Legal arm of NPRI takes up fight against the tyranny of federal power and conceit

I thought it was a telling sign of our times when Las Vegas casino owners expressed greater regard and respect for the Chinese communist government of Macau than the one in D.C., but, when a Cuban immigrant compares a federal agency to the government of Fidel Castro, it is the last nail in the coffin of liberty and private property rights.

On Monday NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation filed a claim with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for $86,000 in actual damages, claiming “negligent and lawless actions” by the agency caused flooding damage to a church camp in Amargosa Valley. (As first reported here.)

The private camp is owned by the Ministero Roco Solida Church (Sold Rock). The pastor of the church and operator of the camp is Victor Fuentes, a Cuban immigrant, who compared the federal government’s actions to Castro’s confiscation of the private property of the Bacardi rum-making family.

Victor and Annette Fuentes next to stream when it ran through their church camp. (Photo for Pahrump Valley Times by Mark Waite)

The camp was flooded in December 2010, shortly after Fish and Wildlife completed a project to reroute a stream that ran through the church camp. Fuentes said he had been warned by an agency ranger that flooding might occur during heavy rains because of how the rechanneling was done. Fuentes noted the new channel was on higher ground and he did not know how they could expect water to flow uphill.

Asked why the federal agency rerouted the stream in the first place, Joseph Becker, director and chief legal officer of CJCL, replied, “We’re not exactly sure. I mean there’s talk about preservation of some kind of fish, but we believe that the idea is for there not to be any private land owners out there and this was one of the ways of making that happen.”

The 40-acre camp, dubbed Patch of Heaven, is surrounded by the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Fish and Wildlife has purchased a number of  privately held parcels of land over the years to consolidate the refuge.

In an article in the Pahrump Valley Times in December 2009 Fuentes and his wife Annette expressed concerns about whether the rerouting would completely dry up the stream through the camp, which is a major attraction for visitors.

“Our stream that flows through there, they’re going to take the water off of there, divert it above us and take it off our property, and it’s been there for years. They’re redoing stuff on the refuge. We’re very upset about it,” Annette Fuentes was quoted as saying. “That’s why we bought the property, because the water flowed through there. It’s beautiful, peaceful, and it’s a property value as well.”

The story quoted a federal agent as saying the plan was to put the stream back on its original path and reintroduce speckled dace, an endangered minnow, which needed faster flowing, cooler water.

Original path? Streams and rivers through flat lands, like the Amargosa and Mississippi valleys, change paths frequently due to flooding and silting. There is no original path.

Becker said there are maps showing the stream running through the Patch of Heaven property in the late 1800s.

Though Becker did not commit to any further litigation, he conceded, whatever happens with the damage claim, there is potential for a federal lawsuit under the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause and/or a case before the state engineer, who under Nevada water law can determine who gets water rights.

As a mining state, Nevada uses the Appropriation Doctrine for water rights — first in time of use for a beneficial purpose is first in rights.

“What’s happened at Patch of Heaven is the sort of tyrannical actions that emerge when you have a government agency — in this case the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — not only making the rules, but also administering them and then adjudicating the resultant disputes,” Becker said. “There’s little-to-no accountability, and that must stop.”

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NPRI legal arm seeking damages from federal agency

Victor Fuentes at Patch of Heaven church camp in Amargosa Valley

NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation announced today it is seeing damages on behalf of a Christian camp over damages caused by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Patch of Heaven camp is located on 40 acres in Amargosa Valley in the middle of Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

CJCL says the federal agency in the fall of 2010 illegally rerouted two streams that historically flowed through the church camp run by Cuban immigrant Victor Fuentes. Just weeks after altering the spring-fed streams the a rain storm overflowed the new levees, flooding the camp and causing extensive damage.

Before the federal diversion

Fuentes said he tried to get relief from the government but got nowhere. “The government acts like a separate entity from the people — they are there, and we are here,” Fuentes said.

In addition to the structural damage, the overall value of the camp property has fallen because the water source that attracted visitors is gone and the land is now in a government-created flood plain. Visitor volume has fallen off.

Fuentes and his wife operate the camp for the The Ministerio Roco Solida Church (Solid Rock Church).

“I came to this country because I didn’t want the government’s hands on me,” said Fuentes. “I fled that government. That’s not the government I wanted to find here.”

Patch of Heaven was once advertised as:

“A place where you can breathe fresh air, feel peace, love and tranquility.

“Is for those who want to have a personal and deep experience of prayer and reflection in a peaceful climate surrounded by God’s beautiful creation.

“Youth, college, and adults groups alike will enjoy the scenic beauty surrounding the camp.”

Obama makes a clean sweep of the Constitution as military budget cuts get closer to home

The president’s proposal to cut $487 billion from the defense budget over the next decade, in addition to $500 billion in cuts if Congress follows through on plans for deeper reductions, has the hawks up in arms, claiming it will weaken the country and make us vulnerable to attack.

“Some will no doubt say the spending reductions are too big; others will say they’re too small,” Obama was quoted by USA Today as saying. “It will be easy to take issue with a particular change. But I would encourage all of us to remember what President Eisenhower once said — that ‘each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.'”

One of the ways the president is proposing to cut defense expenditures is through a drastic reduction in domestic military base housing, according to Bloomburg News. To make up for the lost cots, a newly created Bureau of Surplus Housing Space for Enlistees will conduct a no-knock census of private homes within 15 miles for every U.S. military base.

New military housing program

Unused bedroom space would then be assigned to military personnel in exchange for a modest stipend. The holders of mortgages of foreclosed homes would also be required to turn on power and water and provide garbage collection service.

The Pentagon estimates the difference between the cost of maintaining, cleaning, heating and cooling existing barracks and the amount expended on the stipends could save $500 billion over the next decade, enough for a couple dozen really cool armored vehicles or half a jet fighter.

In Las Vegas and other cities with high foreclosure rates and underwater home values, many people welcomed the new program.

Frank Clary in North Las Vegas said the Bureau has already designated the nursery for his 3-month-old son as surplus space for a young Nellis WAC. He just hopes the baby’s crying doesn’t in any way fatigue the sergeant and somehow jeopardize the nation’s defense readiness program. But the family can use the stipend for the diaper bill.

Dave Dallas, a UNLV professor of the history of multicultural relationships in an industrial society, said many patriotic Americans will welcome the opportunity to invite service men and women into their homes as a way of doing their part to sacrifice for the nation, the president and his party. Besides, a couple of extra bucks in the family budget could mean a few more minutes at the video poker machine in the grocery store.

Walter E. Walters, a professor of history, economics and constitutional law at George Mason University, pointed out that the new program will put Obama in the history books for having made a clean sweep of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

While others before him had largely gutted the Commerce Clause and nine of the 10 Bill of Rights, Obama has wiped out the constitutional concept of recess appointments and the Third Amendment, which once read, “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

“Sure the First Amendment had been dented by campus speech codes and prohibitions against prayer and religious trappings anywhere on public property,” Walters said. “Sure the Second has been dialed back by requirements to register handguns. Sure the Fourth’s search and seizure safeguards were blunted by the Hiibel case in which Larry Hiibel was arrested for not giving his name to a Humbolt County deputy. Sure the Fifth’s Takings Clause was smoked by the Kelo decision. Sure the Six’s right to a speedy and public trial has been buried by redtape. The Seventh’s trial by jury right doesn’t apply to traffic court. The Eighth’s unusual punishment couldn’t hold up against the need for lifetime sentences for possession of pot. And when Congress can set the drinking age or voting age or speed limits, the Ninth and 10th are toast. But Obama has taken out the mighty Third, which has withstood the exigencies and emergencies and whims of politicians for two centuries. What a feat!”

Barry performs sleight of hand

Penn and Teller may be masters of illusion, but if Obama pulls off this trick he should get his own showroom on the Strip.

While there is a charging rhino behind him on stage, the president directs our attention to the tiny efficiency rabbit he proposes to pull out of his hat if those do-nothing laggards in Congress just get out of his way and let him work his magic.

On Friday Obama spoke to a group of small business executives in the East Room about how he wants to streamline government and consolidate six commerce related agencies into one lean, mean and efficient agency that will serve the business community. (He’s from the government and he’s here to help you.)

“We live in a 21st century economy, but we’ve still got a government organized for the 20th century,” the president said. “Our economy has fundamentally changed — as has the world — but our government, our agencies, have not. The needs of our citizens have fundamentally changed but their government has not. Instead, it’s often grown more complicated and sometimes more confusing.”

This from the man who gave us ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank and the highest deficits in history and a national debt that exceeds the nation’s GDP and has grown the federal bureaucracy like topsy?

“So today, I’m calling on Congress to reinstate the authority that past presidents have had to streamline and reform the Executive Branch,” Barry said. “This is the same sort of authority that every business owner has to make sure that his or her company keeps pace with the times. And let me be clear: I will only use this authority for reforms that result in more efficiency, better service and a leaner government.”

Watch his hands closely. Pay no attention to what he’s been doing for three years. Who are you going to believe? The president or your lying eyes?

The Wall Street Journal published this amusing little chart today:

The WSJ editorialists did not think Obama so much a magician as a stand-up comic.

“The Washington rap on President Obama is that he’s humorless, but that’s unfair,” the WSJ lede editorial began. “He may not be Jay Leno funny, but his bit Friday on reforming and reducing government was great.”
Then they put the great spending hawk’s words in proper perspective: “But let’s go to the videotape. One measure of government size is the federal work force, measured by the White House budget office as civilian full-time equivalent employees, excluding the military and Post Office. The executive branch had about 1.875 million workers in 2008 when the financial crisis hit, a number that held relatively constant throughout the post-9/11 Bush Administration. That number climbed to 2.128 million two years later under the 111th Congress — or growth of 13.5%. That’s the largest government since 1992, when the Clinton Administration began to slash defense spending.”

Obama’s planned consolidation MIGHT cut 1,000 of those jobs.

In a Cato Institute podcast, Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy studies at Cato, suggests the organization might actually grow the size of government and the better action would be to simply close them all.

The president’s speech drew a lot of laughter, but not always for the right reason:

Ely Times column: PERS pension payments are public records, so don’t appeal

Today’s column in the Ely Times burrows into a district judge’s ruling declaring PERS pension payments are public records that should be available for all citizens to see.

Since the column was filed, I’ve been told by a PERS official that the board of the public employee pension program may decide as early as next week whether to comply with the judge’s ruling and make the records public or file an appeal.

I would recommend the board members read the judge’s ruling closely before choosing to waste time and the money of taxpayers and pensioners on such an appeal. District Court Judge James Russell’s ruling in a suit brought by the Reno-Gazette Journal meticulously spells out the legal, logical and public interest reasons that the names and pension payments of public employee retirees are a matter of public record and concern.

I’m sure the board will be tempted to chance an appeal, because some of the pensions being paid are what we rubes in the private sector would call eye-poppingly embarrassing.

Judge Russell even cites a California court case that specifically found the phrase “individual records of members” of a public pension program — very similar to the language in Nevada law allowing confidentiality of “files of individual members or retired employees” — did not mean names and benefit amounts may be kept confidential.

If the taxpayers are to be able to judge whether their money is being wisely spent by government on those who used to work there, we need to see the actual figures, not some ballpark figures based on a formula. It also will be revealing to see how many retired public employees also hold some new government job  — double-dipping.

You know, double-dipping, like James Hunderfund, who, according to a Bloomberg News account, is paid at least $225,000 a year as a school superintendent on Long Island, N.Y., while entitled to draw an annual pension of $316,245 from a prior job public school job.

Show us the money.

Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one … cudgels are cheaper

I’ve always been a huge fan of Benjamin Franklin’s homespun, common sense advice for resolving what ails society. From time to time, I pick up one of the several volumes by and about him off the bookshelf in my home office and scan the pages for scraps of his wit and wisdom.

As a man who once suggested his tombstone should merely read “Benjamin Franklin, Printer,” you might suspect he held a strong affection for what he termed “liberty of the press.” As one who practiced the journalistic arts for nearly four decades before being — as one wag of considerable conceit, ill-repute and a propensity for petulant partisan pandering put it — defrocked, I share Franklin’s high regard for the press.

But … as one who has been too often the target of scurrilous slanders by certain cretins of low-octane intellect — both in print and on print’s bastard offspring, the Internet — I also take heed of another liberty Mr. Franklin thought should be restored to its proper place under the law — the liberty of the cudgel.

Here is how Franklin phrased it so eloquently:

“But since so much has been written and published on the federal Constitution, and the necessity of checks in all other parts of good government has been so clearly and learnedly explained, I find myself so far enlightened as to suspect some check may be proper in this part also; but I have been at a loss to imagine any that may not be

Benjamin Franklin

construed an infringement of the sacred liberty of the press. At length, however, I think I have found one that, instead of diminishing general liberty, shall augment it; which is, by restoring to the people a species of liberty, of which they have been deprived by our laws, I mean the liberty of the cudgel. In the rude state of society prior to the existence of laws, if one man gave another ill language, the affronted person would return it by a box on the ear, and, if repeated, by a good drubbing; and this without offending against any law. But now the right of making such returns is denied, and they are punished as breaches of the peace; while the right of abusing seems to remain in full force, the laws made against it being rendered ineffectual by the liberty of the press.

“My proposal then is, to leave the liberty of the press untouched, to be exercised in its full extent, force, and vigor; but to permit the liberty of the cudgel to go with it pari passu. Thus, my fellow-citizens, if an impudent writer attacks your reputation, dearer to you perhaps than your life, and puts his name to the charge, you may go to him as openly and break his head. If he conceals himself behind the printer, and you can nevertheless discover who he is, you may in like manner way-lay him in the night, attack him behind, and give him a good drubbing. Thus far goes my project as to private resentment and retribution. But if the public should ever happen to be affronted, as it ought to be, with the conduct of such writers, I would not advise proceeding immediately to these extremities; but that we should in moderation content ourselves with tarring and feathering, and tossing them in a blanket.”

Of course, Franklin wrote this before his grandson became a sharp-tongued newspaper editor. Benjamin Franklin Bache was on more than one occasion subjected to the liberty of the cudgel, in addition to being the first editor jailed under the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts. Neither did much to curb his bombastic rhetoric.

So, write what you will, you mountebanks and back-stabbers, then be ready to duck.

Can you answer this riddle?

Riddle of the day: What’s the difference between the Pfizer research center in New London, Conn., and Neonopolis in downtown Las Vegas?

Neonopolis was built on property taken by the city of Las Vegas from unwilling private landowners by eminent domain and given to a private corporation that runs the Fremont Street Experience. The city said the corporation would generate economic activity and more taxes for the city. The last of the original owners, the Pappas family, settled in 2004.

One year later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Kelo v. New London that the city could take by eminent domain the homes of private families, such as Susette Kelo, and transfer the land to pharmaceutical company Pfizer for a research center and associated shops and restaurants. The city said the corporation would generate economic activity and more taxes for the city.

The answer to the riddle?

One is a vacant lot. The other is an empty building.

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Pfizer research center

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Neonopolis is empty