Category Archives: Heck

And They Voted To What? House GOP wants to drop the new fiduciary rule

Money Pile 2

The Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives did try to do some business in the midst of the Democratic representatives’ sit in, and a miserable bit of business it was.

“House Republicans on Wednesday failed to muster the two-thirds majority needed to block the Obama administration’s controversial standards for financial advisers.  The House voted 239-180 to block the fiduciary rule, well more than 40 votes short of the total needed.

Wednesday night’s vote came as Democrats staged a sit-in on the House floor, starting around nearly 12 hours earlier, to push for a vote on legislation to prevent terror suspects from buying guns.”  [TheHill]

There’s a little story about priorities herein.  While the Democrats were trying to get the leadership to schedule votes on gun safety legislation, the Republicans were trying to make it easier for financial advisers to rip people off. [TP]

Let’s try to make this as simple as humanly possible.  “Fiduciary” /fəˈdooSHēˌerē,-SHərē/, “ involving trust, especially with regard to the relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary.”   Think of that pile of money in the graphic above as your savings. You have trusted a financial adviser to tell you the best investments you can make to get a good return on your savings, especially for your retirement account.   You are trusting that what your investment and/or financial adviser is telling you is in your best interest.

The Department of Labor has drafted a rule to require your financial adviser to act in your best interest regarding your investments – and not to give you advice on financial products that will do more for the investment advisers than they will do for you.  In short, it’s a matter of trust —  you should be able to trust what your financial adviser is telling you. You should be able to trust that the advice isn’t intended to feather the nests of the investment advisers instead of yours.

So, what have the Republicans been doing?  Return with us now to the Senate side of the Capitol building.  On May 24, 2016 the Republican controlled Senate voted to kill the Labor Department rule. [vote 84]  The vote was 56-41, obviously not sufficient to over-ride the promised veto.  And, who voted along with other Republicans to kill the rule? None other than our own Bankers’ Boy, Senator Dean Heller (R-NV).

HJ Res 88 Senate Vote

Now, let’s return to the House side of the Capitol Building.  HJ Res 88, “ On disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to the definition of the term “Fiduciary,” on passage, the objections of the President to the contrary notwithstanding… [vote 338] And who from the great state of Nevada voted to kill the rule?  Representatives Mark Amodei (R-NV2), Cresent Hardy (R-NV4), and Joe Heck (R-NV3).  Who as a member of Nevada’s congressional delegation did NOT vote to allow financial advisers to act in their own best interests rather than yours – Representative Dina Titus (D-NV1). The attempt to overturn the Labor Department rule failed 239-180.  The Republicans needed a 2/3rds majority to get rid of the rule, and thanks to Representative Titus and 179 other members of the House they didn’t get it.

In spite of the Republicans’ best efforts – your financial adviser will now have to offer investment advice based on what is in YOUR best interests – and not peddle financial products that will garner fees, kickbacks, and other “revenue enhancement” for the advisers.

And, THIS is what the Republicans thought was more important than scheduling votes on gun safety in America.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Heck, Heller, Nevada politics, Republicans

Guns and Money

Stonewall NRA How Much? Thus far into the 2016 election cycle the National Rifle Association PAC  has donated a total of $398,400 to Federal candidates with $3,500 going to Democrats and $394,900 donated to Republican campaigns.  The Safari Club International PAC has contributed $17,000 to Democratic candidates and $317,500 to Republicans.  The National Shooting Sports Foundation PAC has donated $118,500 with $2,000 to Democratic candidates and $116,500 to Republican candidates.  The National Association for Gun Rights PAC has donated $29,000 to Republican candidates, and nothing to Democratic ones. The Gun Owners of American PAC has donated $9,585 with all contributions given to Republicans. The Ohio Gun Collectors Association PAC has distributed $7,000 all of which has gone to Republican candidates. The Dallas Safari Club PAC has donated all $3,000 of its contributions to Republicans.  [OS.org]

The NRA PAC has donated $75,000 so far to the National Republican Senatorial Committee; $30,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee; $15,000 to the Republican National Committee; $9,950 to the Blue Dog PAC, $5,000 to the Republican Party of Iowa; $5,000 to the Republican Federal Committee of Pennsylvania; $5,000 to the Republican Party of Tennessee; $5,000 to the Republican Party of Kentucky; and, $5,000 to the Republican Party of Idaho.  [OS.org]

We also need to consider the NRA lobbying arm, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, which runs issue-based campaign ads of its own.  This organization cannot donate directly to candidates but is allowed to receive millions of dollars in donations from corporations.  It is not required to disclose the donors but manufacturers like Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger & Company have announced large donations to the NRA-ILA in the past. [CNN]  It’s public knowledge that during the two year period of the 2014 election cycle the NRA spent almost $36 million on lobbying, campaign contributions, and related political spending. [CNN]

Who Gets? Nevada Congressional candidate Cresent Hardy received $3,000 from the NRA PAC.  Joe Heck, Senate candidate in Nevada received $4,950 from the NRA PAC.

Cresent Hardy received another $2,000 from the Safari Club International PAC.  Senate candidate Joe Heck also received $2,000 from the Safari Club International PAC. Current Nevada Senator Dean Heller also received $2,000 in the 2016 cycle from the Safari Club International PAC.   The recipients are those listed in reports up to May 16, 2016. [OP.org]

The Response

The tragedy in Orlando, Florida, illustrates in a horrible way why simplistic thinking is detrimental to civil discourse in America.  And, the NRA response was perfectly predictable:

“Radical Islamic terrorists are not deterred by gun control laws. The San Bernardino terrorist attack wasn’t stopped by California’s so-called “assault weapons” ban. The gun ban in Brussels didn’t prevent the terrorist attack there. And France’s strict gun control didn’t stop the two attacks in Paris, committed with fully-automatic rifles and grenades.

Repeating the same thing but expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Law-abiding gun owners are tired of being blamed for the acts of madmen and terrorists. Semi-automatics are the most popular firearms sold in America for sport-shooting, hunting and self-defense.” [USAToday]

Heck, Hardy, and Heller have accepted NRA donations, and thus we’d have to assume they adhere to the arguments set forth by the NRA – logical flaws and all.

blood drop

The line that criminals (or terrorists) are not deterred by gun control laws is getting a bit stale.  Bank robbers aren’t deterred by laws designed to prevent robberies, but we have them on the books so that those violating the laws will be prosecuted.  Gun safety regulations are just that; laws designed to keep people safer – from successful suicides, assaults with these deadly weapons, and terrorist attacks.

blood drop

There is nothing quite so illogical as setting up an impossible standard and then insisting that all legislation perfectly meet that Impossibility. No law prevents all murders, all robberies, all auto thefts, or even all terrorist attacks, BUT doing nothing isn’t really a viable option.   Again, banning the sale of sliding side cribs for infants will not prevent all infant deaths, but it has prevented some, and for that we should be grateful.  We don’t ban all toys, but we don’t allow the sale of lawn darts which killed a handful of people and injured a few thousand.  The idea isn’t that we will be Perfectly Safe, but that we will be SAFER if military style weapons and high capacity magazines are not available to every single individual in America.

blood drop

Yes, expecting a different result from the same action is silly – however, the point is that we haven’t taken ANY action to curtail the proliferation of military style weaponry in civilian hands.  In fact, we’ve done the reverse.  There are at least 70 instances in which state legislatures have weakened gun safety law since the Sandy Hook massacre. [HuffPo] Congress, as is relatively obvious, hasn’t enacted any measures related to keeping Americans safer – none.

So, let’s turn this argument around.  The NRA pleads that what we have done since Sandy Hook hasn’t made us any safer.  True – we’ve weakened laws on the books, and the Congress has done nothing; therefore, expecting our environments to be safer is “expecting to do the same things and expecting to get another result.”

blood drop

The “poor me” gun owners argument is also getting bromidic.  No one is “blaming” those “responsible gun owners” for attacks in San Bernardino, Orlando, Charlestown, Blacksburg, Fort Hood, and Aurora…

Indeed, these were carried out by the deadly delusional among us. The real question is WHY we continue to countenance the easy sale and distribution of deadly weapons, regardless of the hands unto which they are committed?

blood drop

Semi-automatics are the most popular firearm sold in America,”  is NOT an argument for believing that continuing to do nothing will make us all safer.  Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for Babies was a very popular product in the 19th century, and indeed it would sooth those teething little critters – with the 65 mg of morphine per fluid ounce.  To Mrs. Winslow’s concoction we might add Lloyd Manufacturing’s Cocaine Toothache Drops, Kimball’s White Pine and Tar Cough Syrup, and Laudanum – the latter being exceptionally popular.  Merely because an item is “popular” doesn’t mean it is a wholesome, safe, and generally useful product.

blood drop

Military style weapons are for military and law enforcement use. Period. Yes, a person could “go hunting” with an AR-15, but why? Most hunters use sporting rifles and shotguns so as not to “mess up the meat.”  At the risk of repeating myself – a person might use an AR-15 for hunting especially if the individual is of the type inclined to use a D8 Cat to move a bag of potting soil.  As far as home defense goes – just who do they think is going to show up?    Granted my marksmanship leaves a lot to be desired, but if I haven’t hit the “target” with my first couple of shots what would make me believe that I will do any more damage with the next 30 rounds? Except perhaps to complete the total “air-conditioning” of my living room?  I don’t expect a small army of burglars. I expect that statistics will hold that most burglars operate alone and unarmed.  The odds are against my ever needing a high capacity magazine attached to a highly lethal weapon – so why bother with the purchase?

blood drop

All too often when the smoke clears from a tragic shooting we find that the motives of the shooters were a complex mix of mental illness, delusional thinking, personal issues, political ideologies, and were far more complicated than simply ascribing blame to a singular causal factor.  However much the NRA wants to believe that Orlando was exclusively a terrorist attack, and however much Daesh would like to claim it, the shooter’s ideation remains cloudy – was it homophobic? Was it terroristic? Was it both? What other factors may have been involved? Was it a dramatic version of suicide-by-cop going down in a blaze of glory when his life was falling apart?  We don’t know much at this point and we may not know much more later in the investigations.  What we do know is that it didn’t take all that much effort for him to purchase all the firepower he needed to implement his irrational plan.

Questions

To those Federal candidates and office holders like Hardy, Heck, and Heller:

1. Do you believe that anyone should be allowed to purchase a high capacity magazine for a military style weapon which can be easily modified to function as an automatic weapon?

2. Do you believe that military style weapons should be readily available in the marketplace for civilian use?

3. Do you believe that simply because we can’t prevent every tragic loss of life to suicide, homicide, or assaults that we should do nothing to alleviate the situation?

4. Do you believe that individuals who can’t pass a background check should be able to purchase guns at a gun show?

5. Do you believe  that persons who are adjudicated mentally ill, have a history of spousal abuse, or who are on “no-fly” lists should be allowed to purchase military style weapons and high capacity magazines?

Perhaps instead of taking the NRA’s nihilistic approach – there’s nothing we can do – we ought to be discussing how we can implement a general policy based on the concept that every little bit helps, and that doing Something is  preferable to doing Nothing.

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Filed under Gun Issues, Heck, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics

Heck’s Campaign: Saddled with Trump?

Heck Trump

Let’s start with the fact that 27.8% of Nevada’s population is of Hispanic or Latino descent.[Census] And, that of the 2,890,845 people in this state some 49.7% are women. [Census]  Now, add in information about voting demographics in this state:

    • From 2012 to 2016, voters of color will jump from 36 percent of the state’s electorate to 39.4 percent.
    • Asian American eligible voters will reach 11 percent of the Nevada electorate in 2016.
    • If the Latino vote share sees the same growth as is projected for the share of Latino eligible voters, more than one in five voters in the state in 2016, or 21.2 percent, will be Latino for the first time ever, up from 19 percent in 2012.

Not that the Heck campaign for the U.S. Senate would ever ask my advice, but I would offer this:  Given the statistics I would not advise doing anything to tick off women or people of Hispanic descent if I were to run for a statewide office in Nevada.  Nor would I try to hook my message on a mistake:

“End birthright citizenship. This remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration. By a 2:1 margin, voters say it’s the wrong policy, including Harry Reid who said “no sane country” would give automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.” [Trump Campaign]

There are two problems herein.  It probably isn’t very helpful to attach oneself to a 1993 proposal about which the author said:

“Reid then talked about how, shortly thereafter, he was assailed at a town-hall meeting on his bill by Hispanic friends, and added, “I have done everything since that meeting in Las Vegas, in conversation with my wife, to undo my embarrassment.”  And, “In 1993, Reid’s bill died in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Reid has said it was the biggest mistake of his legislative career. It has come back to haunt him .” [DrmAct]

Secondly, there are some very serious possible consequences of tinkering with the concept of birthright citizenship.  It’s time for a reality check:

“The reality is this: Repealing birthright citizenship would create a self-perpetuating class that would be excluded from social membership for generations. Working with researchers at Pennsylvania State University, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) has found that ending birthright citizenship for U.S. babies with two unauthorized immigrant parents would increase the existing unauthorized population by 4.7 million people by 2050. Crucially, 1 million would be the children of two parents who themselves had been born in the United States. Under a scenario denying U.S. citizenship to babies with one parent who is unauthorized, our analysis finds that the unauthorized population would balloon to 24 million in 2050 from the 11 million today.

This last finding alone should give pause. Touted by its supporters as a solution to reduce illegal immigration, repeal in fact would have the completely opposite effect.” [MP org]

Thus, instead of “fixing” a problem, the repeal proponents are advocating a “solution” which  exacerbates it.  If we need an example of how badly things can go wrong – look to the Japanese importation of Korean laborers in the 1940s and the subsequent denial of citizenship opportunities.  [UCDavisEdu]

And then there’s the issue with The Women.  It’s about power, asserting power, using power, and that of course means putting women “in their place:”

“Women labor under a cloud of Trump’s distrust. “I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye—or perhaps another body part,” he wrote in Trump: The Art of the Comeback. Working moms are particularly lacking in loyalty, he believes, and thus do not make for good employees. “She’s not giving me 100 percent. She’s giving me 84 percent, and 16 percent is going towards taking care of children,” he told Mika Brzezinski. (Further evidence of his dim view of working moms: Trump once notoriously blurted that the pumping of breast milk in the office is “disgusting.”)”  [Slate]

One can only wonder what other gems are to be found in the archives of Howard Stern’s radio program?   So, we’re left with some questions candidate Heck should answer:

Do you support repealing birthright citizenship?  If so can you explain how its repeal will not create a permanent underclass of exploited workers?

Do you support the comments made by candidate Donald Trump on (1) working mothers?  (2) Which of the five different positions on the issue of abortion candidate Trump took in three days during late March/early April 2016 do you support? [WaPo] (3) How do you interpret candidate Trump’s life and life style as it relates to Family Values?

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Filed under Heck, Immigration, Nevada politics, Politics

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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