The Economic Idiocy of Immigration Protests

Earlier this month Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) commented on the House Republican refusal to move on the Comprehensive Immigration Policy Reform bill stalled on their side of the Congress:

“Comprehensive immigration reform would have added an average of 121,000 more jobs per year over the next 10 years,” Reid said. “Unfortunately, House Republicans, under the influence of the Tea Party, refused to bring it up for a vote. Their refusal is costing our economy added growth that we need.” [The Hill]

The comment underpins a simple concept:  Refusal to consider comprehensive immigration policy reform comes at the cost of American economic growth.  The figures cited by Senator Reid are fairly common.

“Numerous studies and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the Senate’s bill would lead to significant economic growth as immigrants fully enter into our society and economy. Over the next 10 years, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744, would increase our gross domestic product, or GDP, by 3.3 percent and would raise the wages of all Americans by a cumulative $470 billion, while creating on average 121,000 jobs each year.” [CAP]

Where does this come from? Once more, we have to look at the demand side of the supply/demand equation.  Tired of having me call it “aggregate demand?”  The total demand for goods and services, can also be described clumsily as  the willingness on the part of people to part with their wealth in order to possess some goods or receive some services.  Put in the simplest possible terms, the more people the more demand.

However, it’s not just the addition of more human beings that factors into economic growth, it’s how much wealth or income they have available to part with at the check out counter which factors in as well.

Here’s the point at which the ‘They’re Taking Our Jobs” Crowd of screamers has missed the macro-econ bus by at least an hour.  If Congress were to enact S. 744, the Comprehensive Immigration bill as it passed the Senate, we’d have about 10.4 million new legal U.S. residents — who need cars, kitchen tables, television sets, toothbrushes, towels, shoes, homes, rugs, lamps, sofas, and all the other Stuff of Life — who would be permanent residents. [CBO]   Therefore, those purchases and payments would not be interrupted by temporary status.  That’s money into the economy! Money into the economy equates to economic growth.  It doesn’t get much simpler.

The “They’re Making Our Wages Lower” Crowd is similarly out of touch with reality.  Currently our undocumented residents are part of the Shadow Economy, and being in the shadows means that about 8 million people are working in a system in which their earnings are not declared.  If as an employer my avarice exceeds my common sense, then I can keep “wages depressed” by hiring undocumented individuals for less than what I should have to pay a fully qualified resident — the fact that as an employer I have the option to function in the shadows depresses wages.  The wages paid is not an option for the worker — it’s a decision on the part of the employer, and the greediest among us will opt for the expedient of hiring someone for whom earnings aren’t declared.

Immigration protest graffiti

Bring people out of the shadow economy, bring their earnings out of the shadows, and watch the increase in money available to be spent in our commercial and retail sectors.   Again, the more money, the more spending, the more spending the more economic growth.   It’s hard to miss this point but several individuals who seem to be challenged by the spelling of illegal (“illeagle”) have done so.

And, by the way, declared earnings are taxable, thus adding to the funding of Social Security, etc., and apply toward the reduction of the debt and deficit some people are perpetually bellowing about.

In short, we’re losing about $80 billion annually in terms of economic output by stalling on Comprehensive Immigration Policy reform, along with absorbing an estimated $40 billion in annual budget deficits.  Additionally, we risk losing some 40,000 STEM graduates — in fields we really shouldn’t want to vacate for competitors.  [WH]

It might be interesting to find out how the following question would poll:

Do you believe that the United States should continue to operate with $80 billion in lost economic output and risk the loss of 40,000 STEM university graduates or should the Congress take action?

OK, that’s a question in the Push Poll manner of pseudo-research, but it makes the point — continued opposition to Comprehensive Immigration Policy reform makes no sense.

At least it makes no sense in economic terms, but the right wing conservatives seem incapable of contemplating the issue in economic terms in either the macro or micro realms.  It appears to have become a tribal, racial, emotional, primitive reaction to Us vs. Them.  At the least it’s xenophobic in the classic manifestation of NINA signs, and outlawing German language classes during World War I.

NINA

At the worst, it’s racist, harkening back to the faces of anti-integration supporters during the modern Civil Rights Movement.  I’ll repost this image for emphasis:

Murrieta Little Rock

* There’s more from DB back issues:  Here, here, and here.  For the human, and humanitarian side click over to the Nevada Progressive.

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Filed under Economy, Immigration, Nevada politics, Politics

Protecting Nevada Victims of Domestic Violence and Stalking: We Could Be Doing A Better Job

By almost any common sense standard Ronald E. Haskell should not have had a firearm. By almost any ethical standard he should not have had access to a firearm considering his past behavior towards his ex-wife, and by any moral standard he should not have taken his gun and assassinated six people in Spring, TX, and attempted to murder a seventh. There are three pieces of legislation in Congress which might have prevented this tragedy — and all three are opposed by the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers who support it.  [MJ]

It doesn’t do to sit out here in the Nevada sage brush and lament the problems far away in Texas without considering our own situation in regard to domestic violence and gun ownership.

In 2011, 35% of female homicide victims were killed during a domestic violence incident, and firearms accounted for the deaths of 214 women between 2001 and 2010. [CAP pdf] Let’s approach this rationally.

First, do we have a problem with domestic violence in the State?  Figures from the Nevada Department of Public Safety may indicate that we do. The latest general report available online (pdf) shows the number of domestic violence incidents — of all types — increasing during the period from 2000 to 2005.  There were 20,653 DVIs in 2000, followed by 26,417 in 2001. There were 26,691 in 2002 and another 27,915 in 2003.  2004 totals were 29,233 and in 2005 there were 31,247.  Evidently, things didn’t get much better by 2009.

When the Violence Policy Center rated states according to females murdered by males in single victim homicides by rate, Nevada came up #1, with a 2.70, beating out Alabama with a 2.64 rate and Louisiana with a rate of 1.99. [VPC pdf]  The Nevada Legislature took some serious steps to correct the dismal statistics in the early 2000’s in 2007, [DB] and we have seen some improvement.

Happily, by 2011 the Nevada ranking had dropped to 16th with a rating of 1.48. [VPC pdf] The bad news is that this ranking is still in the “Top 20″ nationally. We obviously have room for improvement to reach Illinois at 0.27, Massachusetts at 0.53, and Vermont at 0.36. [VPC pdf]  We do know that during the period 2003 and 2012 there were 221 domestic violence homicides in Nevada and 52.9% of the fatalities were caused by guns. [CAP pdf]  There are some steps we could take to improve our numbers.

What can be done to improve the situation?  As noted many times in this venue, Nevada should have universal background checks to determine if any of the categories of persons who are proscribed from firearm ownership are attempting to purchase weaponry.   The sorry history of S. 221 was most recently discussed here in an article about the Background Check Initiative.  In short, without at least a cursory background check there is little way to determine if the buyer is subject to the restrictions on firearm possession set forth in NRS 33.031 and NRS 33.033.

The permissive language in NRS 33.031 is also a potential loophole through which a miscreant could retain or acquire firearms.  The statute says, “a court MAY include” within an NRS 33.030 extended restraining order the provision that the “adverse party” will surrender firearms, and cannot possess them while the order is in effect.  In order to attach this proviso, the court must decide that the “adverse party” has a (1) documented history of domestic violence, (2) Has used or threatened to use a firearm to injure or harass the applicant, a minor child or any other person, or (3) Has used a firearm in the commission or attempted commission of any crime.  First, it doesn’t appear that this provision can be applied during a temporary restraining order — the first one issued after the violent incident.  Secondly, the firearm surrender requirement is spoken of only in terms of the extended order of protection.  Granted this gives the “adverse party” some representational rights, since the temporary order might not include the presence of our “adverse party,” in court.  However, it also presents some practical issues.

A Nevada Court has one “judicial” day to consider a temporary restraining order of protection, but it has 45 days in the instance of an application for an extended order. [NRS 33.020]  Thus we have a potential circumstance in which a person with a documented history of domestic violence, one who has used or threatened to shoot the applicant, the children, or others, or has already used a firearm in the commission of a crime — has more than a month of “free” firearm possession in this State. That’s certainly sufficient time for the “adverse party” to locate and endanger the remainder of the family.

One possible solution to the problem might be to eliminate the permissive “may”  from the provisions regarding an extended order of protection and simply say that if the “adverse party” meets the three criteria then law enforcement “will” take custody of the individual’s firearms.  Additionally, if the court finds that there is ample evidence of previous incidents of domestic violence, or clear and present danger from immediate threats, then it “may” remove the firearms during the period covered by the temporary restraining order.

There is no intent in this suggestion to permanently deprive any individual of his 2nd Amendment entertainment devices, merely to secure them while a domestic situation remains volatile.  Nor is this a “blank check” for government to “take guns away” without Constitutional protections — the permissive language (may) pertaining to the temporary restraining order gives the court some latitude to determine the extent of the volatility, and to protect the victim, and, to no small extent, protect our “adverse party” from doing something in the heat of the moment he might regret for the rest of his life.

There is also some elasticity in Nevada laws which place some women and children at risk.  NRS 200.575 discusses stalking, which is a misdemeanor for the first offense, and a gross misdemeanor for the second.  Nevada adds a category of “aggravated stalking:”

“A person who commits the crime of stalking and in conjunction therewith threatens the person with the intent to cause the person to be placed in reasonable fear of death or substantial bodily harm commits the crime of aggravated stalking. A person who commits the crime of aggravated stalking shall be punished for a category B felony by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 15 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $5,000.”

It is only when the stalker adds threats of death and substantial bodily harm that he would be committing a felony, and thus ineligible to possess firearms under Nevada law.  This sounds reasonable until we run into the problematic nature of stalker mentalities.  After a conviction for a first and second offense the individual may still acquire firearms, if the victim can’t prove a fear of “death or substantial bodily harm,” beyond a reasonable doubt.  The background check would not exclude the individual unless he’s already convicted of felonious, or “aggravated” stalking since stalking convictions are misdemeanors for the first two offenses.

Another suggestion:  Make the imposition of an order of protection mandatory in all cases of stalking. In the instance of a first conviction the court “may” include the surrender of firearms in the order, and “shall” include it in the case of a second conviction; especially if the stalking is done to the same victim as in the first case.   Current law (NRS 200.591) permits a court to issue a temporary or extended order of protection but doesn’t require it.  Might women and families be safer if the temporary order were applied for the first offense, with the provision that the court “may” include the surrender of deadly weapons?  They would certainly seem to be safer if an extended order was immediately applied after the second conviction, and proscribed the possession of firearms for the duration of the order.

The slippage in the system comes, of course, when there is no background check required for all gun sales, such that after the misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor convictions the stalker can simply purchase a firearm at a gun show and move on to the felony he may have been contemplating.

Spare me the “law abiding citizens” argument from the 2nd Amendment extremists.  A person who commits domestic violence has broken the law. A person who stalks another person in the state of Nevada has broken the law.  This is not law-abiding behavior.  When a person’s behavior is classified as a misdemeanor, a gross misdemeanor, or a class B felony — it is not law-abiding. Period.

Spare me the “Big Plot To Take Guns” argument. No one is speaking of temporary or extended orders of protection which deprive the non-law-abiding of their 2nd Amendment playthings in perpetuity. When the stalker hits the B Felony grade he’s done it to himself; if he’s still in the misdemeanor range the surrender of firearms lasts only as long as the orders of protection.

And, finally, spare us the misery of a rendition of the Spring, TX massacre in the Silver State.

 

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Filed under Gun Issues, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, women, Women's Issues

DIY: Background and Context for the Crisis of Unaccompanied Children

Central America Map 2The cable “news” coverage of the refugee crisis on our southern border is such that I’ve surfed the channels to find other fare.  I am bored with the Theater Critics — Should the President go to the border? Yes, only if one believes that all the resources required for a presidential visit should be tied up providing security and facilities — while The Problem remains unresolved and staff time and effort is at a premium.   Of course we’re all aware that television broadcasts require pictures.  Therefore, it’s no surprise at all that the cable entertainment industry is clamoring for those Photo-Ops.  Their priority is to provide ‘content’ with pictures, preferably the moving variety, and covering the process by which we attempt to cope with refugees from terrorized areas isn’t full of those Sound and Fury moments beloved by broadcasters.

I am equally bored with the ‘political ramification’ speculation.  “What will this mean for the mid-term elections? Who is to blame? How will this affect the President’s poll numbers?  At this point — Who cares?  We have thousands of families and children from Central America waiting for processing, waiting in rather dismal conditions in emergency housing.  While children are sleeping on cots covered with survival blankets, the DC press pundits are offering endless, breathless, speculation, and the interminable erection of assertions presented as fact, contentions transformed into truth, and context reduced to arguments from authority.

A person could easily come to the horrific conclusion that since politics is about all they know, the pundits and chatterati are simply speaking to the only context they comprehend — everything is political.  To say this is shallow might be comparable to offering that DC Pundit X’s knowledge of the situation in Central America, the vagaries of U.S. foreign policy toward the region in the last 30 years, and the economic complications created by NAFTA and CAFTA, is about an inch up the trunk of a ceiba tree in Guatemala.

So, they chatter. They broadcast dueling talking points. They interview each other.  They offer little more depth than the Sea of Azov.

Little wonder ‘the kids’ aren’t getting their news from television.  Little wonder more people are using Internet searches to find relevant information and contextual analysis.   There are some good resources out there, but it will take some time and effort to find them.  Tired of the shrill sycophants? The shilling talking point distributors? The Made For TV Breathless Broadcasts?  Here are some antidotes to the toxicity, vacuity, or good old fashioned banality of the media:

Recommended Reading

 A good general article from the left perspective comes from Justin Akers-Chacon writing for the San Diego Free Press, in “Central American Children Forced on a Dangerous Journey.”  The author emphasizes the U.S. support for dictatorships and the instability that has created, and takes some shots at the effects of CAFTA on the economies of Central American countries.   An article by James North, writing for the Nation, provides some background information which centers on U.S. foreign policy in Central America.

A more specific essay, focused more intensely on the current situation, is from the Guardian, in an article by Jo Tuckman, “Flee or Die.”  One of the better statistical presentations on the immediate situation comes from Tom K. Wong’s “Statistical Analysis Shows That Violence, Not Deferred Action, Is Behind the Surge of Unaccompanied Children Crossing the Border,” for the Center for American Progress.  Brianna Lee’s piece for the International Business Times, “Are Central American Children Refugees or Economic Migrants?” inquires if we are asking the proper questions, and looks at how the questions shape the narratives.  Scarlett Aldebot-Green argues in her article for Foreign Policy that the children are refugees and should be treated as such.  Alan Greenblatt provides a short summary of “What’s Causing The Latest Immigration Crisis,” for NPR.   If you have the patience for the download, HUNC has an executive summary of “Children on the Run,” (pdf) which puts the problem in a more regional perspective.

One of the often cited, and least often thoroughly explained elements,  is the  child trafficking law which requires the processing of children from Central American countries. The New York Times offers a summary explanation, and a bit of the current political sniping about it.  Want to get into the text of the law?  Signed as one of the last acts of the Bush Administration on December 23, 2008, it can be found at the State Department website, and going to Congress.gov will yield information on the original bill, H.R. 7311, in the 110th Congress.  If you want just the text of the law, and no Congressional bells and whistles, search for PL 110-457, and a readable text is available from the Government Printing Office.

There is nothing simple about this issue — no single piece of legislation, nor one bullet point presentation is going to provide a quick and easy answer.  For example, the current situation with unaccompanied children isn’t an enforcement issue — the people who show up at the border stations are turning themselves in.  Nor did the issue begin this month — for all the alarmist tendencies in the press; it’s been going on since last October.   Allegations that the “cause” can be distilled down to rumors offering Central Americans hope for their children have to be tempered with information about the conditions in Central American countries which might in some cases have been part of a family’s decision to send children away from home.

Further complicating the situation is that as the children are being processed individual cases present very individual sets of circumstances — as many as 58% may be eligible for refugee status.   This figure must also be tempered.  As of 2012 only 536 immigrants from Guatemala were granted asylum, 222 were categorized as “defensive asylees,” along with 191 in the same category from El Salvador. [DHS pdf] Further, the refugee ceiling for 2012 was set at 5,500 for Central American and the Caribbean. [DHS pdf]

And, Americans should use every crisis to improve the level of their geographical information, it’s usually wars that teach us where things are.   The Department of State has summary profiles of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.  We have a bureau for that too, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.  The State Department also compiles an annual “Trafficking in Persons” report, and editions from 2001 to 2014 are available online.

Getting beyond the basic data, the situation becomes more complicated when we add the State Department’s Travel Warning issued last April 25th concerning El Salvador, which while not dire, isn’t exactly tuned to boost El Salvador on the Bucket List of places to see:

“A majority of serious crimes are never solved; only 6 of the 31 murders committed against U.S. citizens since January 2010 have resulted in convictions.  The Government of El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to deter violent crime.  El Salvador’s current criminal conviction rate is five percent.  While several of the PNC’s investigative units have shown great promise, routine street-level patrol techniques, anti-gang, and crime suppression efforts are limited.  Equipment shortages (particularly radios, vehicles, and fuel) further limit their ability to deter or respond to crimes effectively.”

El Salvador isn’t alone, on June 24, 2014 the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Honduras too.

“Since 2010, Honduras has had the highest murder rate in the world. The Honduran Ministry of Security recorded a homicide rate of 75.6 per 100,000 people in 2013, while the National Violence Observatory, an academic research institution based out of Honduras’ National Public University, reports that the 2013 murder rate was 79 murders per 100,000 people.”

and this:

“Members of the Honduran National Police have been known to engage in criminal activity, including murder and car theft. The government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases, and police often lack vehicles or fuel to respond to calls for assistance. In practice, this means police may take hours to arrive at the scene of a violent crime, or may not respond at all. As a result, criminals operate with a high degree of impunity throughout Honduras. The Honduran government is still in the early stages of substantial reforms to its criminal justice institutions.”

And, this is putting it diplomatically?

This is by absolutely no means an exhaustive list of what can be found in online sources. However, here’s hoping that the recommended reading and links can help mitigate the wasteland of information that is on offer from the networks.  This is a start. It is only a start.

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Filed under Immigration, media

The Unsportsmanlike Act

Duck StampThe Bipartisan Sportsman’s Act of 2014 (S. 2363) sailed through the first cloture roadblock on an 82-12 vote [roll call 218] and then sank in the mire of Senate obstructionism.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled the plug in the face of Republican squabbling over amendments. [The Hill]  What started out as a simple two title bill got entangled in …. Guns.

Title I of the original bill would have allowed hunters to get duck stamps online, and allowed target practice on federal lands, among other improvements for those who truly are into hunting. Title II concerned conservation of various habitats. [S. 2363]  And then things got complicated.

Guns Galore!

Thirty eight amendments were offered to the bill.  Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) wanted to add his “Second Amendment Enforcement Act” to the bill, which would have gutted gun regulations in the District of Columbia, and just about everywhere else for that matter. [CR S4283]  He also proposed allowing firearms in postal facilities. [CR S4283] Nothing like encouraging the customers to, in a phrase from a bygone era, “go postal?”

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) joined Senator Paul in his efforts to add the proposed “Second Amendment Enforcement Act” to the bill, [CR S4283]  and he, too, wanted to extend firearm privileges in postal facilities. Lee’s three amendments essentially proposed the same extensions of Paul’s expansion of gun ‘rights.’

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TX) offered his “Second Amendment Enforcement Act” to the original bill, and Senator Jefferson Beauregard Session (R-Old South) chimed in with his rendition.  Not to be outdone, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) wanted a “Second Amendment Enforcement Act included in the three amendments he filed, as did Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Idaho Republican Senator Mike Crapo, Richard Burr (R-NC), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) in three amendments, and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), and Nevada’s own Senator Dean Heller.

There’s nothing new about this “Second Amendment Enforcement Act,” it was drafted by the National Rifle Association, and was introduced by Senators McCain (R-GreenRoom) and Tester (D-MT) as a response to gun regulations in the District of Columbia. [OV.com] By the lights of the NRA there shouldn’t be any.  It also showed up in the 110th Congress (2008) in the form of H.R. 6691.  It appeared in Representative Mike Ross’s H.R. 645 in 2011 [NRA] where it died in Committee in February 2011. [GovTrack]

If the fish can’t live in the water, why are you fishing there?

Senator Heller also signed on to Senator Barrasso’s amendment which deviated from the chorus of ‘gun rights’ and headed into the Clean Water Act.  SA 3453 took the regulation out of regulations concerning the identification of waters protected by the Clean Water Act:

“SEC. 1__XX. IDENTIFICATION OF WATERS PROTECTED BY THE CLEAN WATER ACT.
(a) In General.–Neither the Secretary of the Army nor the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency shall– (1) finalize the proposed rule entitled “Definition of `Waters of the United States’ Under the Clean Water Act” (79 Fed. Reg. 22188 (April 21, 2014)); or
(2) use the proposed rule described in paragraph (1), or any substantially similar proposed rule or guidance, as the basis for any rulemaking or any decision regarding the scope or enforcement of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.).  (b) Rules.–The use of the proposed rule described in subsection (a)(1), or any substantially similar proposed rule or guidance, as the basis for any rulemaking or any decision regarding the scope or enforcement of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) shall be grounds for vacation of the final rule, decision, or enforcement action.”

That’s simple, if the Army and the EPA can’t finalize rules regarding the definition of protected water under the Clean Water Act, there’s no clean water? This unpleasant notion was also put forward by Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), and  Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO).

It’s rather difficult to imagine a bill intended to encourage hunting and fishing including a proposal to allow more pollution of hunting and fishing realms. However, several Republican Senators managed to do it.  This “Polluted Waters Act of 2014″ didn’t quite mesh with Senator Cardin’s (D-DE) amendment to enact the National Fish Habitat Action Plan.  Nor does it seem particularly appealing to someone like myself who thoroughly enjoys fly fishing — imagine all the fun of standing in a mountain stream watching what gray slime doesn’t attach to the waders float along downstream?

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was disappointed there wasn’t an “amendment process,” [The Hill] but with the “Second Amendment Solutions” attached, and the specter of the Dirty Water Fishing Act of 2014 included, we shouldn’t be too disappointed that this little bill didn’t make it past the Senate Obstruction Machine.

It would have been nice if the hunters could have gotten their duck stamps online…

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Filed under Congress, ecology, Gun Issues, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics

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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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Politics, Republicans

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