The year in review – The United States will face many problems in the coming year and beyond, but on the whole it seems to be making progress. Given that this issue is being written during the holiday season, let’s focus on the positive for a change.
Whether because of the new administration’s policies (e.g., pruning of unnecessary government regulations) or otherwise, the US economy (and also the global economy) has been on the upswing. We may yet see the US economic growth rate hit an average of 3% or better per year. And the stock market has reacted accordingly, e.g., the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up about 35% since the elections in 2016.
Republicans succeeded in passing a major tax bill just before Christmas, which will lower business taxes, e.g., cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, and marginally reduce the tax burden on the majority of individual taxpayers. While one could quibble with many details of this legislation, it should provide a further boost to economic growth as well as simplifying tax preparation for most Americans.
On the spending side, the two parties passed an extension of the continuing resolution that will keep the government operating until January 19. It would have been nice to get a final spending deal, but at least there wasn’t any serious damage such as might have resulted from coming to terms under the imminent threat of a government shutdown. Hopefully, the sticking points (spending levels for defense vs. non-defense functions, disaster relief, GovCare stabilization, etc.) can be sorted out in January.
The investigation of possible Russian collusion or other wrongdoing by the president et al. seems to be headed in a different direction than the president’s critics envisioned. Time will tell, but the consequences may prove more embarrassing for others than for the Trump administration. Mueller probe, infra.
And there have been many other promising developments, both nationally and here in Delaware, including those noted in the stories that follow.
Bundy ranch case – In a country subject to the “rule of law,” no one is above the law. One may disagree with the government’s view of what the law requires, but must comply unless and until a court or administrative agency decides otherwise.
For the legal system to work properly, however, government agents must observe the law as well – and that includes acting reasonably in many different contexts. Thus, police officers may not use deadly force to stop a suspect unless this is truly necessary, citizens should be warned of perceived legal violations before the authorities throw the book at them, etc.
Prosecutors are responsible for not supporting dubious legal claims, over-charging offenses or bending the rules to win convictions. All of these things were arguably done in a protracted legal war between a Nevada ranch owner (Cliven Bundy) et al. and the federal Bureau of Land Management.
The initial dispute was over the right of the Bundy family to keep livestock on an open range area with access to water sources, as they had done for many years. Instead of pursuing civil remedies to collect allegedly unpaid fees, the Feds tried to seize the Bundy cattle and a bloody shootout nearly resulted. Bundy Ranch showdown shows erosion of rule of law, 4/21/14.
Two of Mr. Bundy’s sons were subsequently involved in an extended series of protests at the Malheur Wildlife Reserve in Oregon. One of the participants wound up being killed (some said assassinated) by federal officers and others were arrested. Bundy’s sons were tried for their roles in the matter, but acquitted.
Meanwhile, criminal charges were brought re the Bundy Ranch showdown. Two of the defendants in a first-round trial were convicted on some charges and the jury deadlocked on all charges against the other four defendants.
Cliven Bundy (represented by attorney Brett Whipple) and others were tried in the second round. They complained of procedural irregularities, including withheld evidence and false testimony. Also, a federal whistleblower who had worked on the Bundy Ranch investigation claimed to have “routinely observed, and the investigation revealed a widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct . . .”. Charges against all of the second-round defendants were dismissed on grounds that withholding of evidence had deprived them of an opportunity for a fair trial. Judge issues a decision in the Bundy Ranch case, westernjournalism.com, 12/20/17.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has since ordered an investigation of how the case was handled. AG Sessions orders investigation of Bundy case after mistrial over prosecutors bungling, Washington Times, 12/21/17.
Mueller probe – The origin of potential charges against the Trump presidential campaign/ administration for collusion with the Russians, obstruction of justice, etc. is complicated. Hillary Clinton’s storage of government e-mails on a private server while she was Secretary of State – dubious handling of the e-mail investigation by the FBI – claims that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians – surveillance of several Trump operatives based on a dossier that had initially been commissioned by the Clinton campaign as opposition research – the president’s firing of FBI Director James Comey – appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to continue the investigation.
Several congressional committees have expressed interest in this matter, and there have been repeated requests to the Department of Justice/ FBI for information on why the FBI initiated this investigation, whether it is being conducted in a fair and impartial way, and what the path forward is.
Congressional document requests were being stonewalled until recently, and key officials (with the exception of James Comey) weren’t being made available to testify. It almost seemed as though DOJ/FBI officials considered their agencies exempt from congressional inquiries. The situation only changed under threat of contempt of Congress charges by the House.
Even now, many of the subpoenaed documents have not been provided and several of the interviews – such as a 7-hour interview (behind closed doors) of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe – were uninformative. Thus, after investigating the Trump-Russia matter since summer 2016, “the second-highest ranking official in the bureau will not say whether anything in the document, beyond its repetition of information already in the press, has been found to be true.” Frustrated lawmakers pressed FBI’s McCabe for answers on Trump dossier, Byron York, Washington Examiner, 12/21/17.
Update: McCabe is reportedly planning to retire in early 2018 after his pension vests. Sounds like an appropriate outcome to us, and we’re glad to see Congress getting some of its mojo back.
Opportunity knocks – SAFE favors the idea of a convention of states (COS) under Article V of the Constitution to propose constitutional amendments. The goal would be a government more in tune with the initial intentions of the founders, e.g., a “smaller, more focused, less costly” government such as SAFE has long been advocating.
If the legislatures of at least 2/3 (34) of the states request a COS to consider a given agenda, Article V provides that Congress “shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments.” The state delegates who attended the convention would run the show, and whatever amendments were agreed to (based on one vote per state) would become effective if subsequently ratified by at least 3/4 (38) of the states.
Convention of States Action (COSA), organized in 2013, is leading a national campaign to get state legislatures to request a COS. Their model state application calls for the consideration of constitutional amendments directed to three ends: “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.” Twelve states are on board, and efforts to get more sign-ups are under way. COSA website.
Although the COSA campaign hasn’t gotten rolling in Delaware, we have been impressed by the COSA strategy and messaging at the national level. Convention of States, SAFE newsletter, Fall 2017.
SAFE was recently contacted by the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, which has been seeking to organize a COS to propose a balanced budget amendment since the mid-1970s. 28 states have signed its applications. The goal is to attain the 34-state goal in 2018. Would SAFE like to participate in the BBATF campaign?
SAFE responded along the following lines: (1) We agree that the continued growth of government debt is irresponsible; (2) We applaud your efforts to promote a balanced budget amendment, but other changes may also be needed to get the federal government back on track; (3) The three-prong wording in COSA’s state application form provides flexibility for a more comprehensive solution; (4) Is there any way that BBATF and COSA “could join forces, get at least 34 states to call for an Article V convention, and run the project together?”
We have offered to work with COSA, responded the BBATF, “but they prefer to go ahead on their own.” Too bad; maybe SAFE should also pass on its suggestion to COSA.
DE offshore wind power – In late August, DE Governor John Carney appointed a high level working group to review the desirability of the First State providing government support for offshore wind power development. It was understood that this might entail piggy-backing on one or both of the projects already approved by the Maryland government and/or undertaking a new project.
The governor’s order emphasized the purported benefits of offshore wind power, while only obliquely referring to cost considerations, and the working group was to report its findings by December 15.
In our view, the idea of providing ratepayer or taxpayer subsidies for offshore wind power projects was a nonstarter. Due to the high cost of building offshore wind facilities, the resulting electric power would be expensive - wind power is intermittent so it would have to be backed up by power produced from more reliable energy sources – the purported environmental & health benefits could be delivered more cheaply by onshore wind or solar power. Offshore wind: a case study in how bad decisions can get made, 12/4/17.
Surpassing our expectations, the WG report rejected the idea of piggybacking on the MD projects while committing to further study of other options including “procurement of other renewable resources in lieu of offshore wind.” Points to be considered in the further study would include “how should an offshore wind subsidy be paid for” and “what effect would higher electric power costs have on economic development and jobs throughout the state?” Fingers crossed, here’s one bad idea for government action that may be dead!
Andrew Betley, (302) 239-9679
Dan Kerrick, treasurer, (302) 658-7101
Steve McClain, (302) 998-3910
Jerry Martin, (302) 478-5064
John Nichols, (302) 378-0683
rycK Stout, (302) 478-9495
Bill Whipple, president, (302) 464-2688
For e-mail addresses see: http://www.s-a-f-e.org/administrative/contact.html
About SAFE - SAFE is a non-partisan, all-volunteer organization that was founded in 1996. We advocate smaller, more focused, lower cost government, to be achieved by cutting spending, restructuring “entitlements,” simplifying taxes, and rationalizing regulations.
The SAFE agenda is promoted through: (1) Our website, including issue statements, a weekly blog, and a “Delaware Chatter” microblog; (2) Letters to the editor, public events, legislative contacts, etc., which are also posted and/or recapped on the website; (3) This quarterly newsletter, available in print (since 1996) and now electronic editions; and (4) Posts on Twitter and/or Facebook (click icons on the website to access). SAFE dues are $10 per year for subscribers to the print edition of the newsletter and zero for electronic subscribers. Contributions are also appreciated and may be tax deductible (SAFE is a Section 501(c)(3) non-profit organization). To join SAFE, renew your membership, or make a contribution, please print and complete this form and mail it with your check to SAFE, 115 Dungarvan Drive, Wilmington, DE 19709. Thank you!