Category Archives: anti-immigration

They have nothing: The GOP and Modern American Life

Black Hole Answer: They have nothing!  Question: What does a political party do when it has failed to research, compile, and publicize a platform of policy proposals addressing American issues?  What’s happened to the Republican Party?  There area clues.

They fall back on old issues, pounding away at uninspired and unoriginal grandstanding rhetoric as if the grandstanding were an alternative in itself.  Witness the latest “vote” to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  The only alternative proposal in the hopper is Coupon Care or “Voucher Hospital,” which didn’t withstand scrutiny for the last several rounds.  The Republicans talk as if the extension of family benefits for children up to age 26 can be maintained, or the provisions disallowing elimination of insurance for pre-existing conditions can be continued, without sending the whole system into a downward spiral – unfortunately for the GOP, the system IS working.  However, that didn’t stop one more amendment to:

To repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 entirely,” from hitting the floor of the U.S. Senate for another vote.  [rc 253]

You read that correctly – the Senate Republicans wanted to repeal the ACA entirely – repeal the prohibitions on refusing insurance for pre-existing conditions, repeal the insurance for young people who stay on their parents’ policies until 26, repeal  the prohibition of arbitrary rescission of coverage, repeal your guarantee of a right to ask that your insurance plan reconsider a denial of payment.  Repeal prohibition of that bogus insurance that put limits on lifetime coverage; repeal the review of premium increases; repeal the provision that at least 80% of what’s paid in for premiums must be used to pay for medical treatment.  Repeal preventive health care; repeals insurance company barriers to emergency services…. [DHHS]

It’s been five years since the Affordable Care Act and Patients’ Bill of Rights became law.  Meanwhile, the Senate tried once again to repeal the ACA and Patients’ Bill of Rights “entirely.”   Who were the 49 Senators who voted for repeal?

ACA repeal vote senate 2015And, so Senator Heller, exactly what do you propose to replace the measure which has added  16.9 million more Americans to the number of those with health insurance? [Forbes]  Spare us the vague rhetoric about “free market solutions,” or “protecting individual choices,” or “big government intrusion into American lives.”  Those 16.9 million people aren’t rhetorical place-holders, they are real Americans who want real health insurance – so, what’s your plan?  Crickets.

We can expect more rhetoric about abortion! about immigrants! about Tyranny! about anything EXCEPT those issues which should be attracting our attention, and precipitating practical remedies.

They avoid rational responses to current policy issues(1) What do we hear from our Republican representatives and officials about gun violence in America?   Reaction to the Charleston, Chattanooga, and Lafayette shootings have drawn the same old responses we heard after the IHOP shooting in Carson City, NV,  the VA Tech shooting, the Aurora Theater shooting….  The Republican response has been little more than a recitation of NRA talking points which conveniently boil down to we can’t do anything about the proliferation of guns because: 2nd Amendment.

So, they talk about “mental health,”  but between 2009 and 2011 the legislatures of 34 states cut funding for mental health care services by a total of $1.6 billion.  Some House Republicans tried to bring a funding bill to the floor last January, but as with most legislation in the GOP controlled House it got chopped into bits in the hope that some portion of it could survive. [TheHill]

It’s instructive to note that Representative Murphy introduced his bill (HR 3717) in December 2013, and it bounced around committees until a last subcommittee hearing in April 2014. [Cong]  Then came the portion of the program known as Dueling Bills, the GOP version (HR3717) vs. a Democratic party member sponsored HR 4574 – and the fight was on concerning funding for substance abuse treatment, and treatment under Medicaid, and for veterans.  [NAMI pdf]

Less rationally, Republicans tell us that our personal safety is an individual responsibility and we’d all be safer if we went to the restaurant or theater with weapons.   Former Texas governor Rick Perry:

“I will suggest to you that these concepts of gun-free zones are a bad idea,” Perry said. “I think that you allow the citizens of this country, who have appropriately trained, appropriately backgrounded, know how to handle and use firearms, to carry them. I believe that, with all my heart, that if you have the citizens who are well trained, and particularly in these places that are considered to be gun-free zones, that we can stop that type of activity, or stop it before there’s as many people that are impacted as what we saw in Lafayette.”[CNN]

And who might these “backgrounded” appropriately trained, knowledgeable, people be?  In a dark theater… and how many of these “backgrounded,” trained, knowledgeable people will it take to create complete chaos? And, more casualties?  Are we willing to create the possibility that our schools, churches, and theaters could become shooting galleries?

(2) What do we hear from the Republicans about terrorism?  Plenty, as long as we’re speaking of ISIS or Muslims.  Not so much if we’re speaking of the home grown variety.   The propaganda wing of the GOP can’t seem to remember any reports of domestic terrorism which can’t be attributed to Muslims.  Interesting, because in September 2011 the FBI released its warning about the Sovereign Citizens and their form of domestic terrorism.  The timing is important because by June 2011 the Department of Homeland Security had eviscerated the analytical unit that produced their report on domestic terrorism including white supremacist and Christian Identity activities. [WaPo]

“Last night, a shooter who held white supremacist and extreme anti-government, anti-feminist views “allegedly killed two people and wounded nine others who were watching the new comedy ‘Trainwreck,’ a film written by and starring the feminist comedian Amy Schumer.”  As the Southern Poverty Law Center pointed out in wake of the Lafayette, Louisiana, shooting, “in the last five years, an attack from the radical right was carried out or thwarted on average every 34 days and that the overwhelming majority of those attacks, 74 percent, were carried out by a single person, or a group of no more than two people.” [RRW]

We might add that two individuals associated with right wing extremism assassinated two police officers in Las Vegas in June 2014, and draped the Tea Party flag over one of their bodies. [ABC]  

The Republican formula “Say No Evil” about radicalized anti-abortionists, anti-immigrant, anti-integrationists, may work well in fund raising e-mails about Tyranny In America! or, Big Brother, or whatever the fear du jour may be, but it’s obviously NOT helping track the lone wolves who shoot police officers, or threaten to shoot BLM employees, or shoot patrons in movie theaters.

(3) What happened to that Comprehensive Immigration Bill?  A comprehensive immigration policy reform bill passed the U.S. Senate in June 2013. [NYT]  More specifically that would be 760 days ago, or 108 weeks plus 4 days, and it’s politely referred to as Stalled.  The stall began in December 2013, as the House decided to go “piecemeal.” [MPI] As of February 2014 the Speaker was whining the House couldn’t pass the bill because it didn’t trust the President. [WaPo] However, in April 2014 the Speaker was mocking conservatives for blocking the bill. [WSJ]   By June 2014 Senators were blaming ultra-conservative members of the House for the Great Stall. [9News]  The calendar moved on to January 30, 2015 and the internal struggles of the House Republicans still kept the bill in abeyance. [MPR]

760 days, 108 weeks + 4 days, or 18,240  hours later, there is still no passage of an immigration reform bill in the House of Representatives – whole or piecemeal.

In this morass it may be counted as a minor miracle if Congress can manage to pass a relatively uncontroversial highway funding bill. [TheHill]

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Congress was expected to be filled with Republicans and Democrats who having different perspectives would file differing bills on the same general topics.  Compromises would be worked out among the ladies and gentlemen of the august legislative bodies, and conference committees would work out the differences between measures.  This requires that both sides bring something to the table.  How do we know the GOP isn’t packing anything in its collective briefcase?

When the highway bill comes up they want to “repeal Obamacare” just one more time, or when legislation stalls it is everyone’s fault and no one’s fault that we can’t seem to enact comprehensive immigration policy reform.  How many votes on various and sundry “anti-abortion” proposals has the House taken, instead of taking any votes on whether or not to have universal background checks for gun sales? 

How many hours has the House spent on the Benghazi attack compared to the number of hours it has taken testimony on the condition of our roads, airports, dams, and bridges?  How much time was expended dreaming up a bill to exempt veterans from the ACA and Patient’s Bill of Rights if those individuals already had “government” insurance? (A specious proposal if there ever was one.)

How much more time before the Republicans come to realize that most of the American public – that portion not infatuated with the celebrity bashing all immigrants – would very much like to see something accomplished. 

It’s hard to accomplish anything when what’s being brought to the table is essentially nothing.

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Filed under anti-immigration, Gun Issues, Health Care, health insurance, Heller, terrorism

Department of No Surprises: From Charleston to Murrieta to Washington, D.C.

 

Murrieta protest 2

In July, 2014 protesters gathered to block DHS busses carrying Central American women and children in Murrieta, CA.  It was ugly, and unnecessary, and gave the town a dismal national reputation. [HuffPo]  Murrieta is in the 42nd Congressional District, with a 46.6% white population, 36.2% Hispanic,  5.1% African American, and 8.8% Asian American. The district has been consistently Republican since 2003.  So, why review this information today?  Because the Representative from this California district, Ken Calvert, has raised the bloody flag in the halls of Congress.

“The amendment to the House’s Interior and Environment spending bill would allow for the display of Confederate flags at national cemeteries managed by the National Park Service (NPS) even though members voted to ban the practice earlier this week. It would counteract another amendment to the same bill blocking the service from selling Confederate flag memorabilia in gift shops in the future. 

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) offered the amendment in the closing minutes of floor debate on the spending bill Wednesday night. He made only a token statement in support of the amendment before setting up a roll call vote on it for Thursday.” [The Hill

Even though Representative Calvert’s amendment hit the floor during the waning hours of the Congressional day, it drew fire overnight when House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) commented:

Hoyer called the amendment, introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) Wednesday night on a spending bill, “appalling.” He challenged House Republicans to vote against it and preserve amendments banning Confederate flag sales at national parks and displays at national cemeteries.

“That racist, divisive flag of slavery, segregation, and secession is not an appropriate symbol to sell or fly in our national parks and cemeteries run by the National Park Service,” Hoyer said in a statement early Thursday. [The Hill]

Representative Hoyer wasn’t the only member of Congress appalled by the  Calvert amendment.  Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum retorted: “After the murder of nine black parishioners, I never thought that the U.S. House of Representatives would join those who would want to see this flag flown by passing an amendment to ensure” the continued flying of the Confederate flag, McCollum said.” [Roll Call]

Thus evaporated any remaining Democratic support for an otherwise unlikeable Department of Interior appropriations bill.  Representative McCollum wasn’t alone; several other Democratic party Representatives took to the floor to lambaste the idea of voting on the Calvert amendment today, July 9, 2015. [The Hill]

Representative Calvert offered an explanation for his amendment, saying he had been asked by Representatives from southern states to introduce it, and there were Republican members of the House who would not support the Interior Department’s appropriation bill be cause of earlier language banning the CSA battle flag in grounds under DoI administration. [The Hill]

And now we come to the totally predictable part of the story – encapsulated by the remarks of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH):

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters the spending bill had been pulled to avoid the issue from becoming a “political football.” “That bill is going to sit in abeyance until we come to some resolution,” he said.” [The Hill]

This, from the Speaker who said only days ago in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston Church massacre, that Congress would be “the adults in the room.”

So, we have yet another major piece of legislation sitting “in abeyance” while the House Republicans engage in their internecine battles over whether or not to allow the pennon of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and racism to flap on federal grounds.  Additionally, it truly is remarkable that yet again House Republicans have slipped their own poison pill into what was one of their own bills.

This seems less like gridlock between two adversarial parties, and more like what happens when a single party with a majority in Congress cannot control its own caucus.  The Democrats should be perfectly pleased that an appropriations bill which stripped the EPA of essential authority to regulate clean air and clean water is “in abeyance.”  Republicans who wanted to dismantle the EPA’s authority to control pollution may be wondering how and why a California Representative could so easily thwart their plans with a truly insensitive and racially charged amendment on behalf of his southern brethren.

We may have to look no further than the angry faces of the anti-immigrant protesters in his district – Welcome Back to Murrieta?

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Filed under anti-immigration, Appropriations, conservatism, ecology, House of Representatives, Immigration, Interior Department, pollution, racism, Republicans

The Toy Soldiers’ Tantrums

Bundy RidersThey aren’t just amusing toy soldiers, costumed and ready for a puerile re-enactment of childish gun-games.  The ‘protestors’ who showed up waving their banners and showing their guns in Las Vegas, want us to know they are “seriously” opposing immigration reform, and against applying current law to the refugee children and families from Central America. [Photos @ NVProgressive]

As with the childhood game narratives of days past, these toy soldiers in the war to win America have their own story. The story doesn’t have to make sense — what improvised tale of Cowboys and Indians ever did? — it simply has to provide an opportunity for them to feel good about expressing their opinions and reinforce their distorted view of patriotism.

The dissonance between their claim that the ‘government is lawless’ while denouncing the application of existing law to Central American migrants doesn’t bother them.  Their point isn’t centered on rational inquiry and disquisition into immigration policy, it’s an expression of how they feel, their emotional reaction to their circumstances.

There are many threads woven into the fabric of their banners. (1) Good old fashioned racism, (2) Imperiled sense of entitlement, (3) Discouragement about economic prospects, and perhaps (4) the Tendency to adopt simplistic conspiracy theories in lieu of protracted, complicated, and often nuanced policy arguments.  However, when they act, it might not matter what the origin might be — their proclivity toward violence is what makes them dangerous.*

Myths Are Dangerous

They are an amusing sideshow, promoted by a sensationalist press and not worthy of public attention.   While the incidents do tend to promote “If It Bleeds It Leads” journalism, the violence wrought by these groups and their affiliates isn’t child’s play. Witness the recent execution of two law enforcement officers in Las Vegas, NV. [LVRJ] Right wing extremists killed 34 victims between September 11, 2001 and April 2014. [CNN]  Further, while the groups may not be organized in traditional ways, they are coordinated.  Those who believe that the incidents related to the stand off at the Bundy Ranch were spontaneous would do well to review the information available from the SPLC’s “War in the West,” report. (pdf) And, it bears repeating, there was nothing ‘sideshow’ about the deadly attack on the Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh and associates.

The right wing extremists are only trying to ‘do their own thing’ and the government should leave them alone.  Doing their own thing doesn’t necessarily mean they are law-abiding when not actually shooting at someone.   In 2010 two Sovereign Citizens in Sacramento, CA, cooked up an insurance scam in which they sold policies which did not come close to satisfying the requirements for insurance sold to the public in that state — or for that matter, in any other.  Numerous accidents, paltry payments, and several court cases later, the two were indicted and convicted of fraud and money laundering. [FBI]  Extremists from Kansas, Missouri, and Nevada launched a “Diplomatic Identification” scam; the three found themselves convicted of fraud in 2009. [FBI] Other sales schemes have included vehicle license plates, phony driver’s licenses, and even currency. [FBI]  More Sovereign Citizens have been sentenced for their fraudulent “treasury scheme.” [RS 7/14]

They’re just interested in protecting their 2nd Amendment rights and keeping the values of a Christian nation.  Fine, except when we notice that the number of militia groups has grown from 149 in January 2009 to approximately 1,274 today. What’s changed? Could this have something to do with the fact that the President of the United States happens to be an African-American?  As for “values,” the number of hate groups has seen a similar increase, from 604 in 2000 to about 1,000 today. [Grio] The SPLC puts the number at 939. [SPLC]  Neither racism, nor exclusionism, is a traditional American value.

What to do?

Support your local sheriff.  Most extremists come to the attention of local law enforcement officials before they rise to the awareness of national agencies.  Local law enforcement budgets should be augmented to include adequate funding for the surveillance of domestic terror/hate groups.  Local jurisdictions should have adequate resources to investigate, and prosecute, offenders for related crimes (fraud, assaults, etc.). When local candidates for law enforcement positions tout their budget restraint positions, make certain this doesn’t mean cutting funding or allocations for watching/prosecuting the extremists among us.

Support efforts to coordinate law enforcement activities.  NRS Chapter 239C authorizes the creation of a Nevada Homeland Security Commission, which reports to the Governor.  Enacted in the wake of the 9/11/01 attacks, it focuses on threat assessment and communications inter-operability.  The current mission statement appears to be trapped in this time slot:

“The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security (OHS) acts as the Cabinet-level State office for the prevention of and preparation for a potential terrorist event. Nevada OHS directs and coordinates a comprehensive counter terrorism and “all threats-all hazards” approach in its prevention, preparedness and response strategies.”

The thrust of the public documents available offers the perspective of an organization focused on major events, without actually defining what such an event might be — perhaps it is understood given the origin of the group that it would prevent or respond to foreign acts of aggression such as attacks on infrastructure, facilities,  or communications.   On the other hand, it does publish an “active shooter” booklet (pdf) the contents of which emphasize common sense: Evacuate or Hide.

Without knowing what activities might be garnering the attention of the organization, and the penalties for unauthorized disclosure of Commission materials are stringent, it’s hard to gauge how effectively the Commission is attending to home grown extremist organizations and their activities.

A Commission which is taking in a full view of the potential threats to the security and safety of Nevada residents should (1) promote the active assessment of domestic threats,  (2) periodically report to the public on its threat assessment, and (3) inform the general public what measures it is taking to secure Nevada residents, their infrastructure, and their facilities from both domestic and foreign sourced threats.

The minutes of the March 21, 2014 meeting (last available online pdf) indicate decreased funding for the Commission activities, and a ranking of priorities which places cyber-security first, and “Intelligence and Information Sharing” second.  Not to be looking askance at the need to prevent cyber-security problems, but in light of the activities at the Bundy Ranch, and the propensity of lone wolf  extremists to target law enforcement officers in this state, the gathering of intelligence concerning extremists and sharing that throughout the law enforcement community would seem to be of more immediate concern.

Support private and non-profit groups which address and publicize the problems associated with domestic extremism.  For example,  objections to programs which promote tolerance in schools and other institutions should be met with equal levels of  advocacy.  Any efforts made by educational institutions to mitigate the toxic combination of ‘entitlement’ and ‘victimhood’ should be promoted. Programs which seek to alleviate bullying, racial discrimination, and sexism should be encouraged.

Local programs promoting civic pride, from all segments of the community, should be a priority.  Whether these events and activities are large and highly organized or small and relatively informal, local broadcast and other media should be encouraged to give these as much publicity as possible.

The most effective way to diminish the threat of domestic terror is to support local efforts to identify the sources, coordinate investigations and prosecutions, and take advantage of any and all opportunities to alleviate the forces which drive the toy soldiers into their frenzy of emotional reactions to a world in which they feel uncomfortable.

——-

*Christian Right secession fantasy, Salon, July 1, 2014. Anti-government extremists stir an unhealthy political brew, Newsday, June 18, 2014. Sources of anti-government extremism, Consortium News, May 27, 2013.  What drives anti-government extremists?, Huffington Post, June 10, 2014, from CNN, June 10, 2014.  The Sovereign Citizen Movement, FBI, April 13, 2010.  Statement before Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI, September 19, 2012.  Focus on Militia Extremism, FBI, September 22, 2011.  U.S. right-wing more dangerous than jihadists, CNN, April 15, 2014.

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Filed under anti-immigration, Nevada politics, Politics

Amodei Does The Phone Thing: Immigration Edition

Amodei 3Please don’t ask me to transcribe what I heard during Representative Mark Amodei’s (R-NV2) Telephone Townhall thing he had tonight, during the dinner hour.  I always seem to be contacted while the “town hall is already in progress,” and Amodei’s dismaying propensity for scrambling his answers into disjointed phrases interspersed with touching attempts to give the questioner reason to believe he might have heard and understood the question, combined with hunger, means I rarely stay for the whole performance.

I got in just as “Linda from Reno” was posing a direct question: “When are we going to close the borders? Don’t you think we ought to close the borders?

There’s nothing nuanced about this inquiry.  It’s about as straight forward as it gets. Closed border good?  Representative Amodei responded, as he nearly always does, by starting a sentence — shifting to an independent clause — shifting to another thought — reverting to the initial topic long enough to — insert another qualifier, before — circling back to touch on whatever it was that made him think of — another qualifying statement, leading to the beginning of another sentence.

As nearly as I can guess, Representative Amodei believes that the current crisis of too many undocumented and unaccompanied children at our border detention facilities means we have no control over our borders.

Whoa — if we didn’t have control over our borders then they wouldn’t be in DHS Border Patrol detention facilities would they?

The obvious point that if the southern border were “open” these children would be “all over the place” instead of in detention and case processing facilities stipulated, the notion that the opposite might be the case leads Representative Amodei to suggest that deploying the National Guard should be implemented.

For what? We have 21,000 border patrol agents, local, state, and tribal governments have programs funded by the Federal government to assist in border security, and we need the National Guard? According to Representative Amodei (I think, from my notes with arrows and lines trying to track his answer) this is necessary to have “absolute control of the border.”  I’ll return to this point in a moment, but first there’s a need to be more specific about the difference between the question from Reno and the answer from Amodei.

Closed Minds and Borders

Let’s pause for a moment, because Representative Amodei really isn’t offering a direct answer to “Linda’s” direct question.  She wasn’t talking about controlling the border she was advocating closing the borders. Closed borders have serious consequences, consequences “Linda” may not have considered when expressing her desire to stop all immigration.

First, and most obviously, a closed border works both ways. While closing the borders would prevent immigration, it also prevents trade and tourism.  If country A closes down its border with country B, B always reacts.  The reactions, and the economic implications thereof, create a plethora of issues which often have consequences intended and unintended.

The most obvious example of a closed border in recent memory is that between East and West Germany.  The destruction of the Berlin Wall provided iconic images, but the process of reunification was far more problematic.  For example, East Germany had been considered one of the more prosperous Eastern Bloc countries, but without Russian assistance/hegemony, and without a universally valued currency, when the wall fell so did the East German economy.  Further, there were those, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher included, who saw a re-unified Germany as a threat to European security and urged the Russians to prevent the process as much as possible.  However, a central point to remember is that for all the drama associated with PM Thatcher’s practice of carrying a 1937 map of German borders in her handbag, or the complex problem of what to do with East German industrial subsidies, the closed border between the two Germany-s before 1990 allowed the economy on the East side of the line to paper over serious economic flaws and abysmal infrastructure.

In other, simpler terms, closed borders hide and obscure as much as they secure.

Secondly, borders don’t exist in the imagination, they define regions, and in doing so they create “border areas,” those sections on either side of a closed border which create social, political, and economic environments simply because they are border areas.  There’s another European example of the consequences of closed borders as they apply to border regions.

In 2005 a study was conducted of the consequences of the Emerald Curtain, i.e. the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. [The Emerald Curtain pdf] Unlike it’s German counterpart, the Emerald Curtain didn’t come as a response to any specific migratory or economic trends, it accreted over time.  Established in 1921, and discussed intermittently until 1925, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is a “tale of unintended and unforeseen consequences.”

One of those unintended consequences was the creation of a border area, without major urban areas, and without any robust trade, which engendered dependence on agriculture, under-employment, lack of market access, lack of transport, and the inaccessibility of services like education.   The areas on both sides of the Emerald Curtain tended not to be amenable to economic diversification, which in turn exacerbated social and economic trends including low disposable incomes and higher levels of illiteracy.  Even the “Irish Tiger” boom period, didn’t have the same impact in the southern border regions as it did further south.

For all the attention, verbiage, studies, plans, and parliamentary speeches about improving the Emerald Curtain border regions — the area in 2005 was still characterized as “lagging behind national benchmarks for growth, employment, and development.” [The Emerald Curtain pdf]

The Emerald Curtain isn’t even drawn that tightly shut, but still Ireland’s largest customer is the United States, followed by the UK, Belgium, Germany, and France. Most Irish imports are from the UK, followed by the U.S., Germany, Netherlands, and China in that order. [MIT.edu]  Meanwhile, the economy in Ulster moves forward, with most trade between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The economy in the north is still tied to the economy of the UK. [Belfast Telegraph]

Whether “Linda in Reno” is advocating a militarized tightly controlled border like the Iron Curtain, or a softer, less organized one like its Emerald counterpart, the results are essentially the same.  The fencing may obfuscate and render opaque issues which will cause major problems over time, and may as easily create regions in which economic activity is stunted or diminished.

Good fences may make good neighbors, but they tend not to encourage economic growth and development.

Absolute Control

As promised earlier, it’s time to get down to an item on Representative Amodei’s wish list: US absolute control of its borders.   This sounds good — it’s also meaningless.  But wait, meaningless is good, especially for the Republican talking point generators and distributors.

By oversimplification and sloganeering complicated and thorny issues can be reduced to ‘sound bites,’ easily digested and something of a Rorschach Test for the listener.  “Linda in Reno” may come away from her portion of the Amodei Word Salad Shooter Session believing that when he says “absolute control of the border” he’s espousing her version of a closed, militarized, border — or a softer more informal one, as might be characterized by a line between two groups of people not yet completely over the Battle of the Boyne.  The beauty of the oversimplified, and thus meaningless, sound bite is that whatever interpretation might be applied to it, the politician using it can pivot at any point and walk away … “I really didn’t mean precisely That…” Whatever “that” might have been.

Yes, Representative Amodei wants “absolute control of the border,” BUT not so much that the Mexican government responds with a closure on its side?  Or, BUT not so much that cities like Brownsville, Nogales, El Paso, and Laredo suffer economic declines from a lack of cross border trade?  Or, BUT not so much that the flow of international trade, commerce, and currency is disrupted?

What is “absolute” control?  Does that mean not a single solitary migrant moving over the borders without a visa is to be found?  Or, is there an acceptable level of ‘leakage?” If so, what’s the level? Once again, the Rorschach Test comes into play. The message means whatever the listener wants to hear.

Who do we intend to “control?” Another Rorschach Test — are we ‘controlling’ for racial or ethnic characteristics? Political or ideological perspectives?  Does “control” mean keeping lower income, ethnic minority populations, at bay?  Does it mean deporting PhD candidates in the field of applied physics? In order for there to be “control” there must be something, someone, under that control.  Who or what that might be is left to the interpretation of the listener.  These little bits of meaninglessness are handy for politicians who don’t want to specify policy positions or describe their legislative proposals.  They are also incredibly useful for criticizing the proposals of opponents.

Using sound bite slogans makes it an easy task to critique the elements of S. 744 by saying it “doesn’t provide absolute control over the borders.” Whatever that might mean. Or, “it doesn’t require enough from those applying for naturalization? Whatever “enough” could be. Or, “it’s too close to amnesty.”  What’s amnesty and what’s too close?

In the final segment, Representative Amodei wanted to reassure “Linda from Reno” that he’d contacted the Department of Homeland Security and they had indicated to him that there were no federal facilities in Nevada to which the unaccompanied children or families would be transported. Hint: There’s no need to round up the pick up trucks, letter the signs, and power up the bull horns?  Once up this easy grade, Representative Amodei got entangled in his explanation of how the federal government couldn’t insure that private organizations in Nevada, especially churches, wouldn’t accept detainees during processing. If I were to attempt to translate my notes this paragraph would read:

“Something, something, Federal Government can’t tell churches what to do, something, something, especially in light of the Supreme Court decision, which I agree with, something, something, it’s a sticky wicket, trying to tell churches what to do, something, something, government should stay out of church business. ”  I’m guessing he’s referring to the Hobby Lobby decision. I’m guessing he’s telling “Linda from Reno” that if a church or private non-profit organization wants to house detainees during processing there’s nothing he can do about it.

I lasted one more question and answer, and then the desire to return to dinner overwhelmed my inclination to try to make intelligible notes from Representative Amodei’s Word Salad Shooter.  Each one of these sessions makes me all the more appreciative of the members of the local press in Nevada who have the Herculean task, as a part of their job, to make sense of Representative Amodei’s verbal barrages, interminable regressions, and equally predictable sloganeering.   Somewhere there is a Salad Shooter spewing Scrabble tiles that needs a hug.

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Filed under Amodei, anti-immigration, Immigration, Nevada politics, Politics

Voices in the Wilderness

When the Northern Nevada Development Authority compiled its study of agriculture in Nevada (pdf) the report offered some insight into the political views which inform economic practices.

Unsurprisingly, the report cited the following survey results concerning the lack of expansion or “impediments to business growth,” “The biggest impediments to business growth were identified as laws and regulations (23.0%),transportation costs (20.9%), cost or availability of goods or materials (15.3%), reduced consumer spending (10.2%), and financing (10.2%).” Also unsurprisingly, the Federal government was the “impediment” for 65.5% of the respondents, 20.2% cited the state, and 10.8% blamed county or local governments.

“Regarding Federal agencies, the primary challenges for Nevada Agricultural companies are reported as excessive fees, burdensome permits, adjudication and process time and the lack of empathy in dealing with real world issues.” [AgriNV pdf]

The problem with words like “excessive,” “burdensome,” and “lack of empathy,” are that they describe qualitative impressions rather than quantifiable factors.  Let’s look at the fees first.

Grazing FeesNow, we might ask is the grazing fee “excessive” when it’s $15 in Nevada, but $19.40 in California? Or $33.50 in Nebraska? Or $17.50 in Colorado. Or is it “excessive” because the fees are $9.00 in Arizona? Or, $13.50 in Washington? [NASS]  For those wishing to delve into the weeds and details of the formulation, the National Agricultural Statistics Service provides the calculations. (pdf)

Is it “excessive” when the price at the Fallon Livestock Exchange (pdf) ranges from $144 to $242/per for steers? From $118 to $210 for heifers?  And, we should note at some point that states without federally available land for grazing have their cattle operations on private land, land often subject to modified property taxation.  Eastern growers complain Western ranchers are getting a government subsidy, while Westerners complain about the cost of transporting cattle.

There are those who accept the notion that “ranching for profit is an oxymoron,” however, this doesn’t have to be the case.  A major caveat should be inserted at this point — size matters.  Because profit margins tend to be tight the larger operations will almost inevitably be more profitable than the smaller ones.  IF the ranch is not one of the major models, then keeping labor costs low is essential, as is placing more emphasis on grazing than on feeding.

There are two other factors which bear consideration. First, the debt/equity ratio is an essential factor just as it is in any business.  For example, some cattlemen have fallen for the siren call — buy more land — or buy more ‘stuff’ — and profits will increase.  However, there is a point at which the debt level impinges on the credit capacity and the manager/rancher is headed toward the predictable financial disaster.

Secondly, altogether too many ranches have too much overhead.  There are buildings, shops, assorted equipment, etc. all of which must be depreciated and all of which can be a drain on the business end of the operation. [BFmag]

Are fees “excessive” if the rancher is getting a reasonable price for the cattle at auction, BUT has a ranch too small to be economically viable in this general economy, or has taken on too much debt, or has too much overhead, or has hired or taken on too many people on the payroll?

And, those “burdensome regulations?”  Is a regulation burdensome if it entails too much time to fill out paperwork? Or, if it cuts the profits? Or, must it do both?  Is the regulation a burden if it requires the individual to change methods or means of production instead of maintaining the status quo?  If a person were to consider any imposition a burden if it caused him or her to make any changes in means or methods then nearly all restrictions of any nature could be considered “burdensome.”  In short, the term may well be an instance in which an ideological expression is translated to an economic factor.

Here’s where the conflicting interests in a multi-faceted economy come into play.  The rancher may want to graze cattle ‘fence to fence,’ but the local tourism sector may need for grasses and other vegetation to remain on stream banks to enhance the trout fishing which draws enthusiasts and their dollars to the communities along a river.  The rancher may want to let cattle munch down the fire prone cheat grass in an area, but fire fighting interests would be better served if the burned areas were restored with alternatives to invasive vegetation, which might need to be restricted until the new vegetation takes hold.  A rancher may not consider local wildlife much more than pests, however in a wider, broader, view the wildlife may have environmental and economic value beyond the measure of a ranch’s profit margin.

Lacking empathy?  If we accept the definition that empathy is the ability to understand another person’s condition from their perspective, then other questions arise.  Are the respondents to the survey looking for empathy or sympathy?

Empathy generally means that one person understands the situation in which another person finds him or herself; sympathy acknowledges the condition and seeks to offer comfort or support.  A official may very well understand with some precision what a rancher is concerned about, but a rule or regulation might easily be such that there is little comfort or support which can be rendered.  If by ’empathy’ the individual wants the official to fix his or her problem, make it go away, or modify general rules so that he or she doesn’t have to make any changes then this goes well beyond empathy, and often beyond sympathy.

Generally speaking none of us wants to readily admit that a goodly portion of our problems are of our own making.  And, it’s entirely more satisfying to assert that they are the result of onerous forces beyond our control.   So, when we hear from an individual that “excessive fees,” “burdensome regulations,” and “lack of empathy” prevent him from creating a better business (of any type) how do we factor in his possible superfluous overhead? Her potential debt to equity ratio which impinges on management flexibility? His prospective over-extension of employment costs? Her conceivable  lack of capacity to utilize economies of scale?

How do we interpret responses such as “the federal government is impeding the expansion of my business” when we don’t know if the operation in question, whether agricultural, commercial, or industrial, had any viable capacity for significant economic growth in the first place?

It’s not that agriculture is unimportant, or that we might be justified in  dismissing the complaints out of hand. Agricultural activities add about $5.3 billion annually to Nevada’s economy.  The sector employs approximately 60,700 persons.  Alfalfa hay is the predominant crop, worth approximately $232,100,000 in a 2012 USDA report. This makes sense considering that cattle operations represent 62.5% of all agricultural receipts, or about $732,883,000. [AgriNV pdf]  However, the numbers pale when we consider that the total civilian workforce in the state totals 1,367,000. [BLS] Thus agricultural employment is about 4.4% of the total Nevada labor force.

The voices are real, they are in the wilderness, and they are complaining.  However, the time it takes to get permitting accomplished will not be reduced by cutting personnel from the Department of the Interior, or from the Department of Agriculture.  The time available for the BLM officials to attend to individual problems will not be enhanced by stripping its budget or freezing the number of people who can be hired to fill vacant positions.

Wishing that the Taylor Grazing Act had never been enacted, or that the Federal government didn’t exist, or that  clean water regulations don’t matter, will not make it so.  Empathy for “real world” issues means coming to terms with the business environment in which any enterprise must operate.  Even in the wilderness.

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Unemployment Insurance: S. 1845 and its appendages

BillTo say, as I did in the last post, that S. 1845 to extend unemployment insurance benefits to our long term unemployed was headed for the House was premature, as aptly pointed out by the Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus.  The bill may get there eventually — after our solons have tacked on various and sundry amendments.

This, as the redoubtable Club For Growth, never one to shy away from its Supply Side Hoax and 0.01% perspective, had the following to say about those who voted in favor of Senator Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) cloture motion:

“Congress should end the federal unemployment insurance program and return the authority back to the states, which already have programs in place. Absent this, Congress should pay for this extension by cutting spending elsewhere in the budget. After six years, an extension can no longer be called an “emergency” with any credibility. There is plenty of waste in the federal budget from which to find an offset.

Our Congressional Scorecard for the 113th Congress provides a comprehensive rating of how well or how poorly each member of Congress supports pro-growth, free-market policies and will be distributed to our members and to the public.”  [Club for Growth]

There’s nothing subtle about their agenda, “end the federal unemployment insurance program...”   And, we can guess where they want to cut — Social Security, Medicare, SNAP, Meals on Wheels, School Lunch programs, etc.  It’s also safe to conjecture that they don’t mean major cuts to defense spending or to subsidies to major multi-national corporations.  Also missing is any reference to a solution other than cuts.   For example, raising revenues?  However, back to the amendments:

Some of the amendments proposed to S. 1845 are interesting. There’s Senator Ayotte’s  amendment about Social Security numbers (SA 2603) which sounds innocuous until it’s recognized as an obvious bit of “immigrant bashing.”

“Ayotte proposed an amendment Tuesday to make low-income American citizen children of undocumented immigrants ineligible for the refundable Additional Child Tax Credit by requiring parents have a Social Security number to claim the credit. On the Senate floor, Ayotte claimed the benefits are being exploited by “people who are claiming a refundable tax credit for children who should not be entitled to it” and asserted, “Many of these children do not even live in the United States or may not even exist.” [ThinkProgress] (emphasis added)

This isn’t anything new.  Senator Vitter and Senator Rubio have advanced bills in previous sessions on this subject, basing their “case” for “rampant fraud” on the testimony of one, single, self admitted, tax preparer. [AmProg] Unfortunately all this amendment does is to further advance the odious notion that some citizens born in this country are “more equal than others.”

Speaking of Senator Vitter, there’s Senator Vitter’s (SA 2604) Bash Obamacare 101 review which says in part:

“Not later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Chief Administrative Officer of the House of Representatives and the Financial Clerk of the Senate shall make publically available the determinations of each member of the House of Representatives and each Senator, as the case may be, regarding the designation of their respective congressional staff (including leadership and committee staff) as “official” for purposes of requiring such staff to enroll in health insurance coverage provided through an Exchange as required under section 1312(d)(1)(D) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (42 U.S.C. 18032(d)(1)(D)), and the regulations relating to such section.”

Senator James Inhofe’s amendment (SA 2605) has nothing to do with unemployment benefits and everything to do with giving individual states control over energy development on public lands.

Senator Coburn’s watching out for the little guy?? His amendment (SA 2606) says, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be used to make payments of unemployment compensation (including such compensation under the Federal-State Extended Compensation Act of 1970 and the emergency unemployment compensation program under title IV of the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008) to an individual whose adjusted gross income in the preceding year was equal to or greater than $1,000,000.”

Of greater utility is Senator Richard Blumenthal’s Pathways Back to Work Amendment (SA 2608) which puts some money into getting the long term unemployed back to work.

Then there’s Senator Coats’s SA 2611, which would delay the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act until December 31, 2014, as well as other implementation delays.   We already knew they couldn’t pass up another opportunity to obsess over the ACA.  Senator McConnell’s already gotten heat from Senate Majority Leader Reid on this one. [The Hill]

Senator Moran has a lengthy amendment (SA 2612) which starts out speaking to foreign nationals and entrepreneurship, and then goes on this tangent:

“The Secretary shall award grants to support institutions of higher education pursuing initiatives that allow faculty to directly commercialize research in an effort to accelerate research breakthroughs. The Secretary shall prioritize those initiatives that have a management structure that encourages collaboration between other institutions of higher education or other entities with demonstrated proficiency in creating and growing new companies based on verifiable metrics.”  (emphasis added)

Nothing like completely shattering the wall between independent academic research and corporate R&D projects?

Nor, should we blind to the evident hypocrisy of Senator McConnell’s rationale for slapping a GOP filibuster on S. 1845 in the first place,

“We’re now in the sixth year of the Obama administration,” McConnell said. “We all know the stock market’s been doing great. So the richest among us are doing just fine. But what about the poor? What about working-class folks? … Well, record numbers of them are having a terrible time.” [LAtimes]

Yes, indeed they are.  Thanks to the Trickle Down Theory, Supply Side Hoax, and Austerity Politics of the Republican Party.

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Mountains and Mole Hills

Mountain MolehillOne of the more unpleasant aspects of today’s media offerings is the tendency to confuse mountains and molehills.  No disrespect to all those diligent moles out there assiduously plying their turf disrupting trade, but when Everything Is A Crisis! perspective is the first casualty.

Mountain:  We have an immigration policy in place which doesn’t work for us.  There are two bills addressing this issue, S. 744 which passed the Senate and H.R. 15 which languishes in the House while the TeaParty/GOP leadership decides which they’d prefer to tick off — their corporate backers or the xenophobic right wing.    Representative Amodei (R-NV2) thinks he could support Rep. Eric Cantor’s “Kids Act” and he provides a summary of the issue on his webpage, but his statements on comprehensive immigration policy reform remain fuzzy.  Where Representative Heck (R-NV3)  stands is a bit more clear, given his statement on October 25th:

“I have spent countless hours meeting with community members and addressing town hall meetings on the topic of immigration reform. There is no doubt in my mind that reforming our immigration system is right and necessary and I remain committed to enacting real solutions that will fix our current broken system. I will continue to urge the House leadership to move forward on immigration reform with all possible haste.”

While he’s “urging leadership to move forward,” the question remains — toward what?  A piecemeal enactment of immigration policies which serve only to protract the issues, and may never arrive at a complete picture — or — legislation like S. 744 or H.R. 15?

Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV1) drilled down to one of the major issues in the piecemeal approach to immigration policy reform:  What of women who work in the service sector?

“Comprehensive immigration reform must take into account the fact that many immigrant women work at home or in the informal economy.  If, for example, eligibility for the path to citizenship requires proof of employment, providing paystubs cannot be the only acceptable proof or we risk leaving millions of women behind.  Approximately 74 percent of undocumented domestic workers do not receive documentation of their pay from an employer.  Thankfully, H.R. 15, the bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill recently introduced in the House, addresses this issue by allowing flexible forms of proof of employment. It is critical that we incorporate this thoughtful approach into any immigration reform bill considered by the House.”

Meanwhile, the mountain remains, impervious to rational debate and reasonable action.

Mole Hill:   Those who have purchased individual health insurance plans constitute about 5% of the population. [UI]  This translates to a maximum of 16,500,000 individuals out of a total 330,000,000; if we count every single person large or small, young or old.  The actual percentage is probably closer to 14.3 million individuals. [UI pdf]  Some of these people bought JUNK.  In a search for low premiums they purchased policies that didn’t cover much, if anything, or bought policies the coverage terms of which were so confusing that the insurance corporation was able to deny compensation for even basic treatment options.   The infamous Barrette Case is a classic example of a JUNK policy.   Forbes magazine estimates that about  4 million Americans were sold some 1,200 of these junk policies.

Thus, it should be fairly easy for the press to find some individual examples for popular consumption of these Outraged Individuals who want to keep the cheap junk they purchased, out of a category of 4 million.   Therefore, the media cry “there are millions of Americans affected by this ‘mistake'” is technically accurate but ultimately misleading.   Some broadcasters have jumped on the “Crisis” bandwagon, only to have their stellar examples debunked within hours.  You can tell when the mole hill is being magnified into a mountain IF (1) the report doesn’t compare the junk policy to the coverage available in the health insurance exchanges, (2) if the report doesn’t take into consideration the subsidies available to assist the policy holder pay for the premiums, and (3) if the report relies on individual examples to generate conclusions for which there is no other substantiation.

Mountain:  Speaking of health issues — 32,163 Americans died as a result of gun fire in 2011.  6,220 died as a result of a homicide. 19,766 individuals used a gun to commit suicide.  [GP]  73,883 Americans were injured by gun fire.  432 Americans died in gun related accidents. [GP]  By contrast, in 2011 there were 9,878 fatal automobile accidents in which there was a driver with a BAC level above 0.08 or even higher.  [NRD pdf]  We are coming perilously close to the point at which the number of gun deaths equals or surpasses the number of automobile deaths.  According to figures released by the CDC 33,687 Americans died in auto accidents, 31,672 died as a result of gun violence.  We do something about drunk drivers.  We restrict the licenses of some drivers. We have yet to address the issues related to the easy access to firearms in this country.

When Gallup polled Americans about controlling gun sales in the U.S. during the week of October 3-6, 2013 some 49% favored more stringent controls, 13% thought restrictions should be eased, and 37% called for controls to be kept the same.  A September poll by Quinnipiac University found 89% of Americans supportive of legislation to require universal background checks.  These numbers aside, on September 17th Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced he didn’t have enough support to reintroduce the background check bill in the Senate. [TheHill]

Mole Hill: I’m really pleased that there are at least seven retailers who will give their employees a break for celebrating Thanksgiving with their families.  [TP]   That said — when wages for American workers have stagnated for the past decade [EPI], when there are about 10% of our young veterans  still looking for work while the programs to help them are shrinking [CNN], and when the unemployment rate for Whites 6.3% while the unemployment rate for Blacks stands at 13.1% we have a problem far larger than whether or not people go home for Thanksgiving.

Mountain:  Did anyone read the IPCC climate report?   Did anyone delve into Chapter 12, wherein the commission discussed climate change implications for pattern scaling, temperatures and energy budgets, atmospheric circulation, the water cycle, the cryosphere, our oceans, and carbon cycle feedback?  [IPCC pdf] One newspaper noted that the report made the climate change deniers overheat.  Too many media outlets were engaged in sowing seeds of doubt about the report’s content and all but ignoring the conclusions and commentary contained therein.

Mole Hill:  There were 48 bills in the 113th Congress related to the abortion issue. [GovTrack]  There’s Sen. Rand Paul’s S.583 Personhood Bill, H.R. 2300 from Rep. Tom Price to “empower patients” (not), Rep. Trent Frank’s H.R. 1797 “pain” bill, and his H.R. 447 PRENDA, Rep. Jim Jordan introduced H.R. 1091, life begins at conception act, and the list goes on.

Meanwhile back in the world of reality — the rate of abortions per 1,000 women of child bearing age has declined from a high of 29.3 in 1981 to 19.6 in 2008. [Guttmacher]

A Suggestion

Could we start talking about the mountains, and minimize our time spent in elaborate and protracted debates about mole hills?

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