When facts are such slippery things

The definition of define is: “state or describe exactly the nature, scope, or meaning of.”

So when the Trump administration set out recently to determine the definition of “sex” so it could enforce Title IX‘s requirement to not discriminate on the basis of “sex,” The New York Times headline proclaimed: “‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration.”

The Timeswomen and Timesman quoted a memo that said government agencies needed a uniform definition of gender based “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.”

Perhaps something along the line of males have XY chromosomes and females have XX chromosomes, because each sperm carries only an X or a Y chromosome and that’s how babies are made and gender determined. You remember that talk, right?

The Times explains: “The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into.”

Then there is the case of Sen. Elizabeth Warren whose DNA test, according to CNN, showed “strong evidence” of Native American ancestry — six to 10 generations ago. So she opted to recognize herself as Native American?

Facts are such slippery things these days. It is so hard to get a firm grip on them. Definitions are what anyone defines them as.

 

 

 

NYT anonymous op-ed just could be heartening information

I hadn’t bothered to read the original anonymous op-ed in The Gray Lady attributed to “a senior official in the Trump administration.”

But there has been so much ink spilled over this ink spill that I decided I should peruse and evaluate. Frankly, I’m not convinced it is not an elaborate hoax on The New York Times. There is nothing in it that reveals insider knowledge. The closest the piece comes is when it says Trump was upset that his aides had convinced him to expel too many Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

But The Washington Post reported in April that Trump was upset that the U.S. was expelling 60 Russians while the French and Germans were expelling only four each. “There were curse words,” one official told WaPo. “A lot of curse words.”

And the anonymous op-ed’s claim that there were “early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment” seems highly implausible given the political devastation and utter futility of such a move. The 25th was designed to give the vice president the ability to function should the president become comatose, not merely “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective,” as anon attests.

The paper insists it adequately vetted the piece and its not from some low level mope.

Now, some of anon’s observations are smack on, such as:

The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.

But you don’t have to be a White House insider to see that. I’ve noted that Trump has changed political parties more often than some people change their socks. He has no philosophical moorings.

Trump has characterized the anonymous writer as a traitor in one of his ubiquitous tweets. Some have criticized the writer for hiding behind the shrubbery of anonymity and not having the courage to resign and put his or her name to the criticism of Trump’s whims and foibles.

As for me, if this is really an administration insider with the ability to thwart some of Trump’s baser instincts, good. Glad to see there are people who put the country first. Trump is not the pope. He is not infallible. He’s not the king. He is just the guy who lucked out and got handed the job.

Anon characterizes himself or herself and others inside the administration as “unsung heroes,” who “have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.” And, yes, I do take comfort in the possibility of there being “adults in the room. … trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.”

Though he or she says, “Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back,” anon gives the administration, if not the president, credit for “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.”

If all is above board and as the writer makes them out be, well, I’m glad there are some adults aboard this ship of state willing to try to wrest the rudder from the drunken captain before he runs aground. And I’m glad we have been offered this peek inside … if that’s what it truly is.

I remain skeptical but hopeful.

 

 

 

 

Newspaper column: Could Nevada benefit from plans for Hoover Dam electricity?

What’s in it for us?

A recent New York Times story outlines a proposal by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to use Hoover Dam and Colorado River water to smooth out its flow of electricity. The utility has so much intermittent solar and wind power that sometimes it must pay others to take it off its hands lest it overload the grid and result in blackouts.

The plan is to build a $3 billion system of pipes and pump stations by 2028 that would use that excess solar and wind electricity to pump water from downstream of the dam back into Lake Mead. When the utility needs power — when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow — water would be released through the dam’s turbines to generate power.

Turbines inside Hoover Dam (NYT pix)

The Times article compared the scheme to using the dam as a sort of storage battery, noting that utility-scale lithium-ion batteries cost 26 cents a kilowatt-hour, compared with 15 cents for a pumped-storage hydroelectric project.

The utility already operates a hydroelectric plant at Pyramid Lake, northwest of Los Angeles, that uses the electric grid to spin a turbine backward to pump water back into the lake.

“I think we have to look at this as a once-in-a-century moment,” the newspaper quoted Los Angeles Mayor Eric M. Garcetti as saying. “So far, it looks really possible. It looks sustainable, and it looks clean.”

Of course, the scheme is rife with potential problems. How would it affect water availability downstream? What would be the environmental impact in general and specifically for the herds of bighorn sheep? How would it impact recreational uses?

The concept is not new, though the scale of this proposition is rather audacious. The technology has been around since the late 19th century and there are several working pumped storage facilities around the world. Back in 2011 a proposal was floated to build what is called a pumped storage project in Eldorado Valley south of Las Vegas.

Though it sounded vaguely like a perpetual motion machine, it was based on the principle of supply and demand. Like in the stock or currency market — buy low, sell high.

Eldorado Pumped Storage filed an application for permission to study the feasibility of building a closed-loop hydropower facility. The idea was to build a 10,000 acre-foot reservoir at an elevation of 3,570 feet and another at 1,500 feet. During the day, when power is expensive, the water would flow through turbines and the electricity could be sold on the grid. At night, when power is cheaper, the water would be pumped back to the top of the hill.

A similar plan was once proposed for the gypsum mining property across from Blue Diamond.

Nothing has been heard since about either proposal.

As for the Hoover Dam proposal, what’s in it for Nevada? Nevada would bear the brunt of the impact of disturbances to build pipelines and pump stations. Nevada recreational uses of Lake Mohave and the Colorado River near Laughlin could be hurt by lower water levels.

Nevada gets only a quarter of the power generated by Hoover Dam, while Arizona gets less than 20 percent and the rest flows to California.

As for Lake Mead water, California gets 4.4 million acre-feet a year, Arizona 2.8 million acre-feet and Nevada a mere 300,000 acre-feet.

At the end of the lengthy Times report, Nevada state Sen. Joe Hardy of Boulder City is quoted as suggesting that Nevada would be willing to negotiate.

“The hurdles are minimal and the negotiations simple, as long as everybody agrees with Nevada,” Hardy told the newspaper. “It would be nice if there was a table that they would come to. I’ll provide the table.”

Perhaps Nevada could bargain for a greater share of water and further delay plans for that $15 billion dollar scheme to siphon groundwater from Lincoln and Nye counties.

Additionally, Nevada might bargain for more power for rural electric cooperatives.

What’s in it for Nevada?

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.

Hoover Dam (NYT video)

Could Nevada use L.A. proposal for Hoover Dam to its benefit?

Turbines inside Hoover Dam. (Pix via NYT)

OK, what’s in it is for us?

Today the Las Vegas Sun insert carried a six-day old New York Times story outlining a proposal by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to use Hoover Dam and Colorado River water to smooth out its flow of electricity. The utility has so much intermittent solar and wind power that sometimes it must pay others to take it off its hands lest it overload the grid and result in blackouts.

The plan is to build a $3 billion system of pipes and pump stations that would use that excess power to pump water from downstream of the dam back into Lake Mead. When the utility needed power — when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow — water would be released through the dam’s turbines to generate power.

The Times article compared the scheme to using the dam as a sort of storage battery.

Of course, the scheme is rife with potential problems. How would it affect water availability downstream? What would be the environmental impact in general and specifically for the herds of bighorn sheep? How would it impact recreational uses, especially boating in Lake Mohave? What about the economics?

The concept is not new, though the scale of this proposition is rather audacious.

Back in 2011 a proposal was floated to build what is called a pumped storage project in Eldorado Valley south of Las Vegas.

Though it sounded vaguely like a perpetual motion machine, it was based on the principle of supply and demand. Like in the stock or currency market — buy low, sell high.

Eldorado Pumped Storage filed an application for permission to study the feasibility of building a closed-loop hydropower facility. The idea was to build a 10,000 acre-foot reservoir at an elevation of 3,570 feet and another at 1,500 feet. During the day, when power is expensive, the water would flow through turbines and the electricity could be sold on the grid. At night, when power is cheaper, the water would be pumped back to the top of the hill.

A similar plan was once proposed for the gypsum mining property across from Blue Diamond.

Nothing has been heard since about either proposal.

The technology has been around since the late 19th century and there are several working pumped storage facilities around the world.

As for the Hoover Dam proposal, what’s in it for Nevada, which would bear the brunt of the impact of disturbances?

Nevada gets only a quarter of the power generated by Hoover Dam, while Arizona gets less than 20 percent and the rest flows to California.

As for Lake Mead water, California gets 4.4 million acre-feet a year, Arizona 2.8 million acre-feet and Nevada a mere 300,000 acre-feet.

At the end of the lengthy Times report, Nevada state Sen. Joe Hardy of Boulder City is quoted as suggesting that Nevada would be willing to negotiate.

“The hurdles are minimal and the negotiations simple, as long as everybody agrees with Nevada,” Hardy told the newspaper. “It would be nice if there was a table that they would come to. I’ll provide the table.”

Perhaps a greater share of power or water could be wrested in such a negotiation.

New York Times video of Hoover Dam.

Free speech includes the right to be silent

The right to free speech includes the right to not be compelled to speak.

That includes not being required to pay dues to a union whose political view might be different from yours, not being required to advertise abortion availability at your faith-based pregnancy counseling service, not being required to use your cake baking talent to create a special cake or your flowing arranging expertise for a gay wedding.

All of these have come down from a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court in a matter of days.

Today the court ruled that public employees could not to be forced to pay dues to unions with which they might not agree. Justice Samuel Alito writes in the 5-4 opinion:

The First Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, forbids abridgment of the freedom of speech. We have held time and again that freedom of speech “includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all.” … The right to eschew association for expressive purposes is likewise protected. … (“Freedom of association … plainly presupposes a free­dom not to associate”) … (“[F]orced associations that burden protected speech are impermissible”). As Justice Jackson memorably put it: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constella­tion, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Just the day before the court ruled, again 5-4, that a California law that required pro-life, religious-oriented unlicensed pregnancy centers to place extensive disclaimers in large fonts and in as many as 13 languages in their ads and on billboards telling people about abortion services was an unconstitutional impingement on free speech. The ruling overturned a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion:

Here, for example, licensed clinics must provide a government-drafted script about the availability of state-sponsored services, as well as contact information for how to obtain them. One of those services is abortion — the very practice that petitioners are devoted to opposing. By requiring petitioners to inform women how they can obtain state-subsidized abortions — at the same time petitioners try to dissuade women from choosing that option — the licensed notice plainly “alters the content” of petitioners’ speech.

A little more than a week ago in a 7-2 ruling the court held the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was inconsistent in its rulings relating to issues of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion and free speech.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that on at least three occasions the state Civil Rights Commission held that bakers who refused to create cakes with images that conveyed disapproval of same-sex marriage did so lawfully.

“The treatment of the conscience-based objections at issue in these three cases contrasts with the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ objection,” Kennedy wrote. “The Commission ruled against (Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack) Phillips in part on the theory that any message the requested wedding cake would carry would be attributed to the customer, not to the baker. Yet the Division did not address this point in any of the other cases with respect to the cakes depicting anti-gay marriage symbolism.”
Shortly thereafter the court remanded a Washington case involving a florist who declined to arrange flowers for a gay wedding, citing the Colorado ruling.
The state of Nevada, under the direction of Attorney Adam Laxalt, had joined in both the public employee union case and the California abortion law case on the winning side.
Laxalt’s office put out a press release about the California law ruling stating: “The ruling, which rests exclusively on free speech grounds, does not affect abortion providers; it neither requires them to change their practices nor infringes on their ability to provide abortions. The Supreme Court correctly held that compelling private organizations to promote the government’s preferred message under those circumstances is inconsistent with the First Amendment. This is an important holding ensuring that the government cannot simply force private speakers with whom it disagrees to also promote the government’s preferred message, especially when there are other ways for the government to promote its own message without interfering with private speech.”

Republican Laxalt’s Democratic opponent for governor in November, Steve Sisolak, put out a statement reported by The Nevada Independent saying, “I believe that women deserve access to all of their options when it comes to their reproductive health care. I still have concerns over the lack of information given by these crisis pregnancy centers and the harm it can cause.”Sisolak continued, “As governor, I will fight to protect a woman’s constitutional reproductive rights and her consistent access to comprehensive care. Adam Laxalt has shown repeatedly that he will pursue an anti-choice agenda that will roll back the clock on women’s rights and bring Nevada down a dangerous path.”

This has nothing to do with abortion rights and only to do with speech rights.

This point was lost on Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen who is running for Republican Dean Heller’s Senate seat. She sent out an email saying, “Deceiving women about their health care options is an attack on women’s fundamental reproductive freedom, and I will continue to stand against this Administration’s attacks on women’s rights and access to health care. Nevadans support a woman’s right to make these personal decisions.”

Lame-duck Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen sent an email saying, “It is disappointing that today’s Supreme Court decision will allow unlicensed facilities to continue misleading women about the health care services they provide. No woman seeking accurate information about her health care options should be lied to, shamed, or denied access to basic medical care. This ruling is a huge setback in our nation’s fight to protect and advance women’s rights and will make it harder for women to access the health care services they need. We must continue fighting to ensure that every woman has the right to make her own health choices and has access to the full range of options.”

Laxalt’s political campaign sent out an email crowing about the two most recent court ruling and rubbing Sisolak’s nose in it:

The Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the government cannot force Nevadans to advocate political positions against their beliefs. We know Steve Sisolak disagrees. Steve said it was “shameful” when Adam visited a Nevada pregnancy care center, and he favors zero restrictions on abortion — a position to the left of most Nevada Democrats. He is benefiting from the government union in this case, AFSCME, that is running over a million dollars in attack ads against Adam right now — attack ads that PolitiFact has called “false.”

These were great victories for free speech. Adam protected pregnancy care centers from a radical California law that would have forced these pro-life centers that offer care for pregnant women to advocate for policies they disagree with. Adam protected workers from being forced to give up their wages to a government union that pays for political lobbying and advertising that they may disagree with.

Steve Sisolak’s fringe agenda is being exposed. This is a great week for freedom of speech in Nevada, and a terrible week for Steve Sisolak’s radical political machine.

Anti-abortion activists celebrated outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday. (Reuters pix via NYTimes)

 

Newspaper column: Public has a right to see justice done

Steve Kelly cartoon

Currently playing in theaters across the country is a movie called “The Post,” about  how in 1971 The New York Times and The Washington Post both brazenly defied the law of the land and published excerpts of a highly classified document that has since been dubbed the Pentagon Papers, which outlined how a succession of presidents lied to and concealed information from the American public about events and strategy in the Vietnam War.

The public had a right to know, both papers argued.

There was nothing in the Papers that would have jeopardized American security or troops, just the confidence of the American people in the belief that their leaders would tell them the unvarnished truth.

Today, both of those papers are being less than enthusiastic about the public’s right to know what is in a declassified memo from the House Intelligence Committee that states there are “concerns with the legitimacy and legality” of how law enforcement obtained court approval to wiretap a then volunteer political adviser to  now-President Donald Trump, Carter Page, in an investigation into whether the Trump campaign “colluded” with officials of the Russian government.

The memo indicates Justice and FBI officials were less than forthcoming with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court about the material used to support the request for permission to surveil an American citizen, despite the Fourth Amendment guarantee that citizens are to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. The memo specifically addresses the fact the Christopher Steele “dossier” was bought and paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign and that the credibility of Steele himself was doubtful after he was quoted as saying he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.”

Never mind that then-FBI Director James Comey testified that the dossier was “salacious and unverified.”

The Post editorialized that the Intelligence Committee under Republican Devin Nunes of California “has become another front in Mr. Trump’s assault on the law enforcement institutions investigating the president and his associates. House Republicans are poisoning the committee’s relationship with the intelligence community and distracting from real issues demanding attention.”

Poisoning? Distracting?

The editorialists at the Times opened with the dismissive line, “Seriously? That’s all they’ve got?” From there the paper derisively chided the House Republicans for what it seemed to believe is a newly discovered reverence for transparency.

“Since the Republicans are now on board with greater transparency, they will no doubt push President Trump to release his tax returns, as every other major-party presidential nominee has done for the past four decades, won’t they?” the Times taunted.

There was nothing in the memo that in any way jeopardizes national security, but the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee fired off a memo declaring, “The Republican document mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information …” adding, “The sole purpose of the Republican document is to circle the wagons around the White House and insulate the President.”

Nevada’s Democrats, of course, joined the hooting chorus of naysaying.

Freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is running against Sen. Dean Heller this year, said, “Declassifying this memo, filled with innuendo to support unsubstantiated claims, is a blatant attempt to discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation for political gain. This was all done despite the objections of the FBI, and these attacks undermine the integrity of our federal law enforcement officers.”

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto released a statement declaring, “This partisan memo is nothing more than an attempt to distract from the very real issue: Did a presidential candidate’s campaign work with a foreign government to influence our election process? I support the dedicated professionals at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is clear that to some Republicans in Congress, it’s more important to play politics than to support law enforcement. No one should ever be above the law.

Including those in law enforcement?

Rep. Dina Titus fired off this retort, “Republicans are willing to jeopardize our national security by attacking and undermining an FBI investigation of one of Trump’s advisers in a memo that has material omissions of fact, distortions, and ulterior motives. … Something doesn’t add up. Trump has something to hide.”

And what is the purpose of classifying a document, but to hide? While declassifying reveals.

For justice to be done, it must the seen, and not cloaked under a veil of secrecy.

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.

Newspaper insert takes its lead from the previous day’s editorial page

At least we know there is one person at the Las Vegas Sun insert in the morning newspaper that is reading the editorial page of the Review-Journal and taking it to heart.

It can’t be a coincidence can it?

Back on the 20th of December, the R-J published an editorial referencing an article in The New York Times from four days earlier about Harry Reid ramrodding through $22 million in secret funds for the purpose of researching UFOs. The next day the Sun published that week-old NYT story on its cover.

On Monday the R-J published an editorial referencing an NYT article from the previous Saturday about the regulatory burden being heaped on apple growers by federal agencies. Today the Sun printed that same story on the cover. Perhaps they have finally found their niche — being a helpful supplement to the actual newspaper.

Or, once Pavlov rang the bell his dogs salivated.