Newspaper column: DACA rhetoric just muddies the waters

Pro-DACA gathering in Las Vegas earlier this month. (R-J pix)

The vitriol being spewed over President Trump’s suspension of Obama’s executive fiat to defer deportation of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children is nothing more than pretentious and pointless political patronizing.

Nevada’s Democratic delegation to Washington was unmatched in its heated hyperbole.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto called Trump a racist and a xenophobe, firing off a missive declaring the “decision to end DACA protections for DREAMers is not guided by sound policy, but by xenophobia and myths. DREAMers who benefit from DACA know no other country other than the U.S. Denying them DACA protection unjustly rips away their future, exposes them to job loss, and threatens them with deportation from the only country they have ever known.”

For the acronym deprived, DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the name given by Obama to an executive order to defer deportations of illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. DREAMers is a derivation of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which has been pending in various forms in Congress since August of 2001 without passage.

When Congress failed to act, Obama took it on his own in June 2012 to do what Congress had not.

Even though Trump gave Congress six months to remedy his rescinding of DACA and pass the DREAM Act, Rep. Jacky Rosen declared it was wrong to invite “these young people to come out of the shadows, raise their hands, and make themselves known, the United States made a promise to those who came here as children. President Trump is now reneging on that promise …”

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, making the obligatory observation that he was once an undocumented immigrant brought here by his parents, said in an email that the decision tramples this country’s values and shatters the hopes and dreams of the 800,000 who have signed up for DACA. He called the decision “heartless and cruel.”

Rep. Dina Titus said, “Ending DACA appeals to xenophobic beliefs and goes against the founding principles of our nation” — ignoring the fact it was Obama who made a promise he had no power to make.

In a statement announcing the DACA decision, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “This policy was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous occasions to this same group of illegal aliens.

“In other words, the executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions. Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”

In contrast to Nevada’s Democratic delegates, its Republicans reacted by saying it is now time for Congress to do its job.

Sen. Dean Heller issued a statement to the Reno newspaper saying, “While I remain concerned about the way in which DACA came to life, I’ve made clear that I support the program because hard working individuals who came to this country through no fault of their own as children should not be immediately shown the door.”

Heller noted that he is a cosponsor of the Bridge Act, which provides legal status for so-called DREAMers while Congress works toward a permanent solution to immigration problems.

“Just as I have in the past, I’ll continue to work with my colleagues to reform our broken immigration system and that must start with securing our borders …” Heller’s statement continued.

Rep. Mark Amodei put out a statement noting that he is a sponsor of a bill called Recognizing America’s Children Act, which would provide a way for childhood immigrants to earn legal residency.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve called on congressional leadership to act on immigration reform. I would always rather be criticized for attempting to move this issue toward a solution, than criticized for repeated inaction,” Amodei said in a statement. “Now, Congress has six months to do the job it’s supposed to do according to the Constitution. If we’re unable to do that job, then 800,000 immigrants will be affected.”

Amodei further noted that Congress has not passed any substantive immigration reform since Ronald Reagan was president, three decades ago, adding that if any blame is to be attached to this it is rightfully Congress’.

The Democrats’ rancorous rhetoric does nothing to move toward a compromise and might well jeopardize that goal, especially if they categorically reject border security as a part of the package.

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.

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Our day that will live in infamy

R-J editorial page from Sept. 16, 2001

R-J editorial page from Sept. 16, 2001

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

I wrote on the Sunday following that day of infamy:

“I sat down at my computer at about 6 a.m., unfolded the newspaper and switched on the television. There was smoke pouring from the top of one of the unmistakable landmarks of New York City, the World Trade Center. Well, I thought, there’s a story and photo for tomorrow’s front page, and started into the morning’s routine.

“Minutes later a fireball blossomed from the other tower, and it began to dawn on the commentators and me that this was no ordinary accident and Sept. 11 would be no ordinary day.”

I started making phone calls. Reporters and photographers were dispatched to Hoover Dam, McCarran International, City Hall, Nellis Air Force Base, the Strip and elsewhere. Editors huddled. The publisher called in and said we should add 24 pages to the Wednesday newspaper. All plans were scrapped and we started from scratch, hoping to help our readers make sense of a senseless act.

Every section of the paper kicked in its resources.

The press crew rolled the presses early and cranked out thousands of extra copies.

Then I wrote that Sunday:

“I was proud of what we all had accomplished, of the concerted effort and professionalism, as I drove home at 1 a.m. … until I heard the callers on the radio. People were saying they would gladly give up some freedoms for the sake of safety.”

I wanted to reach into the radio and slap some sense into the callers.

The column proceeded to tick off some of the rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights and I wondered aloud which people would willingly sacrifice. The First’s right of assembly, lest there be a bomb, and no freedom of speech and religion, especially that one? The Second’s right to bear arms? The Fourth’s prohibition against warrantless search and seizure? The Fifth’s right to due process? The Sixth’s right to a public trial?

I concluded:

“If this is the consensus of the nation, the bastards have already won, destroying our will and our principles as well as planes, buildings and lives.

“We will have surrendered without firing a shot in the first war of the 21st century.”

The column appeared sandwiched between a Jim Day cartoon and a Vin Suprynowicz column with the headline: “The passengers were all disarmed.”

In a comment to a local magazine on an anniversary of 9/11 I called it “our Pearl Harbor.”

poster

R-J front page from Newseum poster.

R-J front page from Newseum poster.

First posted on Sept. 11, 2016.

Editorial: Federal judge dismisses overtime rule change

A Texas federal court judge has struck down a rule change by Obama’s Labor Department that would have cost employers $1.2 billion a year by requiring overtime for an additional 4.2 million workers — or in reality, however many workers actually still had jobs after the costs were imposed.

The legal challenge was spearheaded by Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt on behalf of 21 states and a number of business entities.

The overtime rule change would have increased the minimum salary level for employees exempt from overtime — due to being engaged in executive, administrative or professional duties, so-called EAP workers — from $23,660 a year to $47,476.

U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant of Sherman, Texas, this past week ruled the salary qualification increase violated the clear intent of Congress when it passed the Fair Labor and Practices Act in 1938, which established minimum wages and required time-and-a-half overtime pay for hourly workers who work more than 40 hours a week. EAP employees were exempted from overtime requirements.

Judge Mazzant wrote, “This is not what Congress intended with the EAP exemption. Congress unambiguously directed the Department to exempt from overtime pay employees who perform ‘bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity’ duties. However, the Department creates a Final Rule that makes overtime status depend predominately on a minimum salary level, thereby supplanting an analysis of an employee’s job duties.”

He said nothing in the law allows the Labor Department to make salary rather than an employee’s duties determinative of whether an employee should be exempt from overtime pay.

“I applaud Judge Mazzant’s decision to permanently invalidate this Obama-era overtime rule that would have imposed millions of dollars of unfunded liabilities on the States and resulted in a loss of private sector jobs as well as onerous financial and regulatory burdens on small businesses in Nevada and around the country,” said Laxalt in a press release. “My office is proud to have led the charge towards a final ruling that brings clarity, certainty and closure to the business community and government alike.”

Additionally, Nevada’s senior Sen. Dean Heller, who has been challenging the overtime rule since it was proposed, put out a press release stating, “The former Obama Administration’s expansion of the federal overtime rule would have devastated Nevada’s business owners and job creators. Since the rule was issued last year, I have been strongly concerned about its impact because it would fundamentally change how employers compensate their workers, reducing Nevadans’ work hours and benefits. I’m pleased to see that a federal judge acknowledged the regulation’s harmful consequences and ruled it invalid today.”

Heller also commended Laxalt for leading the fight against the overtime rule change.

In addition to Nevada, the other states challenging the overtime rules were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Missouri, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming filed friend of the court briefs backing the challenge.

In June, Trump’s Labor Department announced that it too wants salary level to count in deciding who is eligible for overtime pay, but it did not endorse the Obama administration’s salary level. The Labor secretary should heed Mazzant’s reasoning and the clear language of the law as it is currently written. If any changes are contemplated, they must be voted on by Congress.

This effort on behalf of Nevada’s state and local government employers, as well as countless businesses was well worth the time, effort and expense to save jobs and businesses.

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: Judge orders more studies for water grab

It is not too often a judge’s ruling is greeted by all sides as a victory, but that is what happened after federal Judge Andrew Gordon issued a 39-page opinion in the fight over the Clark County water agency’s bid to tap groundwater beneath White Pine, Lincoln and Nye counties.

Judge Gordon said the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could grant right-of-way for a 300-mile network of pipelines across public land, but first it has to address plans to mitigate the potential loss of wildlife habitat due to a draw down of the water table.

The suit was brought by White Pine County, the Great Basin Water Network (GBWN), several Indian tribes and environmental groups against the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) and the BLM.

The water agency issued a statement saying officials were pleased the judge rejected “the vast majority of the plaintiffs’ claims.”

A spokesman for GBWN called the ruling a victory because the judge is requiring a revision of the Environmental Impact Statement to add details on how damage to wetlands and wildlife habitat will be monitored and addressed.

“We now have multiple victories in state and federal court showing that this process hasn’t followed the requirements of science or law,” said GBWN’s Howard Watts. “Today SNWA has none of the water rights they’ve applied for with the state, and no permission to build the pipeline. After passing the buck at both the state and federal levels, SNWA and BLM can no longer kick the can down the road on developing specific plans to identify and prevent the severe environmental damage this project would produce.”

Gary Perea, a White Pine County commissioner, said, “SNWA has been told again they can’t prove they can build this pipeline without hurting the environment and the people that live in these areas.”

Marc Fink, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, another plaintiff in the case, said, “The federal government has to go back to the drawing board and try to come up with some plan to compensate for the massive environmental damage that would be caused by draining these ancient aquifers.”

Considering that federal studies of the interconnected aquifers in the various valleys involved are already at equilibrium — water that is already being drawn from the aquifers is being replaced gallon for gallon annually with no leeway for additional withdrawal — mitigation might not be feasible.

Judge Gordon noted the importance of the case to both sides, “I am sensitive to the strong feelings and weighty interests at stake in this contest over Nevada’s water — after all, in the West, ‘whisky’s for drinkin’ and water’s for fightin’ over.’ There can be no question that drawing this much water from these desert aquifers will harm the ecosystem and impact cultural sites that are important to our citizens. On the other hand, southern Nevada faces an intractable water shortage.”

The very same issue of how to monitor and mitigate the draw down of the aquifers already is going to be addressed in hearings by the state engineer starting Sept. 25. The state Supreme Court ordered the engineer’s office to further address this issue before finalizing the approval of 84,000 acre-feet a year for SNWA. The outcome of those hearing could obviate the federal court ruling if the engineer finds there is no way to mitigate.

Simeon Herskovits, an attorney representing many of the plaintiffs in both state and federal courts, said, “We expect this fall’s hearing will more fully reveal the dangers posed by SNWA’s project to senior water rights and the environment in the affected region, as well as the flaws in their analysis of these problems to date.”

Time and money may be on the side of the opponents of the water grab.

It is estimated the groundwater project will take 40 years to complete at a cost of $15 billion — a cost that would require the tripling of water rates in Clark County. According to an SNWA resource plan the water is not needed until 2035.

Meanwhile, the state has cut a deal with Mexico that nets 54,500 acre-feet of additional Colorado River water for a mere $7.5 million.

Even though the SNWA claims it needs more water, it continues to issue “will-serve” letters to new residential and commercial developments.

Surely Clark County can find cheaper and less damaging ways to slake its thirst.

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.

 

 

Dueling columnists could be entertaining, except …

Epithets at 10 paces. Turn and fire.

First, in the pages of the Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Wayne Allyn Root took issue with MGM’s CEO Jim Murren telling his employees that the firm would match any donations they decided to make to certain groups that he apparently identified as civil rights organizations. In a letter to employees Murren noted recent violence in Charlottesville and Barcelona and stated, “In the midst of this uncertainty, I want to affirm a clear-eyed, concrete view of the company in which you have chosen to invest your career, because on the question of human rights, MGM Resorts takes and unequivocal position: The protection of human dignity, demonstrated in the form of tolerance and respect for all people, is the core of our identity. We strive to create workplaces and entertainment spaces that are welcoming, open and respectful to all kinds of people, regardless of disability, age, gender, race, ethnicity, religious preference, gender identity or sexual orientation.” (His bold face and italics.)

He listed the groups for which the company would match donations as Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, ADL, Council on American Islamic Relations and others.

Root took issue with the doling out of shareholder funds to liberal groups in general but especially with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is known for tossing out hate group labels like trinkets at a Mardi Gras parade, and the Council on American Islamic Relation, which has been pegged as the clean-faced front for Hamas.

Root blasted, “Jim Murren has gone too far. And he’s put MGM’s board, shareholders and employees in a terrible position because of his extreme, radical, reckless decisions” — without bothering to append the usual disclaimer about the newspaper’s owner, Sheldon Adelson, being both a business competitor with MGM and frequent political opponent of Murren.

Today, the putative editor of the insert inside the Review-Journal filled that gap with a diatribe. Brian Greenspun said of Root’s Thursday missive:

That day, he went after one of Sheldon’s biggest, most forward-thinking and most responsible competitors in the gaming industry. It is exactly what the gaming industry feared might happen when the news — as secret as the Adelson family tried to keep it — broke that one of the GOP’s wealthiest donors had purchased one of the two largest newspapers in Nevada. The Las Vegas Sun is the other “largest” newspaper in Nevada.

I don’t know if Sheldon knows what Root writes from one day to the next, but he should be very careful about what his minions publish in and under his name. Root and publisher Craig Moon certainly know what would please Sheldon.

Not only are Adelson and Murren competitors on the Strip but also in Macau and perhaps in Japan in the future.

Adelson is a huge Republican donor, while Murren was a card-carrying Republican for Reid and a Hillary Clinton supporter.

A couple of years ago Adelson tore into MGM and Caesars for driving down the price of rooms on the Strip and costing his Sands corporation money. Adelson personally attacked Murren for supporting a convention center expansion, which competes with Adelson’s convention center, over a new football stadium.

But perhaps the funniest thing in Greenspun’s screed was this line:

Which reminds me of one of the first lessons in newspaper publishing I learned from my father, Hank Greenspun, many decades ago — publishers have profound responsibilities to the public interest and it must always be placed before personal interest.

Hank Greenspan was notorious for pulling his newspaper like a dueling pistol to attack business competitors and political foes and to support his friends. He was virulently critical of an FBI agent who conducted a sting on certain politicians and he conducted a campaign to discredit a competitor in the cable television business.

Greenspan concludes his spiel, “Come on, Review-Journal, publish your paper in the community interest. You and your owners should be better than this.”

A little dueling between newspaper columnists could be entertaining — if they both weren’t such clowns.

Newspaper column: Interior’s new sage grouse protection efforts welcomed

What’s good for cattle is good for grouse. (USDA pix)

Earlier this month Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered the implementation of recommendations from a team that reviewed the previous administration’s draconian land use restrictions under the guise of protecting greater sage grouse. The team — which included officials from Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service and representatives from the 11 affected states — called for lifting certain restrictions that impacted economic activity without actually affecting sage grouse populations.

Montana native Zinke’s 55-page order echoed criticisms that were included in various lawsuits brought by several states, including Nevada. Zinke’s order says the changes are not one-size-fits-all, the very words used by Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt a year ago about litigation he had filed to block the land use restrictions.

Back when he sued the federal government over its sage grouse land restriction, Laxalt stated, “As our latest brief again demonstrates, the Bureau of Land Management’s rushed, one-size-fits-all sage grouse plan not only violates multiple federal laws, but also the agency’s own regulations. The BLM blatantly disregarded the many Nevada experts and stakeholders, and failed to consider how its plan would impact Nevadans. This approach to regulation is as dismissive to our State as it is illegal, and I remain dedicated to protecting the interests of Nevada and ensuring that agencies follow the law and take the state’s concerns and interests into account.”

Shortly after Zinke announced the changes, Laxalt lauded the move, saying, “I am glad to see this progress on an issue important to so many Nevadans. I agree with Secretary Zinke that the federal government and Nevada can protect the sage-grouse and its habitat, while also ensuring that conservation efforts do not undermine job growth and local communities.”

Nevada’s lawsuit accused the various federal land agencies of violating the law and ignoring scientific evidence when it concocted a 341-page pronouncement in 2015 that 10 million acres of public land in 16 Western states — nearly a third of that in Nevada — would be taken out of consideration for future mining claims, as well as oil and gas drilling near breeding grounds and that there would be additional reviews on grazing permits. The plan envisioned restrictions on grazing, resource development, solar and wind energy, and public access to public land in Nevada. This was being done even though the government declined to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

Specifics in Zinke’s order include recognizing that “proper livestock grazing is compatible with enhancing or maintaining Greater Sage-Grouse (GRSG) habitat” and orders incentives be used to encourage grazing practices that improve conditions conducive to grouse habitat.

While the previous administration failed to even consider predator control as a means of protecting grouse, the Interior Department order calls for research into both lethal and non-lethal predator control. In 1989, the Nevada Department of Wildlife planted 1,400 chicken eggs in 200 simulated grouse nests during the 15-day period when sage hens lay their eggs. All the eggs were destroyed by predators, mostly ravens.

Yet, the previous administration put on their all-species-must-be-protected blinders and entirely ignored predator control as a means of protecting the grouse population.

The order also recognizes the need to reduce the overpopulation of wild horses and burros that eat and trample sage grouse habitat, something else the previous administration was lax about.

It also discusses the need to fund fire fuel reduction and fighting invasive species.

It also anticipates flexibility to allow the development of both fluid and solid minerals.

It even calls for experimenting with captive breeding of grouse to enhance the population.

This move by the Interior Department should have a salutary impact on Nevada’s economy. Interior’s own draft environmental impact statement estimated that its previous sage grouse restrictions would reduce economic output in Nevada each year by $373.5 million, cost $11.3 million in lost state and local tax revenue and reduce employment by 739 jobs every year for the next 20 years.

As for all the doomsaying about grouse populations, according to a 2015 Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies survey, the population of greater sage grouse had grown by nearly two-thirds in the previous two years.

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.

Prosecution continues to stretch out lengthy Bunkerville cases

Protesters outside courthouse in Las Vegas (R-J pix)

Speedy trial?

The prosecutors broke the 17 defendants in the Bunkerville standoff into three groups. Six would be tried in April and the others — including 71-year-old rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons — would be tried shortly thereafter.

But in April the jurors convicted only two of the six of any charges. Jurors told defense lawyers after the trial they never came close to convicting four defendants, voting 10-2 in favor of acquitting two and splitting on the others.

The government decided to retry those four and rejected Cliven Bundy’s bid to move up his trial, saying he would have to wait in jail until after the retrial. That retrial ended this week with two of the four being acquitted and the remaining two acquitted of all but a handful of lesser charges. All have been freed.

But the prosecutor has decided to retry for a third time the two for whom some charges remain unresolved, even though defense attorneys were told jurors at one point voted 11-1 for acquittal on all charges. The retrial of Scott Drexler and Eric Parker is scheduled for Sept. 25.

Meanwhile, 11 defendants remain in jail awaiting trial, even though two juries have largely voted against conviction of their co-defendants. This was even though in the latest trial the defense was handcuffed by the judge prohibiting any defense based on First and Second Amendment rights or excessive force by federal agents.

The 11 have been jailed for year and half. The further delays in their trials are due entirely to the prosecution being unable to convince jurors of guilt. So trials that could have started in May or June are again delayed?

The standoff occurred after heavily armed Bureau of Land Management agents attempted to confiscate Bundy’s cattle after he had refused for 20 years to pay grazing fees. Faced with armed protesters the agents eventually released the cattle. The 17 Bunkerville defendants were charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy, extortion, assault and impeding federal officers.

Is it time to consider freeing the remaining defendants on bond?

How much is this prosecutorial intransigence costing taxpayers?