Rep. Mark Amodei and the GOP Big Bank Pacification Program

Amodei 3Nevada Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV2) is pleased with the Republican version of the House Financial Services Committee and Appropriations Committee 2015 version of a budget for the Department of Justice, the SEC, and the Department of the Treasury.   The Big Banks and Wall Street Players are pleased with it too.  They should be, part of the bill is straight out of the Financial Sector Playbook, one being implemented by Eugene Scalia’s law firm to gut the Dodd Frank Act for financial regulation.   A little background is in order.

The Back Story

The recovery from the latest Recession has been impressive, but perhaps not what it could have been had not some Austerianism crept into the mixture.  Public sector employment (teachers, social worker, firefighters, law enforcement….) is trailing or declining in some areas. Private sector employment has done well.

The Department of Labor issued its “employment situation report” six days ago, in which we discovered 288,000 jobs were created, and the unemployment rate is now 6.1%.  [DoL]

Private Sector Job Growth

About the same time, the St. Louis Federal Reserve tracked corporate profits (after tax) currently at $1,906.8 billion. [FRED] The graph looks like this:

Corporate ProfitsThe data points indicate a recovery for the private sector which took a pounding during the Recession but have bounced back quite nicely. Even during the Recession, corporate profits did not fall below levels seen during the period from 1980 to 2000.

The good news is, obviously, that the economy has generated private sector jobs in positive territory for the last 52 months, which should be tempered by watching corporate activities very closely — given the propensity of the financial sector to create booms/busts of increasingly volatile proportions.  There is also the no-so-small question of corporate hoarding. (A matter for another day.)

What’s happened since those days, not so long ago, when ‘irrational exuberance for asset classes and insane valuations” ran amok an crashed the U.S. economy?  When Wall Street creates new vocabulary like “Quantum Entanglement Trading,” some ears need to perk up.  The argument that faster trading combined with new technologies is nothing new under the Sun is perfectly plausible, what is less comprehensible are terms like Dark Pools, upon which some light cast upon Barclay’s transactions is less than pleasing. [BusWeek]

Even less pleasing was the moment when Goldman Sachs “lost control” of its Dark Pool, and Goldman “lost oversight of what was happening in their dark pool and it ended up that a number of people had trades settled at less than best national price.” [Forbes]

The Dodd Frank Act was supposed to rein in some of these excesses, and to give investors more power to insure they were trading “at the best national price.” It was also supposed to put the brakes on some of the more egregious activities in derivative trading.  The Wall Street boys figured out a way around that too:

“…traders have recently forged a path around these so-called margin requirements in order to allow them to harvest larger profits via larger bets: They are repackaging some derivatives known as swaps into another financial product known as futures. Futures are less stringently regulated, meaning investors can stake out larger positions while reserving smaller amounts of cash.” [HuffPo]

The GOP Big Bank Pacification Program

What do we know so far?  First, that the private sector recovery could be stronger (especially if we’d ever decide to DO something about our crumbling infrastructure and backlog of maintenance). Secondly, that Wall Street will be Wall Street, and with the advent of the financialists new ways to generate ‘wealth’ will be created even if these don’t actually add up to any real expansion of manufacturing or commercial activities.  On the corporate side there’s the stock buy back strategy which can be combined with the offshore parking ploy; on the financial end there’s the newly discovered joys of playing in dark pools and renaming your Swaps as Futures. What could possibly go wrong?

And now we come back to the point wherein Representative Amodei tells us how pleased he is with the House Financial Services Committee rendition of an FY 2015 budget providing for those departments and agencies which regulate financial behavior in this country.

Here’s Representative Amodei’s gush over the budget provisions for the Security and Exchange Commission:

“Included in the bill is $1.4 billion for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is $50 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $300 million below the President’s budget request. The increase in funds is targeted specifically toward critical information technology initiatives. (1) The legislation also includes a prohibition on the SEC spending any money out of its “reserve fund” – essentially a slush fund for the SEC to use without any congressional oversight.  In addition, the legislation contains requirements for the (2) Administration to report to Congress on the cost and regulatory burdens of the Dodd-Frank Act, and a (3) prohibition on funding to require political donation information in SEC filings.”  (numbering, emphasis added)

Let us Parse: (1) What’s so wrong about that SEC Reserve Fund?  It was established in the Dodd Frank Act:

“The Dodd-Frank Act established a Reserve Fund for the SEC and gives the agency authority to use the Fund for expenses that are necessary to carry out the agency’s functions. Each year, starting with FY 2012, the SEC is required to deposit into the Fund up to $50 million a year in registration fees, while the remainder is deposited into the Treasury as general revenue. The balance of the Fund cannot exceed $100 million.” [SEC pdf]

And what will the Reserve Fund be used to do? We know that most of the FY 2013 Reserve Fund money went to upgrade EDGAR and other information technology, and then there was the remainder:

“The remainder of the Reserve Fund in FY 2013 will be used on a number of IT projects, including development of Market Oversight and Watch Systems that will provide the SEC with automated analytical tools to review and analyze market events, complex trading patterns, and relationships; development of fraud analysis and fraud prediction analytical models; and deployment of natural speech, text, and word search tools to assist our fraud detection efforts. Additionally, the SEC plans to develop analytical environment, databases, and intake systems for market data, mathematical algorithms, and financial data.” [SEC pdf]

Then the SEC added another project in its FY 2014 budget justification, the Consolidated Audit Trail.

 “The SEC plans to invest Reserve Fund dollars to develop the SEC’s ability to intake CAT data and store it in the EDW, as well as to develop analytical tools and a single software platform that will allow the SEC to identify patterns, trends, and anomalies in the CAT data. The tools and platform will allow seamless searches of data sets to examine activity to reveal suspicious behavior in securities-related activities and quickly trace the origin.” [SEC pdf]

But what happened to these plans to monitor the financial markets with an eye toward reducing the instances of fraud and abuse?

H.R. 3547, the omnibus 2014 spending bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last week, contains more bad news for the SEC than just the meager 2% increase it provides for the SEC’s budget. A provision in the new law quietly strips away half of a $50,000,000 Reserve Fund that the SEC uses to improve its technology resources.” [Securities Docket]

Not too put too fine a point to it, but — the Congress of the United States found a way to defund the very activities of the SEC which might allow the agency to technologically keep up with the high frequency traders, the dark pools, and the latest Wall Street tech.  That should keep the Big Banks Pacified?

The Big Banks ought to be especially pleased by the label  “slush fund” attached by Representative Amodei to their funds to improve the technological capacity of the agency.  If Representative Amodei is displeased with the “lack of Congressional oversight” over the expenditures in the SEC Reserve Fund, then he may have missed the two documents readily available online wherein the SEC described for Congress precisely what they wanted the Reserve Fund to implement. See: SEC FY 2014 Budget Justification (pdf) the executive summary of the Reserve Fund is on page 10, and the SEC FY 2013 Budget Justification (pdf), the executive summary of the Reserve Fund is on page 9.

Why would anyone, facing the increasing speed and technicality of modern financial market operations, want to call the funds allocated to assist in the improvement of oversight and fraud detection a “slush fund?”  Perhaps because they don’t want the SEC to keep up with the Big Banks, high flying hedge funds, and wealth management groups?

(2) Oh, those regulatory costs and burdens!  This has a familiar ring to it.  Here’s where Eugene Scalia, son of Antonin,  enters the picture:

“Eugene Scalia is a lawyer of extraordinary skill. In less than five years, the 50-year-old son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has become a one-man scourge to the reformers who won a hard-fought battle to pass the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to rein in the out-of-control financial sector. So far, he’s prevailed in three of the six suits he’s filed against the law, single-handedly slowing its rollout to a snail’s pace. As of May, a little more than half of the nearly four-year-old law’s rules had been finalized and another 25 percent hadn’t even been drafted. Much of that breathing room for Wall Street is thanks to Scalia, who has deployed a hyperliteral, almost absurdist series of procedural challenges to unnerve the bureaucrats charged with giving the legislation teeth.” [MJ]

And what has the Scalia Scion done to create this successful stall ball strategy?

“Scalia’s legal challenges hinge on a simple, two-decade-old rule: Federal agencies monitoring financial markets must conduct a cost-benefit analysis whenever they write a new regulation. The idea is to weigh “efficiency, competition, and capital formation” so that businesses and investors can anticipate how their bottom line might be affected. Sounds reasonable. But by recognizing that the assumptions behind these hypothetical projections can be endlessly picked apart, Scalia has found a remarkably effective way to delay key parts of the law from going into effect.” [MJ]

So, when Representative Amodei says he wants the “Administration to report to Congress on the cost and regulatory burdens of the Dodd-Frank Act,” he’s chiming right in, cheerleading if you will, for the stall ball tactics of the Wall Street barons as practiced rather successfully  by their Scalia Scion lawyer.  That should help keep the Big Banks Pacified?

(3) And, Representative Amodei is only too pleased to help the corporations and Big Banks hide their political donations — because he doesn’t want the SEC to be able to require corporations and large banks to tell the  public and their shareholders about their political activities!

Representative Amodei gives every appearance of being a major cheerleader for Team Wall Street, and its efforts to avoid regulation, supervision, and monitoring by the Securities and Exchange Commission — no doubt he, and other Republicans in Congress, will be delighted to participate in the GOP’s Big Bank Pacification Program.

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Heck’s Hobby Lobby Hopes Dashed By SCOTUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

 

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

Hobby Lobby and the Corporate Agenda

HouseWife 2If there’s no ‘war on women’ then the conservatives, at the least, are offering us a variation on the Patriarchs Last Stand narrative.  Women comprise 50.8% of the nation’s population and 49.6% of the Nevada populace.  Going a step further, for all the chatter about the Gender Gap in electoral politics, this is not a recent phenomena.

Womens Vote Pres ElectionsThe “gap” has existed since the presidential election of 1988, or 26 years.  It’s been three decades since the Republicans achieved unquestionable success with female voters — 1984.  It’s also been three decades of Republican shifts to the right, and to the adoption of an agenda which places the desires of corporations above the needs of the general population.  Women have figured that out.

Women are more likely to see public assistance programs as helping people in need rather than ‘creating dependency,’ to support policies which are predicated on community rather than ‘individualism,’ and to believe the power of Wall Street should be curtailed than men. [CAWP pdf] In short, there are significant gender differences in political issues, and the GOP agenda is sliding (or lurching?) away from the women’s side of the electoral ledger.

At this point it ought to be acknowledged that ideological differences hold greater sway than simple gender differences would explain. [Atlantic] There is a tinge of religiosity in the conservative realm — conservatives being more likely to express an intransigent position in terms of Good and Evil, rather more reminiscent of St. Augustine before his conversion from Manicheaism to Christianity? Conservatives being more likely to express opinions which call for the punishment or deterrence of deviation from ‘social norms’ than moderates or liberals.

The interpretation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Cases brings the ideological, the gender, and the economic issues together in a complicated weaving of political strategy and strands of ideological/gender political orientation. There is one element of the decision which illustrates the ties that bind the so-called Religious Right and the Corporations:

“Congress provided protection for people like the Hahns and Greens by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA’s definition of “persons.” But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends.”  [BlmbrgLaw] (emphasis added)

The logic is convoluted but clear: A corporation is a person, therefore a corporation has religious protection, AND a corporation is a creation of persons and therefore has protection for its religious beliefs.  This reasoning doesn’t address issues regarding the type of organization created for the purpose of conducting commerce.

If the businesses were single proprietorships or partnerships would their ‘protection’ be more limited?  Nor did the majority decision address the issue of knowledge v. ignorance — is a birth control method which prevents pregnancy automatically considered a form of abortion?

A court which has already ruled that Corporations are People (Citizens United) has now bestowed upon that “form of organization” the benefits of religious liberty.  In doing so the Supreme Court of the United States has bundled the demands of a corporation with the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993), and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

It’s time to recall that 55% women who responded to polling concerning the circumstances in which the U.S. is a more successful nation said that we are better off when we emphasize community and shared responsibility, and 37% replied that placing the emphasis on self reliance was more successful.  [CAWP pdf] With this in mind, as the Supreme Court continues to rule that corporations are people, and people are individuals, it moves the nation in a direction opposed to the thinking of most women.

Democratic candidates interested in securing women’s votes would be well advised in the upcoming midterm elections to:

1. Support the Amendment to declare that corporations are not people. [MTA]  Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) is already on board:

“It is unacceptable, that the recent Supreme Court decisions have taken power away from the American voter, instead giving it to a select few. Soon, Chairman Leahy and the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Senator Udall and Bennet’s constitutional amendment. The Senate will vote on this legislation after it is reported out of the Committee. I urge my colleagues to support this constitutional amendment – to rally behind our democracy. I understand what we Senate Democrats are proposing is no small thing – amending our Constitution is not something we take lightly. But the flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the greatest threats our system of government has ever faced. Let’s keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy and put a stop to the hostile takeover of our democratic system by a couple of billionaire oil barons. It is time that we revive our constituents’ faith in the electoral system, and let them know that their voices are being heard.”  [Reid]

The Amendment proposal, (pdf) sponsored by Senators Udall and Bennet, addresses the problems created by Citizens United in regard to campaign finance laws, and may need further broadening to incorporate concerns about the ramifications of declaring that all corporations have all the rights of individual persons.

2.  Support a Women’s Health Care Access bill.  Advocate for the 90% of women in the U.S. who use some form of birth control.  Advocate for those who use contraceptive medication for the treatment of endometriosis, menorrhagia, persistent ovarian cysts, and polycystic ovarian syndrome.  ** Note to male politicians — if you don’t know what these conditions are, “STFU” about women taking the pill “for fun.”

3. Remind voters that of the 138 members of the House of Representatives who voted against the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, not a one was a Democrat. [Roll call 55]  (Happy note: all the members of the Nevada delegation voted in favor of the authorization)

4. Get opponents on record.  Does the person favor allowing corporations to have the same rights as a real person?  Does the person support a Women’s Health Care Access bill? Does the person favor equal pay for equal work?  Does the person favor a bill to mandate maternity leave?  It’s never too early to start defining one’s opponent as Pro-Family but only if the Family is narrowly defined as the  Pater Familias.

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Filed under Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

The Faces of Hate: 1957, 2014

Murrieta Little RockSometimes pictures are more instructive than words.

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Filed under Immigration, Politics

Happy 4th of July

Fourth of July

Thanks for stopping by, and DB will be back after a brief break for this national holiday.  In the meantime, please visit some of the very fine Nevada blogs listed in the sidebar.

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Another Day, Another Drill Baby Drill Bill

Oil RigAnother day, another bit of living proof Republicans don’t have a clue how world oil markets work…or if they do they don’t care, and they are perfectly pleased to do the bidding of multi-national oil corporations. Witness their shiny new bill: Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America That Works Act, or H.R. 4899, for which Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV2) and Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV3) were pleased to vote, but which didn’t fool Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV4) or Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV1). [rollcall 368]

The bill is a Christmas Wish List from the Oil Barons to the U.S. Congress, it’s Drill Baby Drill, and Shale Smacking Goodness — for the oil barons.

The bill’s authors assume the American public has a density equivalent to the API standard for heavy crude, i.e. an API gravity of less than 20°.

We’d have to be that dense in order to believe that more offshore drilling is going to have a perceptible impact on gasoline prices.  To demonstrate that we have an API gravity of at least light sweet crude, (37° to 42°) let’s review.

What factors determine oil prices?  There’s a picture for that –

Oil Price DiagramThere’s a supply side and a demand side, which in our good old capitalist system creates the prices.   On the supply side, crude oil comes from both OPEC and non-OPEC countries. The demand side is determined by consumption from countries that either are, or aren’t, members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, aka OECD. [EIA]  The blithe assumption on offer is that if the U.S. drills for more crude oil, and puts more crude oil on the market, the lower the price will be at the pump.  Not. So. Fast.

All those arrows point, not to your local refinery — much less your most convenient filling station — they point to the Spot Price.  The price of oil also depends on the demand for it, and there are two more charts to illustrate who’s demanding what.  First, let’s look at the non-OECD countries, like China, India, and Saudi Arabia:

Non OCEDWithout getting into too much gory detail, the blue columns represent demand from countries like China, India, and Saudi Arabia. The price and consumption trends tend to follow one another.  Now, let’s take a look at the other graph — the one illustrating the OECD countries, the United States and most of Europe.

OECD chartWhat do we learn from this illustration?   The EIA explains:

“The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) consists of the United States, much of Europe, and other advanced countries. At 53 percent of world oil consumption in 2010, these large economies consume more oil than the non-OECD countries, but have much lower oil consumption growth. Oil consumption in the OECD countries actually declined in the decade between 2000 and 2010, whereas non-OECD consumption rose 40 percent during the same period.”

Consumption is higher in developed countries — that’s just about obvious with our higher rate of vehicle ownership — but we have a lower rate of oil consumption growth.  While oil consumption rates were going down in the U.S. and Europe, non-OECD consumption rates were going up, up by 40% as the EIA reports.  Notice that the price and the consumption lines don’t track for OECD countries — that would be us — as they do for the non-OECD countries — that would be China, India, and Saudi Arabia.

Now, let’s return to that spot price.

“The spot price is the current market price at which an asset is bought or sold for immediate payment and delivery. It is differentiated from the forward price or the futures price, which are prices at which an asset can be bought or sold for delivery in the future.” [InvestAns]

The spot price is set in the ‘markets,’ i.e. the commodities market. For today’s prices Bloomberg News “Energy” page provides what the w-o-r-l-d price is for crude oil and refinery products.  Now we can approach the obvious question — who benefits from increased offshore drilling in U.S. waters?

A quick look at the two charts above should provide a major clue — it would be the areas with the highest consumption growth rate, i.e. the non-OECD countries — China, India, Saudi Arabia, etc.  Since oil is sold on the w-o-r-l-d market it will most likely go where there is the most demand.

Thus, what Representatives Heck and Amodei are supporting is the increase in offshore oil leases for multi-national oil corporations to sell the oil on the world market, in which it will probably go to those countries (non-OECD) like China, India, Brazil, etc. in which the consumption growth rate is higher.

To add insult to the injuries, the oil companies aren’t developing the leases they currently hold

“As of May 2012, nearly 72 percent of  the area on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) that companies have leased for oil and gas development – totaling 26 million acres – are not producing or not subject to pending or approved exploration or development plans. ” [Dept Interior, May 2012 pdf] [TP]

One might quibble with how the Department of the Interior categorized lands undergoing seismic and geophysical testing as not “active,” but the fact remains — about 2/3rds of the current leases aren’t producing.  The quibblers do make a legitimate point, not all leases will yield production.  Yet the thrust of the latest  Republican incarnation of Drill Baby Drill, as evidenced by the title of the bill itself, it that somehow more leases will automatically mean lower prices at the pump. Once more, glance back to the OECD chart and notice that the consumption and the price lines don’t match.

In the immortal words of oil-man President George W. Bush: “I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says, ‘Fool me once, shame on … shame on you. Fool me… You can’t get fooled again!‘” [Time]

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Filed under Economy, energy, energy policy, Politics

NRA: Protect Your Local Stalker

NRA Stalker

The National Rifle Association seems set upon a course to convince most sentient creatures that is has completely lost the plot.  Its Flying Monkey Brigade is out to kill a bill that would prevent those convicted of stalking from purchasing firearms. [RS] The Association issued a letter opposing the bill proposed by former prosecutor Amy Klobuchar (D-MN):

“In the letter, the NRA argued that the legislation “manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as ‘domestic violence’ and ‘stalking’ simply to cast as wide a net as possible for firearm prohibitions.” [RS]

Translation: Members of Congress should not enact any legislation about which people have some passionate views, especially when those views concern the personal safety of themselves and their loved ones?  Or, are we too read this as, members of Congress should not enact bills which restrict the access of gun ownership to anyone, no matter how inappropriate or unsafe the circumstances?

The letter went further:

“The NRA is also concerned that the definition of “stalking” is too broad to warrant any abridging of the Second Amendment. “‘Stalking’ offenses do not necessarily include violent or even threatening behavior,” the letter read.

“Under federal law, for example, stalking includes ‘a course of conduct’ that never involves any personal contact whatsoever, occurs wholly through the mail, online media, or telephone service, is undertaken with the intent to ‘harass’ and would be reasonably expected to cause (even if it doesn’t succeed in causing) ‘substantial emotional distress’ to another person.” [RS]

So, Gee — if there wasn’t any physical contact — this isn’t really really threatening behavior? This doesn’t cause any ‘real’ fear, any ‘real’ concern for personal or family safety?  There’s nothing to say that the behavior might escalate?

The Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a report in 2009 (pdf) which offers another view of the issue.  The report found that stalkers also engaged in property damage, illegal entry and burglary, battery, rape, sexual assault, attacks on family members, on children, and on family pets. Most stalking victims reported threats of physical harm, threats to kill, threats to harm another family member or to harm a pet. There were threats of suicide, harming co-workers, and the use of weapons.   All of this does not sound like a “course of conduct” which would be mitigated by the addition of firearms.

How do we deal with the NRA charge that ‘stalking’ is too vague a term, and just another excuse to take guns away?  Nevada’s statutes offer a fair example of how stalking is defined:

“A person who, without lawful authority, willfully or maliciously engages in a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, harassed or fearful for the immediate safety of a family or household member, and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, harassed or fearful for the immediate safety of a family or household member, commits the crime of stalking.”

Where the NRA simply omits the list of things that stalkers do to terrify their prey — and dismisses it as something that might not even be scary — the state of Nevada explains that if the stalker causes an otherwise reasonable person to feel “terrorized, frightened, intimidated, harassed, or fearful for immediate safety,” this constitutes stalking.  In short, the NRA displays a thorough disregard for the victims of stalking , and focuses solely on the ‘poor’ stalker — who might not have done any physical harm (yet) — being unable to hop down to the gun shop and procure whatever weapon desired.  This state of affairs is unlikely to alleviate the situation of the victim.

46% of the victims of the stalkers report fearing “what would happen next,” exactly the frame of mind the stalker sought to induce. 29% feared the stalking would never stop. One in eight stalking victims lost time at work, and one in seven found it necessary to move because of a stalker. [VOC] And then there’s the health end of the problem:

“The prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression is much higher among stalking victims than the general population, especially if the stalking involves being followed or having one’s property destroyed. [Eric Blauuw et al. "The Toll of Stalking," Journal of Interpersonal Violence 17, no. 1(2002):50-63.]

There’s also that “emotionally compelling” issue of domestic violence, which the NRA intimates ought not to deprive a batterer of “his rights.”  Nevada has addressed this issue head on.

Nevada takes domestic violence seriously.  There’s nothing vague about the provisions of NRS 33.018. Domestic violence is domestic violence, and there are penalties for it. Neither is there anything incomprehensible about NRS 200.485 which delineates the elements of a domestic violence battery. If a person uses “willful and unlawful force or violence upon the person of another,” that’s a battery. [NVLeg] And, if a person commits an act of domestic violence, the state of Nevada provides for injunctions to protect the victim, including two sections in the statutes addressing firearms. [NRS 33.031 & NRS 33.033]

The 2007 Nevada Legislature passed AB 194, signed by the Governor on June 7, 2007, and from that time forward a court may issue an extended order of protection which requires that an ‘adverse’ party give up their firearms.  The votes in the Legislature weren’t even close — the Assembly vote was 41-0, and the Senate vote was 20-1.   There was a reason for that — some appalling numbers which put Nevada at the top of some lists which weren’t all that positive.

During testimony on AB 194 (pdf) the Assembly Judiciary Committee heard testimony stating:

“Since 1999, Nevada has consistently rated among the top five states for domestic violence homicides of women. In 2004, Nevada had 2.21 female homicides per 100,000 women, and the national average is 1.37. Statistics show that 55 to 67 percent of domestic violence homicides are committed with the use of firearms. Out of the 25 homicides in Nevada in 2004, 15 were killed with firearms, six were beaten to death, and four were killed with knives. That shows about 60 percent being killed with firearms. When firearms are used in domestic violence assaults, it is 12 times more likely to result in death than assaults without firearms involved. It is clear that firearms and domestic violence are a deadly combination.” (page 25)

Until the NRA ceases to lobby for the sales of firearms to stalkers and domestic abusers, there’s no reason to take them seriously.

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