Category Archives: Heck

GOP: Protect the Sharks!

Pay Day Lending Shark Some dots connect.  Dot Number One:

“A bill passed Wednesday by the House would set new limits on, and effectively cut, the amount of money the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can spend.

The legislation, passed with nearly exclusive Republican support, was originally aimed at placing new limits on agencies writing regulations, requiring them to conduct more analysis on their impact and subjecting them to additional legal review.” [The Hill]

First, the amount cut from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would be some $36 million dollars less than the expected expenses for the CFPB in FY 2016.  Secondly, the “more analysis” part translates to “cost/benefit analyses” which have been a crucial part of the Republican litany.  There’s a reason to suspect that this particular dot comes with some major freight.

The “cost/benefit” analysis nearly always comes skewed in favor of the corporations.  The Institute for Policy Integrity found this to be the case in the instance of coal ash regulation in 2010, and while the major impact of the bill would be to the Environmental Protection Agency – a popular whipping boy for the Right – the abuse of the cost/benefit analysis regime could be equally unhelpful for American consumers.  The problem can be summarized as follows:

“Regulatory cost-benefit analyses are inherently vulnerable to challenge. The long-term benefits of regulations are often difficult to quantify, while the costs can be immediate and straightforward. The calculations can be even more complex with public health and safety issues, where the value of human lives must be weighed against corporate costs.” [HuffPo]

In this case we have to ask do the short term losses to the payday lenders outweigh the long term benefits of not having working Americans subject to usurious lending rates?  Evidently, Representatives Heck (R-NV3), Hardy (R-NV Bundy Ranch), and Amodei (R-NV2) [rc 64] believe that the short term losses which might accrue to the payday lenders are of more significance than the long term problems associated with payday lenders in underserved communities?   At the least, they’ve voted in favor of placing more hurdles – in the form of more litigation – in the way of any agency such as the CFPB seeking to curtail some of the more egregious business practices of payday lenders. (For more information on Cost/Benefit Analysis see Better Markets.)

Dot Number Two:

“But a late amendment from the bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), would also place new limits on the funding for the CFPB.

Foxx’s amendment, added to the bill at the House Rules Committee before it reached the House floor, would cap CFPB funding at $550 million — $36 million less than the Congressional Budget Office estimated the CFPB would spend in fiscal 2016.”  [The Hill]

Now, why would this particular agency be mentioned in this “late amendment?”  If Dot Number One makes it more difficult for an agency, such as the CFPB, to finalize regulations on corporate activity,  Dot Number Two makes it even more difficult for the CFPB to defend its proposed regulations.  Leading us to Dot Number Three.

Dot Number Three: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is, in fact,  about to release rules governing payday lending practices [NYT] against which the $46 billion a year industry is lobbying hard and fast.

“The rules are expected to address expensive credit backed by car titles and some installment loans that stretch longer than the traditional two-week payday loan, according to industry lawyers, consumer groups and government authorities briefed on the discussions who all spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations are private. Certain installment loans, for example, with interest rates that exceed 36 percent, the people said, will most likely be covered by the rules.

Behind that decision, the people said, is a stark acknowledgment of just how successfully lenders have adapted to keep offering high-cost products despite state laws meant to rein in the loans.” [NYT]

Translation: Because the payday lenders have been relatively successful thus far in avoiding or mitigating the attempts by the states to rein in some of their more egregious practices, the CFPB has stepped in to assist consumers avoid these financial pitfalls.  And, the Republicans are quite obviously marching in step with payday lending industry lobbyists.  Now, we can see why this was one of the first bills introduced in the 114th Congress, the timing isn’t simply a matter of coincidence.

Dot Number Four: There is a secondary market for payday lender loans. [HoustonSmallBus] [ABA]  And, wouldn’t you know it – AIG and private equity group Fortress Investment Group launched a securitization of sub-prime personal loans (read: payday) in February 2013. [WallStJ]

“The $604 million issue from consumer lender Springleaf Financial, the former American General Finance, will bundle together about $662 million of loans secured by assets such as cars, boats, furniture and jewelry into ABS, according to a term sheet. Some loans have no collateral.” [WSJ]

The last time someone tried this – Conseco Finance Corporation – things did not end well. Conseco ended up in bankruptcy in 2002.  ZeroHedge opined that the Springleaf Financial deal was a resurrection of the worst of the pre-Great Recession credit bubble.   With this in mind, should it come as any surprise that Springleaf Financial partnered with private equity firm Centerbridge Partners LLP in wanting to buy into Citigroup’s One Main Financial – the big banks subprime lender? But wait, there are more suitors.  Citigroup is trying to offload that subprime business, to focus on “the affluent customer,” and Apollo Global Management has joined the potential buyers list as of January 2015.  [BloombergBus]

Let’s muse: If the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announces regulations that might put a crimp in the profitability of payday loans, particularly those subprime personal loans which have been securitized (ABS) then the bidders from the Springleaf/Fortress operations and Apollo Global Management might not want to pay more for Citigroup’s One Main Financial – which it would very much like to offload onto someone – Lonestar, Springleaf/Fortress, or Apollo Global Management?

Or, to muse and speculate less kindly:  There’s a deal in the works to sell a subprime personal loan unit from a major U.S. bank; there are bidders from private equity firms, and it would be better for the Big Bank if the CFPB would butt out of any activity which would make the subprime personal loan units less attractive.  Further, the subprime personal loan securitization schemes might be less profitable if the CFPB puts the brakes on some of the more “profitable” practices.   If the subprime personal loan lenders aren’t as “profitable” then they might not be able to bid as much as wished for the One Main Financial spin off?

Hence, it’s necessary, nay Vital, that the CFPB be made to back off the subprime personal loan regulations and allow the bankers to continue to securitize those loans and to deal for a bigger share of the subprime personal loan pie?  Would this be part of the reason for the rush to get H.R. 50 through a compliant House of Representatives?

The Republicans have not demonstrated any particular interest in protecting the sharks of the natural variety, but they seem bent on protecting the financial ones.  And, the bigger the shark the better?  Nevada Representatives Amodei, Heck, and Hardy played right along.  Representative Titus (D-NV1), to her credit,  voted “no.”

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Filed under Amodei, banking, Economy, financial regulation, Heck, Nevada politics

Heck, Hardy, Amodei vote for Big Government in Women’s Health

Woman's Womb 

H.R. 7 is a beauty, that would be Beauty with scare quotes around it. Here’s what Nevada Representatives, Hardy (R-Bundy Ranch), Amodei (R-NV2), and Heck (R-NV3) voted in favor of: [RC 45]

No funds authorized or appropriated by Federal law, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are authorized or appropriated by Federal law, shall be expended for any abortion.

Someone missed the message from the Hyde Amendment, there is NO federal funding for abortion procedures.  But wait! It gets worse.

None of the funds authorized or appropriated by Federal law, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are authorized or appropriated by Federal law, shall be expended for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion.

No funds subsidized by federal monies may to applied to health care insurance which includes abortion procedures.

No health care service furnished–`(1) by or in a health care facility owned or operated by the Federal Government; or`(2) by any physician or other individual employed by the Federal Government to provide health care services within the scope of the physician’s or individual’s employment,may include abortion.

There can be no abortion procedures in any federal facility or by any doctor employed by the federal government.

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as prohibiting any individual, entity, or State or locality from purchasing separate abortion coverage or health benefits coverage that includes abortion so long as such coverage is paid for entirely using only funds not authorized or appropriated by Federal law and such coverage shall not be purchased using matching funds required for a federally subsidized program, including a State’s or locality’s contribution of Medicaid matching funds.

If a family or individual wants health insurance coverage which includes abortion services it must be purchased privately.

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as restricting the ability of any non-Federal health benefits coverage provider from offering abortion coverage, or the ability of a State or locality to contract separately with such a provider for such coverage, so long as only funds not authorized or appropriated by Federal law are used and such coverage shall not be purchased using matching funds required for a federally subsidized program, including a State’s or locality’s contribution of Medicaid matching funds.

Insurance companies are ‘perfectly free’ to draft and sell individual health insurance policies covering abortion procedures.  For a price? Probably a hefty one?

The limitations established in sections 301, 302, and 303 shall not apply to an abortion–`(1) if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest; or`(2) in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.

Notice the big gap in this section! Only if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or is PHYSICALLY dangerous can an abortion be provided.  A woman who is at serious risk for debilitating postpartum depression would be denied abortion procedures under the terms of this bill.  We should drill down more deeply on this one, because this is the point at which the politicians are getting between the woman, her family, and her physician.

Postpartum depression is NOT a “mood swing,” and it’s not merely the old “baby blues” after delivery.  There’s postpartum depression, which can be treacherous, and worse still in some cases the situation devolves into post partum psychosis.   Evidently, the three male Representatives from Nevada aren’t all that concerned about the symptoms described by the Mayo Clinic, including: loss of appetite, insomnia, intense irritability and anger, overwhelming fatigue, feelings of shame/guilt/inadequacy, severe mood swings, difficulty bonding with the new baby, withdrawal from family and friends, and thoughts of harming self or the baby. The psychosis element includes confusion and disorientation, hallucinations and delusions, paranoia, and actual attempts to harm self or the infant.

However, the provisions of H.R. 7 would not consider the needs of a family in which the mother had previously been treated for postpartum depression (or psychosis for that matter) when it comes to a recommendation from the family doctor that should a pregnancy occur, then it should be terminated before the mother’s mental health issues worsen.

Let’s be clear, postpartum depression occurs in an estimated 9-16% of all postpartum women. Among women who have already experienced PPD after a previous pregnancy the odds of a relapse go up to 41%.  [APA] We’re not speaking of small numbers here.  As of the CDC’s last report, there were 3,932,181 births registered in the United States (2013). A quick resort to the calculator and we’re speaking of 353,896 women who are projected to have postpartum depression using the conservative estimate of 9%.  And, yes, postpartum psychosis is rare, occuring in about 0.1% of all births, but that’s still 3,932 instances taking the 0.1% rate. [PPN]  If a mother has a history of bipolar disorder or has had a previous psychotic episode there is a significant risk of postpartum psychosis, which unfortunately can lead to a 5% suicide rate and a 4% infanticide rate associated with the illness. [PPN]

It takes a bit of intelligence and sensitivity to think through the difference between the “baby blues” common in about 80% of perinatal women and the postpartum depression in up to 16%, or even postpartum psychosis at the 0.1% rate.  Quite evidently, our male Representatives to the Congress of the United States are still stuck on the hackneyed and debunked myths; myths like “postpartum depression is rare,” or “PPD will go away on its own,” or “if you just stay positive you won’t get PPD,” or “if she’s not crying all the time it’s not PPD.”  What makes the voting record all the more astonishing is that one of our Representatives is a health care professional who should know better.

Omitting the mental health component in the bill is tantamount to saying women’s perinatal mental health issues aren’t important, or women just use the “baby blues” to rationalize an unwanted child, or women and their physicians can’t be trusted to determine the best outcome for the family. Or, all of the above.   And, yes – Nevada’s three male Representatives just said We’re All For A Government Big Enough To Control Every Woman’s Womb.

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Filed under Amodei, Health Care, health insurance, Heck, Nevada politics

Death and Resurrection: Attacks on Financial Regulation Reform

Avarice Dante

Watch enough television and a person could get the impression that the greatest threats to mankind are bloody minded terrorists and crashing aircraft.  However, the “If It Bleeds, It Leads” brand of modern journalism tends to distract us from some much more realistic threats to our well being.

The odds of being killed in a terrorist attack are approximately 1 in 20,000,000.  The odds that our financial and economic well being are in jeopardy are being created right now in a Congress which has thus far in its short existence catered to the Financialists – those “weary souls” who will never have enough gold (wealth) to relax.   Witness the attempt at unraveling the Dodd-Frank Act financial regulation reforms during the first week in the 114th Congress.  [Business Day, NYT]

The bill was called the “Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act.” [H.R. 37]  Nothing could have been much further from the truth of the matter. The opponents of bank regulation are depending on a public which doesn’t know a “counter-party” from a “counter-pane.”  This bill was an attack on the imposition of the Volcker Rule, and would have allowed some private equity funds from having to register with the S.E.C.   There is nothing in the bill about “creating jobs” except the old hoary delusion that making bankers more wealthy will “trickle down” eventually – sometime after the Second Coming?

Nor are any “small businesses” being “burdened,” unless of course we mean wealth management, hedge, and other financial services corporations with a small number of employees and massive amounts of money under management.  We are not, repeat NOT, speaking here of Joe’s Garage, Maria’s Dress Shop, or Anderson’s Bodega and News-stand.  In addition to the two big blasts at the Dodd Frank Act reforms, H.R. 37 contained provisions for lots of other goodies the financialists would like to find in their 4th Circle.

There were changes in margin requirements, changes in the accounting treatment of affiliate transactions, the registration of holding companies, a registration threshold for savings and loan holding companies, a ‘brokerage simplification act,’ a registration exemption for merger and acquisition brokers, a repeal of indemnification requirements for SWAP repositories and clearinghouses, changes to benefit “emerging growth companies,” – an EGC is any company with less than $1 Billion in gross revenue in a given year, extended deadlines for dealing with collateralized loan obligations, and various provisions to make fewer required reports from the financial sector EGC’s to the regulators.   In short, nothing in the bill had anything to do with the garage, the dress shop, or the neighborhood bodega.  This was a bill BY the financial services industry, FOR the financial services industry, or as Minority Leader Pelosi called it, “An eleven bill Wall Street Wish List.”

The good news is that this bill was defeated in the House on January 7, 2014 [rc 9] – the bad news is that the defeat came because the Republican leadership went for expedited passage and Democrats who had previously supported some provisions bailed out on them leaving the leadership without the 282 votes necessary for passage.  [Bloomberg] And, there’s more bad news – next time the Republican leadership won’t make the same error, and the bill will come up in another form, this time requiring only a simple majority.

As the bills come back in resurrected form, perhaps a short glossary of Republican rhetoric is desirable:

Small Business – any private equity or wealth management firm with less than a BILLION dollars in annual revenue.

Job Creation – any bill which allows financial sector (Wall Street) banks to make more money; see “Trickle Down Hoax.”

Burdensome Regulation – any requirement that a private equity or other investment entity doesn’t want to follow, even if it means leaving the public (and investors) in the dark about financial transactions.

Simplification Act – provisions in a bill to make it easier for private equity or any investment/wealth management firm to conceal what it is doing from financial regulators – and from anyone else.

Improving Financing – provisions in a bill to let the Wall Street bankers revert to the old Casino format of complicated, convoluted, and “creative,” financing of the variety best known for crashing and burning in 2007 and 2008.

Encouraging Employee Ownership – a provision in a bill to — “to increase from $5,000,000 to $10,000,000 the aggregate sales price or amount of securities sold during any consecutive 12-month period in excess of which the issuer is required under such section to deliver an additional disclosure to investors. The Commission shall index for inflation such aggregate sales price or amount every 5 years to reflect the change in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, rounding to the nearest $1,000,000.”  (This is NOT a joke.)

Since the people who want the enactment of these provisions are not satisfied with “all the gold under the moon, or ever has been,” the specifics of H.R. 37 will be resurrected, re-introduced, and the Republicans will seek passage of every item on the Wall Street Wish List.

Voting in favor of the H.R. 37 Wall Street Wish List were Representatives Heck (R-NV3), Amodei (R-NV2), and Hardy (R-Bundy Ranch). Representative Titus voted against the roll back of the Dodd Frank financial regulations reforms.

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Filed under Amodei, Economy, financial regulation, Heck, Titus

Citigroup’s Coup

Citigroup 2

Oh, how those investment bankers deplore the “burdensome,” “onerous” regulations – you know, the ones that prevent them from gambling with money in depositor’s accounts.  And, oh how they’d love to have Freedom to create jobs (their own) … so they got it in the spending bill.  In short, the Christmas gift from the House of Representatives to Wall Street is a spending bill that allows the bankers to privatize their profits and socialize their losses.  If the next round of fun in the Wall Street Casino goes haywire, the taxpayers will be on the hook to bail them out – again.

Senator Elizabeth Warren called the bill the “Citigroup Shutdown,” or ‘let us get out from under the regulations of the Dodd Frank Act – or the government will face a shutdown.’  There might not have been such a blatant  situation since the Beslan School hostage crisis of 2004.  Among those making the demands on behalf of the provision drafted by Citigroup lobbyists was none other than JPMorganChase’s Jamie Dimon.

What’s inside the Christmas Gift from the taxpayers?  A way to get as far as possible from the push-out rule in the Dodd Frank Act.

“Banks hate the push-out rule…because this provision will forbid them from trading certain derivatives (which are complicated financial instruments with values derived from underlying variables, such as crop prices or interest rates). Under this rule, banks will have to move these risky trades into separate non-bank affiliates that aren’t insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and are less likely to receive government bailouts. The bill would smother the push-out rule in its crib by permitting banks to use government-insured deposits to bet on a wider range of these risky derivatives.”  [MJ]  (emphasis added)

No longer are insured deposits immune from being put on the table in the Wall Street Casino – there is no ‘Chinese Wall’ between depositors money and the ‘chips’ for the Wall Street traders – there isn’t even a wicker fence between your money and the trading desks.  What could possibly go wrong?

Can we say HOUSING BUBBLE?  Can we say MORTGAGE BACKED DERIVATIVES?   And, just as the American Banker predicted, we’re reminded of the role played by the bankers in the Debacle of 2007-08:

“What they won was the repeal of a Dodd-Frank Act provision that requires them to push out a portion of their derivatives business into subsidiaries. Big banks fought against its inclusion in the 2010 financial reform law and have been steadily fighting to repeal it ever since. The spending bill is expected to pass the Senate in the coming days.

But in finally getting what they wanted, big banks also thrust themselves back into the limelight in the worst possible way, simultaneously reminding the public of their role in causing the financial crisis and in their continuing influence over the various levers of the U.S government. In one fell swoop, they undid whatever recovery to their battered reputation they’d made in the past four years and once again cast themselves as the prototypical supervillain in a comic book movie.”

Yes. They. Did.  By a 219-206 vote the Cram-nibus bill made it through the House of Representatives.  Nevada Representatives Amodei, Heck, and Horsford voted in favor of the bill.  Representative Titus voted against it. [roll call 563]

On the Senate Side

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expecting a quick vote.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said he hoped the bill would pass on Friday to spare Americans the drama of yet another budget crisis. While there could be some opposition to the measure from both the left flank of the Democrats and some Republicans, it appeared it would garner the 60 votes needed in the 100-seat Senate to overcome any procedural blocks. [Reuters]

Let’s assume that most of the Republicans will be in favor of the bill, there may be some outliers in that camp who’d like to do a bit of show-boating but it wouldn’t be prudent to assume they’ll oppose it in the final analysis.  However, with the Citigroup Draft included in the bill the remaining supporters will have some explaining to do to the folks back home, for example:

How can you say you are against bank bail outs and vote in favor of a bill which lets banks gamble in the derivatives market with insured deposits?

This can be accomplished with a bit of verbal legerdemain, such as practiced by Senator Dean Heller (R-NV).  Senator Heller is fond of criticizing the provisions of the Dodd Frank Act (financial regulation reform), he’s even called for its outright repeal. [DB, FreedomWorks, DB]

The junior Senator is quite fond of citing his vote against the TARP bill as “proof” he’s against bank bail outs.”  While he’s telling Nevadans how much he disapproves of bank bail outs, his actual voting record is a banker’s delight and he added to his bank talking point repertoire by hauling out the “community banks” card during a Senate Banking Committee meeting in 2013 about the ‘evils’ of the Dodd Frank Act.  However, mostly he’s railed on about “onerous, burdensome,” … oppressive, weighty, worrisome, stressful, demanding, taxing, difficult, irksome, heavy, wearing, crushing, exacting, and maybe even superincumbent … government regulations. That’s his “out.”

Oh, yes, he’s all in favor of good banking practices – he just doesn’t want to burden, concern, load, strain, trouble, afflict, encumber, hinder, or grieve the bankers. He doesn’t want to cause them hardship, put the onus on them, hold them accountable, or bedevil them with obstructions, millstones, or balls and chains.   The upcoming vote on the spending bill will be highly instructive – If Senator Heller is SO opposed to bank bail outs that he never wants to see another one, will he vote for a measure which all but guarantees the bank trading desks will engineer another bubble, and take down the U.S. economy with it? – creating the necessity of yet another bail out?

The ABA was right – the provision in the spending bill puts the banks in some unwanted limelight, and puts a spotlight on members of the Senate like Dean Heller – will he have to find yet one more excuse to explain away his Banker’s Best Boy reputation?

We do need some fast action on the bill, but Senator Reid would be well advised to give support for an amendment stripping the Citigroup gutting of the Dodd Frank Act from the measure.  The Citigroup insertion is a ‘poison pill’ – swallow it and the financial reforms become a travesty – don’t swallow it and face the wrath of right wing talkers and pundits about how the “Democrats caused the shutdown.”  Rock meet hard place.

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Filed under Amodei, Economy, financial regulation, Heck, Heller, Politics

Corporate Interests, Consumer Safety?

banker 2 Columnist Steve Sebelius has an article posted which is high on DB’s Must Read List: “Heck opposes ‘junk lawsuits’ ? Since When?”  It’s hoped that after reading this you’ll come back for more information on the Republican assault on your rights in the Courthouse.  Medical malpractice litigation is only one of several categories in which the Republican Party is ready and ever-so-willing to restrict the rights of ordinary citizens to have their day in court.  Failing that, there’s always the option to force litigation on those least able to afford it.

Your Body vs. Health Insurance Corporations

It’s time to remember that one of the very few specific proposals incorporated into the GOP version of health care insurance reform was “litigation reform.”  One of the more recent comes from a Louisiana Congressman:

“Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, is one of several Republicans pushing for the proposed legislation, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act, place new restrictions on medical malpractice suits and provide more access to health savings accounts.”  [LFC]

The standard line from Republicans is that malpractice litigation creates “runaway health care spending increases” because medical professionals order unnecessary tests, and if damages are limited fewer people will have any incentive to file law suits.  However, we’ve known since 2009 that some physicians have ordered extra testing merely to increase their billings, [TNY] and after Texas legislature capped damages costs still hadn’t dropped in the area highlighted as the poster child for escalating health care costs (McAllen, TX). [Wire]  A Florida law restricting medical malpractice suits was declared unconstitutional – after the Florida Supreme Court found that only the health insurance corporations benefited from the restraints. [Wire] And what was achieved by restraining the ability of ordinary citizens damaged by medical malpractice?

Not much:

“Defensive medicine includes tests and procedures ordered by physicians principally to reduce perceived threats of medical malpractice liability. The practice is commonly assumed to increase health care costs. The results of studies of the costs of defensive medicine have been inconsistent. We found that estimated savings resulting from a 10 percent decline in medical malpractice premiums would be less than 1 percent of total medical care costs in every specialty. These savings are lower than most previous estimates, and they suggest that the presumed impact of tort reform on health care costs may be overstated.” [HA.org, National Cancer Inst] (emphasis added)

May be overstated?” They are being overstated. And, they are being overstated in the pursuit of policies which are blatantly aligned with the interests of the health insurance corporations.   Might any Nevadan oppose litigation seeking to hold accountable those responsible for the Hepatitis C outbreak from the Shadow Lane Clinic? [LVRJ/Sebelius]  Would Floridians oppose the efforts of the family of Michelle McCall to hold a medical facility accountable for her death – the result of a case of preeclampsia being handled about as poorly as might be imagined in a nightmare. [FSC 2014 pdf]

Who in Missouri would castigate the efforts of the Schneider family in the wake of a stroke suffered by Jeffrey Schneider, an IT specialists with the Federal Reserve, which caused damage to his speech, the right side of his body, and loss of short term memory – and which was preventable had the physician paid attention to his own notes going back to 1996. [STLpd] Also left un-noted in the hyperbole about Runaway Costs from Irresponsible Juries – the fact that medical malpractice suits are extremely difficult to win.

The physicians and medical facilities usually win in most cases. In one study of 10,000 malpractice cases between 2002 and 2005, just a bit over half (55%) ended up in an actual lawsuit. Of that 55% more than half were dismissed by the court. When all the winnowing was final, less than 5% of the cases ended up being decided by a trial verdict – and 80% of the verdicts were in favor of the physicians. [reuters]  For this, we are being asked by Representatives Heck, Scalise, and others, to voluntarily abrogate our rights as citizens to have our day in court.

Your Body vs. Gun Manufacturers and the NRA

On October 20, 2005 Congress passed a law protecting gun manufacturers and dealers from any liability.  The NRA was positively elated. [NYT]  The vote on S. 397 was 283-144 [roll call 534] The law is a gun manufacturer’s delight, it:

Prohibits a qualified civil liability action from being brought in any state or federal court against a manufacturer or seller of a firearm, ammunition, or a component of a firearm that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, or against a trade association of such manufacturers or sellers, for damages, punitive damages, injunctive or declaratory relief, abatement, restitution, fines, penalties, or other relief resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm. Requires pending actions to be dismissed. [Thomas]

Did we notice the damage might have resulted from “the criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm?”  P.L.109-92 protects gun manufacturers and dealers like no other sector of our economy.  Did the safety fail? You have no case. Did the gun malfunction because of a preventable engineering flaw causing an injury or loss of life? You have no case. Did the Saturday Night Special shatter when fired? You have no case.  If your complaint is with a firearms manufacturing corporation – you will not have your day in court.

There are also moves afoot to make being a consumer in this consumer economy a matter of a perverted form of survival of the fittest – or the wealthiest at least.  In this regard the advocates of corporate interests want to remove the very agencies which provide administrative options to litigation.  Instead of eliminating your day in court, the massive corporations would like very much to make you challenge them in court – if you dare.

Your Wallet vs. The Financial Institutions and Big Banks

Nothing so alarmed the bankers and other participants in the Great Mortgage Disaster of 2007-2008 as the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  In fact, a small community bank in (where else?) Texas along with two conservative groups,  were moved in 2012 to file a lawsuit saying the appointment of CFPB director Richard Cordray was unconstitutional and the agency was without “checks and balances.” The bankers also didn’t like the Financial Stability Oversight Council – the one that studies risk in the financial sector. [Reuters]  In September 2012 some Republican state attorneys general were planning “non-cooperation” with the CFPB, following along the talking points made in the litigation. [Bloomberg]  Nothing would please these folks more than the repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act, so that the wheels of the Wall Street Casino could be free to spin again.

And what subjects does the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau review? Student Loans, Manufactured Home financing,  Bank Overdraft and other fees… As of June 2014 the CFPB reviewed (pdf) complaints in a variety of financial transaction categories – 34% concerned mortgages, 20% concerned debt collection activities, 14% were about credit cards, 12% about banking accounts and services, 3% were about consumer loans, 3% about student loans, and payday loans 1%.  In other words, disputes about loans and other services common, ordinary, everyday, citizens of the U.S. might be involved in.  

The legal system usually demands that all administrative options be finished before litigation is initiated.  If there is no CFPB then there is one less way for disputes to be resolved at the administrative level – and the individual citizen (the one in the mobile home, in the student apartment, in the apartment house complex…) is left with no option except the expense of litigation.  If the big banks had their way – you’d get your day in court – at your expense, and there would be no agency tasked with protecting you before you faced the battalion of legal forces arrayed against you.

Your Life vs. Manufacturing Interests

Calls for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission are nothing new, they’ve been around since at least 1980. [Sanders]  The Libertarian Party is pleased to offer the following vision:

We oppose all so-called “consumer protection” legislation which infringes upon voluntary trade, and call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. We advocate the repeal of all laws banning or restricting the advertising of prices, products, or services. We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called “self-protection” equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.

Does someone “voluntarily” purchase a crib for an infant which has features potentially lethal for a baby?  Who “voluntarily” buys a four wheeler where the components of the front gear case can fail causing a loss of control and crash hazard?  Or a lawn mower in which the welding on the drive axle can fail, again causing a loss of control and crash hazard?  Would you “voluntarily” purchase a bicycle helmet which fails in cold temperatures?  Would you “voluntarily” buy a scarf which doesn’t meet federal flammability standards? Or a infant’s “hoodie” the drawstring of which creates a strangulation hazard? Or a riding lawn mower wherein the ignition fails to ground and tends to overheat and melt? [CPSC]

What is the response when the four-wheeler’s front gear case fails, the vehicle goes out of control, and the resulting crash causes injury or death? You should have had a degree in Mechanical Engineering before you purchased the rig?  Or, is it if enough people are injured or die in crashes consumers won’t purchase the vehicle? How many have to die?

Again, without the Consumer Products Safety Commission not only is the likelihood of death or injury made more commonplace, but there is no administrative remedy intermediate to litigation.  Worse still, the “pro-business” Republicans don’t even want the public to know which products have been the subjects of complaints.   When the CPSC allowed the publication of its consumer database, the Republicans went off the deep end.

They said: “…that the database “wastes taxpayer money, confuses and misleads consumers, raises prices, kills jobs, and damages the reputations of safe and responsible manufacturers.” Testifying last month before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, Wayne Morris, a vice president for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, complained, “It is wrong for the federal government to allow companies and their brands to be unfairly characterized, even slandered.” The National Association of Manufacturers said the database’s “credibility” and “usefulness to consumers” is “severely damaged.” In response to such criticism (and possibly also in response to Koch Industries, which showered an improbable $79,500 on his campaign), Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, a Tea Party freshman, sponsored an amendment zeroing out funding for the database that cleared the House, 234-187. The CPSC database, Pompeo said, “will drive jobs overseas.” [Slate]

There’s “voluntarism” for us – not only should manufacturers be able to slap together unsafe products and sell them to American consumers, but those potential consumers should be prevented from finding out that other consumers have had problems with the products.  We should remember that then Representative Dean Heller (R-NV) was one of the 234 House Republicans who voted in favor of Pompeo’s amendment cutting the funding for the CPSC database. [roll call 137]

The Ties That Bind

There is a common thread to all of this.  In the instances of medical malpractice and gun manufacturing and sales, it is assumed by the Republicans that the consumer – the average American – must be prevented from challenging the major corporations who provide the goods and services; or at least their dismal chances of successful litigation must be further curtailed.

In the examples of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Consumer Product Safety Commission the notion that some administrative option prior to expensive litigation must be removed for the sake of the manufacturers and dealers. Only those with the financial wherewithal to take on interminable legal battles should be able to challenge the desire of manufacturers to cut corners (“increase shareholder value”) and thereby produce and distribute potentially lethal products.

Nowhere in any portion of these Republican challenges to consumer safety and security will we find any true concern for the average American consumer, patient, or victim. Unfortunately, for the GOP it’s  all about the corporate Benjamins.

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Filed under civil liberties, conservatism, consumers, Gun Issues, Health Care, health insurance, Heck, Heller

What Our Representatives Did Before Vacation

Amodei 3 House leadership has taken the biennial pre-election vacation, in other words Representatives Heck, Amodei, Titus, and Horsford will be home to face the voters.  However, the House did leave with some parting gifts to corporate America which Representatives Heck and Amodei might wish to explain.

Parting gift (shot) number one: H.R. 4 the inaptly titled “Jobs for America Act.” What this might have to do with jobs is a mystery unless a person subscribes to the well debunked Trickle Down Hoax which says that the more tax breaks we give to corporations the more jobs will be created.  In this measure the research tax credit is made permanent, businesses can expense certain depreciable business assets, corporations are given permanent tax relief,  the bonus depreciation is modified and made permanent, the medical device tax is repealed, there are registration and reporting exemptions for private equity fund advisors, there are registration exemptions for merger and acquisition brokers, there are more reporting requirements on independent regulatory agencies and a retrospective analysis of existing federal regulations – (and what corporation doesn’t want ‘freedum’ from the SEC, the OCC, the FTC, the Consumer Safety Protection Bureau, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…) —

And, then there’s congressional review of agency rule making, a permanent moratorium on internet taxes (pro Big Box and Amazon), a land exchange authority to privatize public lands in Oregon and California, and provisions on judicial review of agency actions relating to exploration and mine permits.

In short – this is the exploiters, polluters, hedge fund and private equity wealth management lobbyists laundry list of Things We Want!  And, we like to have them now.  It’s just about every tax cut and deregulations idea ever expounded.   And, we know where tax cuts and deregulation got us in 2007-2008?

And, on September 18, 2014 the bill passed the Republican controlled House on a 253-163 vote.  [rc513] Representatives Amodei and Heck voted in favor of the H.R. 4 – the Exploiters, Polluters, Hedge Fund Managers, Merger and Acquisition Brokers Protection Act of 2014.   Representatives Titus and Horsford did not.  But wait, there’s more!

Parting gift (shot) number two:  The House also passed H.R. 2 the so-called  “American Energy Solutions for Lower Costs and More American Jobs Act.”  If you think this is about creating permanent and well paying jobs for American workers, please find a copy of the bill text – because this is not about lowering your energy costs, nor is it about getting anyone a job – it’s about approving the Keystone Pipeline.  That’s what the first section of the first part of the act is all about – approving the Keystone Pipeline to take Canadian oil to an International port.   Here’s an idea – if the Canadians want to pipe their oil to a port, how about they pipe it to one of their own ports?

And while they’re about it there are provisions in the bill to prohibit the consideration of social costs of carbon in any analysis, repeal of earlier rules and guidelines on energy efficiency, and then Drill Baby Drill anywhere, any place, any time.  This is the American Petroleum Institute’s dream bill. It’s a fossil fuel industry wet dream. And, it passed in the House 226 to 191.  Representatives Amodei and Heck voted in favor of the Drill Baby Drill/ Keystone Pipeline bill;  Representatives Titus and Horsford voted against it. [rc515]

Let’s guess that Representatives Heck and Amodei will come home to tell us they voted against those icky overburdening regulations on “Small Business In America” – the Norman Rockwell Painting People who run those Mom and Pop corner bodegas – not, so fast – the people they voted to protect are the corporate polluters, exploiters, hedge fund wealth management, merger and acquisition brokers, and Oil Giants.  This activity creates jobs, IF and ONLY IF we are foolish enough to believe that cutting taxes on major multi-national corporations creates jobs, and we know that doesn’t work.

The House had time to vote to protect the Oil Giants and the Major Corporations in H.R. 2 and H.R. 4, but they didn’t have time before vacation to take up:

  • The Voting Rights Act
  • Equal Pay for Equal Work
  • Comprehensive Immigration Reform
  • Student Loan Terms and Indebtedness

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Filed under Amodei, Congress, energy policy, financial regulation, Heck, House of Representatives

Heck’s Hobby Lobby Hopes Dashed By SCOTUS

Joe HeckNevada’s 3rd District Representative, Joe Heck (R), made this remark concerning the Hobby Lobby Decision:

“Heck said he agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday in the Hobby Lobby case. The high court said businesses that are family owned or closely held don’t have to provide health care coverage for birth control because the companies have religious objections.

Heck said the ruling was narrowly written to accommodate religious beliefs that life begins at conception and he didn’t believe it should be broadly interpreted to apply to companies that aren’t closely held.” [LVRJ]

Here’s what makes the Congressman’s commentary unreasonable.

#1.  What is the standard for “religious objections?  Since the Hobby Lobby Decision as crafted by Justice Samuel Alito doesn’t specify a standard by which the merits of a religious objection are to be discerned, we might safely assume that a mere assertion of a religious objection is sufficient.  This is certainly at odds with the most obvious “religious objection” standard in another part of the federal government — the military.

In order to attain a “1-O” status with the U.S. military, there is a strenuous test for religious convictions.  According to the American Bar Association:

“Applicants must demonstrate that their beliefs upon which their conscientious objection is based are the primary controlling force in their lives. They must produce evidence in their written application (and during their subsequent hearing before an officer) demonstrating that neither the avoidance of military service nor expediency is the motivating factor in their claim. To this end, DoD Directive 1300.6 lists numerous factors to consider in examining the merits of a servicemember’s application, such as his or her training in the home and church, participation in religious activities, and general demeanor and pattern of conduct.”

The revised DoD Directive 1300.6 (pdf) which replaced the 1968 version in 2007, goes on for some twenty pages of specifications regarding the applicants’ qualifications for conscientious objector status.  One of the more common phrases associated with the qualification is that the beliefs must be “firm, fixed, sincere, and deeply held.”

In the case of a member of the Armed Services who wishes separation or reassignment based on religious scruples there is a process which begins with an extensive interview with a service chaplain, followed by a review by an investigating officer; there will be consultation with the Staff JAG, and then a hearing. Following the informal hearing, the investigating officer will file a report which will be forwarded to the commander.  The report and recommendations flow through the chain of command to the officer designated with the authority to make a final decision on the matter.  The separation from service or reassignment may be granted if it is concluded during the process that the individual’s beliefs are “firm, fixed, sincere, and deeply held.”

No such test appears to have been applied to the objections of Conestoga or Hobby Lobby.  Hobby Lobby simply asserted that its religious beliefs precluded funding for insurance benefits which included birth control and abortion.

If there is no test or evaluative process by which my religious objections — to anything — may be reviewed, then what is to prevent me from asserting that my religious beliefs prevent me from considering anyone for employment who is of a faith other than my own?  May I assert my ‘religious conviction’ that those who don’t keep Kosher (or Halal) are impure, unclean or otherwise unemployable. May I cut off from service any  who “partakes of any blood?” (Lev 7:22)

Who is to determine if my beliefs are “firm, fixed, sincere, and deeply held,” or if they are a simply an expedient way to refuse service to Jews or Muslims?  Or, might my objections (see Leviticus) be such that I can refuse service or employment to Basque Christians, on the grounds that many of them  make and consume blood sausage.

If this argument sounds frivolous, it is no more so than the case cited by Justice Ginsberg in her dissent — Newman vs. Piggie Park Enterprises.  The proprietors of Piggie Park (restaurant chain) objected to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 partially on the grounds that it “contravened the Will of God.” “Defendant Bessinger further contends that the Act violates his freedom of religion under the First Amendment “since his religious beliefs compel him to oppose any integration of the races whatever.” [USDC -DColumbia]  The Supreme Court ruled against Piggie Park Enterprises in March 1968.

Herein we have a closely held family business, the patriarch of which had religious objections to integration, who contended that religion trumped the application of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  If this sounds close to the characteristics of the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Cases it’s because they share obvious elements — just entirely different conclusions.  In short, without a test or process by which religion can be separated from convenient religiosity the adjudication of religious objections becomes highly subjective.

#2.  The decision was neither narrow, nor tightly drawn.  For all the palaver in the decision about the “narrow-ness” of the judgment, the reasoning left the door wide open to further litigation concerning the applicability of religious objections to contraception, as evidenced by some 30 cases piling up in the judicial system in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision.  [DMN]

Immediately in line after the ‘closely held businesses,’ are the non-profit organizations, such as Wheaton College, Notre Dame University, and others for whom even filling out the form to take advantage of the Administration’s accommodation for them is ‘unconscionable.’ [WaPo]  It should be asked — if the Hobby Lobby decision was such a narrow thing, then why did the Supreme Court almost immediately grant an injuction against the contraception mandate accommodation on behalf of non-profit Wheaton College?  Representative Heck hopes, or at least asserts, that the Hobby Lobby ruling only applies to closely held firms — but in its action on behalf of Wheaton, the line immediately shifted out from under Representative Heck’s assertion and right into the realm of non-profit organizations.

#3. The decision blurs the understanding of earned benefits.  The objections from those who describe themselves as religious to procuring health insurance plans which cover contraception for their employees appear to contend that they are being forced to subsidize medication of which they do not approve.

This has several unfortunate threads entangled in it. Contraceptive prescriptions are subject to approval by the FDA, not the Chamber of Commerce.  They are used for many other reasons that simply to avoid pregnancy.  Are we allowing a corporation to determine that even though a female employee has endometriosis, menorrhagia, or polycystic ovarian syndrome the medication prescribed by her physician is not to be covered because of the employer’s objections? [DB]

The health insurance offered to company employees is part of the total compensation package.  The company may pay for part of the premiums, the employee also contributes.  Does the company’s contribution determine who will control the inclusions in the insurance benefit, or the employee?  In the Hobby Lobby Decision the Supreme Court ruled that the employer’s money speaks louder than the employee’s contribution…even though the insurance may be handled by a third party administrator.

#4. The ruling broadly asserts the efficacy of one and only one religious perspective on life.  If a person happens to believe that life begins at conception then the judgment of the Court is acceptable. However, there are those who hold that life doesn’t begin until the newborn takes its first independent breath.   There’s nothing narrow about a Supreme Court decision which sanctions the view of one particular religion, thus denigrating the views of others.

In short, the decision combined with the Wheaton injunction allows corporations and non-profit entities to require their employees to either follow the proscriptions of the institutional faith or individually procure health insurance benefits on their own.  This is close to, if not identical with, forcing employees to follow the faith of their employers — and not their own individual consciences. Such an imposition is hardly the prescription for religious liberty.

As much as Representative Heck may wish to place a happy, non-threatening spin, on the Hobby Lobby decision, he whiffed on this one while the Supreme Court moved home plate.

***

See also:  Department of Defense Instruction, 1300.6, May 31, 2007. (pdf) John P. Jurden, Conscientious  Objectors, GPSolo, Jan-Feb 2005.  Newman, Neal, Mungin v. Piggie Park Enterprises, 256 F.Supp. 941 (1966), July 28, 1966. Newman, Neal, Mungin v. Piggie Park Enterprises, 377 F.2d 433 (1967), April 24, 1967.

Sherman & Zoll, “After Hobby Lobby…”, Dallas Morning News, July 6, 2014. Jonathan Adler, Supreme Court grants Wheaton College an injunction against contraception mandate accommodation,” WaPo, July 3, 2014.  “Joe Heck calls Hobby Lobby Decision Reasonable,” Nevada Democratic Party, and Las Vegas Review Journal, July 1, 2014.

 

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Filed under civil liberties, conservatism, family issues, Health Care, Heck, Nevada politics, Politics, religion, women, Women's Issues