Blood Money and Nevada Politicians

blood money Indeed, it’s time to “politicize” the gun violence issue in this nation; and, it should be done in this election cycle.   The top “gun rights” advocacy groups in terms of money spent on candidates are: (1) The National Rifle Association, which spent $952,252 during the 2013-14 season; (2) Safari Club International, which spent $694,640 during the same period; (3) Gun Owners of America, $270,157; (4) National Shooting Sports Foundation, $169,250; (5) The Ohio Gun Collectors Association, $35,500; and, (6) The Dallas Safari Club, $9,250.  [OpenSecrets]  And now – Who has been collecting some of this money in Nevada?

Contributions from all cycles to date as reported by the Center for Responsive Politics show:

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) $101,565

Representative Joe Heck (R-NV) $31,415

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV) $25,765

Representative Cresent Hardy (R-NV) $1,000*

During his 2012 election campaign Senator Heller was presumably pleased to have five contributions from the Safari Club International totaling $6,000. [FEC]   FEC records show more recent money coming into the Cresent Hardy* (R-NV4) campaign from pro-gun sources: there was a $1,000 contribution from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund on June 19, 2015, and a $2,000 contribution from Safari Club International on June 30, 2015. [FEC]

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) collected $2,000 from the Safari Club International (6/22/15) thus far in the 2016-2016 season; he collected $2,500 from the National Rifle Association on 9/15/14, $1,000 from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (9/22/14), and $1,000 from Safari Club International on 6/21/13.  The gun lobby was generous to Representative Amodei in the 2011-2012 season as well, with three contributions (8/1/2011) (12/20/2011) (7/27/2012) totaling $4,000 from the National Rifle Association.  Then, he received four more contributions from Safari Club International for $1,000 (8/9/2011) another $1,000 (3/19/2012), a boost of $2,000 (2/4/2012) and yet another $1,000 late in the season (9/8/2012).


While the politicians were collecting contributions from the pro-gun organizations, the CDC reported 16,121 homicides in the US in 2013 of which 11,208 were attributable to firearms. [CDC] As of 2011, the CDC reported, there were 41,149 suicides in this country, of which 21,175 were attributable to firearms. [CDC]  Worse still, we’re not even sure exactly how many children we’re losing every year to gun violence. [WaPo] [NYT] As close as we can infer is that between 2007 and 2011 an average of 62 children under the age of 14 were accidentally shot and killed each year. This is probably, as the Post pointed out, an undercount. [ERorg.]  The politicians collect more contributions, and the count rises.

Counting is important because the gun violence argument is becoming entangled in the differentiation between causation and correlation.  Gun fetishists will be delighted to find that FactCheck is criticizing one of the President’s recent comments about gun regulation and death rates as not being one of causation. No one appears to be disputing the correlations.  What’s interesting is that the original comment, “states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths” doesn’t seem to imply a causal relationship (or even a near perfect positive correlation of .98)  Perhaps for the purists, he might have expressed it as: “There appears to be a correlation between the efforts of a state to enact and enforce gun safety legislation and a lower overall gun violence death rate.”

Additionally, as the FactChecker points out counting suicides and accidental gun deaths is problematic because we lack a standard reporting system, an issue which muddies the clarity of statistics on accidents involving children as described in the links above.  Accurate information (data collection as in “counting” as accurately as possible) would also allow us to treat gun violence as a public health issue.  [Gupta CNN]

Counting and Will Power

If we go by the numbers, none of us can avoid the No. 1 cause of death until we reach 44 years of age – the heart disease and cancer causation kicks in. Unintentional injury is the leading cause for those aged 1-44.  However, when we look at the second leading cause of death in those between the ages of 15-35 it’s suicide, and the third leading cause is homicide.  [CDC]  Surely, if we have these kinds of statistics before us we can observe a public health issue of the first water.

Consider for a moment: Tuberculosis, Pneumonia, and Gastrointestinal infections were leading causes of death in 1900; in 2010 the leading causes were heart disease and cancer. [I09]  We treated TB, Pneumonia, and gastrointestinal infections as public health problems, studied causes, promoted research to find preventative measures and cures, and made a political decision that we would address these three killers with the funding and resources to defeat them.  However, as long as the merchants of lethal weapons continue to pay off politicians, and dispute even the most common sense elements of a potential solution, and won’t even consider funding basic research … our public health problem will persist as a matter of ill-advised political policy.

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I’m Tired: Of Defeatist Gun Glorifiers.

Blood splatter Another week another mass shooting, and yet another round of the old tired clichéd talking points from the defeatist – demoralized – ammosexuals. 

#1.  “Oregon has strict gun safety laws and the incident happened in Oregon, therefore gun laws don’t work.” No matter how many times another state or municipality is inserted into this framework it’s still the southbound product of a northbound bull.    Not sure? Go to this report of a study of the subject.

#2.The shooter was a ___________”  Another dropping of “product.”  I don’t care if the shooter was a bright green aubergine striped believer in the Great Pumpkin.  The shooter was able to secure lethal firepower all too easily and the entities which allowed him to do so are not held accountable in any meaningful way.

#3.It’s the parent’s responsibility to instruct and acculturate their children.”  Yes, and too many have decided on instructing children in the use of firearms without teaching the elements of responsibility thereof and  have begat another generation, some members of which think using a firearm is a way to vent, rage, and settle domestic disputes.  Again – more bull “product.”

#4.  “Banning guns leaves citizens unprotected.”  More male bovine “product.”  Really? Unprotected from what? Criminals? A gun in the home is more likely to be used in a crime, an accident, or a suicide than it will be to protect the Castle.  Need some real information? Try here.

#5.The shooter was mentally ill.”  This piece of “product” usually comes up when the shooter is a white male.  (Other shooters are Black (thugs), Muslim (terrorists) or if brownish (Un-American.)  So, I ask, what was a mentally ill individual doing with a lethal weapon?  Did a parent allow access? Did a store fail to run a background check? Did a private seller not perform due diligence?  Did the state legislature decide that only those who have been adjudicated mentally ill would be precluded from obtaining lethal weapons?

Ok, enough of the NRA publicity points, enough southbound product of northbound bulls.  We can, and should, make every effort to make our country safer.  We will never achieve perfection, but if we listen to the demoralizing, defeatist ammosexuals we’ll never even try.  We can do something:

  • Require universal background checks for firearm purchases. All firearm purchases.
  • Legislate to limit the practice of straw purchases of firearms.
  • Legislate to limit the amount of purchases.  One gun per month seems reasonable.  A person would have every right to purchase guns, just not all at once.
  • Limit the magazine capacity. 
  • Ban the sale of assault rifles.  Soldiers need them, civilians don’t.
  • Keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers.
  • Fund and assist scientific studies into the causation and effects of gun violence.
  • Repeal liability immunity for gun manufacturers, in short make them as responsible for their product and any other manufacturers.
  • Enact safe storage laws.
  • Pledge to vote against any politician supported by the NRA, the Shooting Sports Foundation, Gun Owners of America, or any other manufacturing lobby promoting the sales of lethal weapons in this country.

If the defeatist, demoralizing, gun enthusiasts want to keep spouting their talking points, want to keep making excuses for doing nothing – fine, however I’m tired of their defeatism, their demoralization, their ranting, and their irrationality.  We cannot achieve perfection, but we can certainly do something to make this country and its citizens safer.

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Fiorina, Lucent, and Lucidity

Fiorina 1 Nevada Republican Party Chair, Michael McDonald, was pleased to post that Carly Fiorina won the National Federation of Republican Women’s straw poll at their convention in Phoenix, AZ last month. [NVGOP]  Gathering 27% to the Hair-Do’s 20% – if that’s to be called a ‘win’ in the sorting of the occupants in the GOP 2016 Clown Car.  There’s another way to sort the candidates, especially those who claim that business acumen is an automatic qualifier for political office. 

Those pundits who have labeled Fiorina “Snarly Failure-ina” are usually referring to her unfortunate tenure – and subsequent Golden Parachuted Escape therefrom – at Hewlett Packard.  However, it’s instructive to go back a bit and start with AT&T.

Twenty years ago AT&T began the process of selling off one of its core assets, the equipment manufacturing division, including Bell Labs the originator of the transistor and a ‘preeminent research outfit.’  The idea was that as a separate entity the equipment division could compete with AT&T competitors and sell its products to flashy outfits like Sprint, Winstar, and PathNet telecom networks.   Fiorina’s star ascended as the head of the group selling gear to “service provider networks.” [Fortune]

The Big Deal in which AT&T spun off Lucent was not without some chickens which would come home to roost later.  There were several clues at the time which projected problems: (1) Lucent was valued at $15 billion at the time of the IPO, but a $21 billion value had been bruited about only a week earlier; (2) its major competitors were Siemens (Germany), Alcatel (France), and Motorola. (3) AT&T loaded the company with $3.8 billion in debt; (4) there were restructuring costs tied to planned major layoffs and Lucent reported a loss of $867 million for 1995 on revenue of $21.4 billion, down from a profit of $482 million and revenue of $19.7 billion for the year before. [LATimes]  And then there was this warning:

Lucent also faces a maturing U.S. market for telecommunications switches. It is making an aggressive push into faster-growing markets in Asia and elsewhere, but it faces tough competition from companies like Alcatel that have long had a powerful international presence. [LATimes]

A bit of history is in order:

“At that time, telecommunications equipment companies had entered a period of unprecedented — and as it would later emerge, unsustainable — growth. Congress had passed a law making it easier for new companies to compete with local phone companies, which had long been de facto monopolies. Households and businesses first connecting to the new-fangled Internet added phone lines and equipment and services, creating a gold rush to build up new network capacity around the world.” [Recode]

For “gold rush” read “financing” for the Qwests and WorldComs and other providers  which had laid far more fiber optic cable and installed way too much capacity, well beyond the needs of the potential customers.  What to do in the service of selling telecommunication switches in a “mature” market – one which was at least saturated if not in the flood zone?

Fiorina administered the practice of “vendor financing” to keep revenues up. There’s nothing necessarily nefarious about this – it was a standard business practice in which Lucent required suppliers to arrange or provide “long term financing for them as a condition to obtaining or bidding on infrastructure projects.” [recode]  When the deals were good, such as the $2.3 billion extended to Sprint, they were very good. But then… there were others of much more questionable obligations. 

It was reported in October 1998 that Lucent and WinStar entered into a $2 billion five year “network pact.” That $2 billion from Lucent was supposed to allow WinStar to expand on an international basis. [IntNews]  The deal didn’t last any five years, it only lasted until WinStar declared bankruptcy in 2001, and sued Lucent for $10 billion claiming that the firm broke its vendor financing agreement. [CompW]  By the time WinStar went under, Fiorina was ensconced at Hewlett-Packard.  WinStar wasn’t the only disaster.

There was also PathNet, a vendor financing deal which made even less sense.  PathNet at least had the sense to notice that first tier cities were all but awash in telecommunications equipment in 1999, so they were going to focus on second and third tier cities for their networks. To this end they secured $2.1 billion from Lucent in vendor financing in February 1999.  [FOonline]  This amount to a company which reported less than $2 million in annual revenue. [recode]  Even using the most generous estimates the company had barely $100 million in equity; it was juggling $385 million in junk bonds at 12.25% interest, and the added $440 million in loans from Lucent only served to jack up the company’s leverage to 8:1. Even higher as they drew more of the loan? [Fortune]

Fiorina has pushed back on the notion she was happy with these short term, dubious deals, however, there’s another side: Lucent at one point predicted annual growth of 17%-22% annually. (1997) [Fortune]  Now, what’s not for Wall Street to love about a 17% annual growth rate? Fiorina may not have been over the moon about the vendor financing deals, but she was determined to rack up big sales. [Fortune]  PathNet filed for bankruptcy in April 2001.

An SEC filing just after Fiorina left Lucent revealed a $7 billion in loan commitments to customers, Lucent dispensing some $1.6 billion. [Fortune]  Why would this be important?  For starters, think Bubble. What the highly questionable home mortgages were to the Housing Bubble, those vendor loans were to the Tech Bubble.  At one point Lucent shares dropped to >$1, and in 2006 the company merged with Alcatel. [Fortune]

So, what do we know?  Fiorina’s tenure at AT&T/Lucent wasn’t much more than that of the Super-Saleswoman who predicted high growth rates and revenues based on vendor financing deals, deals which collapsed as the saturated market finally emerged from behind the curtain of financial manipulation. This isn’t business vision, it isn’t even lucidity – it is merely chasing a fast buck.

References and Recommended Reading:  Linda Rosencrance, “Winstar files for bankruptcy, sues Lucent for $10 billion, Computerworld, April 18, 2001. Staff Report, “AT&T Spinoff Lucent Makes Historic IPO,” Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1996. Scott Woolley, “Carly Fiorina’s troubling telecom past,” Fortune, October 15, 2010. Arik Hesseldahl, “Time to revisit Carly Fiorina’s business record before HP?…” Recode, August 30, 2015.  Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, “Why I still think Fiorina was a terrible CEO,” Politico, September 20, 2015.  Glenn Kessler, “Carly Fiorina’s misleading claims about her business record, Washington Post, May 8, 2015.  Andrew Ross Sorkin, “The influence of Fiorina at Lucent, in hindsight,” New York Times, September 21, 2015. Julie Bort, “Yale Professor on Carly Fiorina’s business record: She destroyed half the wealth of her investors yet still earned almost $100 million,” Business Insider, September 16, 2015.

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Dean Heller’s Immoderate Vote

Heller Goo1

Once again, Nevada junior Senator Dean Heller gets stretched out into Immoderate territory in Senate votes this week.  On September 22, 2015 Senator Heller voted in favor of the unscientific and pretty thoroughly politicized “Pain Capable…” forced birth bill (H.R. 36) [roll call 268]

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) explained the opposition to the bill by noting it is  (1) unconstitutional because it bans abortion procedures before a fetus is medically considered viable and it does not include exceptions for a situation in which a woman’s health in endangered – both elements contradict Roe v. Wade and other precedents.  [RealityCK]

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) added: “Do we really want to make a criminal out of a physician who is trying to prevent a woman with preeclampsia from suffering damage to her kidneys or liver, or having a stroke or seizures?” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). “Do we want the threat of prison for a doctor who knows that his pregnant patient needs chemotherapy or radiation treatments?” [RealityCK]

For those unfamiliar with lady parts and how they function (which unfortunately seems to include a majority of Republican men in Congress) let’s note that preeclampsia generally occurs after 20 weeks, and one of the first signs is an increase in the woman’s blood pressure.  There is one and only one cure for preeclampsia – the delivery of the fetus. [MayoClinic]  The decisions made by the woman and her physician are going to be really tough at this point. 

The delivery has to happen before damage to the kidneys or liver becomes permanent – or fatal.  What happens to the fetus is problematic.  The usual assumption of viability in the U.S. is 24 weeks of gestational age.  Less than that gestational age and the fetus will likely not be physically mature enough to survive into the neo-natal period and achieve the capacity to be an independent human being. [NCBI]  However, there is another factor which isn’t biological.  The technology must be available to sustain the fetus delivered this early.  For example, even in developed western European countries such as Portugal the age of assumed viability is higher than in the U.S. [NIH]

What makes Senator Heller’s position so radical is his vote to criminalize the efforts of a physician who is confronted with preeclampsia in a pregnant woman after 20 weeks into the pregnancy – when the condition most often appears – and his assumption that all pregnant women and their physicians have access to the kind of neo-natal technology associated with a neo-natal intensive care unit.  And, not just any neo-natal care unit, in cases of extremely pre-mature infants we’re talking about Level III care capacity.

Now scroll through the Nursing Institute of Nevada list of hospitals and their technical and staff capabilities.  Two list Level II nursery care, six list Level III facilities – and they are all located in either the Las Vegas or Reno area.  Treating preeclampsia outside one of Nevada’s two metropolitan areas requires all the emergency training and equipment for the most extreme emergencies.

As if the situation weren’t complicated enough, preeclampsia’s early symptoms – headaches, nausea, plus aches and pains are all things that happen in a normal pregnancy.  However, when the headaches are severe, there’s blurred vision. severe abdominal pain,  and  shortness of breath – it’s time for the emergency room. [MayoClinic]   The condition occurs in about 5%-8% of all pregnancies, and can appear at any time during pregnancy, delivery, and up to six weeks post-partum, although it most frequently happens in the final trimester. [PreecOrg]

It would be very useful if more Republican men knew that a pregnancy involves more than having a wife who reacts to certain smells, and  has trouble with shoe laces, in addition to the general knowledge that it’s a good idea to keep the gas tank filled in the family wagon.

The radical forced-birth crowd in the U.S. Senate seems not to understand that their anti-abortion grandstanding has implications in the real world in which not all pregnancies are trouble free, not all women and infants have immediate access to the very latest technology and medical expertise, and not all complications in pregnancies take place conveniently before some artificially established gestational age.  It’s too bad Senator Heller has joined this herd.

Recommended reading for Republican men: “Frequently Asked Questions,” Preeclampsia Foundation. “Familial Occurrence of Preeclampsia,” National Institutes of Health, NCBI. “Late Pregnancy Complications,” Patient.Info. “Preeclampsia,” Mayo Clinic. “Medline Plus: Preeclampsia,” NLM, NIH. “Preeclampsia,” WebMD.

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Filed under Health Care, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans, Women's Issues

No Free Lunch No Free Market

“The market is a human creation. It is based on rules that humans devise. The central question is who shapes those rules and for what purpose,” Reich concludes. “The coming challenge is not to technology or to economics. It is a challenge to democracy. The critical debate for the future is not about he size of government; it is about whom government is for.” [Robert Reich]

Bingo!  Adam Smith, in Wealth of Nations, offered the Invisible Hand – and economists have been grabbing it ever since. IF, they mused, if all buyers and sellers were truly free then markets would achieve equilibrium and all will be well.  Everyone will act in their own self-interest, and the competition induced will benefit all.  There will be an equilibrium price – for anything – when the demand and the supply are equal.  However, there’s always been a flaw in this argument.

The cracks begin showing when it’s noted that “price” and “value” are not the same thing.  Truly, there is a “market value,” i.e. the price at which an asset would trade in a competitive auction setting, but this isn’t a definition of value.  Value is a qualifier we assign to things that are beneficial, significant, advantageous, or useful. Let’s digress a moment and review why this differentiation between price (even market price) and value is important.

Finance works best when it acts as the conduit for moving capital from places of surplus to places of scarcity.  In the simplest possible terms, finance allows the money in someone’s savings account to be invested in someone else’s business enterprise.   The owner of the savings account benefits from the earnings; the owner of the business enterprise benefits from the extra cash to expand his operations.   Not to put too fine a point to it, but when finance doesn’t move capital from surplus to scarcity then it’s not finance – all too often it’s merely gambling.

Additionally we should note that the the system itself is a gamble.  If I put in a $1000 investment in Widgets International Inc. then I’m betting my shares will either pay dividends, gain in price, or preferably both.  And now to return to “value.”  I’m taking a risk with my money, but I’m also hoping to invest in something of value – perhaps WI Inc. manufactures the best product on offer which helps nurses prevent bed sores from afflicting their patients.  I have $1000 on hand (surplus), Widgets International Inc. needs to expand to meet the demand for its product (scarcity) and finance allows the conduit to work toward mutual benefit.

However, what if I behave as though my $1000 really isn’t surplus? What if I make a side bet that the price of Widget International will go down?  In this instance I am buying a “financial product” which has precious little to do with the product the company is manufacturing, a bit more to do with how the company is managed, and a great deal to do with how a hedge fund can be used to “manage wealth.”   Or, to put it another way – to reduce risk.  Money (capital) slathered about in an effort to reduce risk isn’t part of that conduit for moving capital from surplus to scarcity, and it (as we’ve seen) is fraught with consequences.  The word “behave” is the key term.

If the concepts of price and value are problematic in a discussion of American economics, then our Economic Man as described by Adam Smith is also at issue:

“Economic Man makes logical, rational, self-interested decisions that weigh costs against benefits and maximize value and profit to himself. Economic Man is an intelligent, analytic, selfish creature who has perfect self-regulation in pursuit of his future goals and is unswayed by bodily states and feelings. And Economic Man is a marvelously convenient pawn for building academic theories. But Economic Man has one fatal flaw: he does not exist.” [Harvard]

The “convenient pawn” became the cornerstone of neoclassical economic theory.  The theory elevated the pawn, and the pawn returned the compliment by rationalizing everything from child labor to global out-sourcing.   The Magic Market would “equalize” everything, and all would be well.  In fact, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and there is no such thing as a free market.

In fact, if we skip the jargon (such as a trader saying “I make markets”) what we understand is that traders in the financial sector are sales personnel who have products to sell to prospective buyers.   Last time we looked those sales personnel, the buyers, and the sellers were all human beings – or human beings managing various and sundry enterprises.  Even if  trading is  computerized, someone – some human being – had to program those computers, which still have no innate capacity to count beyond 0 to 1.  There are some benighted souls who believe that if we have just enough “self monitoring,” and more elegant algorithms those messy, inconsistent human beings will no longer screw up the financial markets.  Again, we’d have to ask, “Who is writing those algorithms?” And,  how much “self-monitoring” is good enough?   There are markets, but they are certainly not free of human beings – humans being the brokers, the agents, the buyers, and the sellers.

“Who shapes the rules, and for what purpose?”

We have rules for all manner of human transactions.   When sharing a meal we don’t eat the mashed potatoes with our hands. When getting an invitation with an “RSVP” we don’t wait until after the event to respond.  A soccer match is played with only 11 on each side.  The FAA has rules for take offs and landings to minimize the risk of collisions.   And we have rules for financial markets.   Why? Because a market is simply a transaction between two human agents – buyer and seller – no matter how computerized.

One thing we did learn during the debacle of 2007-2008 was that some investment houses were selling products on which they could calculate a price but they were incapable of determining the product’s value. In some instances the artificiality of the product and its distance from anything tangible, such as a home mortgage, made it impossible to determine what the product was actually worth.  All too much of the Stuff had a “market price” but turned out to have no value in the last analysis.  Thus the demise of Lehman Brothers.

There are some questions at the intersection of economics and politics in 2016:

  • Do we want an unfettered market for financial products? Do we want rules advantageous to the sellers of products in the financial markets? Do we want rules advantageous to the buyers in financial markets? Do we want rules which protect the general public from irresponsible or anti-social behavior on the part of the buyers and sellers?
  • Do we want those who write the rules for the transactions in the financial markets to have the interests of the general public in mind?
  • Do we support agencies which enforce rules designed to restrain the behavior of buyers and sellers in the financial markets?
  • Do we encourage investment or speculation?
  • Should our system of taxation reward work or wealth?

We can focus down on a single issue illustrative of the general regulatory environment – this past July a Senate Committee was taking testimony on a proposed rule that investment advisers place the client’s interest first when deciding upon investments in retirement accounts. One member of the panel offered that the rule would “cost” the investors some $80 billion because financial firms would simply raise fees to make up the profit differential if they couldn’t put their own interests before the interests of their retirement account clients. [Litan pdf]  However, what didn’t go unchallenged was that the study cited by the panel member was financed by the Capital Group, a corporation which definitely stands to benefit if the proposed rule from the Department of Labor is not implemented. [BostonGlobe]

The question highlights the element of freedom:  Is the investment adviser free to purchase elements in a portfolio which enhance the profitability of his firm, or must the adviser give first priority to those investments which will best serve the clients’ interests?  Is the client free to assume his agent (investment adviser) is acting in his or her best interests?  Is the client free to know how investment portfolio decisions are made?  It isn’t a question of whether or not the “market” is “free,” it’s a question of who is free to do what.

Consider for a moment a situation in which a large employer has selected a financial advisor to manage its retirement program.  There are three human agencies at play: the employer, the employees, and the financial advisors.  And, because there are human beings involved we should assume that these relationships are contractual. If the financial advisors are placing their own interests above those of the retirees, then must the employer seek to break the contract? Under what conditions and at what expense?  Are the employees free to take their contribution elsewhere? But, what of the employer’s contributions?   In the rarefied theoretical academic version of a Free Market this would never happen – all the pawn would march neatly across the board. However, this isn’t a theoretical academic version – this is real life – and if the financial advisor is “free” to act in his or her firm’s interest, what happens to the contributions of the employer and the employee? If they act in their self interest then they must cut ties with the advisors.  If the adviser is “free” to act in his or her self interest the employer and the employees lose value in their retirement investments; if the employer and employees are “free” to act in their own self interest the adviser loses the account.   We are left asking: Who is going to write the rules of our economic game? Or to put it in economic-political terms:

“The most important political competition over the next decades will not be between the right and left, or between Republicans and Democrats. It will be between a majority of Americans who have been losing ground, and an economic elite that refuses to recognize or respond to its growing distress.”  [Reich]

References/Recommended Reading:  John Lanchester, “Money Talks: Learning the Language of Finance,” New Yorker, 8/4/2014.  Craig Lambert, “The Marketplace of Perceptions.” Harvard Magazine, March-April 2006.  Michael Blanding, “The Business of Behavioral Economics,” Forbes, August 2014.  Adam Ozimek, “The Future  Irrelevancy of Behavioral Economics,” Forbes, September 2015.  Dan Ariely, “The End of Rational Economics,” Harvard Business Review, July-August 2009.  Paul Krugman, “How did economists get it so wrong?” New York Times Magazine, September 2009.  Noah Smith, “Finance has caught on to behavioral economics, Bloomberg View, June 2015.  Robert Litan, Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, Senate HELP, July 21, 2015. (pdf) Annie Linsky, “Warren…Brookings Institution,” Boston Globe, September 29, 2015.  Robert Reich, “How the pro-corporate elite has rigged the system against the rest of us,” Alternet, September 29, 2015.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation

Words from the Week and the No True Scotsman Fallacy

GOP Dinosaur Distress Flag Understatement of the Week: On the resignation of John Boehner (R-OH): “Boehner has faced constant pressure from conservatives who believed he was too willing to compromise with President Barack Obama and too likely to rely on Democratic votes to pass crucial legislation. The approaching confrontation over government spending had raised the prospect of another possible challenge to his speakership by conservatives, something Boehner has beaten back several times before.” [LVRJ]

Word salad from times past:  Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) on his vote for Rep. Boehner for the speakership: “

“So we ‘fire Boehner’ and start a month-long or longer election for his successor at a time when we should be dismantling the Affordable Care Act, taking care of our veterans, reducing the deficit, navigating foreign affairs and solving Nevada’s federal issues? That’s a great plan, if you want to continue the dig on Congress as a place where nothing gets done. 

“I am perfectly fine with differing views. Not everyone is going to agree all the time. But it is a bit discouraging to get lit up on an issue where in some cases a person has taken a thought or two from one source and treated it like the complete and final word.”

Present Palaver: Representative Amodei’s right on one score – the Congress has a 14% approval rating. [Gallup]  And, he may be correct on another.  When Amodei spoke to the previous “fire Boehner” attempt and predicted a squabble for the Speakership, the comments might have been predictive, this round could see yet another scramble between supporters of Rep. McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Hensarling (R-TX), Rep. Roskam (R-IL) and perhaps others. [TheHill]  And then there’s the comment from Rep. Peter King (R-NY) – “this is a victory for the crazies.” [TheHill]

Possibly very true words:  The extension of Representative King’s remark — “You can’t appease these people.” [TheHill]

More words:  There are two ways to see compromise, and Winston Churchill expressed both.  On one hand he said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last;” while on another occasion he said, “The English have never drawn a line without blurring it.” [FQ] There are situations in which either or both might be true.  However, the current manifestation of the American GOP seems to have glommed on to the former without consideration of when the latter might be more appropriate.

The Republicans have become more conservative, and thereby less likely to appreciate Churchill’s second comment on compromise.  The Poole-Rosenthal study emphasized this point:

“The short version would be since the late 1970s starting with the 1976 election in the House the Republican caucus has steadily moved to the right ever since. It’s been a little more uneven in the Senate. The Senate caucuses have also moved to the right. Republicans are now furtherest (sic) to the right that they’ve been in 100 years.”  [NPR]

Perhaps Rep. King’s ‘crazies’ have adopted the line attributed to the script writers of the 1949 oater “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” in which John Wayne’s character said, “Never apologize and never explain – it’s a sign of weakness.” [AskMeta]  There are some interesting pieces covering this general topic.  See, for example, Paul Rosenberg’s “They’ll always move further right: Why every defeat only makes Republicans more extreme,” in Salon, June 24, 2015.  Or, Ryan Dennison’s post in Addicting Info, “As Democrats move left, Republicans have moved dangerously to the extreme right,” June 28, 2015.  Or, Bill Schneider’s article, “How far right can Republicans go?” written for Reuters, May 21, 2014.

The current flap involving the Republican Congressional leadership illustrates another pattern that may be afflicting the GOP as it moves inexorably to the extreme right – the “reinterpretation of evidence in order to prevent the refutation of one’s position.” AKA The No True Scotsman Fallacy. []

The fallacy is a form of circular argument which substantiates an existing belief by dismissing any counter-examples to it. Such as the classic form:

(1) “Angus puts sugar on his porridge,” (2) No (true) Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge; therefore (3) Angus is not a (true) Scotsman.” Therefore, Angus is not a counter-example to the claim that no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

By changing the characters, we could create another example. (1) Economist A demonstrates that lowering taxes doesn’t create more tax revenue. (2) No true Economist would argue that lowering taxes doesn’t increase revenue; (3) therefore Economist A is not a true economist; and therefore Economist A is not providing counter-examples to the claim that no true economist would claim otherwise.

Or we could say: (1) There are instances in which the circumstances of a pregnancy call for abortion to be provided as a medical procedure; (2) No true conservative would ever countenance an abortion; (3) Therefore no one advocating abortions under these circumstances is a true conservative; therefore there is no counter-example to the claim that there are circumstances in which abortion is an appropriate medical procedure.

Playing the pseudo-patriot card is easy in the creation of a foreign policy example of the No True Scotsman Fallacy.  (1) Diplomat B drafts a treaty with a nation not recognized as an ally. (2) No true American would ever agree to a treaty with ____; therefore (3) Diplomat B is not a true American; and therefore, the fact of the treaty doesn’t provide a counter-example to the proposition that no true American would agree to a treaty with ____”

The problem, of course, with the application of the No True Scotsman Fallacy is that the definition of “TRUE” becomes inextricably entangled with the policy proposals under consideration, and the further the illogical thinking extends the more narrow the definition of “TRUE.”   Thus, the No True Scotsman Fallacy hinges on a definition of  a “true” American or a “true Christian” which serves the advocate’s personal set of ideological beliefs – and only the advocate’s personal set of ideological beliefs.

Hence, no TRUE Republican could compromise with the Democratic side of the aisle in Congress.  Speaker Boehner compromised with the Democrats. Ergo Speaker Boehner is not a “true” Republican.   And then the Republican Party becomes too extreme for Republicans?

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Filed under Boehner, conservatism, Nevada Congressional Representatives, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans

Pain Capable Panderers Get The Wedgies

Heller Goo 2

No matter how much he may try to stretch himself into a “moderate” shape Nevada Senator Dean Heller is aligned squarely with the radical right when it comes to women’s health.   The U.S. Senate can’t seem to address major items like climate change, infrastructure, and the voting rights act, but the Republican controlled body can certainly spend time on women’s bodies.  Witness: H.R. 36, and the vote thereon. [rc268]

H.R. 36 is the product of the House conservatives’ brain-flatulence and emphatic embrace of pseudo-scientific items like a “pain capable” fetus, in which abortions would be banned after twenty weeks.  What’s the science?

“Published research generally supports an experience of pain being possible only later in gestation than 20 weeks. A synthesis of available evidence was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005 by experts from the University of California, San Francisco, and elsewhere, and their report concluded: “Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.” The third trimester begins at 27 to 28 weeks from conception.” [FactCheck]

There are a couple of things to notice in the summary above. First, “evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited,” or, restated, there is limited evidence (read: little) that the fetus is able to perceive pain. Secondly, if we accept the “limited’ evidence, then the perception is unlikely until 27-28 weeks after conception. However, nothing scientific stopped Senator Dean Heller from voting to bring H.R. 36 up for a vote.  The motion to break cloture failed.

Nevada’s other Senator, Harry Reid, offered the following summation of GOP efforts:

“It is said that you cannot make the same mistake twice. The second time you make it, it’s a choice. On every issue imaginable Republicans are choosing to  employ the same failed strategy. Over and over again, they drag Congress and the American people through votes that are publicity stunts designed to boost their conservative records.

Today we stand in the midst of yet another Republican show-vote designed to honor the political wish list of extremists. Once again, Republicans have decided to place women’s health at the center of their ideological campaign. We’ve seen this tactic before.  It doesn’t work. Americans are tired of Republican attacks on women’s health.”

And yes, the bill is going nowhere, and the vote was a waste of time.  However, it does appear indicative of a Republican strategy in this Constant Campaign season.

Enter The Wedgies

For the sake of argument, let’s define a wedge issue as a social or cultural topic introduced into a campaign which seeks to attract and galvanize persuadable voters who might otherwise focus on economic or other major issues.  There’s nothing particularly new about this technique.  We could start almost anywhere, but 1968 seems as good a place as any, as an election into which two divisive issues were raised: “Public Order,” and “busing.”  The former sought to brand Democrats as the party of chaos (Chicago civil unrest) and the party supporting “forced integration” for which “busing” was the stand-in.  The busing (race) issue morphed into “States Rights”  and “welfare queens” (race) during the 1980 campaign, which was, in turn,  revised into the “Affirmative Action” (race)  issue in 1996. The “gay marriage wedge issue” was used to good effect in the 2004 election season.

Clinging to the Wedgies

While wedge issues are extremely helpful during primary elections, their utility may diminish during general elections depending on the level of voter turnout.  The danger of the wedge strategy is that it may be viewed as what is on offer from a party which has very little else to publicize to a national audience.  The second danger inherent in the wedge strategy is that the issue itself may become marginalized and less effective in national elections.

It’s a useful exercise during any campaign season to take a step away from the publicity attached to single issues or single candidates and see what the polling says about national priorities.  For example, the July 28, 2015 polling done by Quinnipiac University shows registered voters placing the highest priority on the economy and jobs (37%), health care (13%), terrorism (12%), and foreign policy (9%).  Immigration (9%), Climate Change (6%), federal deficit (6%), taxes (3%) rounded out the polling.  Those social and cultural issues garner about 2% to 3% in other polling. [TPP]

Note that of the contemporary wedge issues only immigration is seen as a major national priority (9%) and the polls don’t indicate the perspective of the voters in terms of either passing comprehensive immigration policy reform, or on the other hand, a policy of mass deportation. Gay marriage and abortion barely register with a majority of American voters.

Using gay marriage as a wedge issue appears to be one of those issues whose time has come and gone. Gay marriage might have been a potent wedge issue in 1996 when only 27% of the population thought those marriages should be valid, however its luster faded by 2015 when approximately 60% of the American public agreed that gay marriages should be legal. [Gallup] The fact that only the most radical of the Republican Party’s presidential candidates sought to exploit the issue of the Kentucky county clerk leads to the conclusion that this issue has also been marginalized.

The next available wedge issue for social  conservatives is abortion, and it appears to be moving center stage for its close up in the 2015 primary season.  The priority given to the abortion issue by the GOP has been explained thusly:

“The answer lies in the Republican Party’s shift to the right. A decade ago, between 30 and 40 percent of Republicans identified as pro-choice. This May, (2012) that number was a scant 22 percent. It’s hard to know whether that’s the result of Republicans changing their minds about abortion, or pro-choice respondents ceasing to identify as Republicans. But the result is the same: The party is increasingly uniform in its opposition to abortion.” [AmProsp]

This might help to explain why H.R. 36 (and other similar legislation) is perceived as a cohesive issue for Republicans and why Senator Heller and others have attached themselves to it.  Trends in voter affiliation may support the thesis that some are ceasing to identify as Republicans since polling was done in  2003.  As of 2014 32% responded as Democrats, 39% as Independents, and 23% as Republicans; a loss of 7% in self-identification with the GOP since 2003. [PRC]  If the trend continues, we might reasonably conclude that the fixation in the GOP with what appears to be a wedge issue of limited utility could have serious consequences for that party in upcoming national elections.

Given the Republican Party’s march to the right, the willingness of its national leadership to adopt a wedge issue like abortion, and the continual emphasis placed on the topic by ultra-conservatives, probably means we will see more publicity about Planned Parenthood, more non-scientific legislation, and more lock step votes such as that of Senator Heller in the U.S. Senate.   And it’s still over 400 days until the next national election.

Recommended/Reference: N. Coca, “Wedge Issues: A 2008 Historical Preview,” NithinCoca, January 2008.  D.S. Hillygus, T.G. Shields, “The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns, Princeton University Press, 2009.  K. Walsh, “Wedge Issues Take Center Stage in 2016 Race,” USNWR, April 2015.  Sen. Harry Reid, “Republican Attacks on Women…” Press Release, September 2015.  D. Townshend, “Abortion: The New Wedge Issue,” American Prospect, August 2012.  Pew Research Center, “Trends in Party Affiliation,” April 2015.  The Polling Report, “Problems and Priorities,” July 2015.

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Filed under abortion, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics, Reid