It is all politics all the time and principles be damned

Oh, please, don’t even pretend this is about principles. It is politics, pure and simple.

Nevada’s Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford has joined the Democratic AGs in 15 other states to sue the Trump administration over his decision to declare an emergency to fund the building of more than 200 miles of border barrier after Congress refused to do so.

“President Trump cannot sidestep our Constitution for a political ploy,” Ford was quoted as saying by the Las Vegas newspaper. “The Trump Administration’s proposed diversion of funds would waste billions of dollars that is dedicated to supporting our military and law enforcement agencies. I am proud to join this lawsuit to defend our Constitution, our state’s military bases, and Nevada’s law enforcement agencies.”

Does anyone think any of these politicians would have sued after Obama issued an executive order creating the DACA program for illegal immigrants brought into the country as children after Congress repeatedly refused to authorize it?

Of course, Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt did join other states in suing the Obama administration over DACA. He said in a press release at the time, “Our immigration system is broken and clearly needs to be fixed. But just as clearly, the solution is not for the president to act unilaterally disregarding the U.S. Constitution and laws. The solution must be a permanent, legal result that includes, not ignores, the other branches of government and their constitutional roles. Anything less is a false hope undermining the rule of law that injures millions of people in America, including many in Nevada.”

At least Trump has the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to hang his constitutional hat on. That act by Congress — probably unconstitutionally allows Congress to shirk its duties to hold the nation’s purse strings — grants the president the power to declare emergencies to cover the expense.

There are no principles any more. It is all about politics.

A woman walks near the border fence on the ocean between Tijuana and San Diego. (AP pix)

 

Oh, the misplaced agony and outrage over smaller IRS refund checks!

For a while this morning the lede news story on Yahoo!’s opening page was a HuffPost piece about people being angry that they are getting smaller refunds due to the Trump tax cuts.

The story reports on the chagrin thusly:

“The average refund check paid out so far has been $1,865, down from $2,035 at the same point in 2018, according to IRS data. Low-income taxpayers often file early to pocket the money as soon as possible. Many taxpayers count on the refunds to make important payments, or spend the money on things like home repairs, a vacation or a car.”

The story does at one point in passing note that the tax code changes meant that in some cases not enough money was withheld by employers. But nowhere in it does it note that in the vast majority of these cases the total tax bill for 2018 is less than the prior year. People just got to kept it with each paycheck and did not make interest-free loans to the federal government.

At the least the USA Today version of this story does mention the overall lower tax bill, but not until the last paragraph, which reads:

“Getting a smaller refund doesn’t mean you’re paying more in total in taxes. In many cases, much of your tax savings showed up in each paycheck, which could result in a smaller refund.”

As Bugs Bunny would say: What a bunch of maroons. Chalk this up as fake news.

USA Today photo illustration

 

Newspaper column: Nevada still has a role to play in nuclear deterrence

After learning this past week that the Department of Energy had secretly shipped a thousand pounds of weapons-grade plutonium to the Nevada National Security Site in Nye County before the state had filed a federal lawsuit in November seeking to block such shipments, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and the state’s entire Democratic delegation to D.C. flew into paroxysms of apoplexy, accusing the Trump administration of deception and dealing unfairly with the state.

Sisolak put out a statement declaring, “I am beyond outraged by this completely unacceptable deception from the U.S. Department of Energy. The Department led the State of Nevada to believe that they were engaging in good-faith negotiations with us regarding a potential shipment of weapons-grade plutonium, only to reveal that those negotiations were a sham all along. They lied to the State of Nevada, misled a federal court, and jeopardized the safety of Nevada’s families and environment.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was similarly indignant, charging that the Energy Department had “negotiated in bad faith, hiding the timing of their shipment and refused to share crucial information with Members of Congress who had the security clearance to know.”

Rep. Dina Titus said, “Time and again, we have seen Trump Administration officials treat Nevada as the dumping ground for the nation’s nuclear waste.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen called the shipment “deceitful and unethical” and said “the lack of transparency from the Department of Energy is absolutely unacceptable.”

Rep. Susie Lee decried, “Nevada officials were deceived by sham ‘negotiations’ while the safety of millions was jeopardized, as was the environment and economy of dozens of states. Nevada is not the nation’s nuclear dumping ground. Period.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, whose district includes what most Nevadans still call the Test Site, also bemoaned, “Our state is not a dumping ground for the nation’s hazardous waste, and we have no intention of letting it become one.”

The Energy Department responded with its own statement, saying it was inaccurate to state that the Nevada delegation was not informed and the agency made efforts to ensure members of Congress and state officials representing the states involved were notified as early as August 2018.

The agency also said, “It is also inaccurate to characterize this material as ‘waste’. This material is essential for maintenance of the U.S. weapons stockpile, and is handled with the highest standards for safety and security. NNSA routinely ships this type of material between its sites as part of our national security missions and has done so safely and securely for decades.”

Of course the shipment was secret. No one wants to give potential terrorists an itinerary. As for deceiving the court, the shipment had already been sent when the state’s suit was filed and the court was told this past week when the information was declassified.

What does anyone think the test site is used for in the first place? Since the Cold War it literally has been ground zero for nuclear tests and development of our nuclear deterrence. It is remote and secure.

Speaking of deterrence, the ruckus over the plutonium shipment came mere days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. is pulling out of a nuclear arms control pact with Russia because of its ongoing and flagrant violations.

“When an agreement is so brazenly disregarded and our security is so openly threatened, we must respond,” Pompeo said. “Russia has jeopardized the United States’ security interests and we can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it.”

This means the U.S. will need to catch up with its potential adversaries, Russia and China, both of which have deployed long-range, nuclear-tipped missiles. That means maintaining and, yes, even adding to our nuclear arsenal.

The very reason the plutonium was shipped to Nevada was because a federal court had ordered it removed from the Savannah River facility in South Carolina because the government had failed to build a facility to convert the plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel. It is being stored here until it can be shipped to Los Alamos, N.M., where it can be processed for weapons with which to defend our country.

That is the role the test site has fulfilled for decades and needs to continue to do, despite the histrionics from Democratic politicians.

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: Harry-the-pot calls Donald-the-kettle black

Former Nevada Democratic Sen. and Senate majority leader Harry Reid appears to be on what one might suspect is a farewell media tour. Though he never was too cozy with the media, Reid has in recent weeks, while being treated for pancreatic cancer, granted lengthy interviews with The New York Times Magazine, the Las Vegas public radio station and the editor of the contribution-funded news and commentary website The Nevada Independent.

While most of the buzz has been about his harsh criticism of President Trump, calling him amoral, he also has been downright unrepentant about his own deeds over the years that pushed the boundaries of propriety.

In the Times article he was quoted as saying, “Trump is an interesting person. He is not immoral but is amoral. Amoral is when you shoot someone in the head, it doesn’t make a difference. No conscience.”

Reid went on to say, “I think he is without question the worst president we’ve ever had. … We’ve had some bad ones, and there’s not even a close second to him. … He’ll lie. He’ll cheat. You can’t reason with him.”

Harry Reid (NYT pix)

In the radio interview he doubled down, saying, “What amoral means is this: immoral is you do things and you feel bad about it. … If you are amoral, you have no conscience,” adding, “I didn’t use the word as a throwaway word. I used the word because I meant it.”

The Nevada Indy editor described Reid as seeming “positively giddy that his use of the word ‘amoral’ to describe Trump … had generated so many Google searches for the definition — 4,300, he beamed.”

Without a hint of irony the magazine story recounted how Reid in 2012, with no proof to back it up, falsely claimed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had not paid any income taxes in a decade. He later told CNN by way of justification, “I don’t regret it at all. Romney didn’t win, did he?”

The Indy even quotes Reid as being boastful about using the power of his office to badger bankers into lending money for MGM Resorts to finish its stalled City Center project and intimidating hedge fund managers into pulling out of financing coal-fired power plants near Ely that cost hundreds of jobs.

“No one in their right mind would have done what I did ….” the 79-year-old Reid said. “No one would have done that … but it paid off.”

This was the same Reid who twisted arms at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reverse a decision that was blocking visas for Chinese investors in a Las Vegas casino with ties to Reid’s son Rory.

And yes, the same Reid who in 1998 invested $400,000 in a parcel of land in Las Vegas, but transferred the land to another party three years later for the purchase price, according to records. Yet, when the land sold in 2004 he pocketed $1.1 million. Reid aides dismissed the earlier deal as a “technical” transfer.

Sometimes his efforts fell short. After Reid acquired 160 acres in Bullhead City, Ariz., the land was expected to increase in value after Reid passed a bill to spend $20 million to build a bridge over the Colorado River nearby, but the bridge was never built.

No need to mention one of Reid’s backers went to prison for illegally bundling contributions to Reid.

On the radio Reid also boasted about getting millions in funding to research unidentified flying objects.

“I think it is something we can’t ignore. I personally don’t know if there exist little green men places. I kind of doubt that, but I do believe the information we have indicates we should do a lot more study,” he said, without deigning to mention that much of the secret “research” money went to a Las Vegas crony and campaign contributor.

Reid has a well-earned reputation for being truculent, belligerent, rude, viciously vindictive, antagonistic and downright Machiavellian. His own former press aide once told a reporter Reid looks at a person’s vulnerabilities to “disarm, to endear, to threaten, but most of all to instill fear.”

Perhaps we can file this under the category: It takes one to know one.

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: EPA reining in overreach on water rules

The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency is rolling back another Obama era overreach, specifically rules that defined every stream, ditch, seasonal puddle and muddy hoof print as being covered by the restrictions of the Clean Water Act of 1972 that was intended to prohibit pollutants being dumped into navigable waters — known colloquially as the waters of the United States or WOTUS.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the change this past week, saying the rule rollback means the Clean Water Act applies to traditional navigable water and their immediate tributaries.

“Property owners will be able to stand on their property and determine what is federal water without having to hire outside professionals,” Wheeler was quoted as saying.

That apparently would include Northern California farmer John Duarte who wound up paying more than $1 million in fees and fines because he plowed his 450-acre farm to plant wheat. Dirt was apparently a pollutant and the farm was nowhere near navigable water, but had a few seasonal pools.

The changes bring the enforcement of the law back into compliance with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s interpretation in a 2006 court ruling under a prior administration, “In sum, on its only plausible interpretation, the phrase ‘the waters of the United States’ includes only those relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water ‘forming geographic features’ that are described in ordinary parlance as ‘streams[,] … oceans, rivers, [and] lakes.’ See Webster’s Second 2882. The phrase does not include channels through which water flows intermittently or ephemerally, or channels that periodically provide drainage for rainfall. The Corps’ expansive interpretation of the ‘the waters of the United States’ is thus not ‘based on a permissible construction of the statute.’”

In another example of federal overreach, in December 2010 the Hawkes Co., which mines peat for use on golf courses among other things, applied for a permit to mine peat on a 530-acre tract of property it owns in Minnesota. The Army Corps of Engineers told the company they would have to do numerous tests that would cost more than $100,000.

The Corps said the wetlands had a “significant nexus” to the Red River of the North, located some 120 miles away. Failure to comply carried a threat of fines amounting to $37,000 a day and criminal prosecution.

In a concurring opinion in that case, Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, said that the EPA and Corps “ominous reach” on interpreting the Clean Water Act “continues to raise troubling questions regarding the Government’s power to cast doubt on the full use and enjoyment of private property throughout the Nation.”

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who along with 22 other attorneys general filed an amicus brief in this case, applauded the judgment at that time, saying, “The Obama administration seems determined to move as far and as fast as possible to unilaterally change our constitutional system and our congressional laws. … Fortunately in this case, our checks and balances have protected Nevadans from truly unprecedented federal overreach.”

Now the Trump administration has reined in the EPA.

At one point the House and Senate passed resolutions that would have blocked the EPA WOTUS rule, but the Senate failed to override Obama’s veto.

“We will be sued, I’m sure,” EPA’s Wheeler told The Wall Street Journal. “But what we’ve tried to do is draft a proposal that will stand up in court.”

Again.

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.

Mud puddles no longer covered by the Clean Water Act.

Newspaper column: Laxalt reflects on term as attorney general

As Adam Laxalt closes out his term as attorney general and transitions the office to his successor in January, he took the time to reflect on what his team has accomplished for Nevada.

“My vision for the office was to be more than an office that just represents state agencies and boards and commissions in areas that we thought we wanted to find ways to lead. The title of top law enforcement officer comes with the attorney general’s office but we really wanted to lead law enforcement, which is why we created the Law Enforcement Summit concept.”

One of the cases in which the office assisted law enforcement that Laxalt cited was out of Elko. In 2008 an Elko police officer stopped a California man named Ralph Torres for suspicion of underage drinking. Torres produced an ID showing he was 29, but the officer detained Torres while dispatch verified the ID and it turned out Torres had a felony warrant.

His conviction was overturned in 2015 by the Nevada Supreme Court, which said his detention violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Laxalt’s office took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and the arrest validity eventually was upheld.

Attorney General Adam Laxalt, with three children under 5, says he plans to get some sleep once he leaves office.

“That’s just one example among many of things that came out of our coordination and cooperation with rural law enforcement,” Laxalt said, adding that the office also helped cut the backlog in sex offender registry.

Laxalt’s office also filed a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s restrictive land use plans intended to protect sage grouse that hurt mining and ranching.

Though the Trump administration lifted many of those restrictions, Laxalt contends that had his office not fought the Obama rules in court they might have been implemented. “We made sure we slowed that train down. Fortunately, the current administration has a more cooperative approach to working with our state,” Laxalt said.

He noted that creating a federalism unit in the attorney general’s office was also important, because, “In the years prior to my taking office you really saw federal overreach. You really saw the expansive interpretation of federal powers.”

Asked to define federalism, Laxalt explained, “I think people misinterpret it a lot. Federalism is, of course, to make sure that we keep as much power at the state level as we possibly can as the Framers intended. We don’t want people 3,000 miles away trying to decide minutiae of how we should be running our state.”

One example of this was the effort by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to redefine the waters of the U.S. under the Clean Water Act.

“They were going to redefine that ‘navigable waters’ phrase more broadly than Congress intended or, so we argued, as anyone intended. That would have really hampered our own state and own local ability to be able to take charge of our own water,” the attorney general said, noting that a coalition of states won an injunction that slowed the implementation until the current administration could issue more rational rules.

Since 85 percent of the state of Nevada is controlled by various federal land agencies, the highest percentage of any state, Nevada is more strongly impacted by federal restrictions on land use.

“Right now we think we’re in a better situation in this state,” Laxalt said. “The current administration certainly (Interior) Secretary (Ryan) Zinke and the head of the EPA have a more federalism approach to working with states.”

He expressed a level of satisfaction with his office’s efforts to include rural Nevada counties in the decision making process and fending off federal regulations that could have been an economic death knell for rural counties.

When asked about any future plans, Laxalt said he and the 400 employees in his office are currently working to transition to the next attorney general, Democrat Aaron Ford. He said he’ll think about his future next January and February.

He joked that he is looking forward to getting some sleep. Not only has he been running the attorney general’s office, seeking unsuccessfully to be elected governor, but also raising three children under the age of 5.

Asked whether he might run for public office again in the future, Laxalt said, “You know I care deeply about this state and I certainly hope — you know it is something I’ve talked about a lot this year — that I don’t want our state to turn into California. … I really hope we hold onto our values, such as small government, individual liberties.”

We shall see.

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.

Migrants make outrageous demands

Now that’s brazen.

According to the San Diego newspaper, some of those Central Americans stuck in Tijuana while trying to get into the U.S. marched to the U.S. Consulate there Tuesday and demanded that asylum processing be speeded up or that the U.S. pay them $50,000 each to go home. If it is dangerous for them to return to their home countries, how much more dangerous would it be if they returned with what would be fortune there?

One letter delivered to the consulate said, “It may seem like a lot of money to you. But it is a small sum compared to everything the United States has stolen from Honduras.”

This seems an odd thing to say since Trump is threatening to cut off aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador if they don’t stop the caravans. Honduras got $181 million in U.S. aid in 2017. Guatemala got $127 million. El Salvador got $118 million.

One letter to the consulate said the caravans consist of “families, women and children, the majority of which are young men who are fleeing from poverty, insecurity and political repression under the dictatorship of Juan Orlando Hernandez,” and demanded the U.S. remove the Honduran president. We believe that would be called a coup.

That’s a lot of demands from people who want to enter the U.S.

Migrants march on U.S. consulate in Tiajuana Tuesday. (San Diego Union-Tribune pix)