To Swallow The Propaganda or To Research The Facts? Comprehensive Immigration Policy and the Undocumented

 Immigration 2

An excellent, and recommended, post at Let’s Talk Nevada, drew all the usual suspects in the comment section.  The short piece, “To Deport or To Not Deport,” inspired the following xenophobic response which invites some additional commentary:

“The cost of illegal immigrants yearly is a staggering $113 billion dollars according tp FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform.) The issue of Anchor babies is being discussed in this election. Are they really American citizens? The burden of illegal immigrants upon our society is enormous. Health Care Costs, educating their children in American Schools, legal costs and the cost of keeping those convicted in jails is staggering. America cannot afford to support those people who come here without means of supporting themselves.” (emphasis added)

One of the common features in discourse from those opposed to comprehensive immigration reform is the word selection which states or implies that the United States is awash in unproductive undocumented “burdensome” immigrants in “staggering” numbers.

Let’s consider the two points the anti-immigration advocates are promoting. Is the US awash in undocumented immigrants? 

First, the population of the United States at the moment is estimated by the Census Bureau to be 321,657,235 as we speak.  The number of undocumented immigrants is estimated by the Department of Homeland Security to be 11.4 million.  A quick calculation shows that the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States as o.03544 or 3.5% of the total population.  Thus, about 97% of the people in the US are citizens or are here legally.  This really doesn’t support the notion that the US is drowning in a sea of undocumented residents.

Secondly, has there been any increase in illegal immigration such that the percentage calculated above is likely to increase in the immediate future? No.  The images of a flood of the undocumented flowing over the porous border with Mexico is a carefully tended bit of xenophobic mythology, the truth is rather different.

The worker bees at Politifact decided to investigate former President Bill Clinton’s statement that between 2010 and 2014 there was no net in-migration from Mexico.  True.   However, comprehensive immigration policy reform opponents appear to be locked into a time warp in which, like Ground Hog Day, it’s always 2007.

“According to Pew’s estimates, the undocumented population grew rapidly in the 1990s and early 2000s, rising from 3.5 million in 1990 to a peak of about 12.2 million in 2007. The total dropped during the recession, however, and has been roughly flat since then at about 11.7 million in 2012.6 A narrow majority — about 52 percent — are from Mexico, although a growing share are from Central America and, increasingly, Asia.” [538]

Are these people an unendurable burden on this country?  Right wing, and anti-immigration sources tout a figure of some $4.3 billion annually for health care services for the undocumented paid for by the tax payers, which they say is extrapolated from estimates of costs for emergency room services and free clinics.  A Rand Study is slightly less histrionic:

“Similarly, the undocumented constituted 12 percent of the nonelderly adult population (Los Angeles, CA)  but accounted for only 6 percent of spending. Extrapolating to the nation, total spending by the undocumented is $6.4 billion, of which only 17 percent ($1.1 billion) is paid for by public sources. The foreign-born (especially the undocumented) use disproportionately fewer medical services and contribute less to health care costs in relation to their population share, likely because of their better relative health and lack of health insurance.”

Let’s put that $1.1 billion into some perspective.  For $810 million you could purchase two A380 Airbus passenger airplanes which accommodate about 853 people each.  For $945 million you could purchase the AC Milan football (soccer) team. For the entire billion you might be able to get Roman Abramovich to sell you the Chelsea FC.  [TheRichest]  None of these come close to the total (public and private) health care expenditures for the latest estimates from the CDC.  Our total national health care expenditures were $2.9 trillion (2103) which equals about 17.4% of our GDP. [CDC] Yes, that’s trillion, with a T.  Now, how much of that was public health care services?

The answer, according to World Bank Data, is 47.1% which sounds impressive until we look at the 83.5% in the UK, 69.8% in Canada, 76.8% in Germany, 77.5% in France, 78% in Italy, 82.1% in Japan, 55.8% in China, and 70.4% in Spain.   Thus, we seem to be getting inordinately excited about an amount which is less in percentage terms than other industrialized nations, and which at best will only get a person 2 big airplanes or one major soccer team.

There’s also a problem with the alarmism about the cost of educating undocumented children.  Again the estimates from anti-immigrant or nativist groups puts the cost at $761 million per year.   Again, we’re not speaking of an outlandish number of individuals.  Of the total number of undocumented individuals in the US about 4.4 million are under 30 years of age.  As of 2012 there were approximately 4.7 million undocumented adults who were parents of minor children (3.8 million whose children were US citizens). [CAP]   Two important puzzle pieces need to be inserted.

One, it is the law of the land, as expressed in the Supreme Court decision in Plyler vs. Doe (1982) that “A Texas statute which withholds from local school districts any state funds for the education of children who were not “legally admitted” into the United States, and which authorizes local school districts to deny enrollment to such children, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” [Cornell]  So, whether the number is inflated, conflated, or specious doesn’t matter – since 1982 states cannot discriminate against school children because of their immigration status.

Second, there’s a problem with that $761 million figure.  It comes from an organization with some “baggage” in terms of immigration –as in “hate” group luggage. It also seems assumes that every undocumented child of every undocumented adult will be enrolled in a school.  This isn’t exactly competent calculation.  Nor are the numbers likely to “add up” because different states will use differing funding formulas to absorb the cost of educating children, as one right wing source admits in its article using the $761 million figure.

The commenter’s line, “America cannot afford to support those people who come here without means of supporting themselves,”  implies that undocumented individuals are without “means of support,” and therefore must be (1) non-taxpayers and (2) using the social welfare services in the U.S.

Wrong on both counts.  First, unauthorized immigrants make up about 5.1% of the total US labor force. [Pew]  Secondly, we have Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump asserting that “the annual cost of free tax credits alone paid to illegal immigrants quadrupled to $4.1 billion in 2011.”  Politifact jumped in at this point.  Their assessment gave Mr. Trump a “half true” rating.  As of 2009 (not 2011) unauthorized individuals were paid $4.2 billion in refundable tax credits, over a four year period.  Since undocumented individuals can’t get Social Security cards they can file with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, ITIN.  ITINs constitute an amorphous group of both those documented and undocumented.  Among the group of “legal” filers are refugees, asylum seekers, foreign workers in higher education, technology employees, and people who own businesses in the US but don’t live here.  Regardless of immigration status, and the number of ITIN filers who aren’t “legal” isn’t clear at all, none or eligible for Social Security. In fact, undocumented workers paid in $12 billion in payroll taxes but will never get Social Security benefits.

The tax credit Mr. Trump is speaking of goes back to the 2001 Bush tax cuts:

“The credit as it stands today was established in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, one of the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush. Unlike in 1996, Congress did not write a provision barring ITIN filers from claiming the refund.

As a result, claims for the additional child credit have increased significantly since 2001, according to the Treasury Inspector General audit. By 2009, 2.3 million ITIN filers received $4.2 billion through the additional child credit, a four-fold increase over 2005.” [Politifact]

Yes, undocumented workers ARE taxpayers:

“Collectively, they paid an estimated $10.6 billion to state and local taxes in 2010, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a research organization that works on tax policy issues. Contributions varied by state. In Montana they contributed $2 million. In California, more than $2.2 billion. On average they pay about 6.4% of their income in state and local taxes, ITEP said.

A 2007 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the impact of undocumented immigrants on the budgets of local and state governments cited IRS figures showing that 50% to 75% of the about 11 million unauthorized U.S. immigrants file and pay income taxes each year.” [CNNMoney]

And do they qualify for US social services programs?  Again the answer is a resounding NO:

Undocumented immigrants do not qualify for welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, and most other public benefits. Most of these programs require proof of legal immigration status and under the 1996 welfare law, even legal immigrants cannot receive these benefits until they have been in the United States for more than five years. [CNNMoney]

And then there are those “legal costs.”  Much of this argument refers back to, and is informed by, an April 1, 2006 episode on the Lou Dobbs Show. This would be an April Fool’s piece if the mis-information hadn’t been so widely disseminated and taken for truth by immigration opponents.

Supposedly, there’s “some $3 million a day spend to incarcerate illegal entrants, and about 30% of all Federal Prison inmates are illegal immigrants.” The facts are less dramatic:

Both of these claims can be traced back to that same April 1, 2006, episode of “Lou Dobbs Tonight” on CNN, in the same segment, with the same correspondent, Christine Romans. But the e-mail misrepresents what Romans said. She gave figures for people who are “not U.S. citizens,” a category that would include legal residents as well as “illegal aliens.”

Romans said that “according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 30 percent of federal prisoners are not U.S. citizens,” adding that “most are thought to be illegal aliens.” Actually, the Federal Bureau of Prisons does not keep figures on illegal immigrants. What solid numbers we can find point to a much smaller figure. A Department of Justice report from 2003 found that only 1.6 percent of the state and federal prison populations was under Immigration and Customs Enforcement jurisdiction, and thus known to be illegal immigrants. Half of these prisoners were detained only because they were here illegally, not for other crimes.

The Bureau of Prisons does track prisoners by offense when information is available. By that metric, 10.7 percent of prisoners in federal jails were incarcerated for immigration offenses in 2009. In 2006, when Romans gave her report, the figure was 10.2 percent.

The “$3 million dollar a day” figure is based on the false assumption that  30 percent of all inmates are illegal immigrants, and thus is greatly inflated. [FactCheck.org]

The Bottom Line

In the simplest possible terms:

  • In terms of the number of undocumented persons in the US, we are NOT awash in any sort of flood of “illegal” entrants. Except in the minds of those who think 3.5% of the total population is entirely too many.
  • Undocumented persons are not a drain on our health care system, indeed they use the services less than the general population.  Again, this would only be disturbing to those who want them not to have any services, even in the event of an emergency.
  • Undocumented individuals do not excessively burden our educational institutions.   There is currently no way to precisely calculate the costs, and there is no way a state may discriminate against children who are undocumented as the Supreme Court ruled back in 1982.
  • Undocumented immigrants may file for child tax credits, but that too, is the law of the land – since 2001; and they do pay payroll taxes. They are not eligible for Social Security, SNAP, Medicaid, or any other services which require proof of citizenship.
  • Far from being indigent burdens to the community – the undocumented comprise 5.1% of the total US labor force. That’s Labor, as in Working.
  • No, undocumented individuals are not clogging American federal and state prisons. 1.6% were classified as undocumented and only half that number were convicted of any crime other than illegal entry.

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Filed under Immigration, Nativism, Nevada politics

The Big Catch: Pay Us and We’ll Do The Right Thing

Banker Sorry A small group of ultra-wealthy individuals are getting alarmed by the widening income gap in America. [NYT]  Their cries hit some major news outlets and were analyzed in others. [Salon] [NationalMemo] And, as we might expect there’s a catch:  Corporate Welfare.

“There is a way to start. Government can provide tax incentives to business to pay more to employees making $80,000 or less. The program would exist for three to five years and then be evaluated for effectiveness.

The benefits would be huge. People would have more money to spend, and many would no longer need government help. That would mean a reduction in entitlements.” Peter Georgescu, CEO Young & Rubicam

Yes, you and many others read this correctly – CEO’s like Ken Langone (Home Depot founder) and Georgescu and Paul Tudor Jones are worried about the possibilities of either peasants with pitch forks or declining sales.  And, no, there is nothing new here. Nothing that ventures too far from the business model calling for tax breaks, cuts, incentives, etc. for corporations to locate in beautiful downtown West Buffalo Fart. 

If the suggestion weren’t so demonstrably callous it would be ludicrous and risible.  First, there’s nothing preventing companies from doing this without benefit of yet more tax cuts for the already wealthy corporations – or, is there.  Welcome back to the world of Shareholder Value!

Wal-Mart recently announced plans to increase company-wide minimum wage to $9 per hour, and to increase pay to $10 per hour for many employees by February.  And, then it bowed to the First Law of Staffing:

The company has also increased store staffing at peak hours so shoppers move quickly through checkout lines and see stocked shelves, said executives during the company’s quarterly earnings call earlier in August. [MarketWatch]

The old First Law is that you have enough employees if you can satisfy customer demand and maintain acceptable levels of client or customer service.  This should have been good news all around – except it wasn’t.

Those efforts contributed to a 15% drop in second-quarter net income compared with a year earlier, said executives. [MarketWatch]

What did Wall Street do?  The Street didn’t like that drop and punished Wal-Mart accordingly.

walmart stock

That’s right… it didn’t matter to investors if there were happier employees at the giant retailer; it didn’t matter that customers didn’t have to wait in the cashier’s line so long.  It mattered that the second quarter net income report was down on a YOY basis.

This is one of the more egregious contemporary examples of the Shareholder Value Monster trampling on any corporate plans to do what businesses should do best – meet customer demand with an acceptable level of customer/client service.

As long as the Financialists continue to steer the corporate ships details like customer service and employee retention – which used to inform management policy – will take a back seat to the quarterly earnings reports. So, Wal-Mart caved to the financial side and announced to its +/- 4,600 store managers that it would return to “pre-determined” staffing levels (back to the old levels), and cut employee hours to trim expenses.

CEO’s, of such organizations like Wal-Mart, are now trapped in a device of their own creation. If they attempt to offer higher wages (or improve the quality of customer service), both of which have long term benefits;  they are punished by the Shareholder Value oriented short term investors and their stock prices drop. If the stock prices drop so does executive compensation.  Should the stock prices drop too far in the estimation of investors the CEO can be gliding off on his or her Golden Parachute into the corporate sunset.

Thus, it isn’t surprising that the CEOs are anxious to have some taxpayer assistance “doing the right thing” (increasing wages) in the long term because the short-sightedness of the Shareholder Value Theory of Management has translated into a situation in which long term benefits are sacrificed on the altar of short term profitability.

The paycheck pinch: One of the CEO’s angling for government (read: taxpayer) assistance in decreasing the widening income gap is Ken Langone (Home Depot founder). Sales and revenue for Home Depot in 2011 was $68 billion, increasing to $83.1 billion in 2015. 2011 gross income was reported as $21.69 billion, increasing to $27.3 billion in 2015. Its current domestic income tax liability is $3.26 billion, it has a deferred domestic tax liability of $116 million. [Marketwatch]  And, Mr. Langone agrees that corporations should be given tax breaks in order to pay more to the employees of concerns like Home Depot.

There are some 20 Home Depot stores in Nevada, most in the Las Vegas area, some in Reno/Sparks, and a couple in what is understood as rural Nevada, Elko and Pahrump.  There are plenty earning less than $80,000 per year in these operations.  The wages for a sales associate range from $8.67 to $13.95; cashiers earn from $7.93 to $10.83; department supervisors earn between $12.01 to $18.91; and, retail sales associations can make from $8.68 to $17.16.  (See Payscale.com as information updates)

These salaries have tax implications in Nevada as a result of 2015 legislation:

The Modified Business Tax (MBT) is currently imposed on businesses other than financial institutions in the amount of 1.17 percent of wages paid above an exemption level of $85,000 per quarter. Financial institutions pay a higher rate of 2 percent. The MBT rate had been scheduled to decline to 0.63 percent for nonfinancial institutions beginning July 1, 2015. The MBT base has been narrowed significantly since the tax’s introduction in 2003, with exemption level increases in 2011 and 2013.

After significant debate over whether to expand the MBT or adopt a new gross receipts tax, the final plan includes elements of both options. The MBT will increase from 1.17 percent to 1.475 percent for most businesses, effective July 1, 2015. Mining companies will join financial institutions in paying the higher 2 percent tax rate. The MBT base is broadened by reducing the exemption to $50,000 per quarter, increasing the estimated number of MBT taxpayers to 18,607, up from the 13,492 paying the tax at present.[2] An earlier proposal to remove the MBT exemption for employer-provided health care costs was dropped.

After the first year, taxpayers may deduct up to 50 percent of their Commerce Tax payments over the previous four quarters from their MBT liability. Moreover, should total revenue from all business taxes exceed projections by more than four percent, the MBT rate will be adjusted downward, though to a rate no lower than 1.17 percent. [TaxFoundation]

Note the last paragraph, even with a compromise between larger and smaller corporations in Nevada, there’s still a bit of a tax break allowed on the Commerce Tax depending on the “previous four quarters.”  We’re probably not looking at any massive tax breaks in the 2015 legislation, but we need to add these to the $88 million in breaks given to Apple [MJ]  and the state’s generosity to Tesla in the form of $1.25 billion. [RGJ] In the latter deal the understanding was that Tesla would pay an average of $25/hr.

Not to put too fine a point to it, but corporations are quite used to having government entities, be they Apple in Nevada and North Carolina, Tesla in Nevada, or the bargaining in the 2015 Nevada legislature over how to maintain tax revenues, engage in tax-payer subsidies for corporate operations.  Thus, it’s not the least bit surprising the CEOs would ask for tax-payer subsidization for payroll increases.

It would be a reasonable conjecture to conclude that Home Depot and other Big Box firms like Wal-Mart might be willing to adopt staffing policies which increase employee wages and provide for better customer service –IF and ONLY IF there are further tax breaks associated with those policies which will please the short-term oriented Shareholder Value financialists who pull on the purse strings.

Hanging the Wash? Consider what the CEOs are proposing – it’s all good: “The benefits would be huge. People would have more money to spend, and many would no longer need government help. That would mean a reduction in entitlements.”  But wait, there’s some loaded language herein.  Programs like SNAP, and subsidized housing, or similar assistance to low wage earners are NOT entitlements. These are situational support programs for people in need.  Social Security/Medicare, into which people have paid for decades are entitlements – you get what you paid for.

Loaded language aside,  What happens when the corporations raise wages, projected to reduce the number of people receiving social assistance, but the revenues for that social assistance are reduced by the tax breaks given to the corporations in order to support those very same wage increases? The tax payers are on the hook either way – they either pay for the social assistance programs which subsidize low wages,  or they subsidize the tax breaks to corporations to reduce the need for the social programs?  It’s a win-win for the corporations, and a lose-lose for the average American.

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, nevada taxation, Politics

When Parrots Make Policy: Ron Knecht and the Great Trickle Down Hoax

parrot

Ron Knecht is the Nevada state controller.  He is a true believer in the Trickle Down Hoax and associated subsets of this egregious rationale for corporate welfare.  Not sure about the validity of this assertion? Read Knecht’s own words.   Mr. Knecht is most upset about the spending approved by the last session of the Legislature, sufficiently upset to grace Nevada editorial pages with his latest diatribe.

The first proposition in Knecht’s screed is that we are under-reporting the level of Tax Burdens on Nevada citizens.  His second major point is that “substantial empirical research shows that the numbers that determine the impact of government on economic growth and the public interest are total government spending amounts, not only those from particular accounts or sources. Research cited in our Controller’s Monthly Report #1 (at controller.nv.gov) shows that total public-sector spending, including state and local levels, has been too big a fraction of our economy for over 55 years.” [EDFP]

There are two problems with this paean to Koch Corporation Economic Theory. 

Problem One:  The assertion assumes that all government spending has a negative relationship to economic stability or growth.   Gross Domestic Product Formula

For an individual who has an academic background in mining economics, it’s remarkable that he’s possibly forgotten the good old, often cited, GDP formula in which “G” for government is part of the formula by which we measure the economy of both the states and the nation. Nor can we assume all governmental expenditures are counterproductive.  If, for example, the Federal government  decided to close Nellis AFB, what would be the impact on the Nevada economy?   Here’s the answer: (pdf)

As of 2012 there were 32,771 included in the base employment figures. 8,186 active duty military, 20,231 dependents, 289 reserves, civilian employees totaling 868.  There were 563 “non appropriated funds” civilian employees, and 2,055 on-site contract civilians; 579 “other civilians” were employed at the base.  The estimated dollar value of the jobs created at Nellis AFB was $229.7 million.  Expenditures at Nellis (federal and state) totaled $5,071.4 million.

Problem Two: Since the argument that all government spending is necessarily excessive is untenable, Mr. Knecht falls back on a subjective observation: “total public-sector spending, including state and local levels, has been too big a fraction of our economy for over 55 years.”   We’re left with at least two questions about this assertion. First, how big is “too big?”  Secondly, what’s magical about speaking of the last 55 years (since 1960)?

There is no way to objectively answer the initial question, the percentage of state and local spending relative to the GDP ranges from 5.9% in 1948 to 11.4% in 2014.  We could be dramatic and declare that this represents a 93% increase in state and local spending from their own sources over a 67 year period, but then we have to remember we’re speaking of 67 years, and the annual increase is an unimpressive 1.38%.

The percentage of state and local governments from their own sources as a percentage of GDP was 8.4% in 1960.  This would yield a 36% increase over the last 55 year period, an annual increase of 0.6545.   Even if we extend the numbers as globally as does Knecht in his discussion of expenditures and include federal, state, and local outlays, the total expenditure as a percentage of GDP was 25.7 in 1960 and 31.7 in 2014, an increase of 23% over the 55 year period, or  0.4181 annually. [OMB download Table 14.3]

State Local Expenditures GDP There’s nothing particularly dramatic about the state and local expenditures chart, and even less about the total outlays of the federal, state, and local expenditures.

Fed State Local Spending percentage of GDP The annual increases simply do not support the level of histrionics associated with the clamor from right wing politicians for decreased government spending.  Further, there is no reason not to take the numbers back as far as they go – to 1948.  There’s nothing magical about the last 55 years, certainly nothing in the actual numbers, which supports the assertion that we’ve experienced some form of grotesque increase in the level of spending as a percentage of GDP.

Problem Three:  Hyperbole doesn’t equate to substantiation. Knecht continues:

“This continued metastasis of government has slowed economic growth significantly over the last half century, directly damaging the public interest and producing an ever grimmer (not better) future for our communities and children. And Nevada politicians and special interests have played a substantial role in this uncaring destruction, especially those who supported this year’s taxing and spending blowout.

What are the true facts? First, state spending’s (sic) already excessive burden on our lives and wellbeing has increased 10 percent faster in the last decade than the incomes of Nevada families and businesses. (Due to changes in reporting categories, there is no pre-2004 total spending data comparable to figures since then; otherwise, we would use it. Hence, meaningful comparisons to earlier years such as 1992 are not possible.)” [EDFP]

These paragraphs don’t represent an economic argument, they are an ideological one.   Again, there’s an un-anchored assertion, that without the increase in government spending there would have been greater overall economic growth.   Since there’s no empirical data available because we can’t undo the government spending in the last 50 to 67 years, we’re left with an assumption – that all the revenue collected and spent by various levels of government would automatically have been re-invested in productive economic activity.   

The experience of 2007-2008 should have given us an example of what can go wrong when money isn’t transferred in ways described by classical economic theory.  Money didn’t necessarily move from investors into plant expansion and greater employment – too much went to feed the Wall Street Casino, into increasingly sophisticated financial products which had more interest in Bubble Manufacturing than in creating financial stability.  Perhaps in some utopian, and essentially academic, system money not spent on taxes would have been put into research, development, manufacturing, and sales efforts – but in the very real world of modern finance that’s not how the system works.  Mutations such as the management theory of shareholder value, and the rise of the Financialists, insured that the old illusions don’t make a solid foundation for current realistic economic discussions.

Additionally, as noted with the Nellis AFB example, not all government spending is universally considered economically counter productive.  Nor can it be effectively argued that government spending doesn’t enhance economic stability and promote growth.   Investments in infrastructure, such as the national highway system, can lead to decreases in production costs, and increases in output, yielding a net rate of return above that of private capital as shown during the forty year period from 1950 to 1989. [Rand pdf]

Knecht also attempts to create a cause and effect relationship between “excessively burdensome” taxation/spending and stagnant wages.  Welcome to the land of Post hoc ergo propter hoc.   Controller Knecht’s diatribe manages to ignore the effects of “gains in labor productivity, the division of earned income between labor and capital profits, and the allocation of labor compensation among wages and nonwage benefits.” [Brookings]  Nor does he cite the trends related to full employment, declining union density, the misclassification of employees, and the race to the bottom in labor standards. [EPI]  Knecht’s also omitting a new notion, “downward nominal wage rigidity,” in which workers in a buyers market are fearful of losing all employment so will settle for lower wages. [RCM]  [Economist]  Even the hard-right Federalist Society, of which Knecht is a member, cites “reduced labor demand,” “increased labor supply,” (and gratuitously tosses in the Affordable Care Act) as causal factors in wage stagnation.  In short, his simplistic, post hoc ergo propter hoc argument misses the point from the left, the center, and the right.  He might as well argue that wages have grown slowly since the beginning of the general economic recovery,  mid 2009, because Serena Williams won the Wimbledon Tournament on July 4, 2009.

Problem Four: Here’s another leap of logic which borders on the inexplicable.  Knecht’s syllogism appears to be: (1) Nevada has a median state and local tax burden; (2) Local governments are subsidiaries of the state; (3) Therefore, the state is responsible for negotiation results between local governments and local public employees.

“In fact, Nevada’s total state and local tax burden – that’s what matters, not headcounts – has risen to the midpoint: 25th or 26th in the U.S., depending on how measured. Because local governments are subsidiaries of the state and governed by it, legislators and governors bear significant responsibility for local spending too – especially the excesses caused by state laws allowing public-employee unions to drive local spending ever higher.”

There’s almost nowhere to begin with this other than to assume Knecht believes that local employee contracts are to blame for “excesses” in local spending.  Again, we’re in subjective territory.  How much is too much?  How much, for example, is too much to pay a police officer or sheriff’s deputy for being willing to engage with some of the most dangerous people in the state?  For being targets for radical right wing lunatics while the officers are trying to catch a bit of lunch in a pizza establishment?  How much is too much for a firefighter – how many people are willing to run into instead of out of a burning building? 

How much is too much to pay a county social worker?  The average caseload for a Child Protective Services investigator in Clark County is 18. The average case load for those responsible for supervising foster care is 13.  Or, to put it another way social workers are responsible for about 25 children per worker. [LVRJ]  The recommended standards are 12-15 children per social worker in foster family care, 12 active cases per month for initial assessment and investigation for every social worker; 17 active ongoing family cases per social worker with no more than one new case assigned for every six open cases.  The standard for a combined assessment and investigation in ongoing cases is 10 ongoing and 4 active cases per social worker. [CWLA]  

While hard cap number ratios may not reflect the flexibility needed to handle all local cases, recruiting and retaining trained professionals who are responsible for assessment, service planning, implementing and monitoring services, advocacy for children or adults who need basic services, interdisciplinary  and inter-organizational collaboration, record keeping,  and practice evaluation and improvements. [SWorg pdf] And, all this for about $45,000 to $66,000 per year.

Of course, there’s always that pesky teacher’s union – driving up the costs of public education – since there’s no way to run a school without teachers.  The current Clark County salary schedule begins at a non-too-impressive $34,637 and terminates for an “ASC + PhD” on step 15 at $72,331.  The median household wage in Nevada is $53,042.   In the private sector a doctorate in economics will get a person about $98,200 early in his or her career; a doctorate in statistics will get a person about $99,900 in the early years, increasing to approximately $128,000 in the later years.  [Payscale]

Aside from declaiming, without context, that salary negotiations are a significant driver of “excessive” local spending, Knecht also ignores another picky detail – population. In 1960 there were approximately 291,000 residents of the state of Nevada, 285,278 to be more exact.  By 2010 there were 2,839,000 residents.  There was an 895% increase in the population of the state in last 50 years.  This is the point at which “headcounts” do matter, it obviously takes more people to deliver services to 2.8 million persons than it does to provide them to 291,000.

NV Population 1960 2010

And now comes Controller Knecht’s finale, discounting efforts made by legislators to address spending issues in a rational manner:

“…as if hearing every detail of the budget means that politicians make the right decisions. Legislators can’t really know the value of each spending proposal when they hear almost exclusively from proponents, most of them paid for by our tax dollars to advocate for their interest, not for voters, taxpayers and the public interest. They certainly can’t determine its net social value unless they get equally extensive testimony in the same hearings on the damage done by the taxes needed to fund each item – and they never do that.”

There are a couple of features which require untangling in this paragraph. First, a person can be an advocate for social workers and also be a voter, a tax payer, and a person concerned with the public interest.  An advocate for highway funding is also a voter, a taxpayer, and concerned with the public interest.  There is no way to compartmentalize people, their advocacy, and their public spirit.   In Mr. Knecht’s taxonomy anyone who advocates for better police, fire, education, and social services, or highways, health inspections, public mental health services, parks, wildlife, and libraries – is not advocating “for the public interest.”  As if the public interest lies solely in diminishing these services in the name of “smaller government.”  This isn’t an economic argument – it is completely, totally, an ideological statement; and, it’s judgmental to boot.  So also is the term “net social value.”

“Net social value” is one of those buzzwords associated with radical right wing economics of austerity, and unfortunately it comes without any real meaning. [Guardian] It’s related to the economic term “social return on investment,” which is only slightly more precise.  “Social Return on Investment is an analytic tool for measuring and accounting for a much broader concept of value, taking into account social, economic and environmental factors.” [NewEcon]   Knecht’s context seems to place the “net social value” proposal closer to the Cost Benefit Analysis methodology and not quite so analogous to the SROI calculations.  Analysis in these terms can get very mushy very quickly.

For example, in purely economic terms (and ones Controller Knecht may find troubling) one of the best SROI or “net social value” or just old fashioned economic stimulus spending is the SNAP program.  A USDA Study designed to test whether or not SNAP benefits improved the economy found that an increase of $1 billion created about $1.79 billion in economic activity (GDP.) Or, that every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates about $9 in economic activity. [USDA]

If we expand the terms to include socially beneficial activities the measurement becomes more difficult to manage. How, for example, do we measure the quantitative benefits of public libraries?  Several states have made the attempt and most have returned results which might be at variance with Mr. Knecht’s ideological preferences.  South Carolina reported that for every $1 spent on public libraries contributed $2.86 in value to the state’s economy.  Florida studied 17 public libraries and demonstrated about $6.40 in economic benefit for every $1 in their budgets. [ALA]

Mr. Knecht assumes that “net social value” cannot be determined unless there  is equal weight given to the opponents of government spending for government services.  This, in turn, assumes that the arguments of the opponents are of equal quality and veracity as those of the proponents.  The evident extrapolation of Mr. Knecht’s argument is that any advocacy of government spending on government services must be self-serving, and therefore cannot be in the public interest. However, what are we to make of a hypothetical argument advanced by public health nurses that the state invest more in the inspection and regulation of out patient surgical centers? Simply because some such centers do not care to be inspected and regulated are we to assume that there would be a “negative net social value” to the increased number of inspections? What are legislators to do?  Knecht advises “focus?”

“Above all, they can’t make the right decisions if they substitute laboring over program details for focusing on the premier fact that government is already so big – even while still growing – that it has slowed economic growth to a long-term crawl and thus damaged our communities and children’s futures. If they really cared, they’d address and fix that first.”

Repeat the drum roll: Larger government = slow economic growth. As we’ve seen earlier in this post, that argument doesn’t stand under even cursory scrutiny.  This is a highly subjective point of view, and informed more by ideology than by economics.   If our legislators “really cared” they’d go over those program details, looking for ways to streamline services without compromising the basics, and in doing so would address issues in education, public safety, public health, and the quality of life in Nevada – without resorting to ideological blinders.  We could use more wise owls, and fewer parrots?

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Armed and Dangerous or Unarmed and Disingenuous?

Guns If only the advocates of gun proliferation were as well armed logically as they are with cop-killer ammunition and magazines with 30 rounds?  Some of the arguments have become tiresome, others tedious, and most specious or spurious.

There are altogether too many categories of gun violence incidents in this country to make any definitive pronouncement about the specific nature or that violence or to state with any assurance that one type of legislation will address the incidents in their totality.  And, the proliferation advocates have used this concept as a platform for renouncing all responsibility for controlling the violence.  “This” would not have prevented “that,” they say, countering that universal background checks would not have prevented Incident X.  Or safe storage laws will not prevent work place gun attacks. Or mental health checks would not have prevented a specific hate crime. And, so it goes.   What is disarming our discussion and make our civic discourse disingenuous is the lack of a larger framework.

Is gun violence a function of (1) social displacement or discomfort; (2) poorly developed social skills, including conflict resolution; and/or (3) a combination thereof?

What is it about the “gun culture” which makes the manufacturer oriented message of the NRA so attractive to some people?  Here’s one explanation:

“The gun rights platform is not just about guns. It’s also about a crisis of confidence in the American dream. And this is one reason gun control efforts ignite such intense backlashes: Restrictions are received as a personal affront to men who find in guns a sense of duty, relevance and even dignity.” [LATimes]

Let’s separate the crisis of confidence from the American dream portion for a moment.  It certainly makes sense that those who feel their economic security slipping away, or who feel a disquieting sense of futility about making their lives better, would feel an attachment to a powerful weapon that makes them feel more masculine, relevant, and empowered. However, this seems a highly personal matter.  For all those in the Rust Belt portions of the country who’ve watched manufacturing jobs disappear, and those who are subsequently trapped in the morass of low paying part time employment, who use the gun as an emotional crutch, there are others who don’t.  In fact, the statistics tell us that in 1977 54% of American households contained a gun, while in 2014 that percentage dropped to 32%. [WaPo] There are more guns being sold, but to those who seem to be stockpiling them. [CNN]

These statistics don’t refute the argument that guns make the insecure feel better, however they might indicate that those who do use the guns as social/emotional support are procuring more of them.

Too Close To Home?

However, gun ownership isn’t necessarily an index of the levels of gun violence.   It does inform studies of fatal incidents of domestic violence.  The Wintemute Study in 2003 found that “females living with a gun in the home were nearly 3 times more likely to victimized at home than in any other place.”  The Grassel Study (2003) also found that “women who were murdered were more likely, not less likely, to have purchased a handgun in the three years prior to their deaths, again invalidating the idea that a handgun has a protective effect against homicide.” [VPC]

That “protective effect” is asserted by handgun purchasers who have bought guns to feel more secure in their homes, neighborhoods, and communities.  But once again we are missing some crucial information?  While our attention is directed at stranger perpetrated violence in movie theaters and other public spaces, most mass shootings are domestic.

“We found that in 57 percent of mass shootings, the shooter targeted either a family member or an intimate partner. According to HuffPost’s analysis, 64 percent of mass shooting victims were women and children. That’s startling, since women typically make up only 15 percent of total gun violence homicide victims, and children only 7 percent.” [HuffPo]

And the statistics go a step further toward explaining why the “protective effect” is illusory in domestic situations: “If a domestic abuser has a gun the victim is 8 times more likely to be killed.” [HuffPo/NCBI]  If a gun purchaser believes that the ownership of a firearm will make his family more secure, as do about 60% of Americans, then that 6 out of 10 hasn’t been paying attention to other numbers.

“For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home.” [MJ]

What self-respecting person would want to protect his family by making the members more statistically likely to suffer homicide, suicide, or accidental death?  Total gun ownership doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who are supposed to be protected by the guns actually will be.  It may mean that there are a declining number of households in this country which are now at a statistically greater risk of fatal violence?

There’s good and bad news in terms of workplace violence as well. The good news is that from 2002 to 2009 the rate of nonfatal workplace violence declined by 35%, and that after a 62% decline in the rate from 1993 to 2002. The bad part is that between 2005 and 2009 while firearms were used in only 5% of the nonfatal workplace violence incidents, shootings accounted for 80% of workplace homicides. [BJS pdf] If nothing more, the numbers support the assertion that guns do, in fact, kill people. 

Who’s taking it personally?

Duty, relevance, and dignity may be the rationale for some gun owners, but their cohort may have other ideas?

“A June 2015 study found that “310 million firearms estimated to be in private hands in the United States are disproportionately owned by people who are prone to angry, impulsive behavior and have a potentially dangerous habit of keeping their guns close at hand.” There is a “co-occurrence of impulsive angry behavior and possessing or carrying a gun among adults with and without certain mental disorders and demographic characteristics.”

Almost 9% of people who “self-report patterns of impulsive angry behavior” also have a firearm at home, and 1.5% (or nearly 85 people out of 5,653 surveyed for this study) carry their guns in places other than their home. The authors found that, when studying violence and anger, it is more effective to look at the arrest history of individuals rather than seeing if they have a mental illness. Arrests could show “a history of impulsive or angry behavior (for example, criminal records of misdemeanor violence, DWIs and domestic violence restraining orders),” which “would likely serve as a more feasible and less discriminatory indicator of an individual’s gun violence risk.”  [CSGV]

We might also conclude that some of those who express a wish to be more dutiful in protecting their families – by firearms, more relevant, and more “dignified,” may also be some of the people who are more angry, impulsive, and potentially dangerous?

And then there’s the racism angle…

This is the uncomfortable topic in modern American life, but it is no less a function of gun sales, gun ownership, and gun culture – we ignore it at our peril:

“Those with racist views are more likely to oppose gun reform. In an October 2013 study, Kerry O’Brien, Walter Forrest, Dermot Lynott and Michael Daly concluded that “Symbolic racism [is] related to having a gun in the home and opposition to gun control policies in U.S. whites.” The study defined symbolic racism as “racial resentment…an explicit but subtle form and measure of racism.” While the reasons for owning guns and being opposed to gun violence prevention legislation vary and are complex, “it has been suggested that sociocultural factors such as fear of black violence may be associated with gun ownership, and with opposition to gun controls.”

Professors Benforado and Young also supported this statement in their respective works. In his 2010 study, Benforado writes, “Advances in implicit social cognition reveal that most people carry biases against racial minorities beyond their conscious awareness. These biases affect critical behavior, including the actions of individuals performing shooting tasks. In simulations, Americans are faster and more accurate when firing on armed blacks than when firing on armed whites, and faster and more accurate in electing to hold their fire when confronting unarmed whites than when confronting unarmed blacks.”

Similarly, in his 1985 study, Young writes, “The ownership of firearms for protection is influenced by the interaction of racial prejudice and perceptions of crime and crime fighters. Moreover, the impact of prejudice is sufficiently strong that the mere physical proximity of a relatively large black population is enough to increase gun ownership among highly prejudiced men, even in the absence of concerns about crime.”

Discomforting as this may be, the “average” gun owner in America is white, married or divorced, relatively high income, and over 55. [CSGV]  Those armed with sufficient information from scientific studies can conclude that gun regulation efforts will be opposed by mostly white males over 55 years of age who promote a gun culture agenda which actually makes this country (and its women and children) less safe than if guns were not proliferating.

The facts have been out since forever – and facts aren’t going to move the debate in radical segments such as those who believe that any restriction on guns is a violation of their Constitutional rights, that any regulation of gun purchases is an act of Fascism, that any diminution of gun ownership is an indication of a loss of personal freedom.  Combine prejudice, bias, insecurity, and anger and we get the most vocal of the anti-regulation voices.  Unfortunately, these voices are getting equal face time in the media for their essentially minority view of common sense gun regulation in a society that has yet to acknowledge that guns are NOT a device for conflict resolution.

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When there’s nothing new about news?

Issue Attention Cycles “Anthony Downs of the Brookings Institution in the 1970’s began observing what he called “the issue attention cycle” in the American media.  The cycle is:  the news media and public ignore a serious problem for years; for some reason, they suddenly notice, declare it a crisis and concoct a solution; next they realize the problem will not be easily fixed and will be costly; they grow angry, then bored; finally, they resume ignoring the problem.” [DailySource]

The original Issue Attention Cycle was partially modified by Karen K. Petersen in her article for the Journal for Strategic Security in 2009.

Issues Attention Cycle modified Technical adjustments aside, there’s little to challenge the original assumption that modern American media is Alarmed, in Crisis mode, and then realizes the problem (usually of long standing) is not easily addressed much less immediately and cheaply solvable – and then we move on.

It may be time to resurrect the Issue Attention Cycle and give it more consideration as the news organizations plow onward and downward into more trivial and less informative media  which passes for “news.”

One problem which we ought to think about is that of manufactured news.   A media savvy group launches a “dramatic” press conference or releases sensational information.  The press picks this up, charges into print or air, and when the dust settles there was really very little Gertrude Stein-ian “there there.” We have some recent examples.

Consider the assault on Planned Parenthood.  A highly questionable group, organized for the purpose of attacking an organization which provides women’s health services (including abortions), releases heavily edited videos purporting to show illegal or immoral actions.   We assume that news organizations will provide some filtration – some background research – on the origin, credibility, and trustworthiness, of information selected for print or broadcast.

In the Issue Attention Cycle the attack took on the aspects of “alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm” as breathless headlines and TV teasers touted new “discoveries” about Planned Parenthood activities.  Those who were paying attention to some of the less sensationalized coverage quickly observed that the headlines didn’t match the reporting, which noted the lack of credibility of the accusers and the dismal nature of the video editing.  The initial phase of the Issue Attention Cycle is bad enough, combined with the lack of filtration (or even fact checking) by the media makes it even more susceptible to manufactured news.

The obviously political and almost perfectly partisan coverage of the Clinton E-mails offers a second example of manufactured news.   A bit of filtration by news media would have easily discovered that yes, Secretary Rice did use State Department e-mail – when she used e-mail at all, which was rarely [BusInsider]; and, Secretary Powell used a personal e-mail account in much the same way as did Secretary Clinton. [Media] However, there’s nothing like a perpetual fishing expedition to encourage the continuation of the “alarm and euphoric enthusiasm” stage of media attention.  Other stories related to the use of e-mail by government officials weren’t covered in quite such a dramatic fashion.  For example, the Bush White House “lost” some 22 million e-mails from 2003 to 2005:

“The e-mail controversy dates back to the Bush administration’s 2006 firing of the top federal prosecutors in nine cities. After congressional committees demanded the administration produce documents related to the firings, the White House said millions of e-mails might have been lost from its servers. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive sued over the issue in 2007, arguing the Bush administration violated federal laws that require presidential records to be preserved.” [CNN 2009]

However, without relatively constant references to the Bush e-mail issues – some related to the firing of 9 federal attorneys – the issue hit the “decline of intensity of interest” phase fairly quickly.  Other e-mail and records controversies have not received the unfiltered attention the current media assigns to Secretary Clinton.  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s e-mail record has key points in his timeline missing, such as during the 2000 election, the voter purges, the Elian Gonzales Case, and the Terry Schiavo controversy. [MJReuters reported in 2011 that former Governor Mitt Romney spent nearly $100,000 in state funds to replace computers in an effort to keep his records private in 2007.   In short, we might logically conclude that the “alarm and enthusiasm” phase will give way to the “decline of intensity of interest” stage proportionately to the willingness of the media to reprint or rebroadcast statements from interested politicians.

Now a warning?  Remember, the issue cycle often begins with a situation presented as a full-blown crisis but actually represents a set of conditions which may have existed for years, or decades.  This is illustrated by the discussion of police use of force, especially against people of color. Pro Publica reports:

Our examination involved detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides stretching from 1980 to 2012 contained in the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report. The data, annually self-reported by hundreds of police departments across the country, confirms some assumptions, runs counter to others, and adds nuance to a wide range of questions about the use of deadly police force.

Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater…

Pro Publica did the analysis, which raises the question why didn’t this analysis come from national broadcast or print media?  As of August 2015, NBC raised the white flag and asked why nobody knows exactly how many people are killed by police officers.

The topic of police use of force necessarily gets into the sticky nettles which trap an issue into the “decline of intensity of interest” and the “realization of the costs” territory.   The sub-topics range from local issues of police recruitment, training, and equipping, to national debates about race relations and voter participation in local and state elections.  In some cities, perhaps like Cleveland, OH which have had multiple allegations of excessive force, and notable and duplicated interactions with the Federal Department of Justice, the discussion trails into general issues of local government reform.

Once the glamour of The Crisis is over we’re into the part in which it’s realized that reforming the application of our laws, especially in minority urban settings, is going to be complicated, expensive, and time consuming, the cameras and reports are on to other “more pressing” (i.e. more dramatic) issues and the “post problem” stage begins.

Angry and bored?  These may be two of the more significant features of the issue attention cycle.  The attempts at comprehensive immigration reform may illustrate this portion of the issue attention cycle.  The public generally realizes this country does need to pay attention to immigration issues, indeed a bill passed the Senate only to languish in the GOP controlled House after the last mid term elections.   One of the key themes of the Trump Campaign taps into the anger portion of the formula. 

There are those who still believe that the solution to the “immigration problem” is mass deportation and the construction of a physical barrier between the US and Mexico.   In terms of the Issue Attention Cycle, these people supporting Trump’s rather vacant rhetoric are still in the “Alarm and Enthusiasm” stage, and haven’t yet made the intellectual excursion into the details of the issue, and the protracted, complicated, and expensive nature of the administration of immigration policy.  They can be informed that Trump’s “solution” will cost somewhere around $200 to $300 billion dollars, and perhaps take 20 years. [BusInsider] However, having not gone beyond the “Alarm and Enthusiasm” stage, his supporters cling to the generalized notion that the candidate will assuage what’s making them angry, somehow, by doing something…without serious consideration of the expensive implications and policy alternatives.

Continual press coverage of Trump’s litany of generalizations about immigration policy simply serves to extend the life of the “Alarm and Enthusiasm” stage without assisting the public in understanding the complex nature of the issue.

Heaven forefend we get bored. One unfortunate aspect of contemporary media coverage of almost any topic is the “both sides” format in which there are assumed to be two sides to each and every issue.  Welcome to the highly complex and extremely important debate about climate change.

Scientifically speaking there’s one side.  Global climate change is happening, and we’re responsible. However, the advocacy format, roughly analogous to the media version of a civil trial, lends itself to the presentation and publicizing of “alternative” theories, most of which are associated with energy corporation interests.   This is, for all practical purposes, a formula for the insertion of mis-information into public discourse.  It’s more obvious in the climate change discussion, but it also allows some absolutely astounding pronouncements on women’s health issues.

We’ve been treated to presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s statement that Planned Parenthood doesn’t do women’s health – which utterly dismisses 97% of what Planned Parenthood does.  What wasn’t “women’s health” about the 378,692 Pap tests, 487,029 breast health exams, 1,128,793 pregnancy tests, 18,684 prenatal care services, and 4,470,597 STI/STD tests and treatments in 2013? [Politifact]

The intense debate over the Affordable Care Act gave us one of the more poignant moments in the media’s view of its charge.  Chuck Todd, NBC news, told viewers in 2013 it wasn’t the media’s task to correct the record. [TPM]  It was, Todd asserted, the White House’s job to “sell” the ACA.  In simpler terms, by Todd’s lights the media should report what anyone says, without filtration or fact-checking, and the “other side” would have the responsibility for a response.  Nothing quite so dramatically describes the “advocacy format,” or serves the American public quite so poorly. The “advocacy format” can be used to effectively perpetuate misinformation because policy proposals are to be “sold,” and the sales will be made evident in “our latest polling.”

The Cycle and Foreign Policy:   If ever there were topics which lend themselves to the Issue Attention Cycle they exist in the category of foreign policy.  When discussing the labyrinthine politics of the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, eyes glaze over, and participants in the discussion can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and the team membership depends on which country’s foreign policy is being promoted by what other country’s diplomacy.  The Iranians are our enemies – except when they’re propping up the Iraqi government, supporting our efforts in Afghanistan, and helping fight elements of ISIS.  The Syrians are our friends? – except when the government is barrel bombing its own citizens, and we need help from the Russians to get the Nukes out of Syria, and it’s fighting with some elements of ISIS.  The Kurds are our friends – when they are fighting with ISIS but not so much when they attack our NATO ally Turkey…. 

This situation illustrates Petersen’s modification of the Issue Attention Cycle by highlighting the “key event re-ignites debate” element.  The Middle East is off the screen and the front page until there’s  atrocity (which ISIS seem to be very good at), and the issues between and among the US, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen usually raise up in the wake of a drone strike or Saudi Air Force attack.  Until the “re-ignition” there’s nothing much in the analysis and explication department unless we elevate the “Benghazi” syndrome to rational status; the attack on the consulate being reduced to  short-hand  for “I’m angry about US foreign policy in general and I want somebody to do something I like about it.”   Or, make it simple, make it dramatic, make it receptive to an easy and cheap solution, so I can comfortably ignore it?

And the cycle goes on.

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Bits and Pieces: Misleading headlines, and other matters in Nevada Politics

Jig Saw Puzzle Sometimes the headline doesn’t quite fit the story. Here’s an example: “Millions in the red an Obamacare insurer has failed” compliments of the Las Vegas Review Journal.   You have to read a few paragraphs down to get the basics of the story.  In addition to poor administration and long repayment waiting periods, “the co-op made a critical mistake: Only Nevada allows enrollment in non-exchange plans outside of the federal sign-up period, which runs from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31. Most insurers require a 90-day wait to discourage people from going without a plan until they get sick, but the co-op started with no waiting period, then added a 30-day window in late 2014. That created a sicker — and pricier — member pool,..”  [LVRJ]  These aren’t issues with the Affordable Care Act, nor is this indicative of any flaws in the overall system. What this illustrates is that the reason most firms go under is poor administration and management.

Speaking of management:  Is Waste Management Inc. living up to the terms of the contract it signed with Washoe County?  The Reno Gazette Journal reports on a crucial point: “One central issue is whether Waste Management has fulfilled the requirement to build an Eco-Center in Reno to sort its single-stream recycling and provide other services to customers. The city allowed Waste Management to raise rates, in part, to finance the construction of the Eco-Center.”  Back in March, 2013, The RGJ reported that the Eco-Center was supposed to streamline recycling in the area, noting that there were still some “kinks” to be worked out. Evidently, the kinks are winning?

The Washoe County Democrats have a quiz for us.  How do you score on a test of Rep. Joe Heck’s statements on Medicare? Social Security? Immigration?  I’ll give you one – yes, he’s called Social Security a “pyramid scheme,” and called for it to be privatized.  By July 2012 he’d called the basic social safety net program a Pyramid Scheme at least four times. [NVDems]

One win for Solar Power:  Perhaps not a long term one, but for now the efforts of NV Energy Inc to slap down the solar power industry in Nevada have been thwarted in the short term. [LVSun]  The power company is all for solar, except: “NV Energy’s proposed plan would reduce the value of credits paid to consumers and add a new fees. In filings with the PUC, the company said that the current structure unfairly shifts costs to customers without solar. The rooftop solar industry expects that the utility-backed proposal would reduce the rate of adoption of solar power.”  Original NV Energy filing here (warning: slow loading PDF)  and here (warning: slow loading PDF).  There’s the Solar Energy’s proponent statement to the PUC August 18, 2015 which makes interesting reading – again a warning: slow loading PDF.

All this in time for the Valley Electric Association to build a 15 mega-watt solar project in the northern part of Pahrump. [PVT]

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Filed under ecology, energy, energy policy, health insurance, Heck, Nevada energy, Nevada politics, Social Security

St. Paul (Laxalt) and the ACA: NV joins anti-choice case

birth control pills Heaven help us. Paul Laxalt, Attorney General of the State of Nevada, has proudly announced he’s filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell

“Little Sisters of the Poor is an organization of Roman Catholic women dedicated to serving the poor. The Little Sisters and co-petitioners sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in response to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. The mandate requires religious nonprofits such as the Little Sisters to provide employees with all available forms of contraception at no cost. Facing hefty fines for non-compliance, a number of these groups have sought U.S. Supreme Court review of their case.

    “Religious organizations serve our communities in countless ways, and their contributions should be supported, not impeded by the government,” said Laxalt. “These organizations should not be fined for living in accordance with their sincerely held religious convictions. This brief encourages the Supreme Court to take the necessary steps toward ensuring that our government and our courts do not force people of faith to violate their religious beliefs.” [Laxalt]

    Here’s what he’s jumping into:

    “On July 14, 2014, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision denying the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religiously affiliated nonprofits’ request for a stay. The Court found: “The accommodation relieves Plaintiffs from complying with the Mandate and guarantees they will not have to provide, pay for, or facilitate contraceptive coverage. Plaintiffs do not “trigger” or otherwise cause contraceptive coverage because federal law, not the act of opting out, entitles plan participants and beneficiaries to coverage. Although Plaintiffs allege the administrative tasks required to opt out of the Mandate make them complicit in the overall delivery scheme, opting out instead relieves them from complicity. Furthermore, these de minimis administrative tasks do not substantially burden religious exercise for the purposes of RFRA.” In July 2015, the plaintiffs appealed this case to the Supreme Court.” [KFF.org]

    In short, the Little Sisters have a Church Plan. The Church Plan doesn’t cover contraception. This is accommodated under the exemptions to the Affordable Care Act.  Their plan does not have to “provide, pay for or otherwise facilitate contraceptive coverage.”  What’s the question?  They can opt out of the ACA provisions – but, they argue the mere act of opting out makes them “party to the scheme?”

    This gets even better – because entangled in the case is the question of whether or not the Little Sisters of the Poor (or the Christian Brothers) can prevent their employees from getting insurance covering contraception from a third party. [AU]

    The Kaiser Foundation offers this handy chart on the exemptions from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act:

    Religious Freedom Court Chart

    Thus far the provisions of the ACA have been upheld. Contrary to the anti-contraceptionists, the courts have held that the law doesn’t unduly burden anyone, and they can opt out by requesting an exemption. Period. Of course, that didn’t prevent the Little Sisters from availing themselves of the funding and efforts of the arch-conservative Becket Fund.

    Making this entire case even more incredible is the fact that as of August 2014, the government provided a second accommodation for religious non-profit organizations which as of that date only needed to “write a letter to the government in order to be relieved of any obligation to provide contraceptive coverage.” [AU]  A letter.  One single letter.

    So that an exempt religious organization doesn’t have to write one single, one paragraph letter,  the Attorney General of the state of Nevada signed on to an exceptionally spurious, often downright illogical amicus brief with his fellow Tea Party, Radical Right, Ultra-Right Wing anti-contraception amigos.

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    Filed under Health Care, health insurance, nevada health, Nevada politics, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights