Category Archives: Heck

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

Heck Dancing On The Third Rail

Joe HeckRep. Joe Heck (R-TeaParty Darling) appears to be dancing as fast as he can, perhaps to the memorable Fred Ebb lyrics of “Razzle Dazzle,” (Chicago):

Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle Dazzle ‘em
Give ‘em an act with lots of flash in it
And the reaction will be passionate
Give ‘em the old hocus pocus
Bead and feather ‘em
How can they see with sequins in their eyes?

Representative Heck was once wont to flash the old “Social Security is a Pyramid Scheme” line [Politico June 2011] only to tap dance in the other direction tweeting to Jon Ralston, “Those who have followed my position know that I am fully committed to protecting the promise of Social Security.” [link]  The old Razzle Dazzle is altogether more difficult in an age of video-tape, audio recordings, and on-line news clips.

Razzle Dazzle: “Those who have followed my position…”  Those who have attempted to follow the Representative’s position may very well be those who have standing appointments with their chiropractor.

Flash: “I am fully committed to protecting the promise…” Note the carefully selected word “promise,” not necessarily the Social Security program as currently configured.  The promise of Social Security is simply that there will be a safety net income insurance program in place to prevent elders from falling into abject poverty.

Hocus Pocus:   First, let’s drop the first batch of sequins from the eye mask — the Social Security program, is NOT a pyramid scheme.  This is a Pyramid Scheme:

“As its name indicates, the pyramid scheme is structured like a pyramid. It starts with one person – the initial recruiter – who is on top, at the apex of the pyramid. This person recruits a second person, who is required to “invest” $100 which is paid to the initial recruiter. In order to make his or her money back, the new recruit must recruit more people under him or her, each of whom will also have to invest $100. If the recruit gets 10 more people to invest, this person will make $900 with just a $100 investment.”

“The fraud lies in the fact that it is impossible for the cycle to sustain itself, so people will lose their money somewhere down the line. Those who are most vulnerable are those towards the bottom of the pyramid, where it becomes impossible to recruit the number of people required to pay off the previous layer of recruiters. This kind of fraud is illegal in the Unites States and most countries throughout the world. It is estimated that 90% of people who get involved in a pyramid scheme will lose their money.” [Investopedia]

These scams show up in e-mail chains, old fashioned chain letters, and in acquaintance or affiliation frauds.   There really is no comparison between the illegal pyramid scams and an income insurance program like Social Security. To conflate the two is simply to admit ignorance of both.

The charge that Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme, a variation on a pyramid scam, is to conflate assured income with investment.

In a Ponzi Scheme investors are lured into investing in a scheme without being assured of how the returns on the investment plan will be generated.  The most common structure is that the “returns” are merely taken from more recent investors.  Ah ha! The detractors now claim that Social Security must be a Ponzi Scheme because older workers are receiving benefits paid for by younger ones.   No. All that’s required to dismiss this bit of Hocus Pocus is to understand what a Ponzi Scheme does, and why they all tend to fail rather rapidly.  No, Social Security is NOT like a Ponzi Scheme.   Kevin Drum explained this rather neatly in September, 2011.

Without the Hocus Pocus:  Social Security is supported by taxes.  The taxes (payroll taxes) are collected — the Social Security beneficiaries are paid, and the trick is to balance the revenues from the taxes with the benefits paid out.  To conflate an investment plan with a subsidized social safety net program is to misunderstand both.

Hocus Pocus, Shezzadaaaa — It’s out of balance! It’s Going Broke! There will be Nothing, Nothing I Say, for our Grandchildren…. Not so fast.

“The good news is that the Social Security trust fund is going to have a surplus until the year 2033, give or take, at which point there will still be enough money to pay 75 percent of promised benefits, according to the latest trustees’ report, an annual opportunity for the financial press and haters of our major social benefit programs to do the Panic Dance. Meanwhile, Medicare’s trust fund is going to have a surplus until the year 2024, more or less, at which point there will still be enough money to pay out 87 percent of benefits.” [HuffPo]

There is no reason for the Razzle Dazzle or the Hocus Pocus — let the sequins scatter to the floor — Social Security is not broke, it’s not a pyramid scheme, not a Ponzi Scam, and there’s no reason for the Panic Dance.

If we want to make the program more secure, there’s a reasonably simple way to do it.  Heck opponent, Erin Bilbray, nails it [Sebelius] — simply increase the current cap on Social Security tax collections.

Employees — the Social Security tax rate is 6.2 percent on income under $113,700 through the end of 2013. The Medicare tax rate is 1.45 percent of all income;   Employers — the Social Security tax rate is 6.2 percent. The Medicare tax rate is 1.45 percent; and  Self-employed —the Social Security tax rate is 12.4 percent on income under $113,700 through the end of 2013. The Medicare tax rate is 2.9 percent.  [SSA]

Translation: Every dollar earned over $113,700 is Social Security Tax Free.  The individual earning $113,700 annually is paying the same Social Security taxes as the person earning $1,137,000 or $11,370,000.  Want more revenue? Raise the cap.   Or, as candidate Bilbray explains:

“I will not support any plan to privatize Social Security and Medicare. I believe we cannot fix our fiscal problems on the backs of our retirees. Congress needs to address the deficit and spending by eliminating corporate tax loopholes, cutting spending, cracking down on waste and fraud, and tightening our belts. It is not right to ask Americans who have paid into a system their entire lives to sacrifice before Congress takes these issues seriously.”  [Bilbray]

No hocus pocus on Social Security there, no dancing on the Third Rail.

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Filed under Economy, Heck, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans, Social Security

Mountains and Mole Hills

Mountain MolehillOne of the more unpleasant aspects of today’s media offerings is the tendency to confuse mountains and molehills.  No disrespect to all those diligent moles out there assiduously plying their turf disrupting trade, but when Everything Is A Crisis! perspective is the first casualty.

Mountain:  We have an immigration policy in place which doesn’t work for us.  There are two bills addressing this issue, S. 744 which passed the Senate and H.R. 15 which languishes in the House while the TeaParty/GOP leadership decides which they’d prefer to tick off — their corporate backers or the xenophobic right wing.    Representative Amodei (R-NV2) thinks he could support Rep. Eric Cantor’s “Kids Act” and he provides a summary of the issue on his webpage, but his statements on comprehensive immigration policy reform remain fuzzy.  Where Representative Heck (R-NV3)  stands is a bit more clear, given his statement on October 25th:

“I have spent countless hours meeting with community members and addressing town hall meetings on the topic of immigration reform. There is no doubt in my mind that reforming our immigration system is right and necessary and I remain committed to enacting real solutions that will fix our current broken system. I will continue to urge the House leadership to move forward on immigration reform with all possible haste.”

While he’s “urging leadership to move forward,” the question remains — toward what?  A piecemeal enactment of immigration policies which serve only to protract the issues, and may never arrive at a complete picture — or — legislation like S. 744 or H.R. 15?

Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV1) drilled down to one of the major issues in the piecemeal approach to immigration policy reform:  What of women who work in the service sector?

“Comprehensive immigration reform must take into account the fact that many immigrant women work at home or in the informal economy.  If, for example, eligibility for the path to citizenship requires proof of employment, providing paystubs cannot be the only acceptable proof or we risk leaving millions of women behind.  Approximately 74 percent of undocumented domestic workers do not receive documentation of their pay from an employer.  Thankfully, H.R. 15, the bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill recently introduced in the House, addresses this issue by allowing flexible forms of proof of employment. It is critical that we incorporate this thoughtful approach into any immigration reform bill considered by the House.”

Meanwhile, the mountain remains, impervious to rational debate and reasonable action.

Mole Hill:   Those who have purchased individual health insurance plans constitute about 5% of the population. [UI]  This translates to a maximum of 16,500,000 individuals out of a total 330,000,000; if we count every single person large or small, young or old.  The actual percentage is probably closer to 14.3 million individuals. [UI pdf]  Some of these people bought JUNK.  In a search for low premiums they purchased policies that didn’t cover much, if anything, or bought policies the coverage terms of which were so confusing that the insurance corporation was able to deny compensation for even basic treatment options.   The infamous Barrette Case is a classic example of a JUNK policy.   Forbes magazine estimates that about  4 million Americans were sold some 1,200 of these junk policies.

Thus, it should be fairly easy for the press to find some individual examples for popular consumption of these Outraged Individuals who want to keep the cheap junk they purchased, out of a category of 4 million.   Therefore, the media cry “there are millions of Americans affected by this ‘mistake'” is technically accurate but ultimately misleading.   Some broadcasters have jumped on the “Crisis” bandwagon, only to have their stellar examples debunked within hours.  You can tell when the mole hill is being magnified into a mountain IF (1) the report doesn’t compare the junk policy to the coverage available in the health insurance exchanges, (2) if the report doesn’t take into consideration the subsidies available to assist the policy holder pay for the premiums, and (3) if the report relies on individual examples to generate conclusions for which there is no other substantiation.

Mountain:  Speaking of health issues — 32,163 Americans died as a result of gun fire in 2011.  6,220 died as a result of a homicide. 19,766 individuals used a gun to commit suicide.  [GP]  73,883 Americans were injured by gun fire.  432 Americans died in gun related accidents. [GP]  By contrast, in 2011 there were 9,878 fatal automobile accidents in which there was a driver with a BAC level above 0.08 or even higher.  [NRD pdf]  We are coming perilously close to the point at which the number of gun deaths equals or surpasses the number of automobile deaths.  According to figures released by the CDC 33,687 Americans died in auto accidents, 31,672 died as a result of gun violence.  We do something about drunk drivers.  We restrict the licenses of some drivers. We have yet to address the issues related to the easy access to firearms in this country.

When Gallup polled Americans about controlling gun sales in the U.S. during the week of October 3-6, 2013 some 49% favored more stringent controls, 13% thought restrictions should be eased, and 37% called for controls to be kept the same.  A September poll by Quinnipiac University found 89% of Americans supportive of legislation to require universal background checks.  These numbers aside, on September 17th Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced he didn’t have enough support to reintroduce the background check bill in the Senate. [TheHill]

Mole Hill: I’m really pleased that there are at least seven retailers who will give their employees a break for celebrating Thanksgiving with their families.  [TP]   That said — when wages for American workers have stagnated for the past decade [EPI], when there are about 10% of our young veterans  still looking for work while the programs to help them are shrinking [CNN], and when the unemployment rate for Whites 6.3% while the unemployment rate for Blacks stands at 13.1% we have a problem far larger than whether or not people go home for Thanksgiving.

Mountain:  Did anyone read the IPCC climate report?   Did anyone delve into Chapter 12, wherein the commission discussed climate change implications for pattern scaling, temperatures and energy budgets, atmospheric circulation, the water cycle, the cryosphere, our oceans, and carbon cycle feedback?  [IPCC pdf] One newspaper noted that the report made the climate change deniers overheat.  Too many media outlets were engaged in sowing seeds of doubt about the report’s content and all but ignoring the conclusions and commentary contained therein.

Mole Hill:  There were 48 bills in the 113th Congress related to the abortion issue. [GovTrack]  There’s Sen. Rand Paul’s S.583 Personhood Bill, H.R. 2300 from Rep. Tom Price to “empower patients” (not), Rep. Trent Frank’s H.R. 1797 “pain” bill, and his H.R. 447 PRENDA, Rep. Jim Jordan introduced H.R. 1091, life begins at conception act, and the list goes on.

Meanwhile back in the world of reality — the rate of abortions per 1,000 women of child bearing age has declined from a high of 29.3 in 1981 to 19.6 in 2008. [Guttmacher]

A Suggestion

Could we start talking about the mountains, and minimize our time spent in elaborate and protracted debates about mole hills?

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