The UnMagic Touch: Adelson and his Money are Soon Parted

AdelsonBecause having the imprimatur of Las Vegas gambling titan Sheldon Adelson was so helpful since he started moving major money into politics — $1.3 million from 2007 to 2012, and $93.1 million to Super PACs [CPI] — members of the Grand Old Party are lining up at his door yet again. [LV Sun]

The three Governors, Christie (NJ), Walker (WI), and Kasich (OH Goldman Sachs), led by the former FL Governor Jeb Bush, would like more of Adelson’s largesse directed their way.

Perhaps these three remember that Mr. Adelson dumped some $16.5 million into the campaign (cum Book Tour) of one Newt Gingrich?   If memory serves, Mr. Gingrich put his campaign stops on hold sometime in April 2012.

Then there was another $4 million bestowed upon George “Macaca” Allen in Virginia — “Independence Virginia PAC — and another bust, as Allen lost the election to Tim Kaine. [MJ]

$2 million of Adelson’s bank account went to the ever entertaining Allen West (Freedom PAC) — Mr. West accused his opponent of “cheating to beat him,” but finally gave in when a recount actually showed even more votes for Congressman Patrick Murphy. [TP] Thus wasting more of Adelson’s $1 million contribution to the Treasure Coast Jobs Coalition PAC.

Lest we forget, Adelson also provided another $1 million toward efforts to elect Rabbi Shmuley “Shalom in the Home” Boteach in his 2012 NJ congressional race — Boteach lost to Rep. Bill Pascrell. Adelson was a bit luckier with the portion of the money that went to NJ Rep. Joe Kyrillos.

The Adelsons donated $500,000 to Scott Brown’s campaign.  Anyone heard from Brown in Massachusetts?  Well, no, not that he’s now carpetbagged it into neighboring New Hampshire after taking his licking from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

And who could forget all the PAC donations headed toward the Presidency of Willard Mitt Romney?  What presidency of Willard Mitt Romney?

The electoral count was Obama 332, Romney 206.  Clobbered?

Not that the presidentially inspired members of the GOP are likely to take this advice — but doesn’t it look like taking Mr. Adelson’s money doesn’t exactly equate to election success?

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Filed under Adelson, Nevada politics, Politics

Work Pay Live?

Want to see what a “recovery” looks like in terms of job openings? Here’s the FRED graph:

Jobs by category 2014 Note the increasing line for total non-farm jobs, and the almost parallel line for total private sector job openings.  What can we tell from the two lines at the bottom — that government employment and jobs in education and health services have not seen the increases indicated in the total job market or in the private sector job market.

What makes the greenish line (education and health care services) line so disturbing is that two health care related sectors — health care support and health care practitioners/technical — are projected to grow by 28% and 22% respectively by 2022.  [BLS]  Education, library/media, and training positions show a projected 11% increase in this decade. [BLS]

As we might expect given a aging population, personal care assistance jobs are projected to increase to 580,800 by 2022, and home health aide positions are projected to increase to 424,200 in the same period. [BLS]  That’s the good news for job seekers, the less exciting news is that personal care aides earn an average of $19,910 per year, while home health aides earn an average of $20,820. [BLS]

The third highest projection for new jobs comes in the retail sales category, 434,700 but with average earnings of $21,110.  The only high projection category which would put an employee in ‘middle class’ territory is that of registered nurses, with a projected need for 526,800 in the next few years and estimated average earnings of $65,470 annually. [BLS]

Federal Poverty Guidelines 2014Unfortunately, what we have here is a situation in which three areas of projected high job growth over the next 18 years (personal aides, retail sales, and home health care) are jobs which would not support a family of four on a single income above the federal poverty guidelines.  The estimated $19,910 a personal care aide is estimated to earn annually would barely keep a three person family at the poverty line.

If we extrapolate the numbers, by 2022 we will have an increased number of home health aides, each earning approximately $20,820.  That’s about $10.00 per hour, or a total contribution of $8,831,844,000 to the national economy.  This sounds nice until we get out MIT’s Living Wage Calculator.

A living wage for a adult + one child in Reno, Nevada is currently calculated at $20.39 per hour. For a family of four it’s about $19.22.  [MIT]  The current estimated wage for home health aides ($10.01/yr) doesn’t come close to either living wage calculation.

How about our retail sales person?  Nationally, we’re projected to need about 434,700 more of them by 2022. The 2012 median wage in retail sales is $21,410 or about $10.29 per hour.  How does this compare to the Living Wage Calculation for Las Vegas, Nevada?  One adult + one child would need an hourly wage of $20.67 and two adults and two children would need earnings of $19.50/hr. The $10.29 isn’t close — again.

There are at least three elements to consider in all these numbers. (1) Those jobs which are now identified as high growth tend to be in low wage positions; (2) Low wage positions don’t meet the Living Wage standards; and (3) If we continue to pay relatively low wages for high growth area jobs then we can reasonably expect to have more families qualify for public assistance.

Oh, but if we raise minimum wages for employees what of the KIDS?  For starters, most minimum wage workers aren’t children. Yes, most young people start out earning minimum wages, however this group only constitutes 19.8% of all minimum wage earners. [BLS table 1]  80.2% of all minimum wage workers are over 25.

If we drill down into the table we find that those “kids” aged 16-19 comprise about 5.4% of the minimum wage workforce, and men over 25 constitute 39.4% of the minimum wage workforce, while women over 25 are 40.8% of that total.   In short, it doesn’t do for us to hide behind the kid’s jeans during any attempt to argue that raising the minimum wage will be “bad for them.”

Well, there’s always that old canard that increasing the minimum wage reduces job growth.  For all the numbers tossed into the speculative pool — the FACTS of the matter don’t match the mythology.

Once more from the MIT economic study:

“Dube’s research looks at the effects of minimum wage differentials across state borders where the minimum wage is higher on one side of the border than the other. His research looks at the service industry, which he said employs the majority of minimum wage workers. According to his findings, both the short and long term effects of the increased wage on unemployment were negligible.”

What does raising the minimum wage do?  The Dube Study looked in that corner as well:

“Finally he added that work done by economists at the Federal Reserve showed minimum wage increase led to significant increases in purchases of durable goods. “From a perspective of stimulating demand, minimum wages will tend to increase demand by increasing the purchasing power of those workers.”

So, on one hand we have negligible impact on employment levels versus significant increases in the purchases of durable goods — which one sounds like a better common sense option?

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Filed under Economy

The Republican Unicorn: The Replacement Plan

UnicornOH! the horror… more Nevadans are now getting health care insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  The Reno Gazette Journal reports:

“Nevada Medicaid enrollments under federal health care reform have surpassed initial projections and are on pace to reach 500,000 by summer, a mark initially not expected to be reached until the end of the 2015 fiscal year, a state official said.”

Prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act there were approximately 642,000 Nevadans without health insurance.  The expansion of Medicaid allows those who are earning  below 138% of federal policy guidelines to sign up for Medicaid.

For two person family the members of which are U.S. citizens between the ages of 19 and 65, who are not eligible for Medicare, the income line would be $21,404 per year, the income eligibility level for a single individual would be $15,856. [ME2014 pdf] A person working for $7.50/hr for a 50 week year would earn $15,000.

Since this is an election year, the Republicans will no doubt tell us all that they have an alternative, and indeed they did craft one earlier this year.

A side by side comparison of the Affordable Care Act and the Republican alternative:

ACA and GOP health plansIn the Republican “alternative du jour” people who don’t get health care insurance from their employers would end up paying more because in the GOP proposal the tax credit increases only by age and not by need.  This means that lower income individuals would be paying more for health care insurance.  [See example here]

Would those who have endured some of the questionable practices of insurance administration be protected under the Republican alternative?  Not really.  Under the Affordable Care Act an insurance corporation may only charge a 64 year old person 3 times what they would charge a 21 year old. Under the provisions of the Republican alternative they could charge 5 times more.

Then there’s the issue of a “coverage gap.”  If a person were to lose a job the compensation for which included health care insurance, the subsequent “gap” in coverage would allow the corporation to exclude the person from coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition if the individual did not purchase a private plan immediately.

In sum, the Republican alternative isn’t really “patient centered” a better term might be insurance corporation centered:

“There are many other problematic things the Republican plan does, like eliminate the health law’s taxes on health insurance, drug and device companies; allow insurance companies to sell plans that don’t cover maternity, mental health or other types of care; and allow insurance companies to impose annual limits on benefits.” [NYT]

Before we get too excited about the Republicans actually offering up an alternative to the Affordable Care Act and Patients’ Bill of Rights, we should remember that 2014 is an election year.  A person could waste precious moments in this life counting the number of Republican “working groups” which have developed GOP health insurance reform plans.  However, that exercise would expend synaptic effort unnecessarily because the GOP has yet to form any viable legislative strategy for enacting their ‘reforms.’

Harken back to January 30, 2014 — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) announced to the GOP conclave that “This year, we will rally around an alternative to ObamaCare and pass it on the floor of the House,” Cantor said during a presentation in which he outlined four areas — healthcare, jobs, helping the middle class and creating opportunities — where Republicans would offer “big, bold ideas.” [The Hill]   Now, hold this thought, because something happened to those “big, bold ideas” between January and March.

No sooner did the House Majority Leader pronounce, “This year, we will rally around an alternative to Obamacare and pass it on the floor of the House..” then the silent fog of actual inactivity enveloped the House Republicans.  By February 21, 2014 those big, bold ideas apparently disintegrated into a host of piece-meal bits of proposed legislation: “In a memo to members laying out the House agenda for the remainder of the winter, Cantor noted that the replacement is being finalized, and said that in the meantime, Republicans will work to target parts of the law with which they disagree.” [Roll Call]  Repeal and Replace, appears to be getting fuzzier by the month, a point not lost on columnist Jonathan Chait:

“Carping from the sidelines is a great strategy for Republicans because status quo bias is extremely powerful. It lets them highlight the downside of every trade-off without owning any downside of their own. They can vaguely promise to solve any problem with the status quo ante without exposing themselves to the risk any real reform entails. Republicans can exploit the disruption of the transition to Obamacare unencumbered by the reality that their own plans are even more disruptive.”

Meanwhile, more people are finding affordable private health care plans on the state and national insurance exchanges and more lower income citizens are signing up for the expanded Medicaid program.  And, the calendar marches on:
House Calendar 2014

And so, what has the House been working on?  On January 9 and 10, 2014 the GOP toyed with some headline generating legislation (H.R. 2279) delaying the implementation of the ACA and calling for ‘transparency.’   On January 23rd they launched on the ‘security’ of the health care exchange. (H.R. 3362).  Then they were back to the Ban The Abortion theme in the consideration of H.R. 7 on January 28, 2014, as if the Hyde Amendment has somehow been misplaced.

Do we see all that legislation to Repeal and Replace so avidly promised in January and then all but forgotten by March?  The Health and Technology Committee didn’t even meet during the month. [docs.house]

The lovely thing about a Unicorn is that it can be any color which delights a person’s imagination.  The same can be said of the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act — it can contain just about anything the audience wants to hear, because “facts are still being gathered,” or “provisions are still being drafted,” or “committees are still giving it consideration,” or “the dog ate my homework.”

Until the Republicans unveil their comprehensive alternative to the Affordable Care Act the Repeal and Replace slogan is just that — sloganeering.  And until the Republicans can demonstrate their capacity to LEGISLATE (read govern) there is no reason to take their propositions seriously.  While we wait for the Republicans to chase their Unicorn, we can applaud the fact that more of our fellow citizens have health insurance coverage, and wonder what the Republican Party will be able to do for the next five years.

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Filed under Economy, Health Care, health insurance, Medicaid, Nevada politics, Politics

This Could Get Interesting? Nevada District 2 Primary

Donkey RunningThe candidates have filed, and we’re off to the Nevada Races.  At the top of the ticket we have our Congressional candidacies, complete with the ever-present visage of Janine Hansen (IAP) of the Hansen Family Party running in the 2nd Congressional District race. Her last foray into the fray was a 2012 race against incumbent Republican state senator Pete Goicoechea for his District 19 seat; she got 19.5% of the vote in the general election.  Hansen espouses an anti-tax, anti-immigrant, and for that matter, anti-government philosophy.

Incumbent Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) is running unopposed in the GOP Primary (June 10), which should come as no surprise to anyone. That the former president of the Nevada Mining Association (2007-2008) and career politician would be the ‘man in waiting’ for future elections isn’t surprising either.

There will be a hotter primary for the Democratic candidates.   Dr. Vance Alm, MD (Reno) filed on March 5th saying on his web site: “I can no longer sit by and watch America falter and fall from its position as World Leader. I want my children and grandchildren to have opportunities similar to those I enjoyed. Complacency, apathy and cynicism; saying things such as, “It’s not that bad”, “I don’t care” and “It just doesn’t matter” need to be replaced with a desire and goal to once again make America the indisputable greatest nation on earth.”

Brian Dempsey (Gardnerville) offers more specificity in his issues section of his campaign site.  His position on economic development is generalized, but does emphasize small business: “Nevadans have been facing high unemployment rates for too long.  We need to find solutions to bring companies to our communities that will create jobs.  Our country was founded with an entrepreneurial spirit.  We need to focus on helping start-ups and small businesses grow.  With their growth, Nevada can recover economically and begin to grow again.”

Ed Lee (Reno) has also filed but his web site is apparently a work in progress.  “Watch this space.”

Kristen Spees (Incline Village), an estate planning attorney,  filed for the primary, her message in part: “My platform is based on government transparency and simplified politics.  I want residents to be informed about what is going on in the government and I want everyone to be able to make well-founded decisions when voting.  Transparency provides information for citizens about what the government is doing and it promotes accountability.   I want to simplify politics by teaching and informing residents about the pros and cons of important issues…

Superficial Analysis

Representative Amodei’s problem is not “how to get elected,” he’s been able to do that successfully since his race against Ernie Adler, his issue may be how to keep from getting sucked into the far right whirlpool of LoonyBin-ness Tea Party, Gold Standard, Anti-Government rhetoric with which the 2nd District is awash.  His problems will obviously surface in the general election IF his ultimate opponent (and not the IAP) manages to identify him with far right stances on the Affordable Care Act, and banking deregulation.

The Democratic Party candidate’s problem will be equally obvious.  There aren’t that many Democrats in the 2nd Congressional District.  There are 110,795 ‘active’ Democratic registered voters in the district, 17,202 IAP voters, 2,933 Libertarians, and 2,840 categorized as “other.” There are 144,255 registered ‘active’ Republicans.  56,714 are registered as ‘non-partisan.’ [NVsos pdf] Expecting all those independent voters to vote on the Democratic side is utterly unreasonable.

Department of Unsolicited Advice

Representative Amodei’s been successful so far at being all things to all people, his messages are highly generalized and verge on consisting entirely of talking points without drilling down beyond the surface ideological level.

The Democratic candidate who emerges from the primary with one hopes a bit more name recognition than the current “Who?” level, might do well to:

(1) Run on, rather than away from, “Obamacare.” Thus far Representative Amodei has been a good little GOP soldier, voting for every House Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. [BallotP]   Amodei can continue to run as a ‘repealer’ IF no one calls him on the specifics.  For example: Does he really want to allow insurance corporations to be able to raise premiums more than 10% without scrutiny?  Does he really want insurance corporations to be able to deny health insurance based on pre-existing conditions (like being a woman)?  Does he really want to tell parents that their 21 year old son or daughter can no longer remain on the family policy?  Does he really want to make their grandparents pay out of pocket for preventative screenings?  Does he really want to allow insurance corporations to refuse to cover immunizations for children? Does he really want to allow insurance corporations to able to rescind policies when a person become ill or has an injury?

IF Amodei’s answers are ‘yes’ to these specifics then he’s on the defensive.  If his response is “we, the GOP, have another plan.” Then he can be reminded, none too gently, that the repeal and replace slogan has already been used — and suspiciously enough the ‘replace’ part only shows up during election seasons, thence to fade and die in the actual legislative part of the process. If he does try to sell the “GOP Plan” he can be reminded early and often that the GOP plan is more expensive, and covers fewer American families than the current system.

(2) Run on a platform of economic development for the 21st century not the 19th. Amodei’s on record saying: “I pledge to advocate for changes in federal tax and spending policies that will reduce the burden on struggling American Families and the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy.”  This core statement is relatively little more than the old “Tax and Spend Democrat” refrain.

If Nevada families are struggling — and they are — then is that tax burden all that much of  a burden to the average Nevadan earning about $50,000 per year?  The chink in the Amodei/GOP armor is that the tax burden of late has been shifted toward the middle class, those self-same small business owners and their employees, he purports to defend.   Republicans in general, and Amodei specifically, need to answer why they support subsidies for millionaires and billionaires and multi-national corporations when the burden has been shifting to the middle class.

It would be refreshing to hear a Democratic candidate for Congress dump the Austerity/Trickle Down Economics Hoax, and start talking about creating demand for American products and services.  Here’s where the advocacy of increasing the minimum wage comes into play.  If we increase the minimum wage closer to a living wage this (a) helps American families and (b) creates demand for local businesses who offer goods and services in the state.

(3) Run toward reasonable gun safety regulation, and respond to the NRA attacks with calm arguments — no one, except people who were never going to vote for you anyway — believes that felons, fugitives, juveniles, and the severely mentally ill should have easy access to firearms, and these categories of individuals are prevented from gun ownership under current Nevada statutes.  Advocate background checks to insure that these individuals aren’t obtaining guns, and thereby improve the enforcement of what is already in the statute books.

(4) Refute the Welfare Queen Mythology.  There are some quick references which will inform all but the most obtuse that if we are really looking for “waste, fraud, and abuse” in federal spending — it isn’t to be found in the Food Stamp (SNAP) or ‘welfare’ programs.  Speak to revising federal procurement policies which could minimize those single source no bid contracts.  Does, for example, Representative Amodei support the latest incarnation of the  “Ryan budget?”  If ‘yes,’ then does that mean he has espoused the philosophy behind that presentation — before Rep. Ryan started back-pedaling for all he was worth? [TP]  Interesting, isn’t it, how when a Republican is caught out being a boor, he or she responds, “I was inarticulate….?”

(5) Get real about the national debt.  The trend is actually declining. Yes, the number looks astronomical, however — if I am $8,000,000 in debt that’s a big deal, but if one of the Koch Brothers were $8,000,000 in debt that’s pocket change.  The National Debt is hauled out during campaigns as a banner to wave before people to whom candidates feel no necessity to  explain that (a) we owe most of the debt to ourselves, (b) we are still considered the safest place to invest on the planet and people want to invest in our Treasury bills and notes, and (c) we have the largest economy on Planet Earth and we can handle a great deal more debt than Greece, Portugal or any other location the doom and gloom contingent can hold up as an exemplar.

And, remember, even a charismatic, sharp, and well organized Democratic candidate will be running an uphill battle in the 2nd Congressional District.  Go ahead, ‘run as a Democrat,’ at worst it might secure some votes otherwise lost in the shuffle, and at best it will force the Amodei campaign to offer more than sloganeering to the constituents.

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Filed under Nevada news, Nevada politics, Politics

Kochtopus Alive in the Silver State

Heck KochtopusYes, the Kochtopus is alive and spewing ink (or pixels) in Nevada. Americans for Prosperity has a Nevada chapter and would love for us to know that Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) is getting lots of outside help.  [links to LVRJ]  The ad Heck’s supporters ran against the Affordable Care Act and Patients’ Bill of Rights is estimated to have cost $200,000.  And, who are these people who are so eager to assist the campaign efforts of Representative Heck?

The AFP was formed in 2003 as the successor to the former “Citizens for a Sound Economy,” and was affiliated with the not-so “Independent Women’s Forum.”  Now, who was selected to lead the new AFP? “The October 2003 Washington Times report on the formation of AFP stated, “Nancy Pfotenhauer, an executive of Citizens for a Sound Economy [CSE] in the 1990s who helped defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health care reform proposal, has been tapped to head a new national advocacy organization to protect ‘every American’s fundamental right to pursue prosperity.” [SourceWatch]  We’re familiar with Ms. Pfotenhauer, who has been a frequent guest on various and sundry talk shows, espousing a combination of anti-health care insurance reform, anti-union, and anti-pretty much everything having to do with working people.

Oh, but there’s more: “Pfotenhauer worked with Koch in the mid-’90s, when she was executive vice president of both CSE and the CSE Foundation. But she has an even longer history with AFP board member Walter Williams, for whom she was a graduate research assistant at George Mason University 20 years ago.” [SourceWatch]  Now, isn’t that cozy?

Nor were many people surprised to find out that the Koch Brothers and AFP were involved in the formation of the Tea Party.

“In an April 9, 2009 article on ThinkProgress.org, Lee Fang reports that the principal organizers of Tea Party events are Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, which it described as two “lobbyist-run think tanks” that are “well funded” and that provide the logistics and organizing for the Tea Party movement from coast to coast. Media Matters reported that David Koch of Koch Industries was a co-founder of Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). David Koch was chairman of the board of directors of CSE.  CSE received substantial funding from David Koch of Koch Industries, which is the largest privately-held energy company in the country, and the conservative Koch Family Foundations, which make substantial annual donations to conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, etc. Media Matters reported that the Koch family has given more than $12 million to CSE (predecessor of FreedomWorks) between 1985 and 2002.” [SourceWatch]

Connections from Koch to CSE, Koch to AFP, Koch to the Tea Party…and so it goes.  Indeed, the tenacles of the Koch Brothers and their massively deep pockets are sufficiently extensive to wiggle right into Nevada politics.

The Koch Brothers are fond of pitching their ultra-right wing message, however: “David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, said, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.” [New Yorker]

And indeed the system established by the Kochtopus is legally impressive:

A review of 2012 tax returns filed by Koch network groups shows that most have been set up as nonprofit trusts rather than not-for-profit corporations, an unusual step that reduces their public reporting requirements. It sounds complicated and arcane because it is. Some of the nation’s top nonprofit experts said they could only speculate on the reasons for the network’s increasingly elaborate setup. “My guess is that we’re looking at various forms of disguise — to disguise control, to disguise the flow of funds from one entity to another,” said Gregory Colvin, a tax lawyer and campaign-finance specialist in San Francisco who reviewed all the documents for ProPublica. [Philly.com] (emphasis added)

And that would be “it,” the entire operation is a matter of disguise. Disguised intentions, supported by disguised funding sources, and pumped into national and state campaigns by those non-profit trusts which don’t have to disclose who is behind the curtain.

We know who’s in front of the curtain, dancing on his puppet strings… Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3).

References and Information: Jane Mayer, “Covert Operations,” New Yorker, August 30, 2010. Lee Fang, “Koch Operative Steered $55 Million To Front Groups Airing Ads Against Democrats; Ads Assailed Candidates Over Abortion, 9/11, Medicare,” Republic Report.  Barker & Mayer, “How the Koch Brothers Hide Their Big Money Donations, Philly.Com, March 17, 2014.  Julian Brooks, The Koch Brothers Exposed, Rolling Stone, April 20, 2012. Frank Rich, “The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party,” New York Times, August 28, 2010.  Louder & Evans, “Koch Brothers Flout Law Getting Richer With Secret Iran Sales, Bloomberg News, October 3, 2011.  Dave Gilson, “How Much Have The Koch Brothers Spent on the 2012 Election?” Mother Jones, November 5, 2012.  Jane Mayer, “A Word From Our Sponsor,” New Yorker, May 27, 2013.  Glenn Greenwald, “Billionaire Self Pity and the Koch Brothers,” Salon, March 27, 2011.  Sy Mukherjee, “Outside Political Groups Are Spending Record Amounts of Money to Deny Poor People Health Care, Think Progress, March 14, 2014.

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Filed under koch brothers, Nevada politics, Politics

Turning Out, Tuning In, and other Voting Matters

Voter TurnoutNot to be missed: This editorial offering from Cory Farley in the Reno Gazette Journal.   Yes, voters have been operating on auto-pilot.  And there’s that common refrain — elected officials are venal, banal, untrustworthy, ineffective, and analogous with hundreds of varieties of planktonic and filamentous pond algae, BUT I’m going to vote for my version anyway.

The range of voter turnout is interesting — we’ve never dropped below 31% nor have we gotten much higher than 65%. [Nevada 2012 turnout here (pdf)]  So, we can guess that no matter how crucial the election there will be 35% of those eligible to vote who will stay home.  A few will be ill, or otherwise unable to exercise their  rights, more are probably in the realm of extremely low information voters who don’t tend to participate.

There’s a bit of a message for Washoe County Democrats in the Secretary of State’s voting statistics, given that ‘inactive voters’ are among the count in this state.   As of February 2014 there were 95,217 registered Democrats in Washoe County, and 95,819 registered Republicans.  [NVsos pdf]  However, dipping into the Active Voters information we find 79,689 active voter Democrats in Washoe County and 83,766 active voter Republicans. [NVsos pdf] The most common form of “lost (inactive) voter” is the person who has changed residency.  Younger people, and some categories of working people (seasonal employment, lower income, etc.) are more likely to move than those settled in waiting for retirement.

So, what factors affect voter turnout?

(1) Electoral competitiveness:  The hotter the race (especially at the top of the ticket) the more likely there will be a higher turnout.

(2) The type of election:  Off year elections (mid terms) aren’t as favorable for turnout as Presidential year elections.  We knew this already.  However, one rather startling statistic to come from a study of of 340 mayoral elections in 144 U.S. cities from 1996-2012 is that the average turnout was a meager 25.8% — one election (1999) in Dallas, TX drew a not-so-whopping 5%.  [FVOrg]

(3) Voting requirements:  More people tend to vote if registration is convenient and accessible, and more tend to vote if the voting time is extended.  Further, early voting tends to add to the numbers of people who vote, as does the implementation of policies which call for an adequate number of conveniently located polling stations for all precincts.  Factors which reduce turnout are: Voter ID laws and other restrictions, lack of voting equipment, lack of voting sites, and other suppression tactics.

(4) Age and Income:  In the 2008 national election only 41% of those earning less than $15,000 per year voted, while 78% of those earning over $150,000 cast ballots.  Those 30 years of age and older are 15-20 points more likely to vote than their cohorts who are between the ages of 18 and 29. [FVorg]

(5) Location: Rural voters tend to have higher turnout rates than urban areas.  [DY]

The Turn Out Problems

There’s a tendency among punditry to comment only upon national elections, that’s really picking the low hanging fruit.  It’s always easier to pontificate in generalities and national elections are chock-a-block full of them.  However, most governmental decisions which have a direct impact on our ordinary lives are made by state legislatures, city councils, county commissions, and locally elected officials.

Our state legislatures will determine the tax structure of our communities.  There’s no standard national property tax, and whatever we do for our local schools will have precious little to do with the Department of Education — it’ll be based on the decisions of our state legislature and the local school boards.

Our law enforcement policies will be determined by local officials.  The Department of Justice rarely looks into local affairs, and then only if a constitutional question arises or there is an overlap in jurisdictions.  What is and is not declared criminal behavior is determined at the state level.  What will and will not be funded is determined at the state and local levels.

Zoning restrictions, public health codes, fire codes, and economic development projects are a function of state and local government.  While there may be federal minimum requirements underpinning some of these elements, the enforcement and implementation is accomplished at the local level.

In short, voting matters more in state and local elections.  We may, indeed, have the wrong end of the dog.*  The ‘big’ informational campaigns are nationally funded and highly generalized, while it’s the local election which will have the greatest impact on specific  decisions about zoning, law enforcement, and school district policies.  The national elections seem to suck the money, and the air, out of local elections, which are more significantly related to our everyday activities.

Likewise, local and often state party leadership tends to focus on the Big Ones — as well they should, however the level of effort should be improved in terms of local and state elections.  Not only are local and state officials the ‘farm team’ for national offices, but they are the races with the most immediate effect on most people’s lives. So, when did we last hear of a really big “get out the vote” effort in a mayoral race?  A race for a county commission?…

*For more information on the drop off rate, see EAC Chapter 7 (pdf)

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Filed under Economy, Nevada politics, Politics, Vote Suppression, Voting

Senator Heller’s Happy Land: Retirement Income?

hellerSenator Dean Heller (R-NV) had this to say during the Senate Banking Committee’s hearing on retirement security:

“A growing number today’s workers are preparing for retirement through defined contribution plans, like 401(k)s, and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), that allow families to accumulate financial assets from investments in stocks, bonds and mutual funds.  These retirement accounts, along with the development of rules allowing for increased after-tax contribution allowances in Roth plans, are further expanding individuals abilities to contribute earnings to their retirement plan.  Although these are positive developments, many Americans are still struggling to save for retirement.  Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) March 13, 2014″

True… sort of.  Did we notice the part about “workers are preparing for retirement through defined contribution plans?”   Senator Heller makes this sound like a ‘happy thing.’  In fact, there are some serious disadvantages to those defined contribution plans.

In a defined contribution retirement plan (1) the worker/investor takes all the risk; (2) unless the worker annualizes their account balance they can outlive their benefits; (3) benefits may not bear any relation to the working pay; (4) is more expensive to administer than a defined benefits plan; (5) outside service is not easily translated into a larger retirement account balance; (6) employees are not necessarily rewarded for continuing to work if the account balance is deemed sufficient or they want to transfer to a new employer’s program; (7) there is no post retirement benefit increase; (8) it is difficult to transfer a lump sum account into a steady monthly or annual income stream. [IllinoisMRF pdf]

In other words, for an employee to derive the full benefit from a defined contribution retirement plan that individual has to be a pretty savvy investor, and  has to think of him or herself as a ‘non-career’ employee.  There is also a bit of a calendar game going on.  Imagine the difference between a person’s retirement investment portfolio if the person were to retire in the wake of the Mortgage Meltdown of 2008 when the market closed at a low of 6,594.44 on March 5, 2009, [USecon] and the individual who retired as of 3:00 pm yesterday afternoon when the DJIA was 16,075. [Money]

There’s nothing which seems particularly ‘positive’ about putting family retirement plans into the hand of the Wall Street Casino and hoping they accumulate — and peak at just the right time — unless some ickiness happens like fund managers investing in Enron, or Lehman Brothers, or… whatever.

Timing is crucial. If we look at the real world, and the reality of savings in America then the Work Until You Drop Rule could easily come into play:

“The reality is that many DC plan participants are unable to retire or must find a way to generate additional income because their investments failed to meet their needs. A recent study by Fidelity Investments revealed that workers 55 and older had an average 401(k) plan balance of $233,800 in 2011. If those investors retired and put all of their money into high-risk investments (the only way to generate decent returns), they might be able to generate 6% per year. That’s about $14,000 in income.” [Smith InVest]

To put this in perspective, 2014 federal poverty level guidelines put a two person family at 100% of the poverty level based on an income of $15,730, and that would be if they placed their money in high yield high risk investments.

However, Senator Heller is correct, there has been a shift into the defined contribution plans, as noted in EPI testimony to the panel:

“In the private sector, defined-benefit pensions were largely replaced by defined-contribution plans, shifting costs and risks from employers to individual workers. In 1989, 62 percent of full-time private-sector workers had retirement benefits and these were divided roughly equally between those with defined-benefit pensions and those with defined-contribution plans, including roughly 20 percent of full-time private-sector workers who had both. By 2010, 50 percent of these workers had a defined-contribution plan and 22 percent had a defined-benefit plan, including roughly 13 percent who had both (Wiatrowski 2011).” [EPI]

And here’s the part wherein the rubber of Republican theoretical and ideological rhetoric meets the road of reality:

“In theory, the shift from defined-benefit pensions to defined-contribution plans could have broadened access by making it easier for employers to offer retirement benefits. However, participation in employer-based plans, which peaked at just over half (52 percent) of prime-age wage and salary workers in 2000, fell to 44 percent in 2012. This occurred even though the baby boomers were entering their 50s and early 60s, when participation rates tend to be high (Copeland 2013; Morrissey and Sabadish 2013).” [EPI]

What is the result of this shift?  Can we use the Inequality and Uncertainty tags?

“As 401(k)s replaced traditional pensions and the population aged, assets in individual and pooled retirement funds grew faster than income. By 2010, average savings in retirement accounts had surpassed the value of annual household income. However, retirement insecurity worsened as retirement wealth became more unequal and outcomes more uncertain (Morrissey and Sabadish 2013).”  [EPI] (emphasis added)

Here’s what that looks like with real numbers:

Mean household savings in retirement accounts increased from around $24,000 in 1989 to around $86,000 in 2010. However, the growth was driven by a small number of households with large balances. Median savings—the savings of the typical household with a positive balance—peaked at around $47,000 in 2007 before declining to $44,000 in 2010 in the wake of the Great Recession, even as the baby boomers were entering their peak saving years (Morrissey and Sabadish 2013).  [EPI] (emphasis added)

And about those ‘tax incentives’ to which Senator Heller refers as ‘positive developments’ — what of those?

“Retirement account savings are very unevenly distributed. In 2010, a household in the 90th percentile of the retirement savings distribution had nearly 100 times more retirement savings than the median (50th percentile) household, which had a negligible amount. The top 1 percent of households had over $1.3 million in retirement account savings. All told, households in the top fifth of the income distribution accounted for 72 percent of total savings in retirement accounts (Morrissey and Sabadish 2013). Assuming upper-income households receive tax subsidies at least proportional to their share of savings, this suggests that the lion’s share of tax subsidies for retirement savings go to high-income households.” [EPI] (emphasis added)

And so, in Heller’s Happy Land, the rich get richer and the “lion’s share of tax subsidies for retirement savings go to high income households.”   There seems to be something of a theme going on here — Lion’s Shares and Subsidies for the Top 1% — the Republican Concern Core.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street sector enjoys a cut of the savings at every jog and turn.  No wonder Senator Dean “Banker’s Boy” Heller is pleased with the trends?

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