tweet tops”, there are others working on real substantive remedies. During my time in the Legislature, I partnered with advocacy groups like the Nevada Conservation League and Sierra Club to promote investments in clean energy, smart growth, and water conservation. We pushed through net metering, Nevada’s renewable portfolio standard, and tax credits for renewable energy long before “going green” was considered fashionable or receiving national attention.

Now Congress must enact two bills: a bipartisan transportation and physical infrastructure bill written and passed by the Senate and the Build Back Better bill which invests in human infrastructure and is the heart of President Biden’s domestic agenda. Together they make the bold climate commitments necessary to address extreme weather and support a clean energy future. Only by passing these measures can we effectively begin to address what the IPCC called nothing less than “a code red for humanity.”

The majority of the American people agree that we must act now. The latest Pew Research Center poll showed more than half of Republicans and an overwhelming percentage of Democrats favor a range of climate initiatives:

  • 55 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Democrats support taxing corporations based on their carbon emissions. 
  • 64 percent of Republicans and 93 percent of Democrats support tougher restrictions on carbon emissions from power plants. 
  • 78 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats support providing tax credits to businesses for developing carbon capture and storage. 
  • Roughly 90 percent of both Democrats and Republicans would support an initiative to plant one trillion trees to absorb carbon emissions. 

Here in Nevada, we experienced a summer of record-breaking extreme heat. As an urban heat island, Las Vegas is disproportionately  impacted by high temperatures. In Clark County, 82 people died from heat-related causes in 2020. While extreme heat affects us all, it is especially dangerous for the more than 70,000 Nevadans who are particularly vulnerable, including those who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases, the elderly, and individuals living in areas with poor air quality. This means low-wealth communities and communities of color, due to decades of environmental injustice, are bearing the brunt of climate change.

These temperatures are not just a public health threat, but a threat to our economy as well. As summer days get steadily hotter and drier, we are seeing agricultural loss, loss of income for outdoor workers, and increased energy costs. Over the last decade here in Nevada, we experienced 12 extreme weather events, costing the state up to $1 billion in damages. We need to act now to address climate change, or extreme weather events will continue to harm our communities and cost our taxpayers.

Modernizing our infrastructure and moving toward a clean energy future means investing in Nevada’s growing clean energy economy. Prior to the pandemic, almost 34,000 Nevadans were employed in clean energy and with big, bold climate action, this number can skyrocket, offering Nevadans opportunities that would strengthen our economy and put more people to work in family-sustaining jobs. We can install solar panels on rooftops, retrofit homes and schools to be energy efficient, incentivize electric car and bus usage, and build wind farms and solar gardens. In short, we can create millions of family supporting, good paying union jobs, build resilient communities, and reduce the carbon pollution that is fueling extreme weather.

To accomplish these goals and deliver on climate, justice, and jobs, we must pass both the Senate Infrastructure and Transportation bill and the Build Back Better Act. Now is our moment to go big and be bold. All Nevadans and their children and grandchildren will benefit. Indeed, there is no Planet B.

Rep. Dina Titus represents Nevada’s 1st Congressional District in the House of Representatives. She previously served in the state Senate and was a professor at UNLV. She lives in Las Vegas.

Heartland climate-denier conference promises plenty of political science

Las Vegas is famous for its entertaining shows in a make-believe setting, so surely it was only a matter of time before the Heartland Institute brought its climate-science denial conference to the Strip to no less an iconic property than Caesars Palace.

Starting Friday, that’s where you’ll find this year’s gathering of the libertarian think tank’s positively temperature-raising 14th International Conference on Climate Change with the even more intriguing theme: “The Great Reset: Climate Realism Vs. Climate Socialism.”

Heartland rejects the widely accepted scientific consensus on climate change and has assembled its own more than 50-speaker lineup of academically credentialed and pseudoscientific experts to repeat the argument that taking climate change too seriously is a slippery slope that will lead to the end of capitalism and a one-world government under the United Nations banner.

Don’t take my word for it. From a conference web page: “The global climate agenda, as promoted by the United Nations, is to overhaul the entire global economy, usher in socialism, and forever transform society as one in which individual liberty and economic freedom are crushed.”

Per the Huffington Post, Heartland’s conference was first called the “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change” as a half-clever play on the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change.” You know, the one with all the top scientists and researchers representing more than 100 countries as opposed to Heartland’s “modest gathering of fringe scientists and political cranks.”

Au contraire, Heartland responds; they merely offer experts “who look at the data and do not see human activity causing an ‘existential’ climate crisis.”

If that’s the case, then a lot of highly credible scientists from dozens of nations are in on the grand anti-American conspiracy to ruin oil company profits while simultaneously forcing a world full of rubes to breathe cleaner air. But who are we to interrupt Heartland’s disinformation fun?

Among the scheduled sessions that caught my eye: “Climate Models vs. Reality” presented by Patrick Michaels of the CO2 Coalition and the former director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Koch-funded Cato Institute. Says one of many critics: “His contributions as an ‘expert’ to the multi-pronged strategy to stall action on climate change have been subsidized for decades by the industries that have the most to lose from any such action.”

Scratch the surface and you’ll find a lot of “experts” like Michaels.

One of my personal favorites is Canadian Patrick Moore, who touts himself as a co-founder of the environmental organization Greenpeace. That alone figures to give a fellow real street cred at a climate science denier conference, and plenty of news outlets have gulped the bait.

Except that, well, the actual Greenpeace doesn’t count him as a co-founder, just a guy who played a “significant role” in the organization’s early years, according to its website. Then the spoiler: “Patrick Moore has been a paid spokesman for a variety of polluting industries for more than 30 years, including the timber, mining, chemical and the aquaculture industries. Most of these industries hired Mr. Moore only after becoming the focus of a Greenpeace campaign to improve their environmental performance. Mr. Moore has now worked for polluters for far longer than he ever worked for Greenpeace.”

If you’ve followed Nevada’s long battle against the proposed nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain, Moore’s name might sound familiar. He has worked for the Nuclear Energy Institute’s “Clean and Safe Energy Coalition,” part of the nuclear industry’s multimillion-dollar marketing efforts to put a happy face on its lobbying efforts.

Another scientific expert sure to cause a stir is Lord Christopher Monckton, a former advisor to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He is widely touted as a global warming expert, especially by the climate change denying Science and Public Policy Institute, which once reported in a profile that Monckton enjoyed the “status of Nobel Peace Laureate.” He later claimed that the reference had not been meant to be taken seriously, which is just the way climate scientists feel about his views on global warming.

These days, Heartland’s climate science skeptics also have their own version of Greta Thunberg, the remarkable young activist from Sweden who has risen to world acclaim for speaking truth to power and telling it like it is on the subject of global warming. Her name is Naomi Seibt and at the conference she is being promoted as a “Global Climate Realism Communicator.” She conveniently also works for the Heartland Institute.

The young woman dubbed the “anti-Greta” by the environmental community and anyone with a sense of humor, Seibt is a climate change denier who also mixes in promotions of COVID-19 vaccine disinformation.

Sure, Thunberg’s voice rose organically and Seibt’s imitation is classic AstroTurf. But look at the entertainment value she brings to the Heartland’s favorite branch of science – political science.

But what do you expect from a think tank that accepts millions from Philip Morris and “thinks” that the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke are overrated?

I can only imagine what Heritage and its friends will think of the new research analysis in the journal Nature Climate Change that shows at least 85 percent of the world’s population has already borne the brunt of weather events made worse by human-accelerated climate change. Guessing not much time will be spent on the topic this week.

The list of Ph.D.-carrying industry representatives scheduled to appear at the conference is long, and not surprisingly some of those shared their sage advice with the Trump administration. All bring their own vision of the problem that inevitably leads to the same conclusion: Severe climate change is more or less a hoax and global warming is nothing to sweat about, lest we wake up one morning and find ourselves socialists.

This week the deniers are playing Vegas, where the atmosphere is always warming, but at least it’s a dry heat.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. He is also the author of a new book, "Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War Over the West’s Public Lands." On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

Is Joe Biden the duly elected President of the United States of America?

Yes.

David Colborne was active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he blogged intermittently on his personal blog, ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate, and served on the executive committee for his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is now an IT manager, a registered non-partisan voter, and the father of two sons. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david@colbornemmx.com.  

***

David...

Yes...?

We’re not publishing a one-word column.

Why not? I wrote a 4,500-word column in February. If you average them, it works out to more than 2,000 words per column.

The length of most of your columns and what each one does to my weekend is a separate discussion. I’m talking about this one in particular.

What’s wrong with it?

It’s a one-word column.

So it shouldn’t take long to edit.

Opinion columns are supposed to take a firm stand...

Did I stutter?

… and attempt to persuade the reader to agree.

Who am I going to persuade, exactly? The 74 percent of Republican voters who believe Biden only won because of fraud? The openly craven Republican candidates, like Adam Laxalt and Joey Gilbert, who are pandering to these people by openly claiming Donald Trump is a dispossessed antipope holding court in Mar-a-Lago? 

Perhaps I can convince more cowardly Republican candidates, like Dean Heller and James Wheeler, who believe mouthing the words “election integrity” and “forensic audit” while swallowing any mention of “Biden” or “Harris” will let them straddle both sides of the line, all while they claim credit for the “courage” of their “convictions” to their base whenever someone like me calls them out for the disingenuousness.

Maybe I can convince invertebrate Republicans like Joe Lombardo, who “can’t opine” because he’s “not aware of that.” Who needs a spine when you’re running as a cryogenically defrosted jellyfish who hibernated through the last 24 months?

Multiple audio recordings of Trump making clearly outlandish claims of voter fraud didn’t persuade them, even though, if Trump’s numbers were accurate, nearly 10 percent of the votes cast in Georgia would have been fraudulent. The dismissal of more than fifty election fraud lawsuits didn’t persuade them, either. The conservative-funded Cyber Ninja’s “forensic audit” reaching the conclusion that Biden won Arizona didn’t persuade them — on the contrary, now the CEO of Cyber Ninjas is getting harassed because his partisan-funded audit didn’t “prove a different election result.” The utter failure of Mike Lindell’s “cyber symposium” to make a single provable claim of election fraud didn’t persuade them, either.

Why should I expect anything I write to be any different?

Considerable time and energy was spent during the latter half of the 20th century keeping the limits of mainstream political discourse within eyesight of objective reality. William F. Buckley helped Republicans keep Birchers — a group of conservatives following a candy salesman who believed the Americans and Soviets were conspiring together in an Illuminati-led plot — at arm’s length from most meaningful levers of power. Democrats, meanwhile, fought desperately to keep Lyndon LaRouche — a fraud who used baroque conspiracy theories to bilk supporters out of millions — away from the party and politics more generally. Neither mainstream Republicans nor Democrats were wholly successful, but at least they tried to ground their ideologies and proposed policies on actual facts on the ground.

The reason both parties kept the conspiratorial fringe away from power is because once someone is convinced British monarchs are drug peddling lizard people, once someone is convinced Americans and Soviets are two sides of the same Illuminati-controlled coin, once someone’s convinced children are being trafficked through online furniture companies, there’s no end to where their delusions may take them. Sure, you might be able to convince them you’re on their side, that you’re no sheeple, at least for an election — but what happens when your facts go up against their imagination, like what happened in Arizona? Or, worse yet, what happens when they decide you need their help to uncover the vast conspiracy you’re both supposedly in on?

There was a time when conservative intellectuals understood that conspiratorial thinking was fundamentally the product of an authoritarian mindset — the product of a mindset which assumes human history can be led down a path which solely advances the ends of those leading humanity, with or without the consent of those being led, with or without the overt terror normally needed to keep people in line. It is, in short, a fairytale for despots who would love nothing more than for this to be possible, who would love nothing more than to set a chessboard in their mind, make their opening move, and then win by default. In reality, even though chess is a two person game on a standard board with simple rules, chessmasters still have opponents, and those opponents get a say in how each game goes. Authoritarianism, and central planning more generally, is a one-against-many game, one in which each player, and Mother Nature itself, gets a say in how the board is set up and what the rules will be. By its very nature, it’s doomed to failure.

Now, however, they’re openly cheering Trump on. When you’re in a “Flight 93 election,” when you’re in a “counter-revolutionary moment,” you don’t sweat little things like due process or the consent of the governed. You don’t sweat little things like accurately counting every vote — in a world in which millions of votes are potentially fraudulent, why shouldn’t some of those millions be fraudulent in your favor? You don’t even sweat an insurrection on live television, committed by supporters of Donald Trump, which tore through the nation’s capitol — it was a hoax, actually, and even if it wasn’t, Black Lives Matter protests did more damage in more cities, so it’s special pleading to hold conservative protesters accountable when they demand Congress throw out electoral votes and sack the Capitol when they don’t get their way. Besides, 11 million more Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2020 than in 2016 — surely we can’t suppress their expressed will? 

Perhaps, but let’s not pretend Joe Biden didn’t also pick up 15 million more votes than Hillary Clinton — who, by the way, received three million more votes than Trump in 2016 — either. Those 15 million voters get a say in how this country is run, too.

So here we are, in a state and a nation where one political party is wholly and enthusiastically in thrall to a delusion, self-justified on the grounds that, well, it’s not like Hillary Clinton voters took their defeat well (Remember when members of the Women’s March stormed Congress in 2017 and put several police officers in the hospital? Me neither.), so why shouldn’t they fight back with delusions of their own? 

Perhaps because “My imagination can beat up your imagination” is not a sustainable basis for peaceful coexistence. Perhaps because, when one person points at the Moon and screams, “It’s blue!”, the answer isn’t to scream, “No, it’s red, and I have a God-given right to shoot you for disagreeing!” Perhaps because two wrongs don’t make a right, especially when the second wrong is exponentially worse than the first.

But, again, who am I going to persuade? I’m not offering free candy or presents, so I’m much less persuasive than the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus — and I’m not offering the restoration of God-Emperor Trump to his throne in the White House, from which his benevolent light can hold back the forces of Chaos, so I’m much less persuasive than Newsmax or OAN.

Perhaps I can persuade the 95 percent of Democratic voters who believe Biden won fair and square? Oh wait, they already agree with me.

Or do we actually think the 11 percent of Nevadans who told the Mellman Poll they “don’t know” whether our president was elected or not were serious about that response and not just trying to hang up the phone as fast as humanly possible? Or perhaps I should pretend people too disinterested to have an opinion one way or the other about who’s president of the United States and whether he was elected fairly or not read opinion columns?

You could always write about something else.

It’s true, I could write another column about COVID-19, a pandemic which enjoys widespread transpartisan agreement and support on its nature, appropriate public policy countermeasures, and responsible individual choices.

Ahem.

Speaking of COVID-19, I could write about how Idaho’s lieutenant governor briefly seized power while their governor was in Texas and banned vaccination and testing requirements, as well as vaccine passports. While she was in power, she also tried to deploy the Idaho National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. Her orders were overturned as soon as Gov. Brad Miller returned, of course. Oh, and they’re both Republicans, so things are clearly going well for that party, even in states like Idaho where they enjoy single-party rule.

Alas, this is The Nevada Independent, not The Idaho Independent. On the other hand, imagine an alternate world where former lieutenant governor Kate Marshall seized the Governor’s Mansion and started issuing executive orders while Steve Sisolak went to a conference somewhere?

You wrote 4,500 words on blockchains, then wrote another 2,500 word follow-up three weeks later. Write about technology! You’re an IT Manager! Surely you have something interesting to say about it?

Windows 11 was released. 

There you go! How will that affect Nevadans?

If they’re using a Windows computer, their computer was manufactured in the past few years, and their workplace isn’t blocking upgrades to Windows 11, their Start Menu may move to the bottom-middle of their screen.

There are other changes, but most of them aren’t really noticeable unless you plan on running Linux applications on your Windows computer. Most people aren’t.

You’re being difficult.

Fine. Android 12 is also coming out.

Okay. How will that affect Nevadans?

It means the few Android phones in the state whose operating system updates aren’t blocked by their cell phone providers or by their manufacturer will reboot in late October. After they finish rebooting, those phones will have a more colorful user interface.

Anything else?

Probably, but it doesn’t matter. Every other Android phone user will either have to wait for their manufacturer or cell phone provider to analyze the update, reinsert the “value add” software manufacturers and cell phone providers love so much, and issue the update to their phones, or they’ll have to go without until they buy a new phone with Android 12 preinstalled. 

As manufacturers and cell phone carriers make money on reselling phones, take a guess on which path they’d prefer you to take.

iPhone users will, of course, continue to routinely receive iOS updates for five years because Apple does not openly loathe their customers, even if they don’t particularly trust them.

So you have an iPhone, then?

Absolutely not. Give me freedom to install custom operating systems on my phone or give me death!

So you wiped Android off your phone and replaced it with something else?

Absolutely not. That sounds complicated. I’m an IT manager, not an IT professional. I have people and PowerApps for that now.

So you ordered someone else to wipe Android off your phone and replace it with something else?

Absolutely not.

Then… was there a point to any of this?

Absolutely not.

Will you promise to Write Back Better next week? Preferably in fewer than three trillion words?

Absolutely not.

Shared values are, apparently, no match for strawman arguments

Ascribing to our ideological rivals malicious intent before we even fully understand their position has, regrettably, become a staple in modern political discourse. 

According to the partisans, everyone is either a Nazi or a Marxist — a racist oppressor or a Stalinist wannabe. And, unsurprisingly, such perceptions of one another have led to absurd levels of political intolerance and disdain—not to mention a palpable decline in constructive political discourse. 

The consequence—aside from entertaining, albeit maddening, Twitter debates—is that our most profound areas of shared values are often overlooked. 

When The New York Times’s Nikole Hannah-Jones—most widely known for her work on the 1619 Project—took a shot at the concept of educational choice, for example, it was clear she didn’t expect to have anything in common with her ideological “others.” 

“You already have choice,” Hannah-Jones said on Wednesday to school choice activists. “Homeschool or pay tuition.”

Her critique undoubtedly smacked of “let them eat cake” elitism to the countless disadvantaged low-income families who are desperate for alternatives to their neighborhood public school. Paying private school tuition or foregoing work to homeschool one’s own child is, after all, largely a luxury afforded only to those with a certain level of financial resources. For many supporters of educational choice—specifically low-income minorities—her comments are akin to someone in the 1950s alleging that no one is “forced” to sit in the back of the bus because alternative means of transportation are available for those who are able to purchase them. 

Hannah-Jones’ response to the flood of criticism that came her way, however, revealed a remarkable area of unintentional agreement between progressive social justice advocates and educational choice proponents—one that has largely gone unnoticed amidst the theatrical strawmen so often erected around the issue of education reform. 

“Why do ‘school choice’ advocates never advocate eliminating school district boundaries/funding schools by local property tax and allowing poor, Black students to attend white, wealthy schools in neighboring municipalities? They don’t really want choice, just privatization,” lamented Hannah-Jones.

“Classism is allowing rich white communities to exclusively fund just their own schools, and then to keep lower income folks out through exclusionary zoning and invisible but impenetrable school district boundaries,” she continued. “So, you really want choice? Let’s go.”

Her criticism of the segregationist outcomes of current public-school zoning procedures and funding mechanisms isn’t wrong. In fact (clearly unbeknownst to her) advocates of educational choice have long promoted reforms that would allow students to attend classrooms outside of their “zoned” neighborhood schools. 

Hannah-Jones, seemingly so certain that her political adversaries couldn’t possibly be motivated by the same well-intended impulses she harbors, unknowingly echoed a long-standing—and mainstream—tenet of the educational choice movement: That access to a quality education shouldn’t be determined by a family’s zip code. And while her comments are stunningly reminiscent of those made by choice proponents, her certainty that reform advocates were somehow standing in the way of racial and classist equity was so unshakable she clearly didn’t even conduct a cursory Google search before assuming her critics intentions (and policies) were less honorable than her own.   

As it turns out, in reality, educational choice proponents aren’t as radically divorced from her progressive principles as she initially believed. After all, she is right that “rich white families” have greater access to the nation’s best public schools solely because of their zip code—just as more affluent families have greater access to private schools, tutors and homeschooling. That is precisely why “open enrollment” has long been a staple of the choice movement—as have programs like Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarships, which are aimed at giving disadvantaged, low income, families access to the non-public options currently accessible only to wealthy privileged families. 

However, partisan tribalism often encourages even the best of us to assume the worst about those with whom we disagree. After all, it’s far more difficult to dismiss the arguments of well-intention, reasonable and intelligent neighbors than the arguments of malicious, malevolent or even traitorous strangers—which is probably why most of modern politics revolve around portraying our intellectual rivals as incarnations of the worst traits we can imagine.  

To gun control advocates, for example, defenders of the Second Amendment are little more than NRA shills that profit off the deaths of children. To pro-life activists, Planned Parenthood supporters are little more than a thinly veiled eugenics fanatics funded by the deaths of unborn children. To partisans on both sides, those who belong to the other party are stooges for would-be authoritarians hellbent on delivering us to a dystopian future. 

Sure, these are all strawmen based off cartoonishly simplified perceptions of our ideological rivals, but our willingness to erect such armies of fictitious adversaries erodes our willingness to explore the passions, convictions and true motivations of those with whom we largely disagree—leaving us blind to our shared values and concerns.  

Such blindness is, unsurprisingly, a bipartisan affliction. On certain issues, we all seem inclined to concoct fictitious portrayals of those who would injure our preferred policy solutions—valiantly striking down our imagined foes with a righteous sense of self-importance, just as Don Quixote rode into battle against the windmills he envisioned as giants. 

However, as Hannah-Jones inadvertently demonstrated through her ignorance of those she viewed as ideological opponents, our shared values and convictions—not to mention occasional policy agreements—are too often overlooked in our rush to paint our adversaries in an unflattering light. 

As it turns out, her desire to increase access to equitable and inclusive educational options for disadvantaged communities has long been shared by the very activists with which she was prepared to go to war—which seems like a profound opportunity to begin productive discussions over how to build substantive reforms for closing the racial and economic gaps in American education. 

Of course, doing so is a bit more intellectually taxing than tearing down all the strawmen we have built up around the issue… not to mention less entertaining on political-Twitter. 

Michael Schaus began his professional career in policy and public commentary over a decade ago, working as a columnist, a political humorist, a radio talk show host and, most recently, as the communications director for Nevada Policy Research Institute. In 2021, Michael founded Schaus Creative LLC, a creative branding and design agency dedicated to helping organizations, businesses and activists tell their story and motivate change. Follow him at SchausCreative.com or on Twitter at @schausmichael.