Category Archives: Heck

Heck: The Bankers Good Little Soldier

Heck photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Heck, Nevada politics

Amodei, Heck, Hardy, Sell Out Seniors

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

Heck photo

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

Hardy 2

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

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

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

Titus

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

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

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

Concerned Veterans, Unconcerned Big Money, and the 2016 Nevada Senate Race

Hurricane There’s a warning flag up for Democrats in the 2016 elections – where are the Big Money Republicans putting their money?

“Among those on the sidelines: Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who hosted the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring meeting at his Venetian hotel this weekend. His apparent ambivalence about 2016 was shared by many RJC members here. With grave doubts about the viability of the few remaining Republican contenders, many of these Republican donors have decided to sit out the rest of the primary entirely. And while some are reluctantly getting behind a remaining candidate, others are shifting their attention to congressional contests.” [Politico]

Notice that last phrase: “…others are shifting their attention to congressional contests. Nevada voters have already been treated to at least one major advertising belch from the Koch Brothers – the saccharine introductory ad for Republican Joe Heck (Nevada Senate race).  There it was on the TV screen, all $700,000 worth of it:

“The ad is paid for by Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative-leaning organization that advocates for reforms for veterans across the country and is part of the network of organizations affiliated with conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.” [LVSun

First, I’m always a bit “concerned” when I see “concerned” in the title of any organization, like Phyllis Schlafly’s “Concerned women…” and secondly, it doesn’t take more than a couple of clicks to find out that Concerned Veterans for America is a 501(c)4 outfit funded by “Vets for Economic Freedom,” which in turn is funded by the Koch Brothers. [SourceW]  So, the Koch brothers have already decided that the Nevada Senate race is more interesting than the candidacy of either Donald Trump, or Seven Mountain Dominionist Ted Cruz, at least as the early stages of the Nevada senate race are concerned.

Another cause for “concern” is that the advertising so far from the Koch boys in Nevada aligns nicely with the radical libertarian agenda of the Kochs.   Heck is pleased to take credit for backing H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which passed the House with bi-partisan support. However, he’s also supported by those who believe, “The VA is a glaring example of what happens when government bureaucrats create unnecessary obstacles to accessing quality health care.”  This moves us from the H.R. 3230 territory and into the realm of H.R. 1994, the VA Accountability Act of 2015, in which the Republicans would have us fire our way into excellence.  Witness section two:

Section 2: The VA may also remove an individual from the civil service or demote the individual through a reduction in grade or annual pay rate.

A demoted individual: (1) shall be paid at the demoted rate as of the date of demotion, (2) may not be placed on administrative leave or any other category of paid leave while an appeal is ongoing, and (3) may only receive pay and other benefits if the individual reports for duty.

The VA shall notify Congress of, and the reason for, any removal or demotion.

An employee shall have the right to an appeal before the Merit Systems Protection Board within seven days of removal or demotion. If an administrative judge does not make a final decision within 45 days the original decision becomes final. The Board or an administrative judge may not stay any removal or demotion.

Between the date on which an individual appeals a removal from the civil service and the date on which the administrative judge issues a final decision on the appeal, the individual may not receive any pay, awards, bonuses, incentives, allowances, differentials, student loan repayments, special payments, or benefits.

It isn’t quite accurate to say that this latest Republican version is a fire at will piece, but notice that the MSPB must make a decision in favor of the employee within 45 days – or the dismissal or demotion stands and cannot be taken to court.  There are a couple of things wrong with this picture.

First, the dismissal or demotion of every other member of the Federal civil service is subject to an appeal to the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals, or to a U.S. District Court in cases of unlawful discrimination. [mspb]  H.R. 1994 obviously obliterates this.  Given underlying lack of due process in H.R. 1994 it’s intent has less to do with “accountability” and more to do with a frontal assault on the Civil Service rules of the Federal government.

Secondly, it’s a set up.  If one wants to argue that the Federal government is incapable of handling “business,” then one of the easiest ways to make that allegation stick is to (1) underfund the agency, (2) add more work to the agency’s brief, and (3) complain loudly when the agency can’t keep up.  Then, (4) propose privatization or “reforms” which please the economic elite.   H.R. 1994 meets all these tests when it comes to the appeals process for civil employees.

The MSPB is already underfunded, and if trends continue it will have about the same resources for FY 2016 as it had back in FY 2013.  This, when furlough appeals caused by the sequestration led to an increase of 525% in the number of appeals filed. [mspb pdf]

The MSPB has a case load of about 5,000 to which we add another 32,000 furlough cases on appeal – and is expected to decrease the backlog with fewer resources than it had before sequestration. [FedRad]  Under the current statutes the MSPB has 120 days, and one administrator summed up the practical problems:

“…however, there will be some issues. Under current federal statute, MSPB has 120 days to adjudicate a case, meaning the agency will have to issue VA rulings 83 percent faster than it currently does. The discovery period alone — when agency officials and employees gather and share evidence with each other — typically takes 25 to 45 days. In the new, VA-specific system, it will last just 10 days, Grundmann said.” [govexec]

When the Merit System Protection Board arrived in the wake of the 1883 Pendleton Act, moving civil service from the Spoils System to a more professional basis, the intent was to prevent arbitrary and capricious firings made for political convenience and profit.   The current Republican formula for the Veterans Administration employees undercuts this intention.  Underfund, overload, and then cry “reform,” simply insures that no employee will get his or her day in court.  That, in itself, is a denial of due process.  What could be more to the liking of the Koch Brothers and their associates than denying due process to Federal employees.

And, what could be more “Kochian” than to advertise one’s support for veterans while using the Veterans Administration as the whipping boy for mismanagement (however much it may be deserving in some cases) and as the vehicle by which dismantling the civil service may be accomplished?

Representative Heck seems pleased to accept the assistance of the Koch Brothers and their operatives and dark money groups.  Is he equally pleased to be the candidate for the advancement of their privatization agendas?

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Republican Water Wars: Clean Drinking Water and GOP Polluters

Amodei 3 It’s really hard to argue against Clean Water.  It’s especially difficult to argue against Clean Drinking Water in light of what’s happening to the public in Flint, Michigan.  However, that hasn’t stopped Republican members of Congress like Representatives Hardy (R-NV4), Heck (R-NV3), and Amodei (R-NV2) from aligning themselves with those who want to curtail, delay, and ultimately defeat regulations designed to prevent stream contamination in “coal country.”

Easy and Cheap Coal Mining or Clean Drinking Water?

Back in May 2015, opponents of clean water regulations decided to oppose any administration efforts to regulate what mining companies did with the debris from mountain top coal operations:

“Congressional Republicans are seeking to block an imminent rule protecting Appalachian streams from mountaintop removal mining, as opponents of the controversial practice say the mines are getting closer to communities and harming people’s health.

The White House is expected to announce a stricter rule for the disposal of mountaintop-removal mining waste into streams. Some Republicans in Congress are describing the move as the latest campaign in the Obama administration’s “war on coal.” [McClatchy DC] [see also The Hill]

The opposition would go beyond  the Reagan Era (1983) regulations which did not allow dumping debris within 100 feet of a river or stream.  The coal industry thought it had the system beaten when the George W. Bush administration allowed “waivers” from the rules during the last months of his presidency. [SeattleTimes]  The Obama administration promptly rescinded the last minute Bush Gift to the Coal Companies.  Coal interests just as promptly hauled out the hyperbole and declared the administration was declaring a War On Coal.

The result of the opposition clamor against allowing mining companies to dump debris into rivers and streams was the STREAM Act.  While the act doesn’t allow outright the trashing of American rivers and streams, it does wrap the EPA and Corps of Engineers in endless studies, evaluations of studies, and interminable hurdles to protecting water sources.  Representatives Heck, Hardy, and Amodei appear to be marching along with the coal industry.  Each voted in favor of the STREAM Act on January 12, 2016. [roll call 42]

Is Anyone Surprised?

The drinking water calamity in Flint, Michigan is a man-made problem.  Actions taken to “save money” have obviously proven to exacerbate contamination such that the population of Flint has been exposed to toxic lead levels.  We know what lead does – we also know what happens when a state government fails to act swiftly and responsibly to impending disaster.

What happens when creeks are filled with iron and aluminum hydroxides? When streams are polluted with contaminants from mountain top removal coal operations?  Three peer reviewed studies in central Appalachia found: (1) An overall increase in the rate of birth defects in counties with mountain top mining; (2) A 14.4% cancer rate compared to non-mountain top mining areas with a 9.4% rate; and (3) a $74.6 billion per year public health expense burden on Appalachian communities. [KFTC pdf]  This is not an isolated problem, nor is it new:

Between 1985 and 2001, 6,697 valley fills were approved in Appalachia, covering 83,797 acres of land and potentially affecting 438,472 acres of watershed.20 Valley fills can be as wide as 1,000 feet and over a mile long, and each can contain as much as 250 million cubic yards of wastes and debris—enough to fill almost 78,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Burying fragile headwater streams located in valleys exterminates virtually all forms of life that get interred under millions of tons of waste and debris. From 1985 to 2001, the EPA estimates that valley fills buried 724 miles of streams.22 Another study conducted by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) found that approximately 535 miles of streams were negatively affected by mining from 2001 to 2005.23 All told, nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwaters have been buried or polluted by mountaintop removal, and the damage to Appalachian watercourses has continued at an average rate of 120 miles per year. [NRDC(pdf)]

stream pollution

The track record doesn’t sound promising for those who want to protect their drinking water supplies, and the actions of the pollution protectors aren’t helping.  Perhaps Representatives Amodei, Heck, and Hardy, would care to explain why they don’t seem particularly disturbed about higher than normal levels of calcium, magnesium, manganese, sulfate, and selenium in coal country drinking water?

What does this stuff do?

 

We know that manganese is one of those minerals we need as part of a normal diet, but we also know that high concentrations of manganese isn’t a good thing for children – the young apparently having a greater absorption rate than adults – and that high absorption often correlates to learning disabilities. [WHO pdf] This is a bit more damage than just the brown staining on laundry common to manganese contaminated water, and much more than the toxicity it has for plant life – a burden for farmers downstream. [USGS]

Magnesium is not considered all that dangerous, in correct (normal) levels.  There is no “maximum contaminant level” assigned to this mineral. [EHS pdf]  However, both magnesium and calcium contribute to what is popularly known as “hard water,” that ever present danger to plumbing, and household appliances such as washing machines and hot water heaters.

Sulfates are another matter.   Right off the bat, water containing more than 400 mg/L should NOT be used when preparing infant formula. [MHealth] And, the stuff is corrosive, if the sulfate in the water exceeds 250 mg/L (MCL)  copper piping is particularly susceptible to corrosion. [MHealth]  Thus leading to copper contamination.  Sulfates have what is known politely as a “laxative effect,” which is not all that appealing when combined with the knowledge that sulfates are causing scale build up in the water pipes. [UGA edu pdf]  Nor should we diminish the impact of a “laxative effect” on young children and infants for whom diarrhea and dehydration can be quite serious health risks.

Selenium is a real mess.  It’s a heavy metal, and the current maximum contaminant level is 0.05 ppm (parts per million).  Long term higher-than-normal exposure can (and usually does) result in hair and fingernail loss, damage to the kidneys and liver tissue, as well as damage to the nervous and circulatory system.  In other words, it’s truly dangerous. [EPA]

Since much of the more obvious damage appears to be targeted at plumbing, pipes, and appliances, it’s too easy to dismiss the pollutants as mild (compared to the Lost Jobs?) about which the coal industry is concerned.  However, there are other contaminants to consider associated with coal mining operations:  Acid mine drainage; Coal Slurry, Coal Ash,  the ever present bug bear – Selenium, and Total Maximum Daily Loads.  [AppV]

And the mountain top removal contribution to the problems?  WV public.org reports: “It was pretty obvious to me that below valley fills, water was pretty tainted, and then it became a question of, ‘Is it getting into the human water supply?’” Stout said. “I started sampling people’s houses; some people’s water is really good, other people’s water is really appalling.” Stout has tested for and found water spiked with heavy metals and other contaminants. “Before it’s disturbed it’s as good of water you’re going to find anywhere on the planet. But after that it becomes tainted with heavy metals and bacteria and so forth and becomes unusable, except that these people don’t have any recourse,” Stout said.”

Nor, we might add, do the people of Flint have much recourse.

It’s a plausible argument that Representatives Hardy, Heck, and Amodei, are staunchly defending the exploiters and polluters who are managing a 19th century industry – rather like defending the profits of the buggy whip manufacturers before Ford.  Not only is natural gas making headway into the former domains of coal, but both wind and solar assets are increasing as well. As one environmental improvement advocacy group puts it, “Coal is making a long goodbye.”

Representatives Amodei, Heck, and Hardy appear to have both feet firmly planted in an America of the 20th century while we’re a decade into the 21st.  When they speak to their “visions” of America, voters might want to remember this point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heck’s Jolting Idea: H.R. 1401

Heck photo Nothing illustrates the tenuous GOP grasp on the concept of job creation quite so well as Representative Joe Heck’s JOLT Act of 2015.  H.R. 1401:

“Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to authorize the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to admit into the United States a qualifying Canadian citizen over 50 years old and spouse for a period not to exceed 240 days (in a single 365-day period) if the person maintains a Canadian residence and owns a U.S. residence or has rented a U.S. accommodation for the duration of such stay.”

By the Numbers

There are 35.16 million people living in Canada. 4.7 million of them are between the ages of 55 and 64. [StateCan]  The 2011 Canadian census counted 4,945,060 individuals over the age of 65. [CanCensus] Of these numbers, approximately 500,000 can be classified as Snowbirds – those owning property in the United States. [FinancialPost] To apply some context, 500,000 is about 0.00157 of the U.S. population estimated at 317 million.

Some Canadians did take advantage of the housing bust in the U.S. to purchase retirement properties in California, Arizona, and in Mexico, but even in 2012 this was described in the Canadian press as a “small but growing group.”  It would be small considering the travel related expenses, and the tax liabilities incurred. [GlobeMail] Not to mention the affluence required to maintain two residences.

Now comes the part wherein Nevada’s representative from the 3rd Congressional District tries to explain how wonderful this bill would be.

Representative Heck wrote:

“Boosting our economy and improving national security are two of the most critical challenges we face as a nation and the JOLT Act addresses them both,” Heck said in a statement.

“Expediting the visa interview process and expanding the Visa Waiver Program will bring more international travelers and tourists to destinations around our country and creates jobs,” he continued. “Making discretionary visa waiver security programs mandatory will improve our security at home and aid our intelligence community in the fight against global terrorism.”  [The Hill]

Notice the attempt to tie the 500,000 Snowbirds to a booming tourism economy; “Expediting the visa interview process and expanding the Visa Waiver Program will bring more international travelers and tourists to destinations around our country and creates jobs.”  We might venture to ask how increasing the temporary population of the U.S. by 0.00157 or 0.157%  is exactly a big “job creator?”

Who Wants This?

The U.S. Travel Association wants it, as does the Canadian Snowbird Organization.  And, from the Snowbirds we learn that Canadians purchased $2.2 billion in Florida real estate, making the National Association of Realtors very happy. [CSB]  Representative Heck’s interest in this bill may be peaked by the $92,449 in contributions he received (2013-2014) from real estate interests, including $60,559 from individuals and another $31,890 from PACs. [OpenSec]

To sum up the situation: This bill isn’t about jobs.  It really isn’t all that much about tourism.  It is about serving the interests of a relatively few wealthy Canadians who want to retire to Sun States – anything has to be sunnier than Newfoundland – and the real estate interests who want to serve them.

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Filed under Economy, Heck, House of Representatives, Nevada politics

To Heck With Your Service? Again?

Heck photo

The issue of protecting military families from egregious practices by predatory payday lenders gets a bit mired in Congressional legislative processes.  However, it’s not hard at all to figure out what the Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee wanted to do.

“House lawmakers narrowly voted to remove controversial language delaying new rules on payday lenders from their annual defense authorization bill early Thursday morning, calming concerns from advocates who saw the move as potentially undoing financial protections for military families.

By a 32 to 30 vote, members of the House Armed Services Committee stripped provisions from the legislation that would have delayed Defense Department plans to expand the scope of the 2006 Military Lending Act by requiring a new report due next spring on DoD’s rule-making procedures in that regard.” [MilTimes]

Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV3) has a seat on that committee.  Further, Representative Heck is the chair of the subcommittee on Military Personnel. The blurb from the subcommittee’s web page reads:

“The Military Personnel Subcommittee is responsible for military personnel policy, reserve component integration and employment issues, military health care, military education, and POW/MIA issues. This subcommittee makes sure that our troops and their loved ones are receiving the first class benefits that they deserve.”

Remember this for future reference.  For the moment ask how the statement squares with the effort to “delay new rules on payday lenders…?”  And, how does this align with comments made by subcommittee chairman Joe Heck:

“The 2006 lending law was passed by Congress after reports of payday lenders charging unusually high interest rates to troops — 400 percent or more, in some cases — and misleading borrowers about the long-term debt they could incur.

Implementation of the law initially was confined to payday loans, vehicle title loans and tax refund anticipation loans. But last September, defense officials proposed new rules that would expand the types of credit covered by the maximum 36-percent interest rate that can be charged to service members and their dependents.

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., chairman of the armed services committee’s military personnel panel, said those moves have raised concerns that defense officials are applying rules too broadly.”  [MilTimes]

It’s the Pentagon’s belief that service members need protection from predatory forms of credit cards, deposit advance loans, installment loans, and unsecured open ended lines of credit.  The bottom line is simple – members of our armed forces can be charged no more than the quite nearly usurious 36% interest rate. Too broadly?  How does applying rules saying no member of the military can be charged no more than 36% cut off credit options? If a lender can’t profit with a 36% margin perhaps they ought not be in business?

Representative Heck’s idea was to have the Pentagon conduct ANOTHER study of the effects of the Military Lending Act, in spite of the completion of the original study. Translation: Congressional studies can be used to delay the implementation of regulations interminably. Meanwhile, member of the military remain threatened by the terms of predatory lenders. [More at TP]  And, was Representative Heck proud of his delaying maneuver?

“The one-year delay of new financial protections for the military appears to come from Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), who chairs the subcommittee that produced the provision without discussion. Heck’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the provision.”  [TP]  (emphasis added)

Members of the Armed Forces should welcome the amendment by Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) which stripped Heck’s language from the appropriations bill, and was adopted by the committee on a 32-30 vote.

But wait, there’s more.

“The House voted 213-210 Thursday against an amendment that would have allowed Veterans Administration doctors to discuss medical marijuana with soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions. Opponents of the amendment underscored marijuana’s federally illegal status and said veterans shouldn’t be prescribed pot for psychological problems.” [IBT]

Representative Heck voted in favor of the amendment, but Nevada Representatives Hardy and Amodei voted against it.  Perhaps Hardy and Amodei are clinging to the old War on Drugs theme, a stale leftover from those days when it seemed like every candidate for every office was running for county sheriff?

The amendment certainly wouldn’t have required the VA to prescribe marijuana or related products to veterans, but it would have aligned the services of the VA more closely with NRS 435A on the medical usage for marijuana.  The state of Illinois is currently hearing a report on studies related to the use of marijuana to assist in the treatment of PTSD.  The American Glaucoma Society isn’t thrilled with the side effects of marijuana, but acknowledges that it does reduce intraocular pressure (IOP) in glaucoma patients.

Contrary to the drum beating of the Old Drug Warriors, marijuana has been used successfully to treat moderate to severe “refractory spasticity” in multiple sclerosis patients, to alleviate loss of appetite associated with HIV/AIDS cachexia, and to inhibit chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting among cancer patients.

In short, given Representative Heck’s attempt to give a handout to the predatory lenders, and Old Drug Warriors Hardy and Amodei’s conviction that medical and marijuana don’t fit together – it wasn’t a complete loss of members of the Armed Forces and Veterans in the House, but it was a near thing.

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Filed under Amodei, Defense Department, Heck, Veterans