Category Archives: Heck

Corporate Interests, Consumer Safety?

banker 2 Columnist Steve Sebelius has an article posted which is high on DB’s Must Read List: “Heck opposes ‘junk lawsuits’ ? Since When?”  It’s hoped that after reading this you’ll come back for more information on the Republican assault on your rights in the Courthouse.  Medical malpractice litigation is only one of several categories in which the Republican Party is ready and ever-so-willing to restrict the rights of ordinary citizens to have their day in court.  Failing that, there’s always the option to force litigation on those least able to afford it.

Your Body vs. Health Insurance Corporations

It’s time to remember that one of the very few specific proposals incorporated into the GOP version of health care insurance reform was “litigation reform.”  One of the more recent comes from a Louisiana Congressman:

“Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, is one of several Republicans pushing for the proposed legislation, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act, place new restrictions on medical malpractice suits and provide more access to health savings accounts.”  [LFC]

The standard line from Republicans is that malpractice litigation creates “runaway health care spending increases” because medical professionals order unnecessary tests, and if damages are limited fewer people will have any incentive to file law suits.  However, we’ve known since 2009 that some physicians have ordered extra testing merely to increase their billings, [TNY] and after Texas legislature capped damages costs still hadn’t dropped in the area highlighted as the poster child for escalating health care costs (McAllen, TX). [Wire]  A Florida law restricting medical malpractice suits was declared unconstitutional – after the Florida Supreme Court found that only the health insurance corporations benefited from the restraints. [Wire] And what was achieved by restraining the ability of ordinary citizens damaged by medical malpractice?

Not much:

“Defensive medicine includes tests and procedures ordered by physicians principally to reduce perceived threats of medical malpractice liability. The practice is commonly assumed to increase health care costs. The results of studies of the costs of defensive medicine have been inconsistent. We found that estimated savings resulting from a 10 percent decline in medical malpractice premiums would be less than 1 percent of total medical care costs in every specialty. These savings are lower than most previous estimates, and they suggest that the presumed impact of tort reform on health care costs may be overstated.” [HA.org, National Cancer Inst] (emphasis added)

May be overstated?” They are being overstated. And, they are being overstated in the pursuit of policies which are blatantly aligned with the interests of the health insurance corporations.   Might any Nevadan oppose litigation seeking to hold accountable those responsible for the Hepatitis C outbreak from the Shadow Lane Clinic? [LVRJ/Sebelius]  Would Floridians oppose the efforts of the family of Michelle McCall to hold a medical facility accountable for her death – the result of a case of preeclampsia being handled about as poorly as might be imagined in a nightmare. [FSC 2014 pdf]

Who in Missouri would castigate the efforts of the Schneider family in the wake of a stroke suffered by Jeffrey Schneider, an IT specialists with the Federal Reserve, which caused damage to his speech, the right side of his body, and loss of short term memory – and which was preventable had the physician paid attention to his own notes going back to 1996. [STLpd] Also left un-noted in the hyperbole about Runaway Costs from Irresponsible Juries – the fact that medical malpractice suits are extremely difficult to win.

The physicians and medical facilities usually win in most cases. In one study of 10,000 malpractice cases between 2002 and 2005, just a bit over half (55%) ended up in an actual lawsuit. Of that 55% more than half were dismissed by the court. When all the winnowing was final, less than 5% of the cases ended up being decided by a trial verdict – and 80% of the verdicts were in favor of the physicians. [reuters]  For this, we are being asked by Representatives Heck, Scalise, and others, to voluntarily abrogate our rights as citizens to have our day in court.

Your Body vs. Gun Manufacturers and the NRA

On October 20, 2005 Congress passed a law protecting gun manufacturers and dealers from any liability.  The NRA was positively elated. [NYT]  The vote on S. 397 was 283-144 [roll call 534] The law is a gun manufacturer’s delight, it:

Prohibits a qualified civil liability action from being brought in any state or federal court against a manufacturer or seller of a firearm, ammunition, or a component of a firearm that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, or against a trade association of such manufacturers or sellers, for damages, punitive damages, injunctive or declaratory relief, abatement, restitution, fines, penalties, or other relief resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm. Requires pending actions to be dismissed. [Thomas]

Did we notice the damage might have resulted from “the criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm?”  P.L.109-92 protects gun manufacturers and dealers like no other sector of our economy.  Did the safety fail? You have no case. Did the gun malfunction because of a preventable engineering flaw causing an injury or loss of life? You have no case. Did the Saturday Night Special shatter when fired? You have no case.  If your complaint is with a firearms manufacturing corporation – you will not have your day in court.

There are also moves afoot to make being a consumer in this consumer economy a matter of a perverted form of survival of the fittest – or the wealthiest at least.  In this regard the advocates of corporate interests want to remove the very agencies which provide administrative options to litigation.  Instead of eliminating your day in court, the massive corporations would like very much to make you challenge them in court – if you dare.

Your Wallet vs. The Financial Institutions and Big Banks

Nothing so alarmed the bankers and other participants in the Great Mortgage Disaster of 2007-2008 as the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  In fact, a small community bank in (where else?) Texas along with two conservative groups,  were moved in 2012 to file a lawsuit saying the appointment of CFPB director Richard Cordray was unconstitutional and the agency was without “checks and balances.” The bankers also didn’t like the Financial Stability Oversight Council – the one that studies risk in the financial sector. [Reuters]  In September 2012 some Republican state attorneys general were planning “non-cooperation” with the CFPB, following along the talking points made in the litigation. [Bloomberg]  Nothing would please these folks more than the repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act, so that the wheels of the Wall Street Casino could be free to spin again.

And what subjects does the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau review? Student Loans, Manufactured Home financing,  Bank Overdraft and other fees… As of June 2014 the CFPB reviewed (pdf) complaints in a variety of financial transaction categories – 34% concerned mortgages, 20% concerned debt collection activities, 14% were about credit cards, 12% about banking accounts and services, 3% were about consumer loans, 3% about student loans, and payday loans 1%.  In other words, disputes about loans and other services common, ordinary, everyday, citizens of the U.S. might be involved in.  

The legal system usually demands that all administrative options be finished before litigation is initiated.  If there is no CFPB then there is one less way for disputes to be resolved at the administrative level – and the individual citizen (the one in the mobile home, in the student apartment, in the apartment house complex…) is left with no option except the expense of litigation.  If the big banks had their way – you’d get your day in court – at your expense, and there would be no agency tasked with protecting you before you faced the battalion of legal forces arrayed against you.

Your Life vs. Manufacturing Interests

Calls for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission are nothing new, they’ve been around since at least 1980. [Sanders]  The Libertarian Party is pleased to offer the following vision:

We oppose all so-called “consumer protection” legislation which infringes upon voluntary trade, and call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. We advocate the repeal of all laws banning or restricting the advertising of prices, products, or services. We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called “self-protection” equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.

Does someone “voluntarily” purchase a crib for an infant which has features potentially lethal for a baby?  Who “voluntarily” buys a four wheeler where the components of the front gear case can fail causing a loss of control and crash hazard?  Or a lawn mower in which the welding on the drive axle can fail, again causing a loss of control and crash hazard?  Would you “voluntarily” purchase a bicycle helmet which fails in cold temperatures?  Would you “voluntarily” buy a scarf which doesn’t meet federal flammability standards? Or a infant’s “hoodie” the drawstring of which creates a strangulation hazard? Or a riding lawn mower wherein the ignition fails to ground and tends to overheat and melt? [CPSC]

What is the response when the four-wheeler’s front gear case fails, the vehicle goes out of control, and the resulting crash causes injury or death? You should have had a degree in Mechanical Engineering before you purchased the rig?  Or, is it if enough people are injured or die in crashes consumers won’t purchase the vehicle? How many have to die?

Again, without the Consumer Products Safety Commission not only is the likelihood of death or injury made more commonplace, but there is no administrative remedy intermediate to litigation.  Worse still, the “pro-business” Republicans don’t even want the public to know which products have been the subjects of complaints.   When the CPSC allowed the publication of its consumer database, the Republicans went off the deep end.

They said: “…that the database “wastes taxpayer money, confuses and misleads consumers, raises prices, kills jobs, and damages the reputations of safe and responsible manufacturers.” Testifying last month before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, Wayne Morris, a vice president for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, complained, “It is wrong for the federal government to allow companies and their brands to be unfairly characterized, even slandered.” The National Association of Manufacturers said the database’s “credibility” and “usefulness to consumers” is “severely damaged.” In response to such criticism (and possibly also in response to Koch Industries, which showered an improbable $79,500 on his campaign), Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, a Tea Party freshman, sponsored an amendment zeroing out funding for the database that cleared the House, 234-187. The CPSC database, Pompeo said, “will drive jobs overseas.” [Slate]

There’s “voluntarism” for us – not only should manufacturers be able to slap together unsafe products and sell them to American consumers, but those potential consumers should be prevented from finding out that other consumers have had problems with the products.  We should remember that then Representative Dean Heller (R-NV) was one of the 234 House Republicans who voted in favor of Pompeo’s amendment cutting the funding for the CPSC database. [roll call 137]

The Ties That Bind

There is a common thread to all of this.  In the instances of medical malpractice and gun manufacturing and sales, it is assumed by the Republicans that the consumer – the average American – must be prevented from challenging the major corporations who provide the goods and services; or at least their dismal chances of successful litigation must be further curtailed.

In the examples of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Consumer Product Safety Commission the notion that some administrative option prior to expensive litigation must be removed for the sake of the manufacturers and dealers. Only those with the financial wherewithal to take on interminable legal battles should be able to challenge the desire of manufacturers to cut corners (“increase shareholder value”) and thereby produce and distribute potentially lethal products.

Nowhere in any portion of these Republican challenges to consumer safety and security will we find any true concern for the average American consumer, patient, or victim. Unfortunately, for the GOP it’s  all about the corporate Benjamins.

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Filed under civil liberties, conservatism, consumers, Gun Issues, Health Care, health insurance, Heck, Heller

What Our Representatives Did Before Vacation

Amodei 3 House leadership has taken the biennial pre-election vacation, in other words Representatives Heck, Amodei, Titus, and Horsford will be home to face the voters.  However, the House did leave with some parting gifts to corporate America which Representatives Heck and Amodei might wish to explain.

Parting gift (shot) number one: H.R. 4 the inaptly titled “Jobs for America Act.” What this might have to do with jobs is a mystery unless a person subscribes to the well debunked Trickle Down Hoax which says that the more tax breaks we give to corporations the more jobs will be created.  In this measure the research tax credit is made permanent, businesses can expense certain depreciable business assets, corporations are given permanent tax relief,  the bonus depreciation is modified and made permanent, the medical device tax is repealed, there are registration and reporting exemptions for private equity fund advisors, there are registration exemptions for merger and acquisition brokers, there are more reporting requirements on independent regulatory agencies and a retrospective analysis of existing federal regulations – (and what corporation doesn’t want ‘freedum’ from the SEC, the OCC, the FTC, the Consumer Safety Protection Bureau, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…) —

And, then there’s congressional review of agency rule making, a permanent moratorium on internet taxes (pro Big Box and Amazon), a land exchange authority to privatize public lands in Oregon and California, and provisions on judicial review of agency actions relating to exploration and mine permits.

In short – this is the exploiters, polluters, hedge fund and private equity wealth management lobbyists laundry list of Things We Want!  And, we like to have them now.  It’s just about every tax cut and deregulations idea ever expounded.   And, we know where tax cuts and deregulation got us in 2007-2008?

And, on September 18, 2014 the bill passed the Republican controlled House on a 253-163 vote.  [rc513] Representatives Amodei and Heck voted in favor of the H.R. 4 – the Exploiters, Polluters, Hedge Fund Managers, Merger and Acquisition Brokers Protection Act of 2014.   Representatives Titus and Horsford did not.  But wait, there’s more!

Parting gift (shot) number two:  The House also passed H.R. 2 the so-called  “American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act.”  If you think this is about creating permanent and well paying jobs for American workers, please find a copy of the bill text – because this is not about lowering your energy costs, nor is it about getting anyone a job – it’s about approving the Keystone Pipeline.  That’s what the first section of the first part of the act is all about – approving the Keystone Pipeline to take Canadian oil to an International port.   Here’s an idea – if the Canadians want to pipe their oil to a port, how about they pipe it to one of their own ports?

And while they’re about it there are provisions in the bill to prohibit the consideration of social costs of carbon in any analysis, repeal of earlier rules and guidelines on energy efficiency, and then Drill Baby Drill anywhere, any place, any time.  This is the American Petroleum Institute’s dream bill. It’s a fossil fuel industry wet dream. And, it passed in the House 226 to 191.  Representatives Amodei and Heck voted in favor of the Drill Baby Drill/ Keystone Pipeline bill;  Representatives Titus and Horsford voted against it. [rc515]

Let’s guess that Representatives Heck and Amodei will come home to tell us they voted against those icky overburdening regulations on “Small Business In America” – the Norman Rockwell Painting People who run those Mom and Pop corner bodegas – not, so fast – the people they voted to protect are the corporate polluters, exploiters, hedge fund wealth management, merger and acquisition brokers, and Oil Giants.  This activity creates jobs, IF and ONLY IF we are foolish enough to believe that cutting taxes on major multi-national corporations creates jobs, and we know that doesn’t work.

The House had time to vote to protect the Oil Giants and the Major Corporations in H.R. 2 and H.R. 4, but they didn’t have time before vacation to take up:

  • The Voting Rights Act
  • Equal Pay for Equal Work
  • Comprehensive Immigration Reform
  • Student Loan Terms and Indebtedness

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Filed under Amodei, Congress, energy policy, financial regulation, Heck, House of Representatives

Heck’s Hobby Lobby Hopes Dashed By SCOTUS

Joe HeckNevada’s 3rd District Representative, Joe Heck (R), made this remark concerning the Hobby Lobby Decision:

“Heck said he agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday in the Hobby Lobby case. The high court said businesses that are family owned or closely held don’t have to provide health care coverage for birth control because the companies have religious objections.

Heck said the ruling was narrowly written to accommodate religious beliefs that life begins at conception and he didn’t believe it should be broadly interpreted to apply to companies that aren’t closely held.” [LVRJ]

Here’s what makes the Congressman’s commentary unreasonable.

#1.  What is the standard for “religious objections?  Since the Hobby Lobby Decision as crafted by Justice Samuel Alito doesn’t specify a standard by which the merits of a religious objection are to be discerned, we might safely assume that a mere assertion of a religious objection is sufficient.  This is certainly at odds with the most obvious “religious objection” standard in another part of the federal government — the military.

In order to attain a “1-O” status with the U.S. military, there is a strenuous test for religious convictions.  According to the American Bar Association:

“Applicants must demonstrate that their beliefs upon which their conscientious objection is based are the primary controlling force in their lives. They must produce evidence in their written application (and during their subsequent hearing before an officer) demonstrating that neither the avoidance of military service nor expediency is the motivating factor in their claim. To this end, DoD Directive 1300.6 lists numerous factors to consider in examining the merits of a servicemember’s application, such as his or her training in the home and church, participation in religious activities, and general demeanor and pattern of conduct.”

The revised DoD Directive 1300.6 (pdf) which replaced the 1968 version in 2007, goes on for some twenty pages of specifications regarding the applicants’ qualifications for conscientious objector status.  One of the more common phrases associated with the qualification is that the beliefs must be “firm, fixed, sincere, and deeply held.”

In the case of a member of the Armed Services who wishes separation or reassignment based on religious scruples there is a process which begins with an extensive interview with a service chaplain, followed by a review by an investigating officer; there will be consultation with the Staff JAG, and then a hearing. Following the informal hearing, the investigating officer will file a report which will be forwarded to the commander.  The report and recommendations flow through the chain of command to the officer designated with the authority to make a final decision on the matter.  The separation from service or reassignment may be granted if it is concluded during the process that the individual’s beliefs are “firm, fixed, sincere, and deeply held.”

No such test appears to have been applied to the objections of Conestoga or Hobby Lobby.  Hobby Lobby simply asserted that its religious beliefs precluded funding for insurance benefits which included birth control and abortion.

If there is no test or evaluative process by which my religious objections — to anything — may be reviewed, then what is to prevent me from asserting that my religious beliefs prevent me from considering anyone for employment who is of a faith other than my own?  May I assert my ‘religious conviction’ that those who don’t keep Kosher (or Halal) are impure, unclean or otherwise unemployable. May I cut off from service any  who “partakes of any blood?” (Lev 7:22)

Who is to determine if my beliefs are “firm, fixed, sincere, and deeply held,” or if they are a simply an expedient way to refuse service to Jews or Muslims?  Or, might my objections (see Leviticus) be such that I can refuse service or employment to Basque Christians, on the grounds that many of them  make and consume blood sausage.

If this argument sounds frivolous, it is no more so than the case cited by Justice Ginsberg in her dissent — Newman vs. Piggie Park Enterprises.  The proprietors of Piggie Park (restaurant chain) objected to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 partially on the grounds that it “contravened the Will of God.” “Defendant Bessinger further contends that the Act violates his freedom of religion under the First Amendment “since his religious beliefs compel him to oppose any integration of the races whatever.” [USDC -DColumbia]  The Supreme Court ruled against Piggie Park Enterprises in March 1968.

Herein we have a closely held family business, the patriarch of which had religious objections to integration, who contended that religion trumped the application of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  If this sounds close to the characteristics of the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Cases it’s because they share obvious elements — just entirely different conclusions.  In short, without a test or process by which religion can be separated from convenient religiosity the adjudication of religious objections becomes highly subjective.

#2.  The decision was neither narrow, nor tightly drawn.  For all the palaver in the decision about the “narrow-ness” of the judgment, the reasoning left the door wide open to further litigation concerning the applicability of religious objections to contraception, as evidenced by some 30 cases piling up in the judicial system in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision.  [DMN]

Immediately in line after the ‘closely held businesses,’ are the non-profit organizations, such as Wheaton College, Notre Dame University, and others for whom even filling out the form to take advantage of the Administration’s accommodation for them is ‘unconscionable.’ [WaPo]  It should be asked — if the Hobby Lobby decision was such a narrow thing, then why did the Supreme Court almost immediately grant an injuction against the contraception mandate accommodation on behalf of non-profit Wheaton College?  Representative Heck hopes, or at least asserts, that the Hobby Lobby ruling only applies to closely held firms — but in its action on behalf of Wheaton, the line immediately shifted out from under Representative Heck’s assertion and right into the realm of non-profit organizations.

#3. The decision blurs the understanding of earned benefits.  The objections from those who describe themselves as religious to procuring health insurance plans which cover contraception for their employees appear to contend that they are being forced to subsidize medication of which they do not approve.

This has several unfortunate threads entangled in it. Contraceptive prescriptions are subject to approval by the FDA, not the Chamber of Commerce.  They are used for many other reasons that simply to avoid pregnancy.  Are we allowing a corporation to determine that even though a female employee has endometriosis, menorrhagia, or polycystic ovarian syndrome the medication prescribed by her physician is not to be covered because of the employer’s objections? [DB]

The health insurance offered to company employees is part of the total compensation package.  The company may pay for part of the premiums, the employee also contributes.  Does the company’s contribution determine who will control the inclusions in the insurance benefit, or the employee?  In the Hobby Lobby Decision the Supreme Court ruled that the employer’s money speaks louder than the employee’s contribution…even though the insurance may be handled by a third party administrator.

#4. The ruling broadly asserts the efficacy of one and only one religious perspective on life.  If a person happens to believe that life begins at conception then the judgment of the Court is acceptable. However, there are those who hold that life doesn’t begin until the newborn takes its first independent breath.   There’s nothing narrow about a Supreme Court decision which sanctions the view of one particular religion, thus denigrating the views of others.

In short, the decision combined with the Wheaton injunction allows corporations and non-profit entities to require their employees to either follow the proscriptions of the institutional faith or individually procure health insurance benefits on their own.  This is close to, if not identical with, forcing employees to follow the faith of their employers — and not their own individual consciences. Such an imposition is hardly the prescription for religious liberty.

As much as Representative Heck may wish to place a happy, non-threatening spin, on the Hobby Lobby decision, he whiffed on this one while the Supreme Court moved home plate.

***

See also:  Department of Defense Instruction, 1300.6, May 31, 2007. (pdf) John P. Jurden, Conscientious  Objectors, GPSolo, Jan-Feb 2005.  Newman, Neal, Mungin v. Piggie Park Enterprises, 256 F.Supp. 941 (1966), July 28, 1966. Newman, Neal, Mungin v. Piggie Park Enterprises, 377 F.2d 433 (1967), April 24, 1967.

Sherman & Zoll, “After Hobby Lobby…”, Dallas Morning News, July 6, 2014. Jonathan Adler, Supreme Court grants Wheaton College an injunction against contraception mandate accommodation,” WaPo, July 3, 2014.  “Joe Heck calls Hobby Lobby Decision Reasonable,” Nevada Democratic Party, and Las Vegas Review Journal, July 1, 2014.

 

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Filed under civil liberties, conservatism, family issues, Health Care, Heck, Nevada politics, Politics, religion, women, Women's Issues

Amodei and Heck Go Nuke

Nuclear missileHere’s what we get when things are reduced to “either/or” status in the deliberations of  the House of Representatives: Do we fund cleaning up toxic sites formerly used by the Department of Defense, or do we put the $3.4 million in Air Force research and development? There was a vote on an amendment to H.R. 4870:

“An amendment numbered 4 printed in the Congressional Record to increase funding for Environmental Restoration, Formerly Used Defense Sites, by $3,400,000 and reduce funds for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation, Air Force, by the same amount.”

The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and it was defeated 179 to 24 [roll call 319] Nevada Representatives Titus (D-NV1) and Horsford (D-NV4) voted in favor of the amendment, Representatives Amodei (R-NV2) and Heck (R-NV3) voted against it.

In the grand scheme of federal budgeting a $3.4 million allocation isn’t all that much, but this issue does illustrate a problem for the Department of Defense, as specified in GAO reporting.

 “DOD is obligated to ensure that former defense sites are cleaned up to a level that is protective of human health and the environment. DOD has identified over 4,000 formerly used defense sites, which were closed before October 2006, and over 5,000 sites identified by several Base Realignment and Closure commissions that require cleanup.”

The Department implemented the GAO recommendations, and provides an annual report on its environmental clean up and restoration programs.  As with all things military there is an acronym for former sites, FUDS (formerly used Defense sites), and IRP (installation restoration program) and these are useful terms when reviewing the funding for these operations.

Funding for FUDS was $277.2 million in FY 2013, $287.4 million in FY 2014, and is projected to drop to $208.4 in FY 2014.  These funds would be allocated toward the restoration of 3.022 FUDS properties, and 8331 BRAC properties. [DENIX pp]  The system and the evaluation matrix are in place to implement the clean up and restoration projects.  However, only the Department of Defense could craft the following sentence explaining its goal:

Achieve RC at 90% of IRP sites, MRSs, and BD/DR sites at Active and BRAC installations, and IRP and BD/DR sites at FUDS properties, by the end of FY2018.” *Translation: RC = response complete; IRP = installation restoration program;  MRS = munition response sites; BD/DR = building demolition, debris removal; FUDS = formerly used defense sites.  BRAC = base realignment and closure.

The Department of Defense estimates that it is currently on target to meet this objective at a rate of 79%. Its projected rate is 92%.  The current FUDS rate is 78%, projected to 90%, and the BRAC rate is currently 83%, projected to 90%.  [DENIX pp]  In short, given the level of funding available, the Department of Defense is close to achieving its goal regarding the completion of restoration programs but doesn’t project a 100% “RC” in time for FY 2018.

There are two issues here, large and small.  Taking the smaller chunk first, the Department of Defense is close to meeting its targets for restoration projects, and appears at the ‘every little bit helps’ stage; meaning that the $3.4 million allocation could materially assist the Department in meeting its objectives.

By contrast, the comptroller of the Defense Department reports that the total allocated for Air Force research, development, evaluation, and testing appropriated for FY 2014 is $23,580,637,000 and the base figure for the same category in FY 2015 is $23,739,892,000. [ComptDoD pdf]  A bit of play with the plastic brains yields the information that the Blumenauer’s amendment would cost the Air Force research, development, testing and evaluation some 0.000143 of its budget.

At the heart of the floor debate, such as it was, is ‘seed’ money for a new cruise missile described by Representative Blumenauer as follows, ” The new ALCM does not yet have an official pricetag, but the research we have done suggests it is in the range of 20 to $30 billion. And a rebuilt nuclear warhead to go on it would cost another $12 billion, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration.” [ConRec]

Representative Freylinghusen responded:

“This program will provide a new air-launched cruise missile to replace a rapidly aging AGM-86. This is essential to our strategic deterrent and our ability to hold enemy targets at risk from standoff distances.

The Air Force requested $4.9 million for the program in fiscal year 2015 to continue studies and analysis in preparation for a formal acquisition program. This bill already takes a fiscally responsible $1.5 million cut from that amount.” [ConRec]

What have we learned?  That the new ALCM hasn’t gotten far enough off the drawing table to have a projected cost for the weapon.  We can estimate that the project will have the $800 million (or more) price tag discussed back in 2010. [GSN] We also know that the ALCM is a nuclear weapon, but the Pentagon hadn’t decided just what warhead would be fitted to the weapon. [GSN]

At this point the issue raised in a vote on a small amendment to a very large Defense appropriations bill takes on more meaning.

Two of Nevada’s representatives to Congress voted to provide the seed funds for the construction of a new nuclear weapon, one the Air Force considers essential to its “nuclear capacity,” and two did not.  There are some questions which were not raised during the brief discussion of the Blumenauer amendment on the House floor –

What is being said about Congressional priorities if funding for a new nuclear weapon is more essential than cleaning up and restoring formerly used military and defense installation sites?

If the new weapon is essential to the nuclear capacity of the USAF, then under what conditions and circumstances will it be used?  Or to put it rather more bluntly — whom do we intend to nuke and when? Perhaps, the two members of the Nevada congressional delegation who voted against the amendment would care to explain?

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Filed under Amodei, Defense Department, Defense spending, Heck, Politics

Heck and the A Word: Immigration and Confrontation

Joe HeckNevadans know, or should know, that immigrants play a positive role in our economy.  As reported yesterday, a 2011 study found immigrants creating 28% of the new businesses in this country, and 25% of the new enterprises in seven out of eight economic sectors.  This isn’t chump change, and new businesses mean more jobs.  That is what we want isn’t it — new jobs?

So, it’s always nice to know where one’s Congressional Representatives stand on the issue of comprehensive immigration policy reform.  Who’s in favor of reform in order to gain ever more economic benefit from immigrants to this country and state?  Evidently, Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) is willing to trade the potential $1.4 trillion in additional economic activity in the U.S.A, Nevada included therein, for the applause of the Tea Party contingent.  His campaign twitter account as follows:

Heck CIR tweetAnd there we have it, the Magic A Word — “amnesty” the feared and loathed synonym for any consideration of potential citizenship as applied by the troglodytes of the Right, in the language of Limbaugh, Hannity, and the nativist bigots of the white nationalist stripe.  Those holding a protest at Heck’s office in Las Vegas got The Treatment, as described and linked by Nevada Progressive.  What conclusion might we draw, other than to observe that Representative Heck equates comprehensive immigration policy reform as “amnesty,” and those who advocate for it are “trespassers” and “takers?”

Representative Heck might want to take another look at the numbers before using the “A-Word” again. For example, while persons of Hispanic descent make up about 15.1% of our national population, NV District 3 has a 21.3% Hispanic population. While the Asian population of the U.S. is 4.5%, NV District 3 has an 8.4% Asian descent population. [NYT]  He might also want to remember that as of 2007 approximately 8.1% of Nevada’s businesses were owned by individuals who self identify as Hispanic. [Census]

The hardline, calcified, anti-immigration nativism as exemplified by the use of the A-Word, will cost the nation, and this state, business expansion and JOBS.  Not only does this position not make any moral sense, it’s economically non-nonsensical.  The confrontation we should be discussing should be about how to promote business and entrepreneurship in Nevada — not how to sound “tough on takers.”

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Filed under Heck, Immigration, Nevada economy, Nevada politics

Immigration Policy Deformed

Remember when Representative Joe Heck (R-NV Tea Party) was attempting to take a ‘middle ground’ on comprehensive immigration policy reform in July 2013? Or, perhaps it might be more accurate to say Rep. Heck was talking about taking a middle ground position on the issue?  [WaPo]  By December 2013 Rep. Heck was ‘shopping a bill’ in the House of Representatives to stop the deportation of young people whose parents had brought them into the country, and to provide a ‘path to citizenship’ for them. [LVRJ]  This, by the way, isn’t comprehensive immigration policy reform — it’s simply one small part of the total picture.  At any rate, Heck’s bill was going nowhere for lack of ‘key support.’ [LVSun]  The lack of support attributable in part to the narrow nature of Heck’s efforts.

During the April 2014 deliberations on comprehensive immigration policy reform, Democrats attempted to get a discharge petition filled to force the comprehensive bill to the floor.  However, Representatives Heck and Amodei both found reasons not to support that effort. Amodei believed the House bill was too much like the Senate compromise version, and Heck thought the discharge petition was a parliamentary gimmick. [RGJ]  Heck’s argument sounds a little thin, especially since it was House Republicans who sponsored a discharge petition in favor of the American Energy Act back in August 2008. [TWS]

Protesters at Heck’s office notwithstanding [KTVN], the Republican strategy on comprehensive immigration policy reform is still piece meal consideration of policy elements with no over-arching reform bill being acceptable.  The Republican leadership in the House recently voted to block the inclusion of the ENLIST bill into the National Defense Authorization Act, [Time] and now House Speaker John Boehner is suggesting he might bring up the measure as a stand alone bill. [Politico]  However, a person might not want to get too enthusiastic about the prospects of the bill — Speaker Boehner has made other comments suggesting piecemeal votes, which have come to naught.

For all of the Speaker’s teasing on the matter, the likelihood of any immigration policy reform bill — specific or comprehensive — coming to the floor of the House doesn’t appear to be a solid bet.

Why?

The Republicans believe the Hispanic vote will not be a major factor in the 2014 mid term elections.  [Reuters]

This school of thought is supported by Pew Research studies which indicate “Hispanic Voters Punch Below Their Weight in Midterm Elections.”

Hispanic voting midtermsIf, indeed, Hispanic voters do not turn out during the midterm election, then the projected 48.6% white voter turn out could be decisive.  However, these may not be the only numbers which are germane to the current political issues.

Politico’s polling indicates strong support for immigration policy reform across a broader spectrum of opinion than the headlines (and Congressional commentary) might suggest.

Seventy-one percent of likely voters surveyed — and nine of 10 Hispanics — said they back sweeping change to immigration laws. The support spans party lines: 64 percent of Republican respondents back comprehensive immigration reform, as do 78 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents. [Politico]

Republicans believe that their obstruction of comprehensive immigration policy reform will create cynicism among Hispanic voters.

Cynical voters are more likely to stay home. The logic goes — if the Obama Administration and the Senate haven’t been able to get any traction, much less accomplishment, toward policy reform, then Hispanic voters are more likely to believe that voting doesn’t really matter.  If voting doesn’t matter, why bother to register and vote? There is some anecdotal evidence to support this speculation. [Salon]  In short, the more obstructive a party, the more opportunity in the future for further obstruction.

Republicans believe that immigration policy reform isn’t a fight they want to have prior to the midterm elections.

There are some formidable supporters of a more comprehensive legislative strategy on immigration policy reform.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been pressing Republican leadership on policy reform, [WaPo] [HuffPo] and so has the National Association of Manufacturers [NAM].  The Business Roundtable called for reform, but stopped just short of endorsing pathways to citizenship. [BR] So, why the opposition among GOP leaders in the House to reforms supported by some of their staunchest supporters?  There are some possibilities to consider:

(a) Just because you’re gerrymandered doesn’t mean you’re safe. Especially from those even further right in your own party.  This might help explain why some candidates were looking at short term success and discounting the lamentations about losing the Hispanic vote in the 2016 presidential year elections.  Perhaps they speculated that it was better to say little (and do even less) about immigration policy reform in 2014 and stay in Congress, rather than do something to insure long term success at the risk of being primaried by ultra-conservative elements in their own party.

(b) There are rocks and there are hard places, and low turn out doesn’t mean you can avoid them.  Low turn out means motivating the ‘base’ is of heightened importance.  Tick off the base voters and an opponent’s potential for a win in a midterm election becomes greater by small degrees.  Or, advocating comprehensive immigration policy reform and being bashed by the Tea Party elements who have been weaned on Limbaugh and nurtured on right wing radio hate-speech, isn’t a recipe for success in low turnout midterm elections.   (Rather like creating a monster, and then being fed to it?)

(c) The Tea Party has already won the fight within the GOP.  Having effectively silenced the advocates of moderate policy reform, and having taken seats in the Congress, the Tea Party element is now driving the Republican bus. Speaker Boehner may have been ‘teasing’ them, but that was still insufficient to get enough GOP members on board to bring immigration policy reform to the floor.  Intriguing media speculation about the primary results and the factions supporting individual candidates in those primaries is a nice academic — or inside the Beltway — pursuit, but the point remains that if  those so-called moderates in the House on the GOP side of the aisle still can’t move on immigration reform then the Tea Party has already taken over for all intents and purposes.

A solution to the impasse is possible IF advocates of immigration reform take the lesson: Don’t agonize, Organize!  Voter registration will be crucial. Get out the vote efforts essential. If proponents of reform would try to get one more person registered to vote for every time Rush Limbaugh and his cohorts say “Amnesty,” the outcome probably wouldn’t be in any doubt.

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Filed under Amodei, Heck, Immigration, Nevada politics

A Cephalopod Mollusc That Can Swim In The Desert: Kochtopus

KochtopusThe Koch Brothers (Charles and David) are among America’s 0.0001%.  In fact, what they earn in One Second could feed a homeless person for an entire year. [Salon] They are not subscribers to Andrew Carnegie’s maxim, “He who dies rich, dies disgraced.”  [PBS] And they are in Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) sights.

“But what is un-American is when shadowy billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system to benefit themselves and the wealthiest one percent. I believe in an America where economic opportunity is open to all. But based on their actions and the policies they promote, the Koch brothers seem to believe in an America where the system is rigged to benefit the very wealthy. Based on Senate Republicans’ ardent defense of the Koch brothers, and the fact that they advocate for many of the same policies the Koch brothers do, it seems my Republican colleagues also believe in a system that benefits billionaires at the expense of the middle class. The Koch brothers are willing to invest billions to buy that America.”

And they are. In 2012 the Koch Brothers political network, designed with the anonymity of donors in mind, raked in approximately $400 million — more than all other conservative organizations, and more than all other traditional supporting organizations associated with Democrats. [WaPo]

If you’d like a graphic rendition of the Koch Brothers’ political connections click here to see the circles of influence developed from the TC4Trust, the Freedom Partners, and the Center for Patients Rights.  These are connected to The American Energy Alliance, Concerned Women for America, American Commitment, American Future Fund, 60+ Association, the EvangChr4Trust, Center for Shared Services, Themis Trust, Public Engagement Group Trust, Public Notice, Libre Initiative Trust, Generation Opportunity, Americans for Prosperity, and the Concerned Veterans for America.

The incestuous financial relationship between the TC4Trust and organizations like Concerned Women for America, the Center to Protect Patient’s Rights, and the Themis group are visible here.  Unlike the 501 c (4) group, TC4Trust, Freedom Partners is classified as a 501 c (6), a trade association.

“Despite its tax status, though, in many ways it’s more like the other grant-making dark money groups — the 501(c)(4)s — on steroids. Formed in late 2011, it gave out grants totaling nearly $236 million in 2012, far more than the others giving to politically active tax-exempt groups. Much of that money went to limited liability corporations that are wholly owned by better-known nonprofits — what the IRS refers to as “disregarded entities.”  [Open Secrets]

The Themis Trust appears to exist so that we all certain of receiving the Koch Brothers’ messages.

“Called Themis, the independent group is the most ambitious of the many conservative political technology projects now in development. People with direct knowledge of the group as well as political technology industry veterans say it is backed by the Koch brothers, although their names do not appear on an annual regulatory filing and Koch Industries spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.” [Reuters May 17, 2012]

And, what do we get here in Nevada from the Americans for Prosperity?  An advertisement supporting Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) in the upcoming off-year elections.  The substance of the commercial, if we can use the term ‘substance’ loosely, is that Heck has consistently fought the Evil Demon — Obamacare.   Perhaps the generalized form of “Obamacare” still isn’t popular with the general public, but what the ad tells us is that Heck has been fighting against:

(1) Insurance policies which exclude children with pre-existing medical conditions, including birth defects.  Insurance company practices of rescinding policies because the policy holder made an honest mistake on an application form, and your right to appeal a refusal from your insurance company to pay for medical care.

(2) Insurance company junk policies which have lifetime limits.  Requiring insurance corporations to justify their rate increases, and requires that the insurance corporations spend at least most of the money they collect in premiums from policy holders on … medical care.

(3) Removing the barrier to medical services in the ER, and covering preventative medical treatment.

Americans For Prosperity would like very much to support Representative Heck as a “fighter” against “socialized medicine,” without actually saying what it is that Representative Heck is fighting against.

As the Nevada Republican Party continues to lurch rightward into LooneyLand the Koch Brothers, and their extensive network of funding operations, will be only too happy to assist in the 2014 election cycle.  They’ve already started.

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Filed under Heck, Nevada politics, Politics