Obama talks out of both sides of his mouth

Michael Flynn (AP pix)

Former President Barack Obama on Friday in a private conversation said that the “rule of law is at risk” due to the Justice Department dropping charges against former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, a former Army lieutenant general, according to Yahoo.

“And the fact that there is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free. That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places,” Obama was quoted as saying.

Flynn was not charged with perjury but with lying to the FBI, which is what James Cartwright — a retired Marine Corps general and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a key member of Obama’s national security team in his first term was charged with.

Days before leaving office in 2017, Obama pardoned Cartwright prior to sentencing, according to The New York Times.

Rule of law? No precedent?

Hat tip to PJ Media.

James Cartwright (AP pix)

Editorial: WOTUS rule change restores federalism

The usual suspects in the self-styled environmental groups predictably collapsed into palpitating conniptions this past week when the Trump administration announced its final rule rolling back the Obama-era rule that overreachingly defined the waters of the United States (WOTUS) covered by the Clean Water Act of 1972 as every stream, ditch, wetland or muddy hoof print that might ever eventually spill a few drops of water into any rivulet.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, wailed, “This sickening gift to polluters will allow wetlands, streams and rivers across a vast stretch of America to be obliterated with pollution. People and wildlife need clean water to thrive. Destroying half of our nation’s streams and wetlands will be one of Trump’s ugliest legacies. We’ll absolutely be fighting it in court.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic candidate for president, fired off a Twitter rant, “Government works great for giant corporations that want to dump chemicals & toxic waste into streams & wetlands. It’s just not working for families that want to be able to drink water without being poisoned. This is corruption, plain and simple.”

But Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, while announcing the rule change at a conference of the National Association of Home Builders in Las Vegas, pointed out, “All states have their own protections for waters within their borders, and many regulate more broadly than the federal government. … Our new rule recognizes this relationship and strikes the proper balance between Washington, D.C., and the states. And it clearly details which waters are subject to federal control under the Clean Water Act and, importantly, which waters falls solely under the states’ jurisdiction.”

The new rule — prepared by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers — is to take effect in 60 days, though litigation challenging it is a certainty.

The Obama administration’s 2015 definition of WOTUS covered about half of the nation’s wetlands and many streams that flowed only after heavy rainfall and required farmers and developers to seek expensive and time-consuming permits before turning so much as a shovel of dirt.

The Clean Water Act made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant that could eventually reach navigable waters unless a permit was first obtained. The 2015 WOTUS definition, for example, barred a Minnesota company from mining peat on a wetland 120 miles from the Red River.

Nevada and a dozen other states in 2015 obtained an injunction from a federal judge blocking enforcement of the sweeping WOTUS rule. Then-Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt said of the injunction, “This important order, at a minimum, delays implementation of an unwise, unjustifiable and burdensome rule, and protects Nevada’s landowners, farmers and developers from job losses and increased energy prices, until the final rule can be comprehensively fought in court.” The EPA decided the injunction applied only to those 13 states.

The rule change has been in the works since shortly after President Trump took office.

In a speech to the American Farm Bureau two weeks ago Trump talked about the rule change, saying, “And, today, I’m proud to announce that I am taking yet another step to protect the water rights of American farmers and ranchers. Under the previous administration, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a new Water Supply rule that would give the federal government vast and unlimited power to restrict farmers’ access to water. That’s not a good thing. Is anybody happy with being restricted to water if you have a farm? Please stand up if you are happy about that. Because this authority rightfully belongs to the states, not the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.”

The nation’s waters are not being turned over to corporations for dumping chemicals and toxins. The power to regulate and protect the water is simply being returned to the states, which under the principles of federalism, is where they rightfully belong.

In fact, Trump’s executive order of February 2017 that started the rule change process is titled: “Presidential Executive Order on Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.”

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: Trump is reshaping the federal judiciary — for the better

Thanks, Harry, because you exercised the “nuclear option” in 2013, ending the requirement that judges had to be confirmed by at least 60 senators instead of a simple majority, President Donald Trump has secured the appointments of about twice as many federal judges as each of his three predecessors — and most of them have been conservatives sworn to protect the fundamental liberties spelled out in the Constitution.

Of the 50 circuit court judges nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate, only 17 managed to garner the previously mandated 60 Senate votes. Among those was former Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke, who was confirmed by a vote of 51-44 with both of Nevada’s Democratic senators choosing politics over principles and voting “nay.”

In November 2013, then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada exercised the nuclear option, calling for changing the Senate rules by a simple majority vote. It passed, 52-48 with three Democrats voting against changing the rules.

President Barack Obama praised the action saying Republicans were blocking his nominees based on politics alone, not on the merits of the nominee, according to a Politico account at the time.

Then-Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky tried to recess the Senate for the day to block the vote. “The solution to this problem is an election,” he said. “The solution to this problem is at the ballot box. We look forward to having a great election on 2014.”

Republicans regained the majority in the Senate in 2014. In 2017, now-Majority Leader McConnell further changed the rules to allow confirmation of Supreme Court justices by a simple majority. Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by a 54-45 vote, and Brett Kavanaugh by 50-48.

In addition, the Senate has confirmed 133 of Trump’s federal district court nominees. While most of those garnered more than 60 recorded votes, many were confirmed by a voice vote.

In an editorial praising the caliber of the Trump judicial nominees, The Wall Street Journal noted, “The Trump-McConnell judiciary may be Harry’s finest achievement.”

The editorial noted that when Trump took office, Democratic appointees made up a majority on nine of the 13 circuit courts. Trump’s 2019 appointments flipped the majorities in the 2nd, 3rd and 11th Circuit Courts, meaning seven circuits now have a majority of Republican appointees.

In addition, the longtime uber-liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, to which VanDyke was appointed, now consists of 16 Democratic appointees and 13 Republican appointees. “Expect fewer headlines featuring nationwide injunctions out of San Francisco,” the editorial opined.

The Journal editorial predicts, “The new wave of conservative judges is more likely to protect such core liberties as religious freedom, political speech and assembly, gun and property rights. Many will also be more alert to violations of the Constitution’s separation of powers, including regulatory abuses. Yet there are varying opinions on criminal law, executive authority, and the scope of judicial restraint, among other issues.”

Reid is nothing if not consistent. In a recent op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune, Reid complained, “Senate Republicans have hijacked our Supreme Court. They stole a seat that should have been filled by President Obama in 2016 and they rushed to confirm Brett Kavanaugh last year despite ample evidence that he lied to Congress. The result is the Supreme Court is now a ticking time bomb, set to blow up any meaningful progressive reforms for decades to come.”

He concedes his own role in the outcome, saying, “Changing the rules to confirm Obama’s highly qualified judges was the right and necessary thing to do. If we had not done it, Donald Trump would have inherited more judicial vacancies than he already did, and then even more of his right-wing ideologues would be on the bench today eviscerating rights Americans have long held dear.”

Like the Second Amendment right to gun ownership? Or the First Amendment rights of free speech and exercise of religion? The rights delineated in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments?

A recent Washington Examiner editorial also notes what Reid has unintentionally wrought and concludes, “During his run for the presidency, Trump regularly and energetically promised to make a priority of putting well-credentialed conservatives of excellent character and scholarship on the federal bench. It is a promise he has kept, much to his credit and for the country’s greater good.”

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

Editorial: Conscience rule for doctors just needs a rewrite

Despite what some have implied, a recent decision by a New York federal judge striking down the so-called “conscience rule” promulgated by the Trump administration is not a license to pressgang doctors and nurses into performing procedures abhorrent to their consciences — such as abortions, contraception and gender transitioning procedures.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Engelmayer sided with plaintiffs, including the state of Nevada, in declaring the rule unenforceable as written, saying it was unconstitutionally coercive because it would have required the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withhold billions of dollars in funding from hospitals, clinics, universities and others that did not comply. As the judge pointed out in his ruling, “Nevada, for example, received more than $2.6 billion in federal health care funding from HHS in the 2018 federal fiscal year.”

Judge Engelmayer wrote, “The Conscience Provisions recognize and protect undeniably important rights. The Court’s decision today leaves HHS at liberty to consider and promulgate rules governing these provisions.”

But he concluded, “Wherever the outermost line where persuasion gives way to coercion lies, the threat to pull all HHS funding here crosses it.”

It was the enforcement mechanism not the “conscience rule” that was tossed. The Trump administration needs to rewrite the rule.

It is the procedures that matter, not whether the patient is gay, lesbian, transgender or whatever.

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford put out a press release about the New York ruling saying, “My office has opposed every attempt by the Trump Administration to diminish the rights and needs of Nevadans, and access to health care is no exception. Had this rule gone forward, it would have allowed individuals and entire institutions to deny lawful and medically necessary care to patients, even during emergency situations. I’m encouraged that the courts have blocked yet another attempt to implement a discriminatory rule.”

It is hard to envision an emergency abortion or gender altering procedure.

Stephanie Taub, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, which bills itself as the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious liberty for all Americans, put out a statement warning, “This decision leaves health care professionals across America vulnerable to being forced to perform, facilitate, or refer for procedures that violate their conscience. The Trump Administration’s HHS protections would ensure that healthcare professionals are free to work consistent with their religious beliefs while providing the best care to their patients.”

In fact, another federal judge, Texas U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor, recently vacated an Obama-era federal regulation that would have required healthcare providers and insurers to perform gender-transition procedures and abortions even if they go against their medical judgment or violate religious convictions.

The Christian Post quoted Nick Reaves, legal counsel at Becket Law, which touts itself as being a defender of religious freedom, as saying, “Doctors shouldn’t have to choose between giving up their faith and being forced out of their profession. In a diverse and free society, we can ensure that everyone will receive needed care without punishing doctors for having a conscience.”

Yes, that should be the case. HHS just needs to quickly rewrite the rule with less onerous enforcement provisions to protect Nevada’s and the nation’s medical professionals from being forced to act against their beliefs.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, at a National Day of Prayer service in the White House Rose Garden earlier this year. Pence advocated religious exemptions for health care workers. Getty Images pix via NYT)

Editorial: Judge blocks state sage grouse protection plans

A greater sage grouse male struts for a female. (Pix by Jeannie Stafford for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

A federal judge in Idaho has pulled the rug out from under the Western states that had worked with the federal public land agencies to create separate plans to preserve sage grouse habitat and yet still allow fruitful economic activity such as mining, oil and gas exploration, farming and grazing.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted an injunction blocking those plans in a lawsuit brought by several self-styled environmental groups. The judge agreed that the Bureau of Land Management plans announced this past spring failed to make a one-size-fits all, range-wide analysis, failed to evaluate climate change and removed protections for the birds unjustified by science and conditions on the ground. Never mind that the colorful fowl best known for its strutting mating ritual has never been added to the Endangered Species list, though its population in recent years has declined from millions to about half a million.

The suit — brought by the Western Watersheds Project, the Wildearth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity and the Prairie Hills Audubon Society — opposed the regionalized plans for grouse protection in Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Oregon and California.

The state-by-state plans announced in March backed off Obama administration plans that would have largely blocked most economic activity near grouse habitat.

“The State of Nevada thanks the Bureau of Land Management for incorporating our concerns and respecting the Greater Sage-Grouse habitat plan developed cooperatively by Nevada state agencies and local stakeholders,” Nevada’s Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak was quoted as saying at the time in a statement conveyed by the BLM. “In particular, Nevada appreciates the BLM’s commitment to compensatory mitigation as an integral part of the success of Nevada’s habitat management plan. We look forward to working closely with the BLM Nevada Office and the Department of Interior leadership to ensure the revised habitat plans are fully successful.”

A year earlier, as the Nevada Plan was being finalized then-Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval also praised the cooperation the state was getting from the Trump administration land agencies. “I look forward to reviewing the draft Environmental Impact Statement and I trust that the Department of the Interior will continue to engage with and value the opinions of the impacted western governors,” Sandoval was quoted as saying. “I am confident we can find success by working together.”

Nevada’s Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Republican Congressman Mark Amodei also thanked the Interior Department for respecting the work of Nevada stakeholders.

But the judge has prevented those regional plans from being used.

Courthouse News quoted an attorney representing the plaintiffs as saying of the ruling, “The Bureau of Land Management deliberately undermined protections for the sage grouse, then had the audacity to claim these rollbacks would not impact the species. The law demands more. This injunction is critical to protecting the sagebrush steppe and this icon of the American West.”

What most people forget is that this icon of the American West never was seen by early explorers of the American West in the 1820s and 1830s, nor by the first wagon trains in the 1840s. Not until settlers brought in horses, cattle, oxen and sheep, which fertilized the soil and ground the vegetation into the ground, while ranchers also improved water sources, did the sage grouse population grow into the millions. Human activity actually caused the birds to thrive. Fires and the lack of predator control have caused the grouse population to dwindle somewhat, not mining, exploration, grazing and farming.

Local common sense management of the lands — not one-size-fits-none central planning — will preserve the sage grouse and jobs.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Editorial: Another central planner project goes bust

Central planners always think they can design a better consumer product and achieve a better economic outcome than the invisible hand of the free market can. F.A. Hayek called this The Fatal Conceit.

Another of the products of the central planners is on its death bed.

Back in 2011 a company called Solar Reserve announced it was building a $1 billion solar powered electricity generating project near Tonopah called Crescent Dunes. President Obama’s Department of Energy backed the project with a $737 million federal loan guarantee.

The 110-megawatt solar thermal facility used thousands of mirrors to focus sunlight on a tower containing salt. The heat of the sun melted the salt which was used to turn water into steam, which in turn drove turbines that generated power.

The designers claimed the molten salt would retain heat and enable the facility to continue to generate power up to 10 hours without sunlight, unlike photovoltaic solar panels or solar thermal generators using only water. It was the first of its kind.

Crescent Dunes power plant

According to recent news accounts, the project is on the verge of bankruptcy and its sole customer, NV Energy, has canceled its contract, which was to run through 2040. The power company cited the inability of the facility to meet contracted generating capacity.

Since going online in 2015 the project has experienced mechanical failures, including being offline for eight months due to a leak in a molten salt tank. According to an account by the Las Vegas newspaper, in the past year the plant was able to produce only 50 percent of the contracted power amount and was projected to fall 25 percent short in 2020 and beyond.

What the various press accounts failed to note is that the Crescent Dunes contract with NV Energy negotiated in 2011 called for a beginning wholesale purchase price of 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, increasing by 1 percent each year. At the time, NV Energy was selling retail residential power for 11.6 cents per kWh. In the past year, the company has been contracting for renewable energy at wholesale rates less than 4 and even 3 cents per kWh.

Taxpayers picked up construction costs and ratepayers followed suit.

Expect more such boondoggles from the central planners. A year ago, Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2030. In the legislative session this past spring lawmakers in Carson City went ahead and made that proposition law immediately.

Such market manipulation drives up the cost and retards real innovation.

By the time that constitutional amendment is on the ballot again in a year, we call on the the voters to wise up as to who is footing the bill and demand our lawmakers also relent.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Editorial: Presidents and courts should not overturn laws

The Supreme Court in June agreed to decide whether the Trump administration lawfully canceled a program created by executive fiat by President Obama in 2012 that protected immigrants brought into the country illegally as children — popularly dubbed Dreamers — from deportation and be provided work permits.

Prior to that, such persons were subject to deportation by law.

The program is called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and is the subject of a case titled Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of University of California, et. al. This past week Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford filed a friend of the court brief in the case on behalf of Nevada, Michigan, Wisconsin and the governors of Kansas and Montana.

“DACA recipients are members of the Nevada family, and we take care of our family,” Ford is quoted as saying in a press release announcing the filing. “By ending DACA, the Trump Administration turned its back on hundreds of thousands of young people who want nothing more than to continue living and working in the country they call home. Dreamers make America, and Nevada, great. I will continue to fight for them and for our Nevada family.”

The press release also quotes Gov. Steve Sisolak as saying, “Nevada’s 12,000 DACA recipients are hard-working members of our communities who contribute to our state every day. As Governor, I’m proud that Nevada is fighting back to defend our DREAMers against any attempts to undermine their protected status.”

In 2017 Trump announced his decision to cancel DACA, but several lower courts have blocked the move, saying the decision was arbitrary and capricious, because the administration failed to offer a sound rationale for changing course. Currently, the administration isn’t accepting new DACA applications, but continues to process renewals from Dreamers already in the program.

The attorney general’s court brief makes several compassionate arguments for why DACA should remain in force.

The brief notes that there are currently more than 669,000 DACA recipients in the United States who are able to work or attend school without fear of deportation. In Nevada, DACA recipients accounted for an estimated $261.8 million in spending power in 2015 and paid an estimated $19.9 million in state and local taxes, the brief states.

It goes on to point out that nationwide 73 percent of DACA grantees live with an American citizen spouse, child or sibling. “In Nevada, 27,600 individuals live in mixed-status households with an estimated 4,600 United States-born children of DACA recipients,” the brief relates. “Losing DACA status threatens to throw families into financial chaos, because many depend on the incomes and health insurance of the DACA recipients in their families. It also threatens to tear families apart, as native-born children of DACA recipients could be separated from their parents if removal proceedings are instituted against them.”

It also notes that residents who live in fear of deportation are less likely to report crimes or to seek proper medical care.

All true enough, but under our Constitution Congress writes laws, not the president or the courts. The Trump administration has expressed sympathy for the Dreamers, but four different bills to address immigration and the border wall failed this past year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Rather than press litigation the governor and the attorney general should demand our congressional delegation get off the impeachment bandwagon and pass immigration reform legislation the proper way — or else uphold the law as written by Congress.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

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