Category Archives: Politics

Heller Helps Sustain Another GOP Filibuster

Heller 3What if there were a bill in Congress which would do the following?

“Amends the Internal Revenue Code to: (1) grant business taxpayers a tax credit for up to 20% of insourcing expenses incurred for eliminating a business located outside the United States and  relocating it within the United States, and (2) deny a tax deduction for outsourcing expenses incurred in relocating a U.S. business outside the United States. Requires an increase in the taxpayer’s employment of full-time employees in the United States in order to claim the tax credit for insourcing expenses.”

In short — offer corporations tax incentives to bring American jobs back to America, or S. 2569.

But then, there’s the GOP side of the aisle saying things like:

“Some Republicans argue that if Democrats truly wanted to keep companies in the United States, they would work with Republicans to overhaul the tax code and reduce corporate tax rates.“It’s a bill that’s designed for campaign rhetoric and failure — not to create jobs here in the U.S.,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday. “Everyone knows that the Democrats aren’t being serious here.” [The Hill]

First, Senator McConnell’s taunt, that the bill is a purely political exercise without any redeeming merit, is simply a legislative version of the Ad Hominem Attack — name calling without addressing the issue at hand. Secondly, Senator McConnell’s definition of “working with” all too often means give us everything we want and we’ll still keep filibustering a measure.  To wit: The bill to require background checks and close the gun show loophole, in which the total gun safety legislative package was pared down to a single issue to appease the GOP and then the GOP filibustered the bill anyway.  Or the Affordable Care Act, originally a Heritage Foundation proposal, which after numerous amendments to assuage the concerns of Senate Republicans received no support from that quarter.

Third, there’s the matter of “working with Republicans to overhaul the tax code,” which assumes that the Republicans have a plan to overhaul the tax code.  The latest GOP tax proposal comes from the House, and would cut the top tax rate from 39.6% to 25%, impose a surtax on some  incomes above $450,000, but leave capital gains taxes at the low rate, to the benefit of hedge fund and wealth management firms. [WaPo] However, the problem with Representative Camp’s proposal is one shared with other GOP plans (health plans, budgets) – the devils haven’t been specified in the details.

The Joint Committee on Taxation analysis indicates the ‘plan’ doesn’t specify the special interest tax breaks which litter the IRS regulations will get the axe in order to make up for revenue lost in the bracket reductions.   The Camp proposal also comes with its own set of complexities, summarized in the Tax Policy Center’s analysis.  To mention just one, there’s the resurrected specter of the Alternative Minimum Tax implicit in Camp’s legislation — nothing like taking up something complicated in order to make another thing simple?

Then there’s some bad news for states, such as Nevada, which do not have a state income tax:

“Camp would repeal the deductibility of state and local taxes, including both property taxes and income taxes. He’d abolish tax-exempt private activity bonds. And he’d impose a 10 percent surtax on municipal bond interest for high-income households, a step likely to raise the cost of issuing state and local debt.But Camp’s plan also includes some less obvious changes that could increase state income tax revenues, especially for states that piggyback on the federal income tax. By limiting deductions—and thus boosting taxable income—Camp’s plan could also increase state income tax revenue, just as the Tax Reform Act of 1986 did.”  [Tax Policy Center]

No matter, the local and state income taxes, which Nevada doesn’t have, would no longer be deductible, but unless there is a state income tax on which to “piggy back” state income tax revenue doesn’t increase under the provisions of Camp’s bill.  Thus we lose the property tax deductions, and gain very little else.

Then there’s the matter of reducing the corporate tax rate. To what? There’s the statutory rate, which Republicans are fond of citing, and then there’s what taxes cost the corporations — or, the effective tax rate.  The GAO reported the effective tax rate for U.S. corporations at 12.6%.  [CNN]  Of course, the GOP response is “ya’shouldn’t hafta get a lawyer to figure out your taxes,” but that’s precisely what major corporations DO. And, they do it with a raft load of tax attorneys.  It doesn’t seem too far out of line to suggest that if the statutory rate were to be reduced to X%, the rafts of tax attorneys would be hard at work seeing how the liability might be reduced to X-Y%.

And while we’re on the subject of complicated tax codes — it does appear a bit unseemly to have the self same initiators and  protectors of tax break loopholes for corporations advance arguments that the tax code is “broken” because it is so complicated.  This would be a good time to click on over to Jon Stewart’s classic rant on tax avoiding corporations, “The Inversions of the Body Snatchers.”

However, speaking of tax breaks for corporations which bring jobs back to American shores… We aren’t going to see those because the Republicans in the U.S. Senate are successfully filibustering S. 2569, and kept their filibuster going in a vote on July 30, 2014 at 10:50 AM. The cloture motion failed on a 54-42 vote, with Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) voting along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to further stall the Bring the Jobs Back Bill.

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Filed under Economy, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics

They’re Back: Banks, SLABS, and the Opponents of Dodd Frank

bankerThere are several reasons the Banker’s Boys in the U.S. Congress would like to rip the guts out of the Dodd Frank Act.  There’s a reason they fought the creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, and more reasons why the 113th Congress has tried to grab control of the agency, strip the agency of funding, or otherwise make the Bureau a hollow shell of protective camouflage for the bankers.  Here’s one of those reasons:  The Securitization of Student Debt.

Flashback: On August 29, 2012 the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau issued a report on student debt. (pdf)  One section of the Executive Summary contained information which ought to have triggered some alarms:

“From 2005–2007, lenders increasingly marketed and disbursed loans directly to students, reducing the involvement of schools in the process; indeed during this period, the percentage of loans to undergraduates made without school involvement or certification of need grew from 18% to over 31%. As a result, many students borrowed more than they needed to finance their education. Additionally, during this period, lenders were more likely to originate loans to borrowers with lower credit scores than they had previously been. These trends made private student loans riskier for consumers.”

Sound familiar? Have some of the tonal qualities of the Subprime Mortgage Debacle? Over-extending credit, to the less credit worthy, placing them at greater risk of default, and doing it during the Great Housing Bubble?

Flashback 2005: Indeed, by 2005 there was a new bit of jargon in the world of fixed income investments — SLABS, or Student Loan Asset Based Securities.  The definitions can be illustrated by this information from one part of the securities industry:

“Student Loan ABS (SLABS) can be appealing to fixed income investors because they offer high credit quality, credit stability, and low spread volatility. SLABS backed by federally reinsured loans command tight spreads, in roughly the same range as deals backed by credit card receivables or auto loans. SLABS backed by other loans (so-called “private” student loans) command somewhat wider spreads, reflecting incrementally greater perceived credit risk.” [Nomura 2005 pdf]

Not to oversimplify too broadly, but there it was in 2005, a description of asset based securities (packages of student loans securitized into financial products) divided into two parts, the products based on guaranteed student loans and the less secure private student loans.  Note, please, that the advice on offer in this report doesn’t apply to the students who took out the loans — it is advice for “fixed income investors.”

Have we mentioned, at least a gazillion times, that one man’s debt is another man’s asset?  And so, the student loans were packaged (just like the home mortgages) by such dealers as Nelnet Student Loan Trust, Sallie Mae Student Loan Trust, Northstar Education Finance, Collegiate Funding Services, Access Group Inc., Education Funding Capital Trust, College Loan Corporation Trust, and others. [Nomura 2005 pdf]  Here we meet our old friend, the Tranche.

“A piece, portion or slice of a deal or structured financing. This portion is one of several related securities that are offered at the same time but have different risks, rewards and/or maturities.”

Perhaps it was that SLABS were sold as somehow being “safer” investments than their home mortgage cohorts, and maybe safer than the consumer credit securitized assets.  After all, the borrower couldn’t walk away from a student loan in most instances.  What could go wrong?

Flashback 2012:  What, indeed, could go wrong?

“Meanwhile banks have been slicing and dicing student loans into derivative financial instruments called “SLABS” — student-loan asset backed securities. We’ve seen this movie before — the one where big banks mass-market loans to a population with stagnated wages and dwindling economic prospects, then bundle them and sell them to investors who haven’t reviewed the way they were underwritten and sold.” [Eskow, HuffPo]

And, it all worked really well … until it didn’t.  There are those “derivative financial instruments” (read financial paper products) again, and again, and again.  In the wake of the derivative debacle of 2007-2008 the financial sector did some belt tightening and the CFPB was able to report underwriting and marketing changes which were far more responsible.  Additionally, the CFPB ‘autopsy’ of the student loan situation revealed some of the previous practices associated with economic issues:

#1. Some of those who took out private student loans did not understand that they had fewer repayment options than if they had assumed Stafford loans.  This sounds remarkably similar to the mortgage sales which didn’t quite lead to an understanding  about balloon payments, interest rate changes, etc.

#2. The private student loans were most commonly sold to people who were attending for-profit institutions.  While private loans were taken out by only 14% of the total undergraduates, students at for-profit schools held 42%.

And, to make matters even more murky, many of the loans were tied to LIBOR, which was perhaps not as above the board as one might have assumed before 2008. [TP]

July 28, 2014: If a person were thinking the provisions of the Dodd Frank Act, and the activities of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may have put more than a damper on the financial sector proclivity to create ways to peddle paper in order to create more ways to peddle paper — please think again.

Enter So-FI, Lending Club, and Prosper. “SoFi’s niche is refinancing student loans. But not just any loans. The kind of schools that are most represented in the program are selective colleges like Harvard, New York University and Northwestern. Their alumni provide the money — The students must also have a job lined up after graduation.” [CNN]  But wait, here comes the packaging. Compliments of Eaglewood Capital which securitized loans from Lending Club.

This time is slightly different. Did we notice that the packaged loans aren’t from the for-profit educational sector? Or, that most undergraduates won’t get re-financed via this new securitization scheme?  Low risk, coupled with above average returns and who might be interested in this newly peddled paper?  If you’re thinking we have the rich bailing out the rich for the benefit of the richer, the conclusion might be close to the target. Fitch explores the prospects:

“In our view, most future securitizations are likely to be concentrated with large non-bank servicers, who are also the traditional FFELP buyers. Of the 13 Fitch-rated FFELP deals that closed in first-half 2014, 10 were issued by Navient Corporation, Nelnet Inc. and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). As some portfolio acquisitions include servicing transfers, we believe some small NFPs could experience lower account volume and profitability. These servicers are already facing sustainability issues, as some may not have the scale to weather the pressures brought by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the termination of FFELP. They may also be pressured in the near term by rules proposed by Congress that would establish a common set of performance metrics, incentive pricing for servicers and allocate accounts to NFPs that meet the requirements.” [Reuters] *NFP = not for profit servicers

Those major players from 2008 (Nelnet, PHEAA, etc.) are still playing, and some of the newer participants in the game may not be so profitable in the long run because someone might be watching over their shoulders. “Under a law that took effect in March 2010, the government stopped making student loans through private companies that funded themselves in the market. The government now issues loans directly. Lenders sold $20 billion of student-loan securities last year, down from $62.2 billion in 2005, according to Wells Fargo.” [BloombergNews]

The good news may be that there is less Casino Activity among the bankers in the securitization of student loans, or the creation of SLABS. The bad news is that the bankers are going full bore to get rid of those pesky regulations and the CFPB which serve to put a lid on the Bubble Behavior of the recent past.

The July 23, 2014 session of the House Financial Services Committee took testimony from all the usual suspects on “Dodd Frank: Four Years Later.”  Rep. Hensarling’s Committee heard from the CEO of First State Bank, a partner in Treasury Strategies, an FMC representative on behalf of the Coalition of Derivative End Users, and a ‘resident scholar’ of the American Enterprise Institute.  The counter-balance? Former Representative Barney Frank.  The AEI testimony is instructive, [Pdf] if predictably repetitive.  A summary:

Regulation creates uncertainty, discourages investor due diligence, increases regulatory burdens, gives too much power with too little Congressional oversight, promotes a ‘naive strategy for promoting financial stability, and doesn’t solve the Too Big to Fail problem.

There is nothing new here, merely the recital of every anti-regulation talking point since the dawn of time.  However, redundant as the arguments may be, the  Republicans in the House of Representatives would very much like to repeal the Dodd Frank Act.  During the 112th Congress H.R 87, H.R. 1062, H.R. 1539, H.R. 1082, H.R. 1610, H.R. 1573, H.R. 1121, H.R. 1315, H.R. 836, H.R. 1223, @. 746, and  S. 712 were all introduced intending to either repeal or diminish the regulations in the Dodd Frank Act. In the 113th Congress, H.R. 46 is an outright repeal bill coming from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE)

The prospect of a wholesale repeal is dim, but not the notion that the statute could be ‘nibbled to death by ducks.’ [Hill]  House Republicans did manage to get one bill passed in June 2013 to restrict SEC and CFTC rule making capacities — arguing ironically that the agencies had 3 years to get the rules done and had not made enough progress — in the face of nearly overwhelming stalling tactics by financial sector interests and their litigators.

While the CFPB attempts to alleviate the more obvious abuses perpetrated by unscrupulous or unethical lenders, and issues annual reports (most recent 2013) noting that there were 3,800 consumer complaints about student loans, 87% of which were directed at 8 companies. The House Republicans persist in attempts to subject the agency to Congressional micro-management, if not outright dissolution.

We should expect the mid-term election rhetoric to mirror the testimony of the AEI in the most recent House Financial Services Committee hearing.  The Dodd Frank Act will be attacked “in general.” It’s reasonable to predict much will be made of the Too Big To Fail Argument, as if the consolidation of the financial sector is a function of federal statute rather than processes associated with the cyclical nature of financial enterprises.  It will be attacked as “too burdensome” for small banks.  It isn’t. It will be attacked as “big government.” Any attempt to reign in the Bankers will always be so characterized.

What opponents of financial regulatory reform won’t discuss is how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is attempting to guide the lenders and by extension their secondary markets into the construction of a more equitable, operable, less volatile, and more sustainable student loan sector.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Politics

The Intractable Riddle: US Policy in the Middle East

Middle eastern foreign policy is the one topic assured to bring the house down around the ears, no matter what position may be taken.  The continued ill-will between the Palestinians and the Israelis is at once both one of the most complex and nuanced of conflicts, and one of the most blatantly bisected into warring quarters.   Sometimes we also forget that what is foreign policy for us, is someone else’s domestic policy.

Recommended Reading

Nahum Goldmann, “The Future of Israel,” Foreign Affairs, April 1970.  There is much to be extracted from this piece, even though it is framed in Cold War terms and assumes the polarization of the Soviet Union and the United States.  Among other insightful statements, Goldmann offers the prescient comment that gains secured by force of arms are, by their very nature, transient.

The domestic politics of Israel are summarized, albeit too briefly, in Brent Sasley’s “The Domestic Politics of Israeli Peacemaking,” Foreign Policy, July 22, 2013.  A piece in the Cyprus Mail, brings the problems into sharper focus:

“Recent statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggest that he is increasingly aware of the fundamental dilemma that Israel is bound to face: If it holds on to the occupied territories, it will be forced to choose between being a Jewish but non-democratic state and being a democratic state but seeing the Jews become a minority in their own land. It is unclear whether this dilemma is a pressing concern for the current government, but the fact that Netanyahu brought it up is quite significant.” [CM March 11, 2014]

On the other side of the border, Hamas won the 2006 elections in Gaza, but it’s hardly the only group in play.  The Jewish Policy Center has  thumb-nail sketches of the other players in the game as they were constituted as of May 2012.  Just as there are segments of Israeli politics which are incorporated into the mix of domestic/foreign politics, there are several groups which have adherents in Gaza who are not directly associated with Hamas.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad is once such group, supported by Iran, it is apolitical and primarily interested in armed resistance to Israel, [CFR]  The Al-Quds Brigade has also made its presence known in the recent conflicts with Israel, as the armed wing of the PIJ. [Al Arabiya] Efforts to negotiate any truce or even cease fire agreements has to acknowledge that the Azzeddine el-Kasam (armed wing of Hamas) may or may not be able to control the PIJ or coordinate with it.  In sum, there is no shortage of groups of varying physical capacities, membership, affiliation, and ideological strains in Gaza. Nor is one likely to find an undated  ‘scorecard’ which includes all the possible variations.*

Our Domestic Issues

The right wing talking point of the day is that Secretary of State John Kerry is “feckless.” This category would include almost anyone who (1) isn’t following the Israeli lead unconditionally, and (2) has the temerity to suggest that there are other players in the game who have some, even small, parts which might be inserted into the script.

Consider for a moment, the last cease fire negotiated, the one in which the Egyptian government (Muslim Brotherhood) was trusted by Hamas, and could assert pressure on the government in Gaza to accept terms.  Since the ouster of the government in September 2013, the now clearly anti-Hamas Egyptian government no longer has leverage in the situation in Gaza.  Israel, no doubt would prefer to have the military government of Egypt as the interlocutor, but this seems almost like wishful thinking for times now gone in the rubble of Egyptian politics.  Secretary Kerry suggested two other interlocutors — Qatar and Turkey — which now may have more leverage with Hamas, to the fury of the Israeli press. [Haaretz]

While the shuffling and realignment of Hamas and its allies plays out the role of the Palestinian Authority remains a problem. Does acknowledging Gazan/Hamas issues necessarily diminish the clout of the Palestinian Authority?  How can we keep Egypt engaged in the peace process while accepting that the Gazan/Hamas government doesn’t have much use for their services?

Is it enough to say that a cease fire — who’s even hoping for a truce now? — mentions “addressing security issues” as an umbrella for more specific discussions, or must the agreement include particular security issues to be resolved, or at least discussed? And, by whom?

Complicating the matter even more are the charges and counter-charges shedding  more heat than light on the subject.  Even a comparatively innocuous timeline of events in Gaza drew angry fire from commenters who decried its failure to include elements of the conflict going back to the foundation of the state of Israel, and the validation of Palestinian claims after World War I. [CNN]

At the very least we have a conflict in which Goldmann’s central question from 1970 (Is Israel a democracy with a Jewish minority, or a Jewish state without a democracy?) and his secondary question, (How does one disentangle a question in which there is no right or wrong, but two rights in conflict?) both remain unanswered.

See also: Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al Quds Brigades, Fatah, PFLP  Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, Popular Resistance Committees, Salafi-Jihadist (Jaish al-Islam) and Tawid wa al-Jihad.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Israel, Middle East, Politics

Keeping the Ladies in Waiting: The Paycheck Fairness Act

Woman's List 2On January 23, 2013 — yes, that’s 2013 — Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT3) introduced H.R. 377, the Paycheck Fairness Act.  The House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections has jurisdiction over bills of this nature, and by April 2013 the bill hadn’t moved.  Supporters of the bill filed a discharge petition. As of Tuesday, April 1, 2014 the petition to get a vote on the bill got its 197th signature. (113-1) It is 21 signatures shy of the 218 required.

Discharge petitions are a strategy of questionable value, since depending upon how such maneuvers are analyzed the success rate ranges from about 2% to 9% of all such attempts. [WaPo]

Nor has the idea met with enough support in the U.S. Senate.  As the last signature was being appended to the House Discharge Petition 113-1 in April 2014, Republicans in the Senate were blocking consideration of a companion bill.  [Nation] S. 2199, Senator Barbara Mikulski’s (D-MD) Paycheck Fairness Act was blocked when Senate Republicans refused to lift their filibuster on a 53-44 vote. [rc 103] Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) was among those voting to sustain the filibuster.

Republican opposition to the Paycheck Fairness legislation appears to be a masterpiece of ideological spin.  We, announce the members of the GOP, are really supportive of women’s issues — but government isn’t the answer.

There was this example: “The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender,” Mike Huckabee said at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in January.” [Nation] Huckabee offers a talking point in which any attempt to assist women (or any other group for that matter) merely serves to create a sense of ‘victimhood’ thus disparaging attempts by individuals to grab their own bootstraps at improve their own economic circumstances. It’s little more than the hoary Moral Hazard Issue, modified and transformed into an excuse to do nothing to help anyone, ever.

And this one:  “All Republicans support equal pay for equal work,” wrote Republican National Committee press secretary Kirsten Kukowski, communications director Andrea Bozek and NRSC press secretary Brook Hougesen in a memo. “And while we all know workplace discrimination still exists, we need real solutions that focus on job creation and opportunity for women.” [Nation]  This might be characterized as the Double Side Step Dance.  Oh, we’re all in favor of equal pay for equal work, but — we need more tax breaks for multi-national corporations, etc. offering more support for those elusive Job Creators.

And these: “Republicans have said that, although they support equal pay for equal work, the bill would increase civil lawsuits. They also say that the bill is unnecessary because discrimination based on gender is already illegal.” [WaPo] Ah, the recurring Republican nightmare, on display with nearly every bill which ever sought to regulate corporate behavior — It will spawn litigation.

The Lily Ledbetter Act was supposed to have done that [TNR]… except it didn’t.  Redundancy is another GOP argument for doing nothing.  The line can be summarized as, “There is no need to improve any employee protections because current statutes already provide enough protection.” This is an argument which neatly avoids the rationale set forth in the legislation which explains the necessity of the proposed improvements.  Witness, the prohibition of penalties for employees who discuss their wages, and the authority of the EEOC to collect data from employers about wages.

And finally: It’s just election year politicking. [NYT] Translation: You’re just trying to make us look bad. If so, it was successful.

So, what might disgorge the Paycheck Fairness Act (equal pay for equal work) from the Congressional bill grinder?

Get Specific:  At town hall sessions, and public Q&A events — Instead of asking “Do you, Congressman Bilgewater or Senator Sludgepump, support equal pay for equal work?” Ask them: What is wrong with prohibiting employers from penalizing employees who discuss their wages or salaries?  What is wrong with allowing the EEOC to collect data on wages and salaries from employers?

If they stammer out that those sound like good ideas, then ask “Why didn’t you support the Paycheck Fairness Act which included those two items?”  Or, if the individual is not an incumbent, ask “Will you support legislation which includes those provisions?”

Get rational: At bottom the Paycheck Fairness Act is of a piece with family finances. [Additional here]  From a previous post:

“The pay gap has some very real economic consequences.   One analysis projects that if the pay gap could be mitigated, and more women could participate in the workforce, we could add about 3 to 4% to our national economy.”

Again, specifics matter.  In Nevada, a woman earns approximately 88 cents for every dollar earned by a man.  Additionally:

“125,402 households in Nevada are headed by women. About 26 percent of those households, or 32,479 households, have incomes that fall below the poverty level. Eliminating the wage gap would provide much needed income to women whose salaries are of critical importance to them and their families.” [NatPart pdf]

Allowing a politician to pontificate about the highly generalized moral hazard of hypothetical victimhood, or rattle on about redundancy and projected litigation only serves to skirt real economic issues faced by real families.  Ask, “What would be the overall economic benefit to Nevada if the $6,319 yearly wage gap between the earnings of men and women were narrowed?”

Playing with the calculator — if only 1,000 of those households in Nevada, headed by women, were to get the same wages as their male counterparts for doing the same job, and that $6,139 gap were closed, the result would be $6,139,000 added to the aggregate demand for goods and services in this state.

Get Out and Vote.

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Filed under Economy, equal pay, Heller, Ledbetter Decision, Nevada economy, Politics, Republicans, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

Fodder and Folderol: Election Integrity in Nevada

Ballot BoxNow! Fodder for the right wing Vote Suppression crowd — evidence of voter fraud in Nevada! Well, sort of.  The Las Vegas Review Journal tells us that one person was arrested in April on voting registration fraud charges, and another was arrested this week.  What makes these cases interesting is that the charge in April concerned an ineligible voter who registered as a Republican, and the more recent allegation concerns a person who decided to register with both major parties.

There are two ways of looking at these prosecutions. (1) They are the tip of the iceberg concealing massive election fraud; or (2) They are two instances out of 1,434,946 registered voters in the state of Nevada. [SoSpdf]  The Tip of the Iceberg/Vote Suppression advocates will, necessarily, see an obscure epidemic, and may allege that the laws aren’t working because the statutes should have prevented these possible incidents.

The preventionist argument is a stretch. As noted previously, (here, here) you have a Right to Vote.  The burden of proof rests where it always does in a criminal prosecution, with the government.  It’s been said before, and now will be repeated:

“The burden of proof always rests with the state — in any prosecution for anything.  If a person is alleged to have voted once in Clark County and again in Nye County that would call for a prosecution of a crime under NRS 293 — but the burden of proof rests with the state.   If a person is alleged to have voted using an assumed identity, then this calls for prosecution, and once again — the burden of proof rests with the state.

Any suggestion that the citizen be required to “show proof of citizenship” at the polls is not only redundant, but shifts the burden of proof from the state to the individual.  That’s not the way the American system of jurisprudence works.  It’s not the way the American judicial system has ever worked.” [DB]

What the voting suppression advocates are promoting is not only the restriction of voting in local, state, and national elections, but the fundamental shift in the burden of proof from the government to the individual by requiring multiple and progressively more stringent identification procedures. Procedures which are calculated to suppress the vote of ethnic minorities, the young, and the very old.

The preventionist argument also falls apart because most of the proposals don’t prevent fraud — they just prevent voting.  But, hey, if you can’t vote then you can’t commit voter fraud?  Whoa, not necessarily.  If a person were to steal another person’s identity, complete with all the appurtenances like a phony Driver’s License, then that fraudulent ‘voter’ would still be able to cast a ballot.  The ‘government issued ID’ prevents nothing.  It’s merely an inconvenience (or impossibility) for someone young, old, or an ethnic minority.

There’s always that old standby — the Election Integrity Argument. It isn’t any more substantial than the preventionist one.  The Republican Platform calls for “election integrity,” and this, too, has been discussed previously. There would be nothing the Nevada GOP would like more than to regain control of the State Senate, and install legislator Barbara Cegavske as Secretary of State.  Then we’ll be hearing all manner of proposals for vote suppression in this state.  Why?

Because “illegal voting” calls our elections into question, it minimizes our “election integrity.” And, people have to “trust our elections.” This argument works best among those who devoutly believe that any election outcome other than the one they desired must be fraudulent.  For example, there’s this analysis of the 2012 election from a conservative publication:

“So how did Romney lose a race that numerous reputable polls and pundits predicted would be an easy win, based on historical patterns? The most realistic explanation is voter fraud in a few swing states.”

Surely, it wasn’t because of candidate Romney’s highly unfortunate remarks about 47% of the population? His connection to vulture capitalists? His dubious campaign organization? His attention to invalid polling? The economy was improving under the incumbent? Nupe. The least realistic explanation must be transformed into the most realistic explanation.

There were 994,490 votes cast for the Presidency in the 2012 Nevada elections. [SoSNV]  That one person may have voted illegally obviously wasn’t going to make a difference. In short, it’s far more difficult to amass a critical number of illegal votes to control election results than it is to continually disparage those election results, and by the medium of continual publicity sow seeds of doubt into the minds of the electorate.

The ‘election integrity’ campaign is a carefully phrased, meticulously tuned, propaganda effort to justify vote suppression activities.  ALEC loves it, the Koch Brothers love it, and we’re going to hear more of it.

Both the Tip of the Iceberg and the Election Integrity arguments also fall when their supporters argue that “the law doesn’t work.”  How could the current statutes not be working when the state was able to identify 1 person out of the 994,490 who voted for President in the last election who may have voted illegally?  The only way this allegation works is to adopt the patently ridiculous rhetoric of right wing chauvinists who refused to acknowledge election results, and to join the Tip of the Iceberg crowd of extremists.

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Filed under Nevada politics, Politics, Vote Suppression, Voting

Think of the Children

ChildrenSpare me the piteous cries of, “Think of the children and grandchildren!” emanating from the right wing when any allocation of resources is mentioned which could possibly help darn the holes in our social safety net programs.  IT (whatever it might be) will burden them with the horrible no good awful national debt — unless, of course we’re talking about reducing taxes for millionaires, billionaires, oil companies, hedge fund managers, and ….  Nevada’s managed, yet again, to hit the bottom in the Child Well Being category. [RGJ]

One of the nice things about thinking in ideological generalities is that one’s not required to consider the practical, all too real, consequences.  For example, that Nevada ranks 48th in the child well being category in the Kids Count analysis. (pdf)

That would be 48th in overall ranking, 47th in economic well being, 50th in education, 47th in health, and 44th in family/community rank.

These rankings aren’t something to dismiss out of hand. First, the Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private philanthropy based in Baltimore, MD, that specializes in compiling statistics on children’s environments, and promoting cost effective solutions for legislative and community consideration — and it’s been doing this since its inception in 1948.

Nor is the Foundation merely a font of doom and gloom, when speaking of trends in child welfare, they note some progress in the overall safety and well being of children since they started their Data Book project in 1990:

“There also is a positive trend in parental education that benefits kids: A smaller percentage of children live in families in which no parent has a high school diploma — from 22% in 1990 to 15% in 2012. In addition, the teen birth rate is at a historic low and the death rates for children and teens has fallen as a result of medical advances and increased usage of seat belts, car seats and bike helmets.”  [AEC]

So, how did Nevada get into negative territory? In 2008 the number of children in the state whose parents at least 35 hours per week for 50 weeks per year (classified as employment insecurity) was approximately 173,000, or about 26%.  By 2012 that number increased to 226,000 or 34%.  In 2008 there were 54,000 children living in Nevada homes in which at least one parent was unemployed.  In 2012 the number was 79,000, or about 12%.  [AECF]

Measuring by the number of children living in homes in which the family income was less than twice the official federal poverty level and at least one parent was working at least 50 weeks per year (defined as low income working families), Nevada had 68,000 children in that category in 2008, a number which increased to 88,000 four years later. [AECF]

Have we been mentioning that what this state needs are JOBS? Once more, spare me the “we can’t afford it” wailing when we speak to the necessity of maintaining and improving our state infrastructure — and thus creating JOBS.  When the 2007-08 Recession pounded the state of Nevada, Las Vegas lost 1,053 public sector jobs, while the state pared down a total of 2,170. [CEPR] In the Pie/Sky ideological generalities of the right wing this would be a good thing — fewer public employees — but when the brass tacks are counted this means fewer teacher’s aides, librarians, educational special services, kitchen employees, road maintenance workers, parks and recreation employees, police officers, firefighters, and so on. In other words — these aren’t the “bureaucrats” so belittled by the conservatives, they are the people who do jobs which improve communities.

We’ve lost about 4.08% of our state workforce, another 10.77% of our local workforce, and 9.03% of those classified as “state/local” since the Recession. [Governing]

Another grating refrain is the moan that we are “transferring money from the private sector to the public.”   In the rarefied atmosphere of ultra-conservative thinking this means that tax revenue is collected from private sources and used for public services, which is somehow determined to be a “bad” idea.  Since when was it “bad” to have well maintained roads, well stocked libraries, pleasant and useful parks, good schools, safe neighborhoods, responsive fire departments, and all those features which real estate agents tout as part of the “excellent location” of the houses they are trying to sell?

Or, to look at it from the other angle — what effect does it have on a person’s property value to have failing schools, unkempt parks, inadequate libraries, and slow response times from fire and police services?  In this realm, the ultra-conservatives fall easily into the Something for Nothing crowd; they certainly don’t want declining property values, but they don’t want to pay the taxes necessary to keep the value of their property increasing.  They want the assets which factor into their property value — they just don’t want to pay for them.

Private sector employment has done better in the Silver State. Nevada’s climbed up from a dismal 10% unemployment rate this time last year to a 7. 7% unemployment rate as of June 2014. [BLS] That’s a nice 2.3% increase, putting us in the running for the most private sector jobs created in the last year.  If we’d decide to do something about our 149 high hazard dams, our $2.7 billion worth of drinking water infrastructure needs in the next two decades, our $2.9 billion in waste water treatment needs in the same period, our 40 structurally deficient bridges, and the 20% of our roads which are classified as in poor or mediocre condition [ACE] perhaps our employment numbers would be even better?

Perhaps if more parents were working we’d not see the disparity in the numbers of youngsters attending pre-schools?  The number of children from families functioning on less than 200% of the federal poverty level who are not getting some sort of early childhood education increased from 24,000 in 2005-07, to 31,000 between 2010-12.  The number of preschoolers from families in which the income was above 200% of the federal poverty line who were enrolled in some form of early childhood education increased. In 2005-07 about 67% of the kids were not enrolled, a percentage which improved to 60% by the 2010-12 period. [AECF]

The specific indicators on which Nevada’s rankings were based are available online at this location.   As with all compilations, there’s good news and bad news, gaps and spaces.

However, finding indicators of improvement should not divert us from trying to do something about those miserable national rankings.

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The Toy Soldiers’ Tantrums

Bundy RidersThey aren’t just amusing toy soldiers, costumed and ready for a puerile re-enactment of childish gun-games.  The ‘protestors’ who showed up waving their banners and showing their guns in Las Vegas, want us to know they are “seriously” opposing immigration reform, and against applying current law to the refugee children and families from Central America. [Photos @ NVProgressive]

As with the childhood game narratives of days past, these toy soldiers in the war to win America have their own story. The story doesn’t have to make sense — what improvised tale of Cowboys and Indians ever did? — it simply has to provide an opportunity for them to feel good about expressing their opinions and reinforce their distorted view of patriotism.

The dissonance between their claim that the ‘government is lawless’ while denouncing the application of existing law to Central American migrants doesn’t bother them.  Their point isn’t centered on rational inquiry and disquisition into immigration policy, it’s an expression of how they feel, their emotional reaction to their circumstances.

There are many threads woven into the fabric of their banners. (1) Good old fashioned racism, (2) Imperiled sense of entitlement, (3) Discouragement about economic prospects, and perhaps (4) the Tendency to adopt simplistic conspiracy theories in lieu of protracted, complicated, and often nuanced policy arguments.  However, when they act, it might not matter what the origin might be — their proclivity toward violence is what makes them dangerous.*

Myths Are Dangerous

They are an amusing sideshow, promoted by a sensationalist press and not worthy of public attention.   While the incidents do tend to promote “If It Bleeds It Leads” journalism, the violence wrought by these groups and their affiliates isn’t child’s play. Witness the recent execution of two law enforcement officers in Las Vegas, NV. [LVRJ] Right wing extremists killed 34 victims between September 11, 2001 and April 2014. [CNN]  Further, while the groups may not be organized in traditional ways, they are coordinated.  Those who believe that the incidents related to the stand off at the Bundy Ranch were spontaneous would do well to review the information available from the SPLC’s “War in the West,” report. (pdf) And, it bears repeating, there was nothing ‘sideshow’ about the deadly attack on the Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh and associates.

The right wing extremists are only trying to ‘do their own thing’ and the government should leave them alone.  Doing their own thing doesn’t necessarily mean they are law-abiding when not actually shooting at someone.   In 2010 two Sovereign Citizens in Sacramento, CA, cooked up an insurance scam in which they sold policies which did not come close to satisfying the requirements for insurance sold to the public in that state — or for that matter, in any other.  Numerous accidents, paltry payments, and several court cases later, the two were indicted and convicted of fraud and money laundering. [FBI]  Extremists from Kansas, Missouri, and Nevada launched a “Diplomatic Identification” scam; the three found themselves convicted of fraud in 2009. [FBI] Other sales schemes have included vehicle license plates, phony driver’s licenses, and even currency. [FBI]  More Sovereign Citizens have been sentenced for their fraudulent “treasury scheme.” [RS 7/14]

They’re just interested in protecting their 2nd Amendment rights and keeping the values of a Christian nation.  Fine, except when we notice that the number of militia groups has grown from 149 in January 2009 to approximately 1,274 today. What’s changed? Could this have something to do with the fact that the President of the United States happens to be an African-American?  As for “values,” the number of hate groups has seen a similar increase, from 604 in 2000 to about 1,000 today. [Grio] The SPLC puts the number at 939. [SPLC]  Neither racism, nor exclusionism, is a traditional American value.

What to do?

Support your local sheriff.  Most extremists come to the attention of local law enforcement officials before they rise to the awareness of national agencies.  Local law enforcement budgets should be augmented to include adequate funding for the surveillance of domestic terror/hate groups.  Local jurisdictions should have adequate resources to investigate, and prosecute, offenders for related crimes (fraud, assaults, etc.). When local candidates for law enforcement positions tout their budget restraint positions, make certain this doesn’t mean cutting funding or allocations for watching/prosecuting the extremists among us.

Support efforts to coordinate law enforcement activities.  NRS Chapter 239C authorizes the creation of a Nevada Homeland Security Commission, which reports to the Governor.  Enacted in the wake of the 9/11/01 attacks, it focuses on threat assessment and communications inter-operability.  The current mission statement appears to be trapped in this time slot:

“The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security (OHS) acts as the Cabinet-level State office for the prevention of and preparation for a potential terrorist event. Nevada OHS directs and coordinates a comprehensive counter terrorism and “all threats-all hazards” approach in its prevention, preparedness and response strategies.”

The thrust of the public documents available offers the perspective of an organization focused on major events, without actually defining what such an event might be — perhaps it is understood given the origin of the group that it would prevent or respond to foreign acts of aggression such as attacks on infrastructure, facilities,  or communications.   On the other hand, it does publish an “active shooter” booklet (pdf) the contents of which emphasize common sense: Evacuate or Hide.

Without knowing what activities might be garnering the attention of the organization, and the penalties for unauthorized disclosure of Commission materials are stringent, it’s hard to gauge how effectively the Commission is attending to home grown extremist organizations and their activities.

A Commission which is taking in a full view of the potential threats to the security and safety of Nevada residents should (1) promote the active assessment of domestic threats,  (2) periodically report to the public on its threat assessment, and (3) inform the general public what measures it is taking to secure Nevada residents, their infrastructure, and their facilities from both domestic and foreign sourced threats.

The minutes of the March 21, 2014 meeting (last available online pdf) indicate decreased funding for the Commission activities, and a ranking of priorities which places cyber-security first, and “Intelligence and Information Sharing” second.  Not to be looking askance at the need to prevent cyber-security problems, but in light of the activities at the Bundy Ranch, and the propensity of lone wolf  extremists to target law enforcement officers in this state, the gathering of intelligence concerning extremists and sharing that throughout the law enforcement community would seem to be of more immediate concern.

Support private and non-profit groups which address and publicize the problems associated with domestic extremism.  For example,  objections to programs which promote tolerance in schools and other institutions should be met with equal levels of  advocacy.  Any efforts made by educational institutions to mitigate the toxic combination of ‘entitlement’ and ‘victimhood’ should be promoted. Programs which seek to alleviate bullying, racial discrimination, and sexism should be encouraged.

Local programs promoting civic pride, from all segments of the community, should be a priority.  Whether these events and activities are large and highly organized or small and relatively informal, local broadcast and other media should be encouraged to give these as much publicity as possible.

The most effective way to diminish the threat of domestic terror is to support local efforts to identify the sources, coordinate investigations and prosecutions, and take advantage of any and all opportunities to alleviate the forces which drive the toy soldiers into their frenzy of emotional reactions to a world in which they feel uncomfortable.

——-

*Christian Right secession fantasy, Salon, July 1, 2014. Anti-government extremists stir an unhealthy political brew, Newsday, June 18, 2014. Sources of anti-government extremism, Consortium News, May 27, 2013.  What drives anti-government extremists?, Huffington Post, June 10, 2014, from CNN, June 10, 2014.  The Sovereign Citizen Movement, FBI, April 13, 2010.  Statement before Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI, September 19, 2012.  Focus on Militia Extremism, FBI, September 22, 2011.  U.S. right-wing more dangerous than jihadists, CNN, April 15, 2014.

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Burdensome Regulations

Titanic Life BoatsAnswer here.

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Amodei and the Perils of the Second Question

Amodei 3I lasted for two questions and Amodeian Answers during last evening’s telephone town hall session.  The Second Question I  heard was from “Dorothy from Fernley” asking: “I live in Lyon County, what does the government plan to do to bring jobs…”

The previous post described the nature of any response on offer from Nevada’s 2nd District Congressman, Mark Amodei (R-NV2).  So, imagine the serpentine syntax and the following reply:

Representative Amodei was quick to let the caller know that the House had just passed a Jobs Bill, one that was a “general measure, instead of extending unemployment benefits.”

The Congressman didn’t specify what bill that was, but might have been referring to the Highway Trust Fund bill, or to the Federal Register Act, but those aren’t generally classified as “jobs” bills by the Republican leadership.  The bill to which he was most likely referring was H.R. 4718, amending the IRS code to make bonus depreciation permanent.  The bill “generally” helps businesses, and is an exemplar of Trickle Down in its almost pure form.

The bill passed on an almost  party line vote 258-160. [roll call 404] The Nevada delegation supported the measure. So, what would it do?

One rather brutal way to describe the bill is that it adds some $287 billion to the Federal budget deficit without doing much more than allowing businesses to write off the costs of capital improvements and investments more quickly.  [HuffPo]

If a person is waiting for a job in Yerington, Fernley, or Silver Springs — this bill doesn’t shorten the time. First, the corporation would have to make a capital investment or improvement, and the investment would have to be an expansion, and if it were an expansion, then it would have to expand in Lyon County…. you get the picture.  Describing the bill as “generally” promoting jobs is generous indeed.

More importantly, under the Austerian/Trickle Down Theory of Republican economics this kind of measure is supposed to have an overall stimulative effect.  First, bonus depreciation breaks have been in effect from 2008 to 2013.  Secondly, according to the Congressional Research Service report, (pdf) they weren’t all that stimulative:

“A temporary investment subsidy was expected to be more effective than a permanent one for short-term stimulus, encouraging firms to invest while the benefit was in place. Its temporary nature is critical to its effectiveness. Yet, research suggests that bonus depreciation was not very effective, and probably less effective than the tax cuts or spending increases that have now lapsed.”

It was a bust.  However, it was a tax break and Republicans believe, as an article of faith, that all tax breaks have a stimulative effect on the economy.

Not only was it a bust, but at the moment it is an expensive bust; again according to the CRS analysis:

“If bonus depreciation is made permanent, it increases accelerated depreciation for equipment, contributing to lower, and in some cases more negative, effective tax rates. In contrast, prominent tax reform proposals would reduce accelerated depreciation. Making bonus depreciation a permanent provision would significantly increase its budgetary cost.”

Remember how all those major corporations are forever telling us that the are paying the highest corporate tax rate in the Universe and that they can’t compete with other corporations based in foreign lands?  Well, here’s a tax break they can enjoy:

“Compared to a statutory corporate tax rate of 35%, bonus depreciation lowers the effective tax rate for equipment from an estimated 26% rate to a 15% rate. Buildings are taxed approximately at the statutory rate. Total tax rates would be slightly higher because of stockholder taxes. Because nominal interest is deducted, however, effective tax rates with debt finance can be negative. For equity assets taxed at an effective rate of 35%, the effective tax rate on debt-financed investment is a negative 5%. The rate on equipment without bonus depreciation is minus 19%; with bonus depreciation it is minus 37%.”  [CRS pdf]

Someone has to love the part wherein the capital improvements or investments are financed, the interest is deducted, and the effective tax rate can be a negative — what’s not to love? Except:

#1. The tax break was supposed to be a temporary stimulus for business expansion, with a temporary incentive for business spending.

#2. The way the current bill is drafted it’s going to cost the Federal government about $263 billion in lost revenue — from corporations, not the little guys.

#3. The CBPP informs us: ” Under current law, companies pay far less than the statutory 35 percent corporate tax rate on the profits flowing from those investments.  In some cases, they pay nothing and actually receive a tax subsidy.  Bonus depreciation only increases this favorable tax treatment.”

While the residents of Lyon County, Nevada are waiting for some business to expand and start hiring — the accountants at the corporate HQ of Soakem & Runn, Inc.  are tasked with finding yet more ways they can reduce their federal tax liability.  Therefore, the Lyon County residents must wait for the corporation to take its deductions, decide to use the money saved to expand the business, decide to locate the firm’s new improvements in the county, and take the plunge to build or expand operations.  Please do not hold your breath during this process.

Meanwhile, the extension of unemployment benefits, so disparaged by Representative Amodei have a far more immediate stimulative effect on the economy.

When we were discussing the extension of unemployment benefits back in 2011, the Congressional Budget Office estimated (pdf) that the cost of the extension would be approximately $44.1 billion during the first year. [Roosevelt Inst]  Yes, there is a cost, but the money circulates back into state and local economies.  The Congressional Budget Office estimated more recently that not extending unemployment benefits puts an approximate 0.2% “drag” on the overall economy. [CNN]  The percentage may not sound like much but when we consider that our gross national product is $17,268.7 billion [FRED] that isn’t chump change.

Instead of waiting for Soakem & Runn, Inc. to decide whether to use the new tax break for any expansion, and to determine what kind of expansion that will be, and if it will actually be in the county — Lyon County citizens might pin their hopes more realistically on the continued growth in the American GNP:

US GNP

With all due respect, they’ll have a shorter wait watching the GNP and GDP charts than they’ll have waiting for the corporations to decide how to apply their new tax breaks.  However, there’s more, as Representative Amodei tried to get more specific about Lyon County.

He referred to the need to pass the “Yerington Bill” which would create jobs and passed in the 112th Congress, but not in the present 113th.  Again, we’ll have to speculate that he meant the bill to assist the Pumpkin Hollow Mining operations, [PHM] one which has previously gotten itself mired in partisan politics, wherein an amendment was attached allowing Border Patrol agents to bypass environmental laws they deemed too restrictive.  [LVSun]

Representative Horsford (D-NV4) and Senator Heller (R-NV) are both supportive of the bill so it may have some future… but again the residents of Lyon County will have to wait.   It’s July 16th, and the House is only scheduled to be in session for nine more days until the month long August break, after which the House will have ten working days in September, another two in October, seven in November, and finally another eight working days in December. [House Cal. pdf]  That leaves a total of 36 legislative working days from now until the end of the year.  Again, Lyon County residents might want to just keep watching the GNP and GDP trends.

 

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Amodei Does The Phone Thing: Immigration Edition

Amodei 3Please don’t ask me to transcribe what I heard during Representative Mark Amodei’s (R-NV2) Telephone Townhall thing he had tonight, during the dinner hour.  I always seem to be contacted while the “town hall is already in progress,” and Amodei’s dismaying propensity for scrambling his answers into disjointed phrases interspersed with touching attempts to give the questioner reason to believe he might have heard and understood the question, combined with hunger, means I rarely stay for the whole performance.

I got in just as “Linda from Reno” was posing a direct question: “When are we going to close the borders? Don’t you think we ought to close the borders?

There’s nothing nuanced about this inquiry.  It’s about as straight forward as it gets. Closed border good?  Representative Amodei responded, as he nearly always does, by starting a sentence — shifting to an independent clause — shifting to another thought — reverting to the initial topic long enough to — insert another qualifier, before — circling back to touch on whatever it was that made him think of — another qualifying statement, leading to the beginning of another sentence.

As nearly as I can guess, Representative Amodei believes that the current crisis of too many undocumented and unaccompanied children at our border detention facilities means we have no control over our borders.

Whoa — if we didn’t have control over our borders then they wouldn’t be in DHS Border Patrol detention facilities would they?

The obvious point that if the southern border were “open” these children would be “all over the place” instead of in detention and case processing facilities stipulated, the notion that the opposite might be the case leads Representative Amodei to suggest that deploying the National Guard should be implemented.

For what? We have 21,000 border patrol agents, local, state, and tribal governments have programs funded by the Federal government to assist in border security, and we need the National Guard? According to Representative Amodei (I think, from my notes with arrows and lines trying to track his answer) this is necessary to have “absolute control of the border.”  I’ll return to this point in a moment, but first there’s a need to be more specific about the difference between the question from Reno and the answer from Amodei.

Closed Minds and Borders

Let’s pause for a moment, because Representative Amodei really isn’t offering a direct answer to “Linda’s” direct question.  She wasn’t talking about controlling the border she was advocating closing the borders. Closed borders have serious consequences, consequences “Linda” may not have considered when expressing her desire to stop all immigration.

First, and most obviously, a closed border works both ways. While closing the borders would prevent immigration, it also prevents trade and tourism.  If country A closes down its border with country B, B always reacts.  The reactions, and the economic implications thereof, create a plethora of issues which often have consequences intended and unintended.

The most obvious example of a closed border in recent memory is that between East and West Germany.  The destruction of the Berlin Wall provided iconic images, but the process of reunification was far more problematic.  For example, East Germany had been considered one of the more prosperous Eastern Bloc countries, but without Russian assistance/hegemony, and without a universally valued currency, when the wall fell so did the East German economy.  Further, there were those, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher included, who saw a re-unified Germany as a threat to European security and urged the Russians to prevent the process as much as possible.  However, a central point to remember is that for all the drama associated with PM Thatcher’s practice of carrying a 1937 map of German borders in her handbag, or the complex problem of what to do with East German industrial subsidies, the closed border between the two Germany-s before 1990 allowed the economy on the East side of the line to paper over serious economic flaws and abysmal infrastructure.

In other, simpler terms, closed borders hide and obscure as much as they secure.

Secondly, borders don’t exist in the imagination, they define regions, and in doing so they create “border areas,” those sections on either side of a closed border which create social, political, and economic environments simply because they are border areas.  There’s another European example of the consequences of closed borders as they apply to border regions.

In 2005 a study was conducted of the consequences of the Emerald Curtain, i.e. the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. [The Emerald Curtain pdf] Unlike it’s German counterpart, the Emerald Curtain didn’t come as a response to any specific migratory or economic trends, it accreted over time.  Established in 1921, and discussed intermittently until 1925, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is a “tale of unintended and unforeseen consequences.”

One of those unintended consequences was the creation of a border area, without major urban areas, and without any robust trade, which engendered dependence on agriculture, under-employment, lack of market access, lack of transport, and the inaccessibility of services like education.   The areas on both sides of the Emerald Curtain tended not to be amenable to economic diversification, which in turn exacerbated social and economic trends including low disposable incomes and higher levels of illiteracy.  Even the “Irish Tiger” boom period, didn’t have the same impact in the southern border regions as it did further south.

For all the attention, verbiage, studies, plans, and parliamentary speeches about improving the Emerald Curtain border regions — the area in 2005 was still characterized as “lagging behind national benchmarks for growth, employment, and development.” [The Emerald Curtain pdf]

The Emerald Curtain isn’t even drawn that tightly shut, but still Ireland’s largest customer is the United States, followed by the UK, Belgium, Germany, and France. Most Irish imports are from the UK, followed by the U.S., Germany, Netherlands, and China in that order. [MIT.edu]  Meanwhile, the economy in Ulster moves forward, with most trade between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The economy in the north is still tied to the economy of the UK. [Belfast Telegraph]

Whether “Linda in Reno” is advocating a militarized tightly controlled border like the Iron Curtain, or a softer, less organized one like its Emerald counterpart, the results are essentially the same.  The fencing may obfuscate and render opaque issues which will cause major problems over time, and may as easily create regions in which economic activity is stunted or diminished.

Good fences may make good neighbors, but they tend not to encourage economic growth and development.

Absolute Control

As promised earlier, it’s time to get down to an item on Representative Amodei’s wish list: US absolute control of its borders.   This sounds good — it’s also meaningless.  But wait, meaningless is good, especially for the Republican talking point generators and distributors.

By oversimplification and sloganeering complicated and thorny issues can be reduced to ‘sound bites,’ easily digested and something of a Rorschach Test for the listener.  “Linda in Reno” may come away from her portion of the Amodei Word Salad Shooter Session believing that when he says “absolute control of the border” he’s espousing her version of a closed, militarized, border — or a softer more informal one, as might be characterized by a line between two groups of people not yet completely over the Battle of the Boyne.  The beauty of the oversimplified, and thus meaningless, sound bite is that whatever interpretation might be applied to it, the politician using it can pivot at any point and walk away … “I really didn’t mean precisely That…” Whatever “that” might have been.

Yes, Representative Amodei wants “absolute control of the border,” BUT not so much that the Mexican government responds with a closure on its side?  Or, BUT not so much that cities like Brownsville, Nogales, El Paso, and Laredo suffer economic declines from a lack of cross border trade?  Or, BUT not so much that the flow of international trade, commerce, and currency is disrupted?

What is “absolute” control?  Does that mean not a single solitary migrant moving over the borders without a visa is to be found?  Or, is there an acceptable level of ‘leakage?” If so, what’s the level? Once again, the Rorschach Test comes into play. The message means whatever the listener wants to hear.

Who do we intend to “control?” Another Rorschach Test — are we ‘controlling’ for racial or ethnic characteristics? Political or ideological perspectives?  Does “control” mean keeping lower income, ethnic minority populations, at bay?  Does it mean deporting PhD candidates in the field of applied physics? In order for there to be “control” there must be something, someone, under that control.  Who or what that might be is left to the interpretation of the listener.  These little bits of meaninglessness are handy for politicians who don’t want to specify policy positions or describe their legislative proposals.  They are also incredibly useful for criticizing the proposals of opponents.

Using sound bite slogans makes it an easy task to critique the elements of S. 744 by saying it “doesn’t provide absolute control over the borders.” Whatever that might mean. Or, “it doesn’t require enough from those applying for naturalization? Whatever “enough” could be. Or, “it’s too close to amnesty.”  What’s amnesty and what’s too close?

In the final segment, Representative Amodei wanted to reassure “Linda from Reno” that he’d contacted the Department of Homeland Security and they had indicated to him that there were no federal facilities in Nevada to which the unaccompanied children or families would be transported. Hint: There’s no need to round up the pick up trucks, letter the signs, and power up the bull horns?  Once up this easy grade, Representative Amodei got entangled in his explanation of how the federal government couldn’t insure that private organizations in Nevada, especially churches, wouldn’t accept detainees during processing. If I were to attempt to translate my notes this paragraph would read:

“Something, something, Federal Government can’t tell churches what to do, something, something, especially in light of the Supreme Court decision, which I agree with, something, something, it’s a sticky wicket, trying to tell churches what to do, something, something, government should stay out of church business. ”  I’m guessing he’s referring to the Hobby Lobby decision. I’m guessing he’s telling “Linda from Reno” that if a church or private non-profit organization wants to house detainees during processing there’s nothing he can do about it.

I lasted one more question and answer, and then the desire to return to dinner overwhelmed my inclination to try to make intelligible notes from Representative Amodei’s Word Salad Shooter.  Each one of these sessions makes me all the more appreciative of the members of the local press in Nevada who have the Herculean task, as a part of their job, to make sense of Representative Amodei’s verbal barrages, interminable regressions, and equally predictable sloganeering.   Somewhere there is a Salad Shooter spewing Scrabble tiles that needs a hug.

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