Category Archives: koch brothers

Warning: Republicans Are Hazardous to Your Bank Account, and this includes Rep. Heck

Dem Rep Job Creation These are some of the most dangerous words ever spoken – with regard to your bank account:

“After eight years of the Obama economy, Americans are struggling with stagnant wages, reduced hours, and decreased economic opportunity. The policies of this Administration, from the Affordable Care Act to the Dodd Frank financial reform legislation, have hurt economic growth and make it more costly and burdensome for businesses to expand and add workers.” [Heck]

Heck tries to waffle a bit in the last segment: “I will continue to support reasonable regulations that protect the consumer, employees, and the environment while working to reduce burdensome federal regulations so that businesses can thrive and create good-paying jobs.”

First, it’s fact check time. As the chart above indicates the ACA and the Dodd Frank Act have not “decreased economic opportunity,” (whatever that might mean) and in light of what’s been happening with Wells Fargo Bank we need to talk about the “burdens of regulation.”  We also need to talk about a piece of legislation that just passed the House Financial Services Committee.

The “Financial Choice Act” —

“The Financial Choice Act split the banking panel with a vote of 30 to 26, with just one Republican, Representative Bruce Poliquin of Maine, siding with the committee’s Democrats against it.

Mr. Hensarling has been a prominent critic of Dodd-Frank and other changes after the 2008 financial crisis, including the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to regulate the consumer finance industry.

“It has been six years since the passage of Dodd-Frank. We were told it would lift our economy, but instead we are stuck in the slowest, weakest, most tepid recovery in the history of the Republic,” said Mr. Hensarling at Tuesday’s session. “The economy does not work for working people.”

The legislation, which was unveiled in June, calls for numerous changes to Dodd-Frank. One provision would allow some of the largest banks to exempt themselves from some regulatory standards if they maintained an important ratio of capital to total assets at 10 percent or more.” [NYT]

There’s more. The Financial Choice Act (comprehensive summary pdf) reads like the American Bankers Association Christmas Wish List and Birthday Party requests combined with everything a banker would want from a Financialist Santa Claus.

However, let’s start with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about which the House Republicans have several complaints:

“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is not accountable to Congress or the  American people. The Bureau’s policies often harm consumers or exceed its legal authority because the Bureau is not subject to checks and balances that apply to other regulatory agencies.” [House pdf]

This is another iteration of the initial whine the GOP wheezed out when the idea of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was suggested which would not be subject to the corporate/financialist tastes of Republican Congressional representatives.  The ones who want government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub – and the CFPB along with it.   At this point it might be instructive to ask: What harm has been done to consumers of, say, Wells Fargo Bank, by the CFPB?

“When news first broke that Wells Fargo would pay the largest fine in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau history for routinely opening unauthorized accounts that clients didn’t want or need, CEO John Stumpf put blame squarely on his worst-paid workers.

He’s changed his tune since, as political pressure over the years-long scandal mounted and evidence depicting the high-pressure sales culture at the bank got more attention.

And now, the bank’s board is reaching into Stumpf’s own pocket to discipline him. The CEO will forfeit $41 million in past compensation — all of it in the form of investment holdings that hadn’t vested yet — and the woman who ran his firm’s retail banking unit will give back $19 million of her own.” [TP]

What harm was done by this agency in fining Wells Fargo for its “cross selling scam” that created phony accounts to boost sales figures?  And, what is wrong with this result?

“By clawing back a large chunk of Stumpf’s roughly $100 million in compensation over the past decade, though, the board is hoping to signal that it’s taking the scandal seriously. The day news of the $185 million fine broke, Stumpf portrayed it as an issue of some bad apples at junior positions and said responsibility started and stopped with the 5,300 people fired in response.

That holier-than-thou response first started to crack in front of the Senate Banking Committee last week, when senators including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) bounced the bank head off the walls of a hearing room for hours.

Wednesday’s announcement of clawbacks comes a day before Stumpf returns to Capitol Hill to face the House’s version of the same inquisition.

Clawbacks are a hot-button concept for finance watchdogs and Wall Street critics. Many of the industry’s sins stem from compensation policies that incentivize executives to break whatever rules they have to keep the company stock rising, knowing they’ll walk away rich even if the company gets caught. Clawbacks, observers and policymakers say, are an important tool in reversing that deviant cycle.” [TP]

So, how do the House Republicans mean to “improve” the CFPB? The CFPB that caught Wells Fargo? Made the Bank pay fines and restitution? Made the Board of Directors claw back the ill-gotten gains of the bank executives and not lay the whole scam on the lower level employees?

The House Republicans want to (1) replace the head of the CFPB with an awkward “bipartisan” board; that should facilitate logjams and obstructionism. (2) Make the CFPB budget subject to specific Congressional control – meaning the Congress can cut the budget until there is no way the agency can do its job. (3) Require a cost benefit analysis of every rule promulgated by the agency – which means if the regulation “costs too much” for the preservation of bank profits the rule dies. (4) Prohibit the CFPB from cutting off “access” to fraudulent or abusive bank practices and products.  In other words, the bankers have the CHOICE to offer any product they wish and if you buy in and get scammed that was your choice as a consumer.

Now it’s time to return to Representative Heck’s own words: “…Dodd Frank financial reform legislation, have hurt economic growth and make it more costly and burdensome for businesses to expand and add workers.” 

Does Representative Heck believe that they current structure of the CFPB as an independent agency is a weakness?  Does he believe that it should be subject to Congressional pressure to weaken its enforcement activities?  Is CFPB protection from fraudulent practices and products really denying Americans “choices” in financial products?

If the “Financial Choice Act” (essentially a repeal of Dodd Frank) came up for a vote in the House today would Representative Heck vote in favor of it?

And how does he feel about the House GOP charges that the CFPB was late to the game and didn’t handle the Wells Fargo case adequately?

“Where was the CFPB? Why did they come in so late to the game?” he continued. “They have immense powers and this is their job to enforce these basic consumer laws and it appears they were asleep at the switch.”

Hensarling also has criticized regulators for the $185-million settlement with the bank, which allowed Wells Fargo to avoid admitting any wrongdoing. 

The controversy over the San Francisco-based financial institution has become the latest flash point in a bitter battle between Republicans and Democrats over the fate of the CFPB, which was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank overhaul of financial regulations.

The legislation passed with almost no GOP support. Ever since, House and Senate Republicans have been trying unsuccessfully to reduce the power of the bureau, arguing it was designed to avoid congressional oversight and has limited consumer’s access to credit through over-regulation.” [LATimes]

Interesting that the very Republicans who were trying to reduce the power and capacity of the CFPB to regulate lending practices are now trying to blame the agency for not doing enough, fast enough.

“Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said Republicans are pushing “a false narrative” about the CFPB’s role in the Wells Fargo case in order to discredit the agency.

“The fact is the CFPB and OCC were investigating before the L.A. Times story came out,” he said. “But that does not mean that the leading congressional opponent of the CFPB won’t try to pitch that narrative again at this hearing because it plays to his base. But it’s simply false.” [LATimes]

Nice try, Rep. Hensarling, but there’s an ample record of Republican opposition to the creation, organization, and implementation of the CFPB to make any contention that the 1,600 man/woman agency wasn’t trying to do its job in regard to the egregious practices of Wells Fargo. As the old saw goes: That dog won’t hunt.

So, the next question to Representative Heck (and Hardy and Amodei too) is: In light of the Wells Fargo scandalous behavior and the bilking of its own customers, what are you advocating to increase the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to actually protect PEOPLE and not the bankers who have been scamming them?  No one chooses to get bilked, and no one should have to tolerate banks who chose to bilk their customers.  Period.

** On the other hand Nevadans who want adequate protection from illegal, illicit, and otherwise unethical banking practices have an advocate running for the U.S. Senate – Catherine Cortez Masto, who has a track record of taking on the big banking interests on behalf of us “little people who pay taxes.”   A candidate with an endorsement from the woman who fought for the CRPB, Elizabeth Warren:

“I’m so grateful to have Senator Warren’s support,” said Cortez Masto. “Senator Warren and I are both committed to taking on the big banks, protecting consumers, homeowners and helping to grow the middle class – issues I championed as Attorney General and hope continue doing in the U.S. Senate with her. Unlike my opponent Joe Heck who has voted to keep tax breaks for big corporations and billionaires like the Koch brothers, I will fight for policies that help hard working Nevadans, not hurt them.”

“Catherine’s race is critical to restoring our Democratic majority,” said Senator Warren. “During her two terms as Nevada’s Attorney General, Catherine held big banks accountable and fought predatory lending, cracked down on sex trafficking and got tough on elderly, child, and domestic abusers. Catherine knows who she’s fighting for and I need her fighting alongside me in the Senate.” [Link]

And there’s the choice – let the banks make the choices? Or, protect people from the banks’ bad choices.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Heck, koch brothers, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans

Contrary to the Image: Joe Heck IS a politician

Heck Trump Hat

Contrary to the nifty images of Brigadier General Doctor Heck – and his advertising campaign – Joe Heck (R-NV03) is a POLITICIAN.

Yes, and he has been for some time now.  Heck served in the Nevada Legislature from 2004 through 2008 as the Senator from District 5.

“….serving on the Natural Resources, Human Resources and Education, and the Commerce and Labor Committees, and as Vice-Chair of the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.” [Heck]

He was elected to the NV-03 Congressional seat on November 2, 2010, and served in that capacity until his decision to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Senator Harry Reid.

He is  pleased to let one and all know of his committee assignments in Washington, D.C. Armed Services, Education and Workforce Committee, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, but rather than note these connections in D.C. Heck has decided to run as an “outsider?”

During his political tenure in Washington Heck has, indeed, made some connections:

“Heck’s record show he has been anything but (independent); in reality, he has joined his fellow Republicans in Congress to consistently advocate for a special interest, self-serving agenda at the expense of Nevadans. This point is exemplified by Heck consistently voting for the Koch Brothers agenda in Congress, where in 2013 alone Heck voted with the Kochs 100% of the time.” [SM.com]

There’s more:

“Heck’s alignment with the Republican Congress and its special interest agenda is best exemplified by one metric in specific: the percentage of times he votes with the Koch brothers. This year he has voted with the Kochs nearly 90% of the time, and in 2013 he voted with them 100% of the time.  The Republican billionaires, who have spent heavily on Heck’s campaigns, are now seeing a significant return on their investment with Heck voting for their agenda in Congress. Heck voted for billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies for big oil companies and even voted to protect tax breaks for companies that outsource American jobs.” [SM.com]

Full PDF report here.  As a reminder – the Koch Brothers do have an agenda, and supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders are probably aware of this information on the Koch Brothers’ wish list.

Heck has voted WITH the Koch Brothers 90-100% of the time – so where does he stand on abolishing Medicare and Medicaid? On repealing Social Security? On eliminating the minimum wage? On abolishing the capital gains tax? On abolishing the Food and Drug Administration?  Getting rid of the Consumer Product Safety Commission? The Occupational Safety and Health Act?

And then there’s the more recent Dodd Frank Act, regulating the banking sector – Heck demonstrated his allegiance to the bankers – here’s a trip down memory lane:

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

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

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

Compare this action in allegiance to the banking sector with what’s been going on recently.   Several thousand customers of Wells Fargo Bank would have received no justice at all had Heck had his way and abolished the rule making authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or abolished the agency completely —   September 8, 2016:

“For years, Wells Fargo employees secretly issued credit cards without a customer’s consent. They created fake email accounts to sign up customers for online banking services. They set up sham accounts that customers learned about only after they started accumulating fees.

“On Thursday, these illegal banking practices cost Wells Fargo $185 million in fines, including a $100 million penalty from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the largest such penalty the agency has issued.

Federal banking regulators said the practices, which date back to 2011, reflected serious flaws in the internal culture and oversight at Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest banks. The bank has fired at least 5,300 employees who were involved.

In all, Wells Fargo employees opened roughly 1.5 million bank accounts and applied for 565,000 credit cards that may not have been authorized by customers, the regulators said in a news conference. The bank has 40 million retail customers.” [NYT]

And Representative Heck doesn’t think the CFPB needs to exist? Tell that to the 1.5 million bank customers who were ripped off.  Representative Heck isn’t a politician? Tell that to the Koch Brothers for whom he’s been a reliable ally? Tell that to the Wall Street Bankers for whom he’s carried so much water?

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Filed under financial regulation, Heck, koch brothers, Nevada politics

Read the Fine Print: Heck and the Kochtopus

Heck Kochtopus

If you strain just a little you can read the fine print at the end of the ads being run by the Heck Campaign against Catherine Cortez Masto.  The ads telling you she hates old people, etc… are from “Freedom Partners.”

A word about that outfit. First we’ll return  to a September 2013 article in Politico

“An Arlington, Va.-based conservative group, whose existence until now was unknown to almost everyone in politics, raised and spent $250 million in 2012 to shape political and policy debate nationwide.

The group, Freedom Partners, and its president, Marc Short, serve as an outlet for the ideas and funds of the mysterious Koch brothers, cutting checks as large as $63 million to groups promoting conservative causes, according to an IRS document to be filed shortly.”  (emphasis added)

Now, let’s bring this back home to Nevada – as of June 2016 the Koch Brothers had some hefty plans for the Silver State:

“The group announced last week that it plans to spend $1.2 million on advertising in Nevada, where Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto is running against Republican Rep. Joe Heck to replace Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.” [Roll Call]

And Representative Heck is no stranger to the Koch Brothers and their deep pockets:

“Between 2011 and 2014, Koch Industries gave $30,000 to the Republican. During his re-election campaign in 2014, Americans for Prosperity made a $200,000 ad buy for Heck, “praising” his opposition to the ACA. Since announcing his run for Senate, Heck has received $2,500 from the Kochs.” [RKF]

More recently, Heck received $2,500 (March 31, 2016), to add to the $2,500 he’d already received on November 30, 2015, directly from the Koch Industries PAC. (FEC reports)

What do the Koch Brothers want in return for all this largess? 

Social Security and Medicare “Reform”

Freedom Partners is happy to tell us that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are “entitlements.”  However, NOT as in “we are entitled to these benefits because we paid payroll taxes for them” – no, it’s as in we’re bankrupting the government with these “entitlements.”

One of the questions in a candidate survey conducted in 2015 by the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce is:

“Question #18: Do you support Social Security and Medicare reform that would increase the age of eligibility and reduce benefits for wealthier retirees?”

Translation: Do you support raising the age at which a person is eligible for Social Security benefits, and do you supports ‘means testing’ for Social Security benefits?

Questions #19 and #20 are also instructive:

Question #19: Do you support expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act?  (the preferred answer is NO)

Question #20: Do you support capping federal spending on Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by allowing states to control those funds in the form of federal grants? (the preferred answer is YES)

Tax Break for the Wealthy Tax Increases for Everyone Else

Then there was this question: “Question #13: Should tax reform eliminate all preferential treatment and credits for individuals, industries and activities in order to lower marginal tax rates?” Sounds nice, BUT there’s always a kicker.

Flat taxation schemes overwhelmingly favor the top 0.01% of income earners, and those in what are now the upper income brackets. [USNWR] [WaPo] [CNBC]  We can probably conclude with some reasonable certainty that while Representative Heck will likely not come out in favor of a flat tax scheme, he’ll no doubt stay close to the “no new taxes on anyone wealthy” line the Koch Brothers find appealing.

Oh, The Irony!

There’s no small amount of irony involved in trying to argue that Catherine Cortez Masto is tied to “special interests,” when the Heck Campaign is entangled in the Koch Brothers Very Special Interest money.  And, no doubt more of it is on the way, such that we can get even more extremely misleading ads like the Uber Debacle

Those interested in preserving Medicare and Social Security, and in maintaining a healthy economy (one not predicated on the GOP Trickle Down Hoax) would be better served by having Catherine Cortez Masto in the U.S. Senate.

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Filed under Heck, koch brothers, Nevada politics, Politics

Amodei’s Land Grab

Amodei Privatization Land “Congressman Mark Amodei will give an update to the Elko City Council Tuesday on possible issues that might impact the City and Elko County, according to Assistant City Manager Scott Wilkinson.

Amodei’s topics have not been outlined for the City. However, past subjects have included lands issues and sage grouse.” [EDFP]

If he’s set on discussing land issues, then we might guess he’s off to thread another precarious choice between the Bundyite Bunch and the BLM.  Back in late April, 2014 Representative Amodei was praising the BLM for backing off the confrontation with the Rampant Bundys, recalling his words:

“That is a leadership-type thing where you say, ‘We are getting our butts kicked and we are taking our team off the field and getting out of the stadium,'” Amodei said, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. “It’s not a win, but probably the right thing to do under the circumstances.” [LVSun]

Two years later Amodei’s tone changed, he didn’t support the Bundys and he definitely didn’t want to be labeled anti-park:

“Amodei, however, said the (1) report attempts to use the Bundy sideshow to score political points rather than take a serious look at important issues such as (2) land access, ecosystem health and local economies.

“They don’t speak for me on anything to do with public lands,” Amodei said of Bundy and his acolytes. (3) “I want it to be about the resources, not about some guy who is or isn’t paying his grazing fees.” [RGJ] (numbering added)

Parse with us now. (1) When faced with a report bearing uncomfortable factual inclusions, such as Amodei’s opposition to funding and maintaining national parks and monuments, deflect the issue to the Bundy Bunch – who want no federal involvement in public land administration (grazing, forests, parks, monuments, …) and announce one’s inclination to talk about substantive land issues.  The 2nd District Representative had an opportunity to vote on the SHARE Act, a privatization proposal in Congress this year, but was absent for the vote.

“Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA) sponsored H.R. 2406, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act of 2015, which contains harmful measures undermining the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Wilderness Act, and other bedrock environmental laws. The bill includes language that could allow the use of motorized vehicles, road construction, and other forms of development within protected wilderness areas, and it blocks input from public stakeholders in National Wildlife Refuge management decisions. This legislation also includes provisions that would weaken the EPA’s ability to regulate toxic lead in ammunition, fishing equipment. Additionally, this bill would undermine international commitments to combat ivory trafficking, thwarts our ability to effectively manage marine resources, and cuts the public out of management decisions impacting hundreds of millions of acres of public lands. On February 26, the House approved H.R. 2406 by a vote of 242-161 (House roll call vote 101). NO IS THE PRO-ENVIRONMENT VOTE.” [LCV] (emphasis added)

(2) Representative Amodei has the big three listed — “land access, ecosystem health, and local economies.” However, in terms of access notice the underlining in the SHARE bill – when management decisions are to be made the PUBLIC is cut out of the process. This raises the question that if we are speaking of public access to public lands and the public is cut out of the management decision process, then whose access are we talking about?  Since the GOP sponsored bill passed the GOP controlled Congress, then it’s reasonable to assume the GOP doesn’t want input from PUBLIC organizations concerning management decisions – leaving the field (literally?) to the mining, logging, privatization, and other commercial interests?

And, if rivers are dredged or fouled, forests are cut down, wildlife is endangered, hunters are denied access, fishing enthusiasts are turned away, then it must be for the sake of the “local economies?” Unfortunately, Representative Amodei’s comments as reported offer no explication of his priorities.

(3) But then, there’s Representative Amodei’s infamous quote: “…we do understand their frustration with increasingly heavy handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers.” [RGJ] Are heavily armed men taking over a federal wildlife refuge and threatening violence just “frustrated?”  So, perhaps it would be logical to infer that Amodei’s heart is with the “frustrated” members of those “local economies” which seek to exploit public resources?

Amodei is quick to cite his support for the National Park Service budget, and his support for the hazardous fuel mitigation efforts on public lands, but part of what got him on the Anti-Park list is explained: “Amodei landed on the list for sponsoring legislation that would give the state control of 7.2 million of the approximately 58 million acres of federally controlled land in Nevada..[RGJ]

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see that cash strapped states (like Nevada) might not eventually want to capitalize on the exploitation of public lands in the state, quite possibly at the expense of small ranching concerns, outdoor sports participants, and wildlife in particular.

A sneak peak might be on display with his bill to place BLM lands in trust with Nevada tribes:

“The House Natural Resources Committee approved the Nevada Native Nations Land Act, H.R. 2733, which Amodei introduced to provide more opportunities for economic development and protection of natural resources in the regions.

“(Wednesday’s) vote puts us one step closer to placing Nevada public lands back into local control — rather than in the hands of Washington bureaucrats,” Amodei said. “My bill carefully balances the unique needs of our Nevada tribal nations with those of local ranchers, land owners and businesses.” [RiponAdv] (emphasis added)

There he goes again, getting land out from under the “Washington Bureaucrats.”  The only salvation in this legislation is that Native Americans, who generally have a better standard of stewardship than the Koch Brothers,  are the ones holding the lands in trust.  We might also safely conclude that this “one step” is the first of many in which Representative Amodei seeks to place Nevada public lands under local control.

From local it’s one more step to private.

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Filed under Amodei, Interior Department, koch brothers, National Parks, Native Americans, Nevada politics, public lands, Reservations, Rural Nevada

Amodei Quacks Like A FLAG-waving Duck

Amodei 3

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) doesn’t like being categorized as “anti-public land,” or more precisely lumped in with the Bundy Boys.  However, his sponsorship of legislation and other activities have him on the Anti-Public Land list:

“Amodei landed on the list for sponsoring legislation that would give the state control of 7.2 million of the approximately 58 million acres of federally controlled land in Nevada, opposition to the creation of the Basin and Range National Monument, membership in Federal Lands Action Group and a statement about the Malheur occupation.

The statement, attributed to Amodei and two other members of the action group, said the lawmakers didn’t condone the Oregon action but added, “we do understand their frustration with increasingly heavy handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers.” [RGJ]

Duck looks The poor little Republican has been cast amongst the Bundys.  How did he end up bunched up with them?  First, he’s a “FLAG” member.

“Rep. Amodei is a FLAG member and introduced H.R. 1484, the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864—which would seize Nevada public land for state control. In 2015, Rep. Amodei also introduced H.R. 488, which would cripple the Antiquities Act by blocking the extension or creation of national monuments in Nevada, unless authorized by Congress. Rep. Amodei has also cosponsored four other bills aimed at curtailing the Antiquities Act and seizing public lands. In response to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Rep. Amodei signed on to a joint statement that condemned federal officials for law-breaking, rather than condemning the actions of the armed militants.” [CAP]

So, what is FLAG, and how does it relate to the Anti-Public Lands crowd?  The organization is the brain child of two Utah Representatives, Stewart and Bishop, who announced its creation on April 28, 2015.  And, the purpose?

Today, Representatives Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) launched the Federal Land Action Group, a congressional team that will develop a legislative framework for transferring public lands to local ownership and control. […] This group will explore legal and historical background in order to determine the best congressional action needed to return these lands back to the rightful owners. We have assembled a strong team of lawmakers, and I look forward to formulating a plan that reminds the federal government it should leave the job of land management to those who know best.” [Stewart]

Who were among the first members of the FLAG group? “Other members of the Group include Representatives Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).” [Stewart]

We should assume the group means what it says.  It wants to transfer public land to local ownership and control.   Towards this end the FLAG group held its first “forum” in June 2015, and among the speakers was a representative of the “Independent Institute.”  Board members of this organization include a private equity manager, a person from Deloitte & Touche USA, a member of the Howley Management Group, the Botto Law Group, a managing director of Palliser Bay Investment Management, Reditus Revenue Solutions, Audubon Cellars and Winery, Berkeley Research Group LLC, and the former chair of Garvey International.  [II.org]  This isn’t a list that inspires one to ask if they are primarily interested in public land for the sake of conservation.

Prof. Elwood L. Miller (UNR) was on the initial panel, adding a touch of accounting expertise to the argument that the federal government is too bureaucratic and caught up in procedural questions to be a good steward of public lands.  Attorney Glade Hall added the usual federal control isn’t constitutional argument. “It is a patent absurdity to assert that such full powers of governance cover 87 percent of the land surface of a state of the Union and at the same time assert that such state has been admitted to the Union on an equal footing with the original states in every respect whatever,” Hall said.” [STGU] A sentiment echoed by the head of the Natural Resources Group, whose book on the “theft” of the environmental issue is available from the Heritage Foundation.

In short, there was nothing to remind anyone of a fact-finding operation in this inaugural panel sponsored by FLAG.  It was of, by, and for individuals who want to ultimately privatize federal lands.

It’s also interesting that the panel members offered these opinions based on personal experience, or “talking to people,” but nothing in the presentations was offered to demonstrably prove that the federal government has no authority (beyond the usual crackpot interpretations spouted by the Bundy-ites and allies) or is actually and provably incompetent to manage public lands.  The guiding assumption – however poorly demonstrated – was that the local agencies could do a better job. Period.

If anyone is still unsure of the ideology driving FLAG, please note that the Heritage Foundation and the Mercatus group aren’t the only players supporting the efforts.  There’s also the John Birch Society (They’re still around) touting the confab on Facebook.  Additionally, there’s the ever-present American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) imprimatur on the project.

One segment of ALEC testimony from a February 2016 FLAG meeting can serve as an illustration of their argument:

“Bureaucratic inflexibility and regulatory redundancy make it almost impossible for the federal government to handle the lands in its charge for optimal environmental health. Any change in strategy on how to manage the lands, such as harvesting trees on forest lands to reduce wildfire fuel loads and prevent pest infestation, can take years to adopt and implement. By the time the federal government is able to act, it is often too late.”

Examples? The argument is made that three factors are responsible for the severity of wildland fires – poor logging practices, overgrazing, and over aggressive fire control. At this juncture, we could well ask how, without regulatory control, can better logging practices be promoted throughout the region? Or, if the Bundy Bunch isn’t convinced by the Federal authorities to pay their grazing fees and not trespass on BLM lands, then how is a state with less in the way of resources supposed to take on the task? 

However, the most intriguing element of the ALEC position is this: Further, they have operated with budget shortfalls for over a decade calling into question whether they even have adequate funds to get the job done.”  At this juncture it’s appropriate to ask – and who is touting cutting the federal and state budgets?  Who, if not ALEC?  Thus, the federal government can’t do a better job because the funding has been cut, and because the funding has been cut it can’t do the job?  Circular Reasoning at its finest, looped in with the obvious cuts and shaving from state budgets.   The ultimate argument would be that neither the federal government nor the state governments can “do the job” and therefore the lands should be transferred to private hands.  Nothing would please the Koch Brothers more?

The second way one gets attached to the Bundy-ites is to get mealy and smushy about their activities.  As in, “we do understand their frustration with increasingly heavy handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers.” [RGJ]  It’s past time to get specific.  Exactly what constitutes “heavy handed federal agencies?”  Are they agencies which are tasked to collect grazing fees?  How long is an agency expected to wait for a person to decide to pay those fees? 

Exactly what constitutes a “violation of rights of hardworking people?”  Exactly what rights have been violated?  How is it a violation of my rights to have to pay the same grazing fees, or have to move cattle from overgrazed areas, just like every other rancher in a given area under Federal management?  Freedom, rights, and independence are easy words to toss around, but without actual evidence of real violations of RIGHTS then the argument is hollow.

Bundy rally And, one lands on the anti-public lands roster by sponsoring legislation like Representative Amodei did in April 2015:

“Most recently, Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV) introduced a “large-scale” public lands bill, which would allow the state of Nevada to seize and sell off public lands. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, also requested $50 million in the federal budget in order to facilitate immediate transfer of public lands to state control.”  [TP]

Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then there’s no reason to list it as anything other than a duck.

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Filed under agriculture, Amodei, ecology, koch brothers, National Parks, Nevada news, Nevada politics, Politics, privatization, public lands, Rural Nevada

Kochtopus Alive in the Silver State

Heck KochtopusYes, the Kochtopus is alive and spewing ink (or pixels) in Nevada. Americans for Prosperity has a Nevada chapter and would love for us to know that Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) is getting lots of outside help.  [links to LVRJ]  The ad Heck’s supporters ran against the Affordable Care Act and Patients’ Bill of Rights is estimated to have cost $200,000.  And, who are these people who are so eager to assist the campaign efforts of Representative Heck?

The AFP was formed in 2003 as the successor to the former “Citizens for a Sound Economy,” and was affiliated with the not-so “Independent Women’s Forum.”  Now, who was selected to lead the new AFP? “The October 2003 Washington Times report on the formation of AFP stated, “Nancy Pfotenhauer, an executive of Citizens for a Sound Economy [CSE] in the 1990s who helped defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health care reform proposal, has been tapped to head a new national advocacy organization to protect ‘every American’s fundamental right to pursue prosperity.” [SourceWatch]  We’re familiar with Ms. Pfotenhauer, who has been a frequent guest on various and sundry talk shows, espousing a combination of anti-health care insurance reform, anti-union, and anti-pretty much everything having to do with working people.

Oh, but there’s more: “Pfotenhauer worked with Koch in the mid-’90s, when she was executive vice president of both CSE and the CSE Foundation. But she has an even longer history with AFP board member Walter Williams, for whom she was a graduate research assistant at George Mason University 20 years ago.” [SourceWatch]  Now, isn’t that cozy?

Nor were many people surprised to find out that the Koch Brothers and AFP were involved in the formation of the Tea Party.

“In an April 9, 2009 article on ThinkProgress.org, Lee Fang reports that the principal organizers of Tea Party events are Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, which it described as two “lobbyist-run think tanks” that are “well funded” and that provide the logistics and organizing for the Tea Party movement from coast to coast. Media Matters reported that David Koch of Koch Industries was a co-founder of Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). David Koch was chairman of the board of directors of CSE.  CSE received substantial funding from David Koch of Koch Industries, which is the largest privately-held energy company in the country, and the conservative Koch Family Foundations, which make substantial annual donations to conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, etc. Media Matters reported that the Koch family has given more than $12 million to CSE (predecessor of FreedomWorks) between 1985 and 2002.” [SourceWatch]

Connections from Koch to CSE, Koch to AFP, Koch to the Tea Party…and so it goes.  Indeed, the tenacles of the Koch Brothers and their massively deep pockets are sufficiently extensive to wiggle right into Nevada politics.

The Koch Brothers are fond of pitching their ultra-right wing message, however: “David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, said, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.” [New Yorker]

And indeed the system established by the Kochtopus is legally impressive:

A review of 2012 tax returns filed by Koch network groups shows that most have been set up as nonprofit trusts rather than not-for-profit corporations, an unusual step that reduces their public reporting requirements. It sounds complicated and arcane because it is. Some of the nation’s top nonprofit experts said they could only speculate on the reasons for the network’s increasingly elaborate setup. “My guess is that we’re looking at various forms of disguise — to disguise control, to disguise the flow of funds from one entity to another,” said Gregory Colvin, a tax lawyer and campaign-finance specialist in San Francisco who reviewed all the documents for ProPublica. [Philly.com] (emphasis added)

And that would be “it,” the entire operation is a matter of disguise. Disguised intentions, supported by disguised funding sources, and pumped into national and state campaigns by those non-profit trusts which don’t have to disclose who is behind the curtain.

We know who’s in front of the curtain, dancing on his puppet strings… Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3).

References and Information: Jane Mayer, “Covert Operations,” New Yorker, August 30, 2010. Lee Fang, “Koch Operative Steered $55 Million To Front Groups Airing Ads Against Democrats; Ads Assailed Candidates Over Abortion, 9/11, Medicare,” Republic Report.  Barker & Mayer, “How the Koch Brothers Hide Their Big Money Donations, Philly.Com, March 17, 2014.  Julian Brooks, The Koch Brothers Exposed, Rolling Stone, April 20, 2012. Frank Rich, “The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party,” New York Times, August 28, 2010.  Louder & Evans, “Koch Brothers Flout Law Getting Richer With Secret Iran Sales, Bloomberg News, October 3, 2011.  Dave Gilson, “How Much Have The Koch Brothers Spent on the 2012 Election?” Mother Jones, November 5, 2012.  Jane Mayer, “A Word From Our Sponsor,” New Yorker, May 27, 2013.  Glenn Greenwald, “Billionaire Self Pity and the Koch Brothers,” Salon, March 27, 2011.  Sy Mukherjee, “Outside Political Groups Are Spending Record Amounts of Money to Deny Poor People Health Care, Think Progress, March 14, 2014.

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Filed under koch brothers, Nevada politics, Politics

Supply, Demand, and Speculation at the Pump

The average prices for a gallon of gasoline in Nevada is still bouncing around $3.75 [NVgp] but the Koch brothers are very anxious that we believe this is due to pure “supply and demand.”   Think Progress has a report on how the Koch corporation functions as a hedge fund and its contribution to the price of gasoline at your neighborhood pump.  Readers would be well advised to get a grasp on the difference between commercial traders and speculators — because the brothers Koch are counting on confusion on the part of average Americans.

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Filed under energy, energy policy, koch brothers