Category Archives: Heller

Follow the Money: The Internet No-Privacy Act in the 115th Congress

The Verge offers a public service for American voters, compiling the votes on the Internet No-Privacy Bill HJRes 43 and the money received from Big ISPs.  Thus we discover that Senator Dean Heller received $78,950 from industry sources, which doesn’t put him “up there” with the $251,110 given to Senator Mitch McConnell, and the $215,000 awarded to Senator John Thune, but nevertheless a nice contribution.

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) received a tidy $22,000 contribution from the industry coffers.

What the resolution does is muddy the waters about enforcement of FCC rules, Verge explains:

“That brings us to the privacy rules. Through a rarely invoked law, Congress was able to take back the privacy rules set by Wheeler, effectively undoing his interpretation of what the Telecom Act says about customer data. That leaves a gap: we don’t know how Chairman Pai will interpret the law, or what rules he’ll set. He might replace them with looser rules that take after the FTC or wait to roll back the Title II interpretation overall. But until he acts, we can’t say for sure what carriers will be allowed to do.

At the same time, the absence of firm rules could be the whole point. Pai is a free-market conservative, and believes that companies will typically find the optimal solution without government interference. Holding off on setting new rules could be right in line with that philosophy, leaving companies to make their own judgments on customer data without fear that they’ll be punished for overstepping FCC guidelines. Unfortunately for privacy-minded consumers, that would leave few legal protections for private data shared with carriers.”

That last line is rather chilling.

What the advertisers want is a land amenable to “granular personalized targeting,” read advertising directed to specific consumers for specific products and services.  Those advertisers can just as easily be political groups and organizations.

The final irony is that Our information may be aggregated and sold to the highest bidders, but members of Congress are protected.  The ‘yes’ votes may be saying, in essence, “I’ve got my privacy, you try to get yours.”

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Filed under Amodei, Heller, Internet, Politics, privacy

SJR 34 and Your Internet Privacy

The purpose of SJR 34 (and HJR 86) was simple: To allow Internet Service Providers to collect and sell your Internet browsing history.  Not only did Senator Dean Heller support this, he signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill on March 7, 2017, one of 23 sponsors to do so.  Who’s impacted by this? Anyone who links through Comcast (17 million customers), AT&T (another 17 million customers), Time Warner Cable (add another 14 million customers), Century Link (additional 6.4 million customers), Charter (another 5 million customers), and a host of smaller providers. [Ecom] (See also PEcom)

Nevada customers of AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, Charter, Cox and others, are also among those whose private browsing history can be tracked, collected, and sold off. [into link]

It seems bad enough to have the ISPs sell off information about browsing history to advertisers, who after browsing one day for sneakers, would want to be bombarded by advertising for the next year with sneaker ads?  Browsed for ‘best garden supplies?’ Expect ads for plant food, fertilizers, spades, and wheelbarrows for eternity? Then the scenarios become more pernicious.

Browse for information on asthma? Not only is the human browser now in line for a multitude of ads for medications, but there’s a hint here that some personal medical history may have been collected and sold.  The same issue might be raised about those looking up symptoms and treatments for everything from pediatric illnesses to Alzheimer’s Disease.  Thus far we’re only talking about the initial sales, and the use of the collections by commercial advertisers. However, there’s a question about what constitutes a buyer for the information?

The buyer might not have to be, for example, the Interpublic Group of New York City, one of the nation’s largest advertising firms. Could the buyer be the WPP Group of London, UK? Or, the Dentsu Group, of Tokyo. Could the buyer be RMAA, the largest advertising firm in Russia? Is there any protection in the bill to prevent the secondary sale of browser histories from an advertising agency to a data management and analysis company? What we have herein is a bill to allow the transfer of massive amounts of valuable data collected from individuals in the United States to the highest bidder, with little or no consideration of the after effects.

Gee, let’s hypothesize that I’m a foreign power with some experience dabbling in US state and national elections.  Let’s also assume that the foreign power is familiar with inserting ‘bots’ to drive traffic to particular websites, or insert fake news, confirmation bias ‘news,’ and other practices into the research patterns of American Internet users. What do I want? I want data on where those people ‘go’ on the Internet; the better I know my ‘target’ the better I can hone my message. Do those who go to Senator Bilgewater’s site also tend to go to sites concerning wildlife preservation?  If I can put these two bits of information together I can more effectively insert advertising either for or against the Senator. I can more effectively insert phony information into my messaging for the supporters or opponents of Bilgewater.  In short, I can ‘dabble’ more efficiently. Even more bluntly, have we handed our adversaries more ammunition for their advertising and propaganda guns?

The Senate twin in the House (HJR 86)/SJR 34 passed on March 28, 2017, only Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) voted in favor of the bill; Representatives Kihuen, Titus, and Rosen voted against it. [RC 202]

At the risk of facetiousness  on a serious topic, when Jill, of downtown East Antelope Ear, NV, goes online to search for a bargain on bed sheets, does she find herself viewing a plethora of ads for sex toys, a result of Jack’s periodic perusal of pornography sites? Would a simple search for high thread count sheets yield the splitting of those sheets in the Jack and Jill household? At least Jack and Jill will know whom to call about the issue — Senator Dean Heller and Representative Mark Amodei, who thought selling browser histories to be a grand idea at the time.

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Filed under Amodei, Heller, Internet, media, Nevada politics, Politics, privacy, Republicans, Titus

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

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

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

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

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

Gorsuch’s Record Invites Some Phone Calls

The 45 Administration would very much like to have Judge Gorsuch confirmed as a member of the US Supreme Court. The judge for his part has been loathe to offer any more than Name, Rank, and Serial Number during his confirmation hearings. Not that this tactic is anything new in the process.  Famous for his Hobby Lobby decision, his dissent in TransAm Trucking v. ARB-DOl, (PDF) is attracting attention.  This is the now infamous Frozen Trucker Case in which Judge Gorsuch opined that taking such things as common sense, and legislative intent, were extraneous and if to operate a truck means to drive a truck (and its trailer with the frozen brakes) then that’s all there is to say on the subject. It’s interesting to note that Judge Gorsuch was dismissive of reinterpreting the wording of a statute, while interpreting the wording of a statute in such a way as to defend the indefensible actions of the trucking company.  In less complimentary terms, the Gorsuch rule appears to be an interpretation is acceptable if and only if that reading agrees with his interpretation.

There is still time to reach Nevada’s Senators, Heller (702-338-6605) (775-686-5729) and Cortez Masto (702-388-5020) (775-686-5750) (202-224-3542) on this subject.  Little wonder that Democratic Senators interviewed on the topic have said things like “his answers are unacceptable,” and “his answers are evasive,” and “his answers have been less than forthcoming…”

Judge Gorsuch needs to supply more than the Alito/Roberts song and dance routine to the Judiciary Committee, and the Senators need to attend to the fundamental problems with his nomination to the highest court in the land. His responses so far have been noncommittal and apolitical, but his decisions have been those of an activist ultra conservative. Actions do, indeed, speak louder than words.

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Filed under conservatism, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans, Supreme Court

The Great Community Health Center Scam portion of the ACA Repeal

We have the House version of a repeal bill, such as it is. Why it took some seven years to compile a batch of pre-existing Republican conditions remains a mystery. However, there is a section which calls for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, and the “cover” for so-called ‘moderate’ Republicans is the “community health center” scam.  Gee, the argument goes, we could be funding community health centers instead of providing support for an organization that may provide abortion services.

First, a hat tip to Vox for an excellent summary of Planned Parenthood funding and its sources and uses.  There’s no reason to replicate the argument here when it is well presented elsewhere.  Further, the community health centers are not the answer to PPA services for several reasons.

About two years ago the Republicans distributed a “map” showing some 13,540 clinics which purportedly could perform the medical services provided by Planned Parenthood. Not. So. Fast.

Those who compiled the list did not specify their criteria for a replacement clinic, so most of the clinics listed on the map didn’t have an ob/gyn on staff. Nor did most have the equipment and staff on board to provide reproductive health care services.

Not only were they not staffed and equipped for reproductive health care services many were not set up to take on a massive influx of patients transferred from PPA to the community clinics.  Private clinics would also have to accept Medicaid patients, which many do not because of the reimbursement rate. Mother Jones summarized the situation:

“Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office estimated in a report issued earlier this month that if Planned Parenthood were defunded, as many as 650,000 women “in areas without access to other health care clinics or medical practitioners who serve low-income populations” would lose their reproductive health care. And a survey by the Guttmacher Institute found that women often value specialized family planning clinics such as Planned Parenthood over primary care clinics for reasons such as affordability, increased confidentiality, and a greater range of contraceptive options. Guttmacher also reports that in 103 counties, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety net” family planning service, meaning that a large portion of their patients are either uninsured or reliant on Medicaid.”

Many Republican members of the Congress, Senator Dean Heller included, are relying on the community health care clinic argument to deflect the contention that they are opposing contraception and family planning services.  The community health clinic as a replacement for Planned Parenthood reproductive health care medical services is founded on mischaracterizations of both the actions of PPA and the capacity of the community clinics. It is also a deflection from the real argument about the necessity of family planning services — in short, it is a way to say the individual opposes family planning services without coming right out and saying, “I am opposed to the prescription of contraceptives and other reproductive health care services by Planned Parenthood without having to say I am against Planned Parenthood.”

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Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Heller, Medicaid, Politics, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

The Not Quite So Better Way

Nevada’s two Republican representatives to the 115th Congress, Senator Dean Heller, and Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) are now proposing not to have town hall style sessions with constituents until they have something to say.  We might assume this applies to the threats to repeal the Affordable Care Act, without having something concrete to say to the  voters.  Representative Paul Ryan is touting the GOP “Better Way” (pdf download) as a set of talking points for Republican members of the 115th.

First, there isn’t anything really new here. It’s the same proposal a person might have downloaded last June (June 22, 2016).  The foundation is Unleashing the power of choice and competition is the best way to lower health care costs and improve quality. One way to immediately empower Americans and put them in the driver’s seat of their health care decisions is to expand consumer-driven health care. Consumer-driven health care allows individuals and families to control their utilization of health care by providing incentives to shop around. This ultimately lowers costs and increases quality.”

Problem: “Consumer-driven health care” makes for lovely free market rhetoric,  but it boils down to the same old High Deductible Health Policy/Health Savings Account proposal the GOP has rolled out since time out of mind.

“This insurance arrangement— in which a person is protected against catastrophic expenses,  can pay out-of-pocket costs using tax-free dollars, and in turn takes responsibility for day-to-day health care expenses—is an excellent option for consumers. HSAs tied to HDHPs are popular tools that lower costs and empower individuals and families. This type of coverage also helps patients understand the true cost of care, allows them to decide how much to spend, and provides them with the freedom to seek treatment at a place of their choosing.” (page 13)

This is an elegant way to tell people (1) you’re on your own; (2) that you might expect some tax credits, but the expenses are going to come immediately out of your pocket; (3) and you’ll be able to address ‘catastrophic’ illness or injury expenses out of what you’ve put into an HSA.  Good luck with that.  Health Savings Accounts are great for the healthy and wealthy, for everyone else – not so much.

Worried about those expenses out of your pocket? Well there are HRA’s on offer and more “defined benefit” possibilities.   In short, instead of having several comprehensive health care plans to choose from, a person could also ‘choose’ to be involved in HDHP/HSAs and HRAs and other privatization schemes. 

Question for Congressional Representatives:  What in this plan insures that the health care insurance will be truly comprehensive? Affordable? Affordable for those families having Nevada’s median income around $50,000 per year?

Secondly, there is still the question of what portability means in practical terms.

“…our proposal is like a health care “backpack” that provides every American access to financial support for an insurance plan chosen by the individual and can be taken with them job-to-job, home to start a small business or raise a family, and even into retirement years.”

ProblemWhat’s going to be “portable?”  If a health care plan is to be truly national, then does this mean that there will be a lowest common denominator for all health care insurance plans?  Will the plan acceptable in a state with little or no oversight and consumer protections become the national standard? And, if not, then what IS the standard supposed to be?

Another problem: What elements of a health insurance policy must be included for the plan to be acceptable?  One of the advantages of the ACA requirements is that some coverages (mental health, pregnancy, etc.) don’t apply to all consumers – however, if we start cutting out elements of comprehensive coverage where does it end?

Questions for Congressional Representatives:

(1) If a health care plan is portable across state lines, then do the consumer protections in place remain enforceable?

(2) If a health care plan is considered “junk insurance” in one state can it be enforced in another state with higher consumer standards?

Third, there’s the Medicare, Medicaid issue.

Depending on who is doing the talking from the Republican side these programs are either failed or failing.  Neither is true.  However, nothing is preventing Speaker Ryan from offering Coupon Care in place of the Medicare program, and from proposing turning the Medicaid support into a block grant program with formulaic funding.

Questions for the Congressional Representative:

(1) The ACA actually extended the viability of the Medicare program, what in the GOP plan will insure this viability is extended?

(2) If funding for Medicaid is turned into a block grant program what provisions in your plan would prevent this funding from being cut?

Senator Heller and Representative Amodei may be waiting for the GOP to come up with a rational and comprehensive plan to replace the ACA and Patient’s Bill of Rights – I’d advise them not to withhold breathing.  Or, if they are assuming there’s nothing on offer from the GOP side since June 2016 – sort of a budget without numbers in health care terms – they may never have to have anything to say to their constituents. 

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Filed under Amodei, Health Care, Heath Insurance, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics

They can run, but they can’t hide: Me’thinks there’s a pattern here

It seems to be getting warm in those venerable town hall meetings, the ones in which the Congressional Representatives bask in the warm glow of their constituent’s adulation, until, of course things get TOO warm. There’s nothing unusual about Representatives and Senators taking meetings with groups of constituents, for example Republicans meeting with corporate leadership, Democrats with leaders of civic and labor organizations.  However, there’s a point at which larger gatherings are appropriate, unless, of course, the Representative can apply some of the following dodges.

The Ostrich Strategy

The strategy is simplicity itself: Insert head into sand, cover ears and wait for the danger to subside. It appears this strategy is in current vogue. Consider the following information, in the first two months of the 115th Congress 292 Republicans have scheduled just 88 in person town hall events (35 of these are accounted for by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin). In the first two months of the previous Congress Republicans held 222 in person town hall events. [vice]* a subscription to Legistorm provides basic information on Congressional activities.

The Venue Shell Game

Senator Tom Cotton appears to be managing a version of this dodge.

“The meeting was first scheduled to take place at The Jones Center in Springdale on Wednesday, Feb. 22. Due to the high number of people to attend, the venue was changed to the Arend Arts Center at Bentonville High School.

On Monday, Bentonville Public Schools said the “tentatively” scheduled Town Hall with Cotton will not be at the Arend Arts Center due to “insufficient time to make arrangements for the visit.” [nwahome]

If they can’t find you…they can’t find you. Works every time.

The Long Distance Runner Game

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) scheduled a town hall meeting a short while ago, with perhaps an eye towards minimizing the possible aural damage, in Winnemucca, NV. Now this is nothing against Winnemucca, it’s a nice town, it is also conveniently located some 166 miles from the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area, and 123 miles from Elko.

We can guess that Representative Amodei isn’t the only one adopting this strategy. He may also have been applying another element, as described below.

The Private Audience

There’s nothing so comforting as a meeting among friends.  So, invite only your friends. Again, timing is important here. Private sessions are absolutely nothing new, and nothing uncommon.  However, optics and timing are important.  If the times call for open town halls and imaginary Representative Bilgewater fears for his ears, then it’s time to call a session with the local Chamber of Commerce; should hypothetical Senator Sludgepump fear for his, then it’s time to meet with the Conservative Pet Lovers of East Deer Breath.

Senator Heller and Representative Amodei are reported to have a Chamber meeting in Carson City tomorrow, and a signage demonstration is planned for 10:30 am at the Gold Dust West.  Notice, this is in Carson City, 31 miles from the Reno-Sparks area.  What can’t be ignored is that there are no reports of Heller and Amodei open town halls in that Reno-Sparks area (the majority of voters in District 2) and in Las Vegas, the largest metropolitan area in the state Heller represents.

The Telephone Town Hall Scam

Senator Heller has employed this one in the not so distant past.  It goes like this.  Have a telephone conference call from which questions are solicited from the public.  However, the fog descends almost immediately. Are the questions pre-screened?  There’s no way to know with absolute certainty, but someone has to be taking the calls like a radio call-in broadcast so chaos doesn’t happen.  Thus, it isn’t too hard to imagine that some pre-screening is happening.

These town halls can also be re-cycled.  The contact with the constituent begins with “You are invited to participate in Senator Sludgepump’s telephone town hall. If you have a question for the Senator press (number) and give your name and address…)

It doesn’t take too many conversations to figure out that if Constituent A heard the town hall on Monday evening, and Constituent B heard the same town hall on Tuesday evening, then we can assume people have been listening to a canned recycling of a political campaign pitch.  Hardly a town hall.

A truly creative Representative might avoid town hall settings until (1) forced to announce a venue, subject to immediate change because of the response, and (2) change the venue enough times to challenge the social media capability of constituents to respond. Then (3) settle upon a venue in beautiful downtown Moose Butt Butte miles and miles and miles from the nearest metropolitan area. Should this not work (4) set up those old phone bank lines, record, lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, blather, rinse, and repeat.

There are work-arounds

If the Congressional members won’t host a meeting DIY. Schedule a venue, invite the Congressional representative, advertise, publicize, inviting members of the local press. If the representative won’t turn up, then have the meeting anyway, recording all the speakers who had questions. Share with the local press, and social media.  Why not?

Call the Congressional representative’s office.  Leave your message.  Politely ask the staffer to leave your message of the day – and yes there’s nothing wrong with doing it daily. After all, how is your Representative supposed to know what you’re thinking if you don’t communicate, and surely there’s enough fodder for at least one phone call per day.

Representative Amodei’s  local phone numbers are: Reno 775-686-5760; the Elko office number 775-777-7705. Heller’s phone numbers are: Las Vegas 702-388-6605, Reno 775-686-5729.

Phones can go to voice mail, and voice mail can be “full,” but never fear, the mail will always get through. Since after the anthrax attacks of yore regular snail mail is very slow, but post cards are much faster:

Amodei: 5310 Kietzke Lane, Suite 103, Reno, NV 89511 and 905 Railroad Street #104D, Elko, NV 89801.

Heller: 8930 West Sunset Road #230, Las Vegas, NV 89148, or Reno: Thompson Federal Building Suite 738, 400 South Virginia St, Reno, NV 89501

For more suggestions and guidance go to Indivisible! Sign up. Enjoy.

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Filed under Amodei, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics