Category Archives: Heller

Yes, Heller Embarrassed Nevada

newspapers 1 The Reno Gazette Journal adds its editorial voice to the backlash over the #Iran47 participation of Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), in “Heller embarrassed Nevada with Iran letter.”   Thus, the Gazette Journal joins a chorus including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Nashua, NH Telegraph, the Concord, NH Monitor, the Peoria Journal Star, the Salt Lake Tribune, the New York Times, the Kansas City Star, the Sacramento Bee,  the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times,  and others. [Pol]

Senator Heller’s web site doesn’t include any press releases explaining the inexplicable.  Perhaps he’s adopting some of the other incredulous statements made, like Senator McCain’s “snow storm” excuse?  [Pol] Or, he might use the Senator Rand Paul template: “I signed the Iran letter in Order to Help Obama?”  Or, how about the former Governor Jeb Bush idea, “I approved it out of frustration?”  There’s always 60+ day Senator Tom Cotton’s version: “If Congress doesn’t approve the deal it may not last.”

Maybe the junior Senator from Nevada could mash them all together?

“I signed the Iran Letter because I was frustrated with the snow storm, and in order to help the President I thought I’d let the Iranians know that the Constitution allows the Senate to offer “advice and consent” to treaties before they’re ratified, just in case the fellows weren’t educated.”

The last part is really amusing given that the Iranian government has the highest number of US college graduates serving in any foreign government cabinet in the world.  President Rouhani has a PhD from the prestigious Glasgow Caledonian University (Scotland), Zarif has a PhD from the University of Denver; the Science, Research & Technology minister (Mohammad Ali Najafi) did post graduate work at MIT.  Vaezi, Minister of Communications, began his PhD at LSU and finished at the Warsaw University in Poland, the Minister for Industry, Nematzadeh, graduated from Cal Poly in 1968, and studied industrial management at Cal Berkeley. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the AEO, has a PhD in nuclear engineering from MIT.  Chief of Staff, Mohammad Nahavandian, has a PhD in economics from George Washington University.  [IranPrimer]

The junior Senator from Nevada might want to consider his response and rationale very carefully because when an editorial board uses terms like “condescending, embarrassing, clueless, damaging, and hypocritical,”  the Senator’s next words should be very carefully weighed and measured.

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GOP Age of Un-Enlightenment: Heller one of the #Iran47

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Nevada’s junior Senator, Dean Heller (R) is one of the  signers of the now infamous ‘enlightenment letter’ to the Iranian leadership.  Heller, who has a certain flare for the dramatic – if not the practicable – has demonstrated his willingness to participate in amateur political theatricals before.   Witness the “Balanced Budget Amendment” which he hauls out every session only to be reminded that the budget of a sovereign nation doesn’t have the same characteristic as a household budget in East Deer Breath.  Or, there was the gallant attempt to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act, in tandem with former Senator (now Heritage Foundation guru) Jim DeMint. This scene evaporated as well.   Considering the matter at hand, here are some absolutely unsolicited bits of advice for the junior Senator:

#1.It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.”  Before signing on to this line, one might be aware that the recipients include  Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who attended Drew College Prep in San Francisco, got his B.A. in International Relations from San Francisco State University in 1981, and a Master’s in 1982. He did post graduate work at the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and received his PhD in International Law and Policy in 1988. Here’s guessing that the Iranian Minister for Foreign Affairs might have some knowledge of U.S. governmental operations?

Opening lines such as this are patronizing or at least condescending, and one of the Things Not Done in international relations is being… patronizing or condescending.  Iran, love it or loathe it, is a sovereign nation, and that pompous, supercilious, opening sounds suspiciously like the #Iran47 would like to teach their “little brown brothers” about U.S. politics. 

#2. Don’t make obvious errors.  It really doesn’t do to have a legal heavyweight from the Bush Administration tell you that the Senate may “offer advice and consent,” but “The Senate does not ratify treaties. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification” (my emphasis). [Goldsmith]  In athletic parlance, this fumble is often called an Unforced Error.

#3. You will be known by the company you keep.  Very junior Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has made it very clear that he wants to scuttle all attempts at diplomacy with Iran.  “The end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence. A feature, not a bug, so speak,” Cotton said in January, speaking at a conservative conference hosted by the advocacy group Heritage Action for America.” [Huffington Post]  This puts the #Iran47 deep in the realm of American hardliners who see no practicality in negotiating a deal with the current Iranian government.  Not everyone has dived into that pool, including acknowledged foreign policy expert former Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN).  If Senator Heller would like to retain his “periodically moderate” label, this is not the way to do it.

#4. The more flexible you are the more options you’ll have.  Taking the hard line stance as a signatory to the Cotton Letter means that diplomacy is off the table.  What does that leave?  Let’s assume the old adage is correct: War is the failure of diplomacy.  If diplomacy is removed as an option then the only way to resolve an international dispute is with armed forces.  But, what of economic sanctions?

#5. Don’t discard options merely because they require assistance.  Unilateral economic sanctions never work.  At best they can be functional in about 13% of their applications, at least since 1970, and  usually with small countries. (Rhodesia comes to mind)  [Hill]  Then there’s this observation from the Director, Institute for International Economics, a panelist at the CFR:

“There is no case—repeat, no case—where unilateral sanctions have ever worked to induce a sizable country to make a major change in policy, no case in history that we have been able to discover. The simple reason is that the United States no longer dominates the world economy. There are always alternative sources of export, import markets, finance, whatever it may be. We alone cannot coerce others. And there are always alternatives, and they will always be available.”

And, this leads us to the next point.

#6. The more friends you have the better.  The current negotiations involve  members of the P5+1 who are actually negotiating the deal with Iran.  The U.S. isn’t the only country with a negotiating interest in the talks, the other nations include the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the U.S.  Some care should have been taken that what was perhaps meant as a poke at Iran wouldn’t be received as a slap in the face of the other negotiating countries.  Now, consider the next point —

#7. If the #Iran47 intend for the talks to collapse, then the intended (or unintended?) consequence could be the U.S. wedded to a unilateral policy calling for a military solution to the issue of Iranian nuclear development? After all, why would the UK, France, or Germany participate in military operations if they assume their negotiations were in good faith, and the U.S. was the one to pull out?

Should the U.S. become embroiled in a war with Iran,  a nation with about 450,000 regular military personnel, some 120,000 in the Army of the Guardians, and about 3 million combat trained paramilitary Basij, it should be reasonably obvious that the conflict would not be a simple matter of a few air strikes.  And, while the U.S. is thus engaged what happens in, say, Ukraine? Iraq? Central Africa? Nigeria? North Korea? Libya?

#8. “Regime Change” is a term freighted with negative associations. In an ethereal world of ideals, as opposed to the practical one in which we are living, we could bargain very nicely with a ‘new’ regime in Tehran.  That is, IF, the new regime was cooperative.  However, as we learned to our dismay in Iraq, a new regime doesn’t necessarily equate to a cooperative ally.  The ‘new regime’ in Iraq refused to negotiate a status of forces agreement with two American administrations, insisted on the pull out of U.S. combat forces, and then proceeded to make a hash of Sunni-Shia power relationships giving ISI a wedge into the fray.

#9. Striking a pose and taking a position are two different things. Striking a pose is easy.  One may be belligerent – fists at the ready, emotions on high;  or pacific – fists down, brain engaged. Taking a position requires thought, especially forethought, and the inclusion of a host of factors which may or may not prove to be critical elements.   One of the conveniences of militarism is that it requires little forethought – have a problem with someone? Simply shoot’em up.   The current situation in the Middle East is not a scripted melodrama from film writers; the good guys are difficult to identify and may not always be ‘good,’ and the bad guys may be helpful in one area (think Iran and its assistance against ISIL) and unhelpful in others.

Signing on as an original founder of the #Iran47 wasn’t the best idea Nevada’s junior Senator has had, and in fact it may prove to be one of his worst moments.  Unless, of course, he would like to posture as a belligerent, mindless subscriber to militarism and the notion that not only is might always right but it also always works.  This is a dubious proposition at best, and it certainly offers a future challenger an opening on an unforced error.

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Heller and the Keystone Amendments: Taxpayers on the Hook

Heller 3 Before the Keystone Pipeline bill made it to a vote in the U.S. Senate there were some amendments which shed light on the mindset of the proponents of the construction. Remember, this pipeline is for the transportation of foreign oil (Canadian) through (not to) the United States to foreign markets.  S.Amdt 155 came up for a vote, its sponsor Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) spoke in favor saying,

“Mr. President, I want to say that amendment No. 155 is a  very important amendment. It is common sense. It is practical. The National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA as it is known, is one of the most emulated statutes in the world. It is something that many people see as valuable in other countries because NEPA, in fact, by many is referred to as the modern-day environmental Magna Carta. NEPA regulations require agencies to supplement already-issued environmental impact statements when significant new circumstances or information is found to exist relating to the environmental impact of a project. The pending Keystone bill, however–and quite surprisingly–would deem the final environmental impact statement issued last January to fully satisfy this NEPA requirement going ahead. This would remove the obligation from permitting agencies to supplement any environmental impact statements if significant new circumstances or information is discovered.”

Here’s a loophole through which one could drive an oil tanker.  In every other instance the regulatory agencies are required to consider new evidence and new circumstances when overseeing the environmental impact of any proposal – but not this one. Not Keystone Pipeline. No, once the “final” impact statement is filed – that’s it. No more adjustments. Even if the construction called for a route change which might put a local drinking water source in peril? Even if the construction caused peripheral damages, unforeseen in the initial plans….  Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) was one of the 56 members of the Senate to vote “No” on this amendment.  [rc 46]

S. Amdt 141 was simplicity itself, delay the effective date until the White House had determined that the construction of the Canadian pipeline would have no negative impacts.  Again, Senator Heller voted, “No.” [rc 47]

S. Amdt 178 was also fairly simple. “To ensure that products derived from tar sands are treated as crude oil for purposes of the Federal excise tax on petroleum.”  Here’s a lovely catch

Return, for a moment, back to 2010 when there was a pipeline spill in Michigan, some of which was from Canadian tar sands.  Enter the Tar Sands Tax Loophole:

Five months later, the Internal Revenue Service quietly ruled that a significant portion of the type of Canadian crude flowing through that Michigan pipeline was exempt from the per-barrel tax created for that spill-liability fund. The loophole for oil sands fuel, which also forms the bulk of the crude set to run on the Keystone XL pipeline, remains in effect today despite congressional proposals to close it. [EE]

Now it’s clear – Senator Heller voted against having TransCanadian pay taxes into the spill-liability fund to pay for clean up in the case of a pipeline break or failure.  A vote against this amendment was quite simply a vote in favor of having anyone – anywhere – pay to clean up the oil spill EXCEPT the pipeline company responsible for the problem. [rc 48]   Nothing sends such a Valentine to the Koch Brothers and the Canadian oil companies as this.  And then he voted in favor of the unamended bill. [rc 49]

In short, Senator Heller’s bought into the various and sundry convenient prevarications associated with the Keystone debate.

It will NOT be a long term “job creator,” because most of the jobs, about 3,500 will be short term construction.  The construction jobs would be beneficial, but only about 35-40 long term jobs would be created.  The pipeline does transverse a section of a major aquifer, and that’s reason enough in an agricultural region (read: breadbasket) to think very carefully about pipeline spills.   While it’s one thing to support a foreign pipeline transporting foreign oil to the world markets – it’s another to exempt the pipeline and oil producers from paying into the  Spill Liability Fund.

The Fund can provide up to $1 billion for any one oil pollution incident, including up to $500 million for the initiation of natural resource damage assessments and claims in connection with any single incident. The main uses of Fund expenditures are:  State access for removal actions; Payments to Federal, state, and Indian tribe trustees to carry out natural resource damage assessments and restorations; Payment of claims for uncompensated removal costs and damages; and Research and development and other specific appropriations.

Recall, the next time Senator Heller bemoans the “tax payer bailouts,” that he just voted to put the U.S. taxpayer on the hook for any clean up costs associated with the Keystone project.

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Heller: Environmental Equivocation and the Koch Brothers

Heller 3

Nevada Senator Dean Heller (R) was one of 98 members of the upper chamber to vote for an amendment to S. 1 (Keystone Pipeline bill) in which the Senate declared ‘global climate change is NOT a hoax.’ [rc 10] That’s good for starters.  However, Senator Heller didn’t get over the finish line. Along came vote number 12, which sought to clarify the nature of the global climate change:

S Amdt 58: (2) “The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], in addition to other institutions, such as the National Research Council and the United States (U.S.) Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), have concluded that it is extremely likely that global increases in atmospheric [greenhouse gas] concentrations and global temperatures are caused by human activities.”;…

If one of the significant causes of global climate change isn’t human activity, then what might Senator Heller be thinking?   Is the Senator one of the 18% of all Americans who believe the current situation is the result of natural environmental patterns? Is he one of the 70% of Tea Party Republicans who believes there’s no solid evidence for global climate change?  Or, is he part of the 30% of moderate Republicans who believe there’s no solid evidence for global climate change?   [Pew]

“Opinions of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents divide into four roughly equal size groups: 23% say there is solid evidence of global warming and it is mostly caused by human activity; 19% say warming exists but is due to natural patterns; 25% see no solid evidence and say it is just not happening; 20% say there is no solid evidence but not enough is known yet.” [Pew]

If Senator Heller’s vote on the “hoax issue” is sincere, then he’s probably not a member of the 19% “natural patterns” Republican brigade, nor would he be a member of the “just not happening” chorus. That leaves the 25% who quibble about “not enough is known yet” crowd.  He’s certainly not part of the 23% who say there is solid evidence, and the phenomena is caused by human activity.

Senator Heller will no doubt emphasize his vote on the Hoax Issue as evidence of his moderate views. However, that second vote narrows the box into which he’s placed himself, a box generally shared by those who hew towards the fossil fuel corporation’s line adopted by the less moderate strain of the GOP.

In order to adopt this weasel position between and among the Republican camps one has to ignore the science from NASA (Climate Change Evidence),

“On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities have increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.” [NASA]

It would also be necessary to ignore the conclusions of the Union of Concerned Scientists:

“The atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased from a pre-industrial era (AD 1000 – 1750) concentration of approximately 280 parts per million (ppm) to around 383 ppm, as measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii in 2007.[2,9] The carbon in the atmospheric CO2 contains information about its source, so that scientists can tell that fossil fuel emissions comprise the largest source of the increase since the pre-industrial era.” [UCS]

For those inclined to get into the molecular weeds behind this conclusion, the UCS offers a more detailed discussion at the link given above.

Is he thinking the Union of Concerned Scientists might be “too liberal?” Then, he might want to have a look at the joint publication from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society.  It’s not like the price is too steep – he could buy a copy for $5.00.

The Big Publication in this field comes in the form of reports from the International Panel on Climate Change.  Their conclusion in 2014 couldn’t be more clear and  precise:

“Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. {1}”

“Anthropogenic” is a fancy scientific way to say ‘US.”  Humans, human beings, persons, people…

Taking the argument one step further, even the Gas Giants are bending their positions on global climate change.  Consider the actions from Shell Oil which generated three prospects and settled on their ‘greenest one’ as company policy back in 2008:

“The greener Blueprints scenario, it said, would be better for both the company and for the world. Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer publicly called for governments to impose a price on carbon emissions. He wasn’t alone: BP and Exxon, once famous for funding bogus “climate skeptic” research, joined Shell in offering to work with President Obama on a real climate policy, with Exxon executives noting that they’d favor a carbon tax over cap-and-trade.”  [Slate]

Before patting ExxonMobil on the back, that corporation seems to have been trying to play both sides of the road since 2008. The Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil were major funders of the “countermovement” on climate change, but more recent donations to the anti-science activities appear to be coming from such sources as the Donors Trust, and Donors Capital, organizations which are “dark money,” and do not publish the sources of their funding.

Since 2008, Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil have pulled back their funding for climate change denying publications, but the Koch Brothers have surfaced as one of the major contributors to the Donors Trust.

“Donors Trust is not the source of the money it hands out. Some 200 right-of-center funders who’ve given at least $10,000 fill the group’s coffers. Charities bankrolled by Charles and David Koch, the DeVoses, and the Bradleys, among other conservative benefactors, have given to Donors Trust. And other recipients of Donors Trust money include the Heritage Foundation, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the NRA’s Freedom Action Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Federalist Society, and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation,chaired (PDF) by none other than David Koch.” [MJ]

Interesting, the ultra-conservative advocates of the exploiters and polluters who finance that “countermovement” on global climate change are the self-same fat cats who bankroll anti-government, anti-tax, anti-bank regulation, and anti-climate improvement actions.

If Senator Heller has ‘doubts’ about the significance of human activity as it relates to global climate change, from whence is he receiving those uncertainties?

It’s not from the International Panel on Climate Change, it’s not from the British Royal Society, it’s not from the National Academy of Sciences, or the Union of Concerned Scientists, and it’s not from NASA.  That leaves the Koch Brothers and the dark money in the Donors Trust and Donors Capital funds.

Receiving one’s marching orders from the Donors Trust (rather than IPCC or NASA) is no way to convince any thoughtful person that the position taken is “moderate” in any way. It’s far easier to come to the conclusion that Nevada’s junior Senator has adopted the Koch Brother’s radical reactionary brand of Republicanism.  As every grandmother ever said, “You are known by the company you keep.”

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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

Bits and Pieces: Tesla, Titus, Heller, and Amodei

Jig Saw Puzzle ** It’s a done deal. TESLA’s coming to Nevada, brought to us by $1.2 billion worth of ‘incentives.’ [RGJ]  Meanwhile, watch that multiplier! The state is assuming a 2.5 multiplier for revenue generation, i.e. for every one direct job with TESLA there will be 2.5 ancillary jobs created – that’s a big multiplier. [RGJ] See also [LVRJ]

**  Representative Dina Titus (D-NV1) asked the VA to move its regional office from Reno to Las Vegas. [LVRJ]  Much as it might pain a northern Nevadan to say so, but the Las Vegas metropolitan area does have more of the 246,000 Nevada veterans than those living in the north, [VA] and the northern office hasn’t covered itself in glory. [LVRJ]  I’d not want to hang by my hair waiting for a definitive answer from the new VA leadership.

** From the Department of No Surprises:  Senator Dean Heller (R-American Bankers Association) voted against the cloture motion to consider S.J. Res. 19, a bill to propose a Constitutional amendment to allow the Congress to enact meaningful campaign finance reform.  Senator Heller was one of 42 (all Republican) votes to continue to filibuster any attempt to overturn the decision in Citizens United.  [roll call 261]

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) voted in favor of H.R. 3522, a bill which would allow insurance corporations to offer small businesses group  insurance plans which DO NOT meet the standards for comprehensive health insurance coverage for their employees under the terms of the ACA.  [RC 495]  One organization summed up the problem with the bill:

“This legislation would allow health insurers to continue offering coverage outside of the insurance marketplaces established by the health law even if those plans do not comply with its coverage requirements. In addition, the inferior plans that would be allowed to continue under Representative Cassidy’s bill discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, force women to pay more than men for the same coverage and impose annual caps on the amount of care received by enrollees.” [NCPSSM]  (emphasis added)

Those three issues, pre-existing condition discrimination, gender discrimination, and junk policies with capped coverage are some of the main reasons the ACA was necessary in the first place.

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Filed under Amodei, Health Care, health insurance, Heller, Nevada economy, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, nevada taxation, Titus