Category Archives: Congress

The Happy Hackers Act HR 634: A Second Look

Let’s return for a moment to HR 634, otherwise known in this space as the “Happy Hackers Act of 2017.”

The link above should take you to the text of the bill as introduced by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS).  In one page the bill terminates the Election Assistance Commission, puts the OMB in charge of “transition,” fobs the duties off on the dysfunctional FEC, and off we go into the wild west of happy hackers.

The bill was introduced on January 24, 2017 and was reported out on a 6-3 party line vote in the House Committee on Administration on February 7th, the same day Democrats filed objections  (pdf) to the measure with the House Committee on Administration.  Democrats noted that the EAC plays a “critical role in holding voting machine vendors accountable and ensuring certification standards remain high.”

Placing jurisdiction over federal election system regulation in the hands of the FEC is cynical at best and destructive at worst.  Atlantic magazine reported in December 2013 that the FEC was “broken” amid a flood of cases of questionable money flowing into campaigns, with feuds boiling between commissioners, and a hack attack attributed to agents of the Chinese government. Two years later the New York Times reported the FEC was incapable of curbing election abuses in the upcoming 2016 elections.   On February 20, 2017 the Chairwoman of the FEC resigned.   It is into the hands of this commission, now with one independent,  three Republicans, one Democrat, and one vacant seat, that the House Administration Committee wants to place the future of voting machines and certification standards.   The ill-advised HR 634 would place certification standards in the hands of an underfunded, understaffed (300 employees to cover 8,000 election jurisdictions in 50 states plus the District of Columbia) agency.  This is conducive to yet another layer of backlogs as questions raised about voting machine security and certification standards would be added to an already debilitated commission. If the intention is to slash oversight on voting machine/system security HR 634 would certainly accomplish that goal.

We’ve been the unfortunate recipient of hacking into our elections at the hands of the Russian government (2016) a conclusion reached by 16 intelligence agencies and the intelligence community leadership, despite the President’s feckless commentary on the subject; and if security standards are unenforced then we’re at even greater risk of intrusion into what has heretofore been unavailable to Russian hackers — the actual vote tally itself.

It’s unfortunate the bill was reported out of committee last February, it would be even more lamentable if the bill were to make it to the floor for a vote; and yet

more calamitous should the bill pass the House of Representatives.


Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) can be reached at 5310 Kietzke Lane #103, Reno, Nevada 89511; 905 Railroad Street #104D, Elko, NV 89801; or 332 Cannon Building, Washington, DC 20515.

Representative Ruben Kihuen (D-NV4): 313 Cannon Building, Washington, DC 20515; 2250 North Las Vegas Blvd #500, North Las Vegas, NV 89030

Representative Jacky Rosen (D-NV3): 8872 S. Eastern Avenue #220, Las Vegas, NV 89123; 413 Cannon Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.

Representative Dina Titus (D-NV1): 2464 Rayburn Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; 495 S. Main St. 3rd floor, Las Vegas, NV 89101.

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Filed under Congress, Nevada politics, Politics, Voting

Cub and Pup Slaughter Bill Passes Senate and Other Folks Are Stalking You

What human beings are capable of doing to one another can be supremely egregious, but what we’re capable of doing to the rest of the animal kingdom defies comprehension at times, and March 21, 2017 was one of those moments.  The Senate of the United States of America voted in favor of HJR 69, otherwise known as the Cub and Pup Slaughter Bill, or more exquisitely politely the “non-subsistence take of wildlife in Alaskan wildlife refuges.”  For the record, Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) voted in favor of the bill, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto voted against it. [Vote 92]  The bill makes it perfectly AOK to track down and slaughter bear cubs and wolf pups in a Wildlife REFUGE.

As if stalking cubs and pups isn’t bad enough, the self-same Senate voted in favor of Senator Jeff Flake’s bill to allow Internet Service Providers to sell your information to whomever. SJRes 34 “disapproves” a rule protecting our privacy as customers from whomever for whatever purposes.  Thus we may be stalked to our lairs by advertisers unknown for the purpose of targeted messages and other forms of commercial relations. However, it might not end there. Who knows?  Once more, Senator Dean Heller voted in favor of Customer Hunting (that would be US with targets on our backs) and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto voted against this form of hunting. [Vote  94]  Senator Bill Nelson commented:  “With today’s vote, Senate Republicans have just made it easier for American’s sensitive information about their health, finances and families to be used, shared, and sold to the highest bidder without their permission,” he continued.” [Hill]

At this rate it won’t be too long before we can empathize with bears and wolves?

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Filed under Congress, Heller, Interior Department, Internet, Nevada politics, Politics

And so it begins

The Senate yesterday began the process of dismantling the Affordable Care Act.  With no replacement on offer.  With no publication of a plan to make it possible for every American to purchase health care insurance.  Please write or call your Congressional Representatives.

The Trumpster said Director Clapper called him to denounce the release of information about his possible compromise by Russian agencies.  No, the Director called to say the agencies had issued no conclusions.  Another day another lie. We need a select committee investigation into Russian activities in the 2016 election. Please write or call your Congressional Representatives.

Please keep writing. Please keep calling.

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Filed under Congress, Health Care, health insurance, Heller, nevada health, Politics

Communicating With Congress: Some Advice

newspapers 1 T’is the season to contact members of Congress – on a variety of issues.  The following links provide information and insights into how the communication would be most effective:

The Best Methods to Reach Your Congressman From an Insider Point of View  Votility 2013

How to Most Effectively Contact Your Representative Daily Kos (2007)

Here’s a summation of another source:

  1. The Internet, Participation and Accountability. Most staffers (87%) thought email and the Internet have made it easier for constituents to become involved in public policy. A majority of staff (57%) felt email and the Internet have made Senators and Representatives more accountable to their constituents. Less than half (41%) thought email and the Internet have increased citizens’ understanding of what goes on in Washington.
  2. Citizens Have More Power Than They Realize. Most of the staff surveyed said constituent visits to the Washington office (97%) and to the district/state office (94%) have ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of influence on an undecided Member, more than any other influence group or strategy. When asked about strategies directed to their offices back home, staffers said questions at town hall meetings (87%) and letters to the editor (80%) have ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of influence.
  3. It’s Not the Delivery Method – It’s the Content. There is virtually no distinction by the congressional staff we surveyed between email and postal mail. They view them as equally influential to an undecided Member. Nearly identical percentages of staffers said postal mail (90%) and email (88%) would influence an undecided Member of Congress.
  4. Grassroots Advocacy Campaigns – Staff are Conflicted. The congressional staff we surveyed have conflicting views and attitudes about the value of grassroots advocacy campaigns. More than one-third of congressional staff (35%) agreed that advocacy campaigns are good for democracy (25% disagreed). Most staff (90%) agreed – and more than 60% strongly agreed – that responding to constituent communications is a high priority in their offices. But, more than half of the staffers surveyed (53%) agreed that most advocacy campaigns of identical form messages are sent without constituents’ knowledge or approval.
  5. Social Media Used to Listen and Communicate. Congressional offices are integrating social media tools into their operations, both to gain an understanding of constituents’ opinions and to communicate information about the Member’s views. Nearly two-thirds of staff surveyed (64%) think Facebook is an important way to understand constituents’ views and nearly three-quarters (74%) think it is important for communicating their Member’s views.  [CMC]

As this is written by an “insider” there’s most likely some measure of truth herein.  However, note that not all offices are equal – some place more emphasis on phone calls, others on Twitter, others on in person visits.  Thus the final advice may be – use whatever you can whenever you can.

Be respectful, be concise, and be honest.  Be your own best advocate.

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Filed under Congress, Nevada politics, Politics

And then they left town….

Gun violence by state “A House panel on Thursday rejected multiple efforts by Democrats to eliminate a budget amendment that has frozen nearly all government research into gun violence for 17 years.

During a markup of next year’s health spending bill, Republicans blocked two amendments that would have allowed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study gun-related deaths. Neither had a recorded vote. 

Eliminating the provision has become a priority for Democrats since the June 12 attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that killed 49 people — the nation’s deadliest mass shooting. 

The provision, known as the Dickey Amendment for former Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), was first enacted in 1996 after groups including the National Rifle Association (NRA) accused federal agencies of trying to advance gun control.”  [The Hill]

Nevada Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) is a member of the House Appropriations Committee but is not a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services, and related agencies.

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Filed under Amodei, Congress, Gun Issues, Nevada politics, Republicans

#Enough Thoughts and Prayers, rights aren’t necessarily conveniences

Mass Shooting Victims

The photos of the victims of mass killings in this country show the faces of America. White, black, brown, gay, straight, men, and women. From the very young to the elderly.  And they all died too soon at the hands of those who could arm themselves with lethal weapons without any inconvenience.

The 2nd Amendment says we all have the right to keep and bear arms … there is NO mention in the Amendment that purchasing firearms has to be “convenient.”

The gun fetishists among us cry that their “rights are infringed” if they are to be inconvenienced in any way when purchasing or procuring lethal weapons. They cite their imaginary well greased slippery slope to full tilt gun control.

And, lo! cry the fetishists and their allies, any imposition of a burden of responsibility is a denial of our civil liberties.  But, wait a minute. It is inconvenient to register to vote – however, that’s the inconvenience we accept to prevent voter impersonation.  It’s inconvenient to edit and fact check news articles – but that’s the inconvenience we accept as part of the freedom of the press to avoid charges of libel.

It is inconvenient for government officials to get search warrants, but that’s the balance we have to prevent unlawful searches and seizures.  It’s inconvenient for the judicial system that a person may not be compelled to testify against himself – but that’s the inconvenience we accept to make the system work under constitutional principles.

How easy it appears to be to have advocates of the implementation of the Patriot Act speaking of national surveillance, and justifying those National Security Letters, while bemoaning the restrictions on those included on the terrorist watch list who seek to purchase lethal weapons.

If we didn’t infer “convenience” in the 2nd Amendment, then might we have fewer suicides, fewer murders, fewer mass shootings and killings.  Fewer funerals, fewer remembrances, fewer tragedies, and a much safer society?

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Filed under Congress, conservatism, gay issues, Gun Issues, Hate Crimes, Senate, terrorism

Local Water, the EPA: Beyond Goodsprings

Water Faucet EPA

The Reno Gazette Journal reports that there are 23 local water systems in Nevada which are not in compliance with drinking water standards (there are currently 22, but more on that later).  Three local systems listed in the article have lead contamination levels exceeding the lead standard, 15 ppb (parts per billion) as the “action level.”  The public needs this information. However, the agency responsible for establishing the maximum contaminant level (MCL) standards is the whipping boy of choice for the Republican Party.  In short – it really doesn’t do to get up in arms about water or air pollution levels and then call for the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The regulatory system isn’t all that complicated. The EPA establishes the standards and then it’s up to the states to devise the implementation.  There’s a reason for this. Setting national standards means that states can’t compete in a ‘race to the bottom’ in which some states seek to attract industry by lowering standards until they are in competition to achieve the status of “Worse Than Any Pig Would Ever Consider in a Sty.”  And, potentially damaging everyone else’s air and water in the process.  However, this hasn’t stopped Over-Hyped Demagogue Donald Trump from calling for handing over environmental regulation to the individual states.  [WaPo]

Nor has this made much of an impression on Seven Mountain Dominionist Ted Cruz; “Cruz has called the EPA a “radical” agency that has imposed “illegal” limits on greenhouse gases from power plants. “I think states should press back using every tool they have available,” the Texas senator has said. “We’ve got to rein in a lawless executive that is abusing its power.” [WaPo]

Ohio Governor John Kasich has been critical of the Michigan attempts to address its man-made, GOP inspired, water quality issues in Flint, MI, but hasn’t been on top of the situation with the Sebring, OH water contamination. [TP]

The 2008 Republican national platform was exceptionally mealy-mouthed about environmental protection:

“Our national progress toward cleaner air and water has been a major accomplishment of the American people. By balancing environmental goals with economic growth and job creation, our diverse economy has made possible the investment needed to safeguard natural resources, protect endangered species, and create healthier living conditions. State and local initiatives to clean up contaminated sites — brownfields — have exceeded efforts directed by Washington. That progress can continue if grounded in sound science, long-term planning, and a multiuse approach to resources.”

It’s not likely that much more will come from a 2016 version.   Nor should we expect much in the way of support for addressing the national problems associated with our drinking water systems.  Remember the ASCE’s Report Card on American Infrastructure (2013)?

“At dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA). The quality of drinking water in the United States remains universally high, however. Even though pipes and mains are frequently more than 100 years old and in need of replacement, outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are rare.”

Not to put too fine a point to it, but as a nation we’re running on a Run-to-Ruin system in which local water distributors are functioning with outdated infrastructure while trying to maintain acceptable levels of quality.  Goodsprings Elementary School offers us an example of what can happen given a 1913 building and 21st century water quality standards. [RGJ]  If Goodsprings was an isolated example, then we could address the aging pipes and move on, but it’s not that isolated, nor that uncommon.  Current EPA estimates indicate we are having to replace between 4,000 and 5,000 miles of drinking water mains in this country on an annual basis, and that the annual replacement rate will peak sometime around 2035 with 16,000 and 20,000 miles of aging pipe needing to be replaced each year. [ASCE]

Putting The Public Back In Public Utility

I am going to start with some basic assumptions. First, that a family or person should be able to move to any part of this great land and expect to find clean water running from the faucet.  Secondly, that it is not a good idea to allow individual states to set drinking water standards, since some might find it inconvenient or inexpedient to set scientifically reliable standards in the interest of “development” or “industrialization.”  Such a piece meal approach would put paid to the first basic assumption.   So, if we’re agreed that any person in this country should have a reasonable expectation of clean drinking water then we need national standards.

Some of the standards are easier than others.  Arsenic contamination levels offer an example of a complex problem with some nuanced related issues.  The MCL (maximum contaminant level) for arsenic was lowered in 2001 from 50 ppb to 10 ppb. Public water systems were to be in compliance by January 23, 2006. [EPA] [More information at FAS pdf] The Reno Gazette Journal reports ten Nevada water systems not in compliance.  One, the McDermitt GID has recently been declared in compliance with a current projected annual running average below 10 ppb after the system put in a new central well.

Arsenic enters the drinking water systems one of two ways, either through industrial activity or as a naturally occurring contaminant.  If the system is west of the Rocky Mountains it’s a reasonably good bet that the arsenic is naturally occurring.  It’s probably not too far off the mark to say that if the standard were set at 15 ppb most Nevada water systems would be in compliance, but the standard is 10 and that’s ultimately what matters.

The smaller public water systems have more trouble meeting the standards than the larger ones, as described by the BSDW:  “The smaller systems are the ones that tend to struggle with regaining compliance because they typically have limited financial resources so we have to collectively figure out ways to help that community get back to compliance,” said Jennifer Carr, NDEP deputy administrator. “Larger systems such as TMWA also have more personnel to tackle projects whereas some of our smaller water systems are operated by one person who might be doing another side job.” [RGJ]

And, now we’re down to the gritty part: Where does the money come from to resolve contaminant problems with arsenic? Or, for that matter, other water infrastructure issues?    The State Revolving Fund provides low interest loans for water infrastructure projects in the state; and can in some circumstances offer “forgiven” loans to small public water services.  The “bottom line” is that in 2016 there will be a need for approximately $279 million for arsenic treatment, groundwater treatment, storage tank replacements, metering systems, and distribution lines in Nevada.  And, the worse news, “Not all will be funded.” [KTVN]

The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund was created in 1996 to support water systems and state safe water programs.  “The 51 DWSRF programs function like infrastructure banks by providing low interest loans to eligible recipients for drinking water infrastructure projects. As money is paid back into the state’s revolving loan fund, the state makes new loans to other recipients. These recycled repayments of loan principal and interest earnings allow the state’s DWSRF to “revolve” over time.”  [EPA]   As of 2014 this system had provided $27.9 billion to water suppliers to improve drinking water treatment, improve sources of drinking water, providing safe storage tanks, fixing leaking or aging distribution pipe, and other projects to protect public health. [EPA] The EPA estimates that small public water systems nationwide, those serving populations less than 3,330,  will need approximately $64.5 billion for infrastructure needs. [EPA 5th report pdf]

What was the Republican controlled Congress’s response? They may have avoided a shutdown, but the waters weren’t exactly flowing:

The bill provides $863.2 million for the DWSRF  well below President Obama’s request of $1.186 billion and more than $40 million below the programs FY2015 appropriation.While the figure represents the lowest DWSRF appropriation in several years, it is significantly above the FY16 funding levels originally proposed by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, each of which would have cut DWSRF funding to below $780 million. [UIM]

What have we learned?

  • The Republican candidates for the presidency show little to no enthusiasm for infrastructure investments in general, and beyond bemoaning the state of Flint’s water system which must be someone’s fault “just not ours,” even less enthusiasm for funding local drinking water improvement projects.
  • The Republicans in Congress were only too happy to cut funding for the best source for local public water companies projects, in the name of “fiscal responsibility” – meaning, one could think, that preserving tax cuts for the rich is preferable to providing clean drinking water to everyone.
  • The infrastructure needs in this country are serious and go well beyond fixing bridges and filling pot-holes.  This, and we’ve not yet reached the peak of distribution line replacement needs coming up in the next 20 years.
  • “Austerity” is a lovely buzz word, and “We’d love to do it but we just can’t afford to” is a fine campaign trail stump speech phrase, but these won’t keep the water coming from the tap clean and safe.  We need to stop thinking of our infrastructure as an expense and begin to consider it for what it is – an investment; an investment in the capacity of our cities and towns to provide basic services so that economic activity can take place.
  • And, NO it isn’t a good idea to abolish the EPA.

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Filed under Appropriations, Congress, conservatism, Economy, EPA, Infrastructure, nevada health, Politics, public health, Water