Heck: The Bankers Good Little Soldier

Heck photo

The ad wars begin, with one from the Democratic side of the aisle noting the record of one Joe Heck, currently the Republican representative from Nevada District 3:

“The ad highlights legislation Heck sponsored as a state senator to repeal excise taxes on Nevada banks, criticizes him for accepting more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from the securities and investment industry, and portrays him as in “lockstep with Washington Republicans.”

It also notes that Heck, who now represents Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, once called the mortgage crisis in the state “a blip on the radar” on a 2008 questionnaire.”  [LVSun]

The amount of money candidates receive from the financial industry doesn’t  bother me as much as the voting records of the candidates who receive them.  And, Representative Heck has been a very good little soldier for the financial sector interests.

Marching back to July 26, 2012 we find Representative Heck voting in favor of the interestingly titled HR 4078 “Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act.”  The title was commonplace, everything in those days had “small business” and “job creation” attached to the title, perhaps to obscure the fact that the Congress had done exactly diddly to create jobs or help really small businesses.  The effect would not have been small, or particularly creative.

HR 4078 would have prohibited any federal government agency from promulgating or taking “significant regulatory action,” unless the employment rate dropped below 6%, defining  “significant regulatory action” as any action that is likely to result in a rule or guidance with a fiscal effect of $50 million or more as determined by the Office of Management and Budget, or to adversely affect one of the following, including, but not limited to (Sec. 105) [PVS]  Now why would this bill illustrate Representative Heck’s allegiance to the banking sector?

Answer: Because the Dodd-Frank Act regulating the financial sector was enacted on July 21, 2010 – that would be the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – and the agencies were in the rule making process when HR 4078 was considered in the House.  Now, what sector of the economy was going to see a $50 million dollar effect?  Here’s a clue: It’s not family owned bodegas and gas stations.  The banking industry did NOT want to see any regulation, any restraint, any inconvenience to their consumer gouging practices and HR 4078 was the result.  (And, the law if enacted would have prevented any more attempts to contain climate change – a bonus in GOP eyes.)

Move forward to October 23, 2013, and HR 2374 the “Retail Investor Protection Act.” There’s nothing in this bit of legislation that protects “retail investors.”  In fact, section 2Prohibits the Secretary of the Department of Labor from establishing a regulation that defines the circumstances under which an individual is considered a fiduciary until 60 days after the Securities and Exchange Commission establishes standards of conduct for brokers and dealers.”  Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s part and parcel of the fight to allow financial advisors to push products which improve their bottom line even if the advice isn’t in the best interests of their clients – like retirement funds.  The bankers have been fighting this right down to at least May 6, 2016.  However, the rule – now in place — has some benefits for “retail investors” as Morningstar summarizes:

“This change clearly is a victory for investors. Roughly half of retail U.S. mutual fund assets will be protected by the new, higher standards. They will not prevent bad advice, of course, nor trades from lower- to higher-cost funds. But they do command that all advice, whether successful or not, be offered in good faith, and that the rationale for all trades, whether into cheaper or pricier funds, be recorded. Such precautions will inevitably lead to better overall outcomes.”

Yes, those better overall outcomes and higher standards of responsibility for mutual funds were precisely what the bankers wanted to avoid, and exactly what Representative Joe Heck voted against on behalf of the bankers in HR 2374.

Catherine Cortez Masto It doesn’t take too much financial expertise to see which Nevada senatorial seat candidate is taking marching orders from the financial sector.  On one hand we have Joe Heck (R-NV3) who can be counted upon to find fault with the CFPB, the Dodd Frank Act, and efforts to make financial advisors account for their advice; and, on the other we have a former state Attorney General who actually Did something about that not-so-little blip that was the housing market crash/debacle in Nevada:

“2009: Cortez Masto Investigated And Found Broad Problems With The Bank Of America’s Interactions With Imperiled Borrowers. “In a complaint filed Tuesday in United States District Court in Reno, Catherine Cortez Masto, the Nevada attorney general, asked a judge for permission to end Nevada’s participation in the settlement agreement. This would allow her to sue the bank over what the complaint says were dubious practices uncovered by her office in an investigation that began in 2009. […] The breadth of the new Nevada complaint indicates that Bank of America’s problems extend throughout its mortgage operations, including origination, loan servicing and securitization. Nevada officials also found broad problems in the bank’s interactions with imperiled borrowers.” [New York Times, 8/30/11]”  [CCM]

And, there’s more. [here] What Representative Joe Heck was calling a “blip” was in reality the state of a state which led the national foreclosure rate stats for 62 straight months, and a scene in which some 58% of Nevada homeowners in 2011 were “underwater.”  Some blip.  Gee, even Representative Heck was pleased as of February 2012 with the settlement achieved in part by Cortez Masto,“Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said he is ‘happy to see that an agreement was reached. At a time when Nevada families are struggling the most to make ends meet, I have high hopes that this settlement will provide them much needed relief.’ [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 2/9/12]”

There really doesn’t appear to be much question at this point which senatorial candidate is most disposed to protecting the interests of retail investors (or any other kind for that matter), and consumers of financial products (most all of us), and homeowners… we have a choice between the man who wanted to scale back the efforts of the Dodd Frank Act and CFPB and the woman who took on the Big Banks and fraudulent lenders.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Heck, Nevada politics

Amodei Quacks Like A FLAG-waving Duck

Amodei 3

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) doesn’t like being categorized as “anti-public land,” or more precisely lumped in with the Bundy Boys.  However, his sponsorship of legislation and other activities have him on the Anti-Public Land list:

“Amodei landed on the list for sponsoring legislation that would give the state control of 7.2 million of the approximately 58 million acres of federally controlled land in Nevada, opposition to the creation of the Basin and Range National Monument, membership in Federal Lands Action Group and a statement about the Malheur occupation.

The statement, attributed to Amodei and two other members of the action group, said the lawmakers didn’t condone the Oregon action but added, “we do understand their frustration with increasingly heavy handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers.” [RGJ]

Duck looks The poor little Republican has been cast amongst the Bundys.  How did he end up bunched up with them?  First, he’s a “FLAG” member.

“Rep. Amodei is a FLAG member and introduced H.R. 1484, the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864—which would seize Nevada public land for state control. In 2015, Rep. Amodei also introduced H.R. 488, which would cripple the Antiquities Act by blocking the extension or creation of national monuments in Nevada, unless authorized by Congress. Rep. Amodei has also cosponsored four other bills aimed at curtailing the Antiquities Act and seizing public lands. In response to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Rep. Amodei signed on to a joint statement that condemned federal officials for law-breaking, rather than condemning the actions of the armed militants.” [CAP]

So, what is FLAG, and how does it relate to the Anti-Public Lands crowd?  The organization is the brain child of two Utah Representatives, Stewart and Bishop, who announced its creation on April 28, 2015.  And, the purpose?

Today, Representatives Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) launched the Federal Land Action Group, a congressional team that will develop a legislative framework for transferring public lands to local ownership and control. […] This group will explore legal and historical background in order to determine the best congressional action needed to return these lands back to the rightful owners. We have assembled a strong team of lawmakers, and I look forward to formulating a plan that reminds the federal government it should leave the job of land management to those who know best.” [Stewart]

Who were among the first members of the FLAG group? “Other members of the Group include Representatives Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).” [Stewart]

We should assume the group means what it says.  It wants to transfer public land to local ownership and control.   Towards this end the FLAG group held its first “forum” in June 2015, and among the speakers was a representative of the “Independent Institute.”  Board members of this organization include a private equity manager, a person from Deloitte & Touche USA, a member of the Howley Management Group, the Botto Law Group, a managing director of Palliser Bay Investment Management, Reditus Revenue Solutions, Audubon Cellars and Winery, Berkeley Research Group LLC, and the former chair of Garvey International.  [II.org]  This isn’t a list that inspires one to ask if they are primarily interested in public land for the sake of conservation.

Prof. Elwood L. Miller (UNR) was on the initial panel, adding a touch of accounting expertise to the argument that the federal government is too bureaucratic and caught up in procedural questions to be a good steward of public lands.  Attorney Glade Hall added the usual federal control isn’t constitutional argument. “It is a patent absurdity to assert that such full powers of governance cover 87 percent of the land surface of a state of the Union and at the same time assert that such state has been admitted to the Union on an equal footing with the original states in every respect whatever,” Hall said.” [STGU] A sentiment echoed by the head of the Natural Resources Group, whose book on the “theft” of the environmental issue is available from the Heritage Foundation.

In short, there was nothing to remind anyone of a fact-finding operation in this inaugural panel sponsored by FLAG.  It was of, by, and for individuals who want to ultimately privatize federal lands.

It’s also interesting that the panel members offered these opinions based on personal experience, or “talking to people,” but nothing in the presentations was offered to demonstrably prove that the federal government has no authority (beyond the usual crackpot interpretations spouted by the Bundy-ites and allies) or is actually and provably incompetent to manage public lands.  The guiding assumption – however poorly demonstrated – was that the local agencies could do a better job. Period.

If anyone is still unsure of the ideology driving FLAG, please note that the Heritage Foundation and the Mercatus group aren’t the only players supporting the efforts.  There’s also the John Birch Society (They’re still around) touting the confab on Facebook.  Additionally, there’s the ever-present American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) imprimatur on the project.

One segment of ALEC testimony from a February 2016 FLAG meeting can serve as an illustration of their argument:

“Bureaucratic inflexibility and regulatory redundancy make it almost impossible for the federal government to handle the lands in its charge for optimal environmental health. Any change in strategy on how to manage the lands, such as harvesting trees on forest lands to reduce wildfire fuel loads and prevent pest infestation, can take years to adopt and implement. By the time the federal government is able to act, it is often too late.”

Examples? The argument is made that three factors are responsible for the severity of wildland fires – poor logging practices, overgrazing, and over aggressive fire control. At this juncture, we could well ask how, without regulatory control, can better logging practices be promoted throughout the region? Or, if the Bundy Bunch isn’t convinced by the Federal authorities to pay their grazing fees and not trespass on BLM lands, then how is a state with less in the way of resources supposed to take on the task? 

However, the most intriguing element of the ALEC position is this: Further, they have operated with budget shortfalls for over a decade calling into question whether they even have adequate funds to get the job done.”  At this juncture it’s appropriate to ask – and who is touting cutting the federal and state budgets?  Who, if not ALEC?  Thus, the federal government can’t do a better job because the funding has been cut, and because the funding has been cut it can’t do the job?  Circular Reasoning at its finest, looped in with the obvious cuts and shaving from state budgets.   The ultimate argument would be that neither the federal government nor the state governments can “do the job” and therefore the lands should be transferred to private hands.  Nothing would please the Koch Brothers more?

The second way one gets attached to the Bundy-ites is to get mealy and smushy about their activities.  As in, “we do understand their frustration with increasingly heavy handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers.” [RGJ]  It’s past time to get specific.  Exactly what constitutes “heavy handed federal agencies?”  Are they agencies which are tasked to collect grazing fees?  How long is an agency expected to wait for a person to decide to pay those fees? 

Exactly what constitutes a “violation of rights of hardworking people?”  Exactly what rights have been violated?  How is it a violation of my rights to have to pay the same grazing fees, or have to move cattle from overgrazed areas, just like every other rancher in a given area under Federal management?  Freedom, rights, and independence are easy words to toss around, but without actual evidence of real violations of RIGHTS then the argument is hollow.

Bundy rally And, one lands on the anti-public lands roster by sponsoring legislation like Representative Amodei did in April 2015:

“Most recently, Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV) introduced a “large-scale” public lands bill, which would allow the state of Nevada to seize and sell off public lands. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, also requested $50 million in the federal budget in order to facilitate immediate transfer of public lands to state control.”  [TP]

Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then there’s no reason to list it as anything other than a duck.

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Filed under agriculture, Amodei, ecology, koch brothers, National Parks, Nevada news, Nevada politics, Politics, privatization, public lands, Rural Nevada

Amodei, Heck, Hardy, Sell Out Seniors

Amodei 3 There are three members of the House of Representatives from Nevada who, as of April 28, 2016 at 3:23 pm roll call vote #176, don’t get to talk about protecting retired persons, and their interests.  One of these members is Mark Amodei (R-NV2) who decided to vote “yes” on a House temper tantrum about Department of Labor rules on fiduciary duty.

Heck photo

Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) is the second.  Congressman Heck decided that investment advisers should be allowed to put their own interests ahead of the interests of their retirement account clients.  Perhaps he’s touting the GOP line that making the investment advisers put clients’ interests ahead of their own profits would mean higher costs for investment advice.   The GOP says they want to “protect access to affordable retirement advice.”  If you are inclined to believe this I have some investment advice for you….free of charge.

Hardy 2

And, the third one who doesn’t get to talk about protecting retirees? Nevada 4th District Mr. Malaprop, Cresent Leo Hardy, Republican from Mesquite.   He seems to like the “old standard,” and this raises the question why?  Let’s take a look at the “old standard:”

“Before the new standard, advisers were only required to give “suitable” advice, which left the door open for them to steer clients into products that made the advisers more money but weren’t the best option. That practice was costing Americans an estimated $17 billion a year in conflicted advice, according to the White House. Some people say their finances, particularly their chances of retiring comfortably, have been destroyed by bad advice and that they would have simply been better off without it.” [TP]

Yes, we have it, Representative Hardy evidently believes that it is better for Americans to waste $17 billion per year on conflicted investment advice than to hold advisers to a higher standard of fiduciary responsibility.

Titus

One, that would be ONE member of the Nevada congressional delegation voted to hold financial advisers to a higher standard than “just what will best line the pockets of their firms.”  Representative Dina Titus (D-NV1) was the lone member among the delegation to vote against the GOP sell out to the financial and banking industry.

Thus, the next time one of the three Republicans blather on about how they want to protect senior citizens and retirees – We can smile and say “But what about HJ Res 88 on April 28, 2016 at 3:23 pm.”

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Filed under Amodei, financial regulation, Heck, Nevada Congressional Representatives, Nevada politics, profiteering, public employees, Titus

Kids and Cattle: Washoe County School Bond Issue

cattle grazing The concept of an AUM is well understood in northern Nevada, that’s the Animal Unit Month, or the amount of forage needed for one cow and calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for one month. The current grazing fee for 2016 is $2.11 per AUM.  Further, not all grazing land is created equal. First class produces enough feed on 4 acres or less for one grown cow. Second class during an average year produces enough feed on 4 to 6 acres for a grown cow. Third class during an average year will sustain a grown cow on 6 to 12 acres, and fourth class during an average  year produces enough feed on 12 acres or more for one grown cow (1/12 or less animal units per month.) [AgBulletin pdf]  The point here is that good grazing land sustains one animal/month on four acres.  Would that we were this concerned about our children.

School crowding The Washoe County School District announced that there are several schools in the Reno/Sparks area which are on pace to require double sessions and year round scheduling to meet their demands.  There are eight schools hovering near the “trigger.”

“Tuesday’s trigger, detailed in Regulation 6111, puts middle and high schools on double sessions once they exceed campus capacity by 20 percent. Portable classrooms are not counted in these campus capacities.

No schools meet the trigger, yet. But four middle schools and four high schools are projected to get there over the next five years. All these schools are already over capacity or near it.”  [RGJ]

squeeze chute Not that children and cattle are analogous, but we do recognize that cattle need at least a minimum amount of space for grazing while the file photo shot from the Reno Gazette Journal above seems to indicate that a few squeeze chutes might be handy for funneling the little calves into their classrooms.  Might be handy? We could vaccinate them while they’re in the chutes? Check their vital signs? Wash and brush them if necessary? Check for medical and dental problems?

Back to the serious side for the moment – The Washoe County School District is asking voters to support a bond issue in the next election for capital improvements and renovations.  

“The committee based its requested increase on tax revenue projections, which would allow the district to issue $781 million in bonds over the next decade for school renovations and new campuses. District officials have said $781 million is what they need to meet demands of student enrollment forecasts. The district would pay off the bonds over 20 years using proceeds of the sales tax increase.” [RGJ]

There are always excuses for a “no vote.”  Some people would vote “no” on any proposal if it requires a penny more in sales or property taxes.   This, in spite of the fact that northern Nevada has one of the lowest tax burdens in the entire country:

“As compared to other major cities around the country, Reno property tax rates are some of the lowest in the United States at an effective rate of about a dollar per $100 of assessed value. While supporting an especially high sales tax rate of 7.75%, much of that bite is ameliorated by the fact that Nevada only taxes 37.4% of its goods at sale. Further savings are found in a state tax code that allows for the deductions of state and local sales tax payments.” [movoto]

Those facts won’t prevent some people from loudly complaining, “They’re Taxed Enough Already.”  Then, there’s the always provocative and ever annoying, “Why should I pay for someone else’s kids?”   Gee, I don’t know, perhaps it’s because we don’t want to be known as the Land That Education Forgot, populated with the ignorant and ill-educated.  Or, the antagonizing, “The Schools waste money on _____________.” Fill in that blank with, say, “administration,” or “football fields,” or any other convenient complaint.

Another obstacle is the “alternative” suggestions popping up before election day.  “Why don’t we have year round schools?” Or, “Why don’t we do double sessions and year round schedules?”  The only one I haven’t heard yet is for about $1700 a school could install a squeeze chute to handle the crowding in the hallways —

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Filed under education, nevada education

Wall Street May Not Be The Enemy: It’s the friends we need to watch

“Wall Street” is an extremely elastic catch phrase, useful for politicians of all stripes.  For example, we have Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) reminding us at every possible moment that he “voted against the bail out.” And, we have politicians from the other side of the aisle excoriating the traders for all the ills of modern America.  Both are off the mark.

Wall Street sign

First, beware the thinly veneered populism of Senator Heller.  Yes, he did vote against the bailout – an extremely safe vote at the time – but, NO he hasn’t stopped being the Bankers’ Boy he’s always been.  Let’s remember that while he was offering himself as the Little Guy’s Candidate he was voting on June 30, 2010 to recommit the Dodd-Frank Act to instruct conferees to expand the exemption for commercial businesses using financial derivatives to hedge their risks from the margin requirements in the bill.  Then, on June 30, 2010, he voted against the conference report of the Dodd-Frank Act.  Heller wasn’t finished.

In 2011 he and then Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) introduced S. 712 – a bill to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act.

“What S. 712 does is to (1) repeal measures which require banks to have a plan for orderly liquidation (another word for bankruptcy), (2) repeal requirements that banks keep records of transactions which would need to be transparent in case an “orderly liquidation” is in order, (3) repeal the establishment of an oversight committee to determine when a bank is becoming “too big to fail,” and is endangering the financial system — an early warning system if you will.  The new requirements governing (4) Swaps would also be repealed, along with the (5) Consumer Protection bureau.” [DB 2011]

Few could have been more obviously promoting the interests of Wall Street traders than Heller and DeMint. [DB 2012]  Few could have been more readily apparent in their enthusiasm to protect the financialists from the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act including the Volcker Rule.

Volcker Rule

A word about the Volcker Rule:

“The Volcker Rule included in the Dodd-Frank Act prohibits banks from proprietary trading and restricts investment in hedge funds and private equity by commercial banks and their affiliates. Further, the Act directed the Federal Reserve to impose enhanced prudential requirements on systemically identified non-bank institutions engaged in such activities. Congress did exempt certain permitted activities of banks, their affiliates, and non-bank institutions identified as systemically important, such as market making, hedging, securitization, and underwriting. The Rule also capped bank ownership in hedge funds and private equity funds at three percent. Institutions were given a seven year timeframe to become compliant with the final regulations.” [SIFMA]

Yes, Senator Heller et. al., if the Dodd-Frank Act is repealed then the financialists on Wall Street may go back to gleefully trading all manner of junk in all kinds of packaging with no limits on bank ownership of hedge and private equity funds.  Let’s remind ourselves at this point that capitalism works.  It’s financialism that’s the problem.  Under a capitalist form of finance resources (investments) are moved from areas (funds) with a surplus to areas (businesses) with a scarcity of funds.  Under a financialist system capital (money) is traded for complex financial instruments (paper contracts) the value of which is open to question.  Not to put too fine a point to it, but the “instruments” seems to have whatever value the buyer and seller agree to whether the deal makes any sense or not.  The Dodd-Frank Act doesn’t forbid “financialism” but it does put the brakes on.

Notice, it puts the brakes on, but doesn’t eliminate the old CDOs.  Nor does it prevent the CDO with a new name: The Bespoke Tranche Opportunity.  It works like this:

“The new “bespoke” version of the idea flips that business dynamic around. An investor tells a bank what specific mixture of derivatives bets it wants to make, and the bank builds a customized product with just one tranche that meets the investor’s needs. Like a bespoke suit, the products are tailored to fit precisely, and only one copy is ever produced. The new products are a symptom of the larger phenomenon of banks taking complex risks in pursuit of higher investment returns, Americans for Financial Reform’s Marcus Stanley said in an email, and BTOs “could be automatically exempt” from some Dodd-Frank rules.” [TP]

Zero Hedge summed this up: “This is the synthetic CDO equivalent of a Build-A-Bear Workshop.” We’re told not to worry our pretty little heads about this because, gee whiz, CDOs got a bad reputation during the Big Recession of 2007-2008, when they were just “hedging credit exposure.”  Yes, and ARMs got a bad reputation when they were just putting people in houses… Spare me.

And, we’d think that after the CDO debacle of 2007-2008, some one might have learned something somehow, but instead we get the Bespoke Tranche Opportunity and a big bubble in really really junky bonds.   That would be really really really junky bonds:

“Junk bonds are living up to their name right now. As we have noted in the past, the lowest-rated junk bonds may have inflated a $1 trillion bubble at the bottom of the debt market. The thing is, it never should have gotten that way.” [BusInsider]

Indeed, back in the bad old days no one could issue CCC bonds.  Now, we have Central Banks supporting Zombie Companies, low yield Treasuries making investors look to more “speculative” debt, and more demand for high yields meant that purveyors of Junk found a market for their garbage. [BusInsider] And, of course, someone out there is hedging all this mess.

Lemmings Here we meet the second problem with financial regulation in this great country.  Not only would the Bankers’ Boys like Senator Heller like to go back to the days of Deregulation, but the Financialists are hell bent on Yield! High Yield!  Even if this means supporting Zombie Companies which should probably just die already; even if this means allowing the sale of Bespoke Tranche Opportunities; and, even if this means selling bonds no one would touch only a few years ago.  The quarterly earnings report demands higher yields (As in: What Have You Done For Me In 90 Days Or Less) and investors jump like lemmings off the cliff.

We’ll probably keep doing this until someone figures out that in these schemes the chances are pretty good that “getting rich fast” more often means going broke even faster.  Thus the financialists package Bespoke Opportunities and C (for Crappy) Bonds.

Said it before, and will say it again:’  What needs to be done is —

  • Continuing to restrict the activity of bankers who want to securitize mortgages, under the terms of existing banking laws and regulations.
  • Continued implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act.

To which we should add, “restrict the creation and sale of artificial “investment” paper products which add nothing to the real economy of this country, and instead soaks up investment funds, and creates Bubbles rather than growth.

 

Read more atSIFMA, “Volcker Rule Resource Center, Overview.” Desert Beacon, “Deregulation Debacle,” 2012.  Desert Beacon, “Full Tilt Boogie,” 2011.  Think Progress, “High Risk Investments,” 2015.  Zero Hedge, “The Bubble is Complete,” 2015.  Bustle, “Is the ‘Big Short’ Right?, 2016.  Bloomberg News, “Goldman Sachs Hawks CDOs,” 2015.  Huffington Post, “Big Short, Big Wake Up Call,” 2016.  Market Mogul, “BTO, Deja Vu” 2016.  Business Insider, “Trillion Dollar Bubble,” 2016.  Business Insider, “Bubble Ready to Burst,” 2016.  Seeking Alpha, “OK, I get it, the junk bond miracle rally is doomed,” 2016.  Wolfstreet, “CCC rated junk bonds blow past Lehman moment,” 2016.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Nevada politics, Politics

Amodei, Vets, and the unanswered questions

On Monday, May 2, 2016 Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) will host a Veterans Town Hall in Fallon, NV for two hours – from 10 am until noon.  That’s nice. Retired vets can make that time frame, working ones perhaps not so much.  [News4] Courting the veterans vote is a long time strategy for the Republican Party, and this bloc constitutes a substantial chunk of the state’s electorate.

Amodei 3 Someone might want to ask Representative Amodei how he felt about the House Appropriations Committee slashing more than $1.4 billion from President Obama’s request for veterans.  The 2016 House proposal reduces VA medical care by $690 million from the President’s request.  And, there was another $582 million cut from construction costs for outpatient services  and priority construction projects.  Additionally, the House proposal cuts funding for military cemeteries, including delaying expansion of cemetery operations in Portland OR, Riverside CA, Bayamon PR, St. Louis MO, and Pensacola FL. [VA.gov]

Another question could be raised about the fate of H.R. 2275 (Jobs for Veterans Act of 2015) introduced by Republican Jeff Miller (R-FL1).  It was referred to committee in the House on May 12, 2015 and hasn’t been heard of since.  [GovTrack]

Should someone ask what happened to the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014?  Probably, because this legislation got caught in the brambles of Senate posturing about economic sanctions on Iran, and after passing at least one procedural vote went into oblivion from which it, too, hasn’t returned.

Perhaps we should go back to a particularly egregious moment in 2010 when the Republicans blocked a bill to approve a $3.4 billion program to help homeless women veterans, and homeless veterans with children.  Senator Tom Coburn brought out the “Deficit Dragon” saying, “If we don’t start paying for new programs and continue on our path to bankruptcy we’ll have a homelessness problem beyond imagination.” [HuffPo]  Interesting, by Republican lights we always seem to have enough money to start wars, and to finance them, but when we talk about spending money on the people who actually did the fighting — “OMG, we can’t add to the deficit?”

If the Veterans town hall is really about veterans, then a person might hope that there would be ample attention paid to the issues like homelessness among the veteran population? About what services we should be providing for homeless veterans with children? About how many VA facilities we need to be constructing or leasing for veterans’ care – either in medical or employment terms?

What would not be helpful is to have such sessions devolve into the collection of negative interactions between veterans and the Veterans’ Administration.  Yes, the VA is a bureaucracy, one which has trouble meshing with its counterpart agencies in the Department of Defense (Have we thought about funding computer and IT services in the DoD and VA?)  But, no, it isn’t necessary to create a whipping boy in order to “prove” that government doesn’t work, and other GOP canards, and to “solve” the problems by privatizing services for veterans.

We, as a nation, send people into wars. We promise we will support them. We promise them education, health care, and benefits when they return. We promise their families some burial benefits if they do not. They went voluntarily, under our flag and under our imprimatur.  Therefore, the least we can do as a nation is to keep those promises, and not entangle the funding for older programs and initiatives for new ones in a labyrinth of ideological rhetoric, excuses for inaction, and poison-pill amendments.  We can do better.

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Filed under Amodei, Veterans

Nevada’s Good News, Bad News Economy: Housing, Wages, and Woes

Nevada’s home foreclosure rate is still not a pretty picture.   The state still exceeds the national average.  This is not an argument to slather on the Doom and Gloom economic message with a trowel, but it is a cautionary item in the prolonged narrative of the effect of the housing bubble, and the continued pressure from low wage employment.

Nevada Foreclosure 4 2016One in every 702 properties is in some phase of foreclosure, with one in every 373 in Lyon County, one in every 448 in Nye County, one in every 468 in Churchill County, one in every 643 in Clark County, and one in every 657 in Elko County. [RealtyTrac]  Dismal as this may seem, it does represent an improvement over Nevada’s record breaking performance in 2008-2010. [LVSun] At the end of 2010 Las Vegas saw one in every 9 home receiving some form of default notice. [moneyCNN]

The good news:

“The December surge in foreclosure starts is not a cause for concern, as it comes from a previously existing supply of distressed properties,” said Andres Carbacho-Burgos, Senior Economist at Moody’s Analytics, which analyzes RealtyTrac foreclosure data to forecast foreclosure trends. “The national pool of distressed mortgages has not increased despite the surge in foreclosure filings.” [RealtyTrac]

The astounding appetite of the Wall Street Casino for a supply of home mortgages to slice, dice, tranche, and securitize seems to have mellowed given that the “national pool of distressed mortgages” (of which Nevada contributed more than its share?) hasn’t increased.  National foreclosure statistics illustrate an effort to “clean up” previous backlogs.  So, if housing isn’t the big downer, what might be?

The Not So Good News: Nevada’s wage growth from 2007 to 2012 was a –6.5%.  Yes, that’s a minus sign in front of the percentage.  This is not the sort of chart that warms the hearth:

Nevada wage growth 2012 In short, whatever general wage growth there was between 2002 and 2008 was given back in the wake of the housing bubble collapse. The average weekly earnings of $835 in 2002 dribbled down to the average weekly earnings of $840 in 2012, a $5 increase in five years isn’t much to applaud.

There’s a bit  better news for 2016.  Weekly wages in the 3rd quarter of 2015 were $860, compared to the $840 of a year ago, up 2.6%. [NWF pdf] Even better, the unemployment rate in Nevada is now reported at 5.8%, a significant improvement over the +/- 14% we were looking at during the Recession. [NWF]  And now, another note of caution.  The greatest demand for employees in the state is for wait staff (2,229 openings), retail salespersons (2,113 openings), combined food prep including fast food (1,793 openings), and cashiers (1,420 openings) [NWF pdf] 

More food for thought:  Only two of the jobs listed with more than 500 potential openings offer wages or salaries above the median income in Nevada.  General and Operations Managers (571) has an annual average wage of $104,832, and Registered Nurses (608) can expect an average about $78,811. By contrast, wait staff averages $22,277, retail salespersons about $27,040, food prep about $19,781, and cooks $27,456. [NWF pdf]

Not to put too fine a point to it, but the occupations most in demand in Nevada aren’t the ones which will do much to improve either the housing market or the actual level of wage growth.

Nevada’s current $8.25/$7.25 minimum wage is not helping the situation.  A informative graphic in the Las Vegas Sun illustrates that a studio apartment rental in Clark County is affordable for someone working full time at $12.12 per hour, 1 bedroom requires $15.13, a 2 bedroom $18.63, a 3 bedroom unit $27.46, and 4 bedrooms $32,60.  Want a 2 bedroom apartment in Clark County? It requires 2.25 jobs at $8.25 per hour.

One of the least helpful suggestions made to the last version of the Nevada legislature came from Senator Joe Hardy (R- Boulder City) who offered the following resolution:

The resolution would repeal a constitutional amendment approved by Nevada voters in 2006 setting a standard minimum wage. Hardy said he would also propose legislation giving the Legislature the power to control the state’s minimum wage and tie the wage to the Consumer Price Index. [LVSun]

Republicans offered up a proposal for $9.00 per hour, still well short of what it would take a minimum wage worker to afford a studio apartment. Democrats proposed a $16/$15 minimum wage – which would just about get someone into a single bedroom rental unit.  Hardy’s proposal went nowhere, as did the other two offerings.

Meanwhile, the income inequality gap increased in the state.

“The states in which all income growth between 2009 and 2012 accrued to the top 1 percent include Delaware, Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Connecticut, Washington, Louisiana, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Massachusetts, Colorado, New York, Rhode Island, and Nevada.” [EPI]

If there were ever a way to insure that an economy based on consumer demand could stagnate, then it surely must be related to the incongruous notion that if a few rich people get richer then everyone will be better off. Let me suggest a re-reading of the old classic, “Where Are The Customer’s Yachts?

Let me also suggest a review of the Department of Labor’s myth-busting publication on the effects of raising the federal minimum wage.  Conservative sites have their own “myth-busting” reports but their conclusions are highly questionable, and just as highly generalized,  and none effectively challenges the research from Kruger and Card which demonstrates that there’s nothing “job killing” about increasing minimum wages. [HuffPo]

Nevada’s economy could be improved by:

  • Increasing the state’s minimum wage to at least $13.00 per hour.
  • Continuing to restrict the activity of bankers who want to securitize mortgages, under the terms of existing banking laws and regulations.
  • Continued implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act.

Nevada’s politicians might be improved by asking some pointed questions:

  • Do you support an increase in the State’s minimum wage to $13.00 per hour?
  • Do you support the continued implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Nevada politics