Category Archives: Nevada politics

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

Infrastructure Funding and Financing: Another Trumpian Disaster in the Making

Let’s start with the ASCE’s report card on Nevada’s infrastructure.  The last report card on our kitchen table gives us an overall average C-.  Nevada’s two lowest grades (both D’s) are in categories for schools and dams. The claims from the current White House administration would imply that Nevada will see marvelous levels of investment in Job Creating Infrastructure Projects.  Not. So. Fast.

There are some questions related to projected infrastructure legislation which Nevada elected officials may want to consider very carefully.

#1. Does the infrastructure legislation address Nevada’s greatest needs?  The answer at present is “maybe not.” The commentary coming from the White House, and from members of Congress imply that most of the infrastructure plans are part of the Transportation budget.  [Hill] Again, roads and bridges are important, so are airports, but the greatest needs in this state are for projects and funding for upgrading schools and dams.

This past February a dam failed in Elko county, flooding farmland, homes, and stopping traffic on the Union Pacific RR. Obviously dams must eventually get their due. First, we should notice that the state of Nevada doesn’t keep a ranking of hazardous dams, most of which fall into the “earthen” category.  Secondly, it should be noted that a high hazard dam refers to the damage possible should the dam fail, not to the actual condition of the dams themselves.  Third, many dams in this state are privately owned.  About one third of our 650+ dams are constructed for flood control, another third for mining operations, and the remaining third fall into the amorphous category “anything else.” The state has been relying on 11 engineers to keep track of the 650+ dams, and Governor Sandoval’s budget proposal calls for three additional engineers in the Water Division for the next fiscal term. [LVRJ]

School facility upgrades and construction generally lie outside the common understanding of ‘infrastructure’ expenditures, being the province of local school districts, and based on the shifting sands of bond issues. Nothing signaled by the administration thus far would suggest expansion of federal interest in this category of infrastructure investment.

#2.  Will the legislation address Nevada’s needs for the construction and maintenance of roads and highways?  Maybe not.   The situation at present:

“The Nevada Department of Transportation maintains 5,300 miles of state highways, which includes many rural roadways within Nevada. Without an increase in the gas tax since 1992, the state funding levels have stagnated and Federal funding has remained at a similar level the past 5 years. Hence, the maintenance of the existing highway system has fallen behind and the state will need approximately $285 million annually for the next decade to catch up on the current backlog of highway maintenance. The current funding levels provide only 60% to 70% of the required funding to maintain the state highways. This has resulted in an increase in the number of lane miles requiring either an overlay or full rehabilitation from 28% two years ago to 38% currently.” [ASCE]

New construction is great, no one should argue against it where it’s needed to improve the flow and traffic and attendant commerce, however, when nearly 40% of the current roadways need overlays or full rehabilitation, the problem is focused on maintaining what we have at present not necessarily on new construction projects.

#3. Does the administration’s plan differentiate between financing and funding?  This is important.  A definition is in order:

“Infrastructure funding and financing are different concerns. Funding specifies how resources will be collected to pay for infrastructure construction, operations and maintenance, and repairs. Financing generally concerns how to raise the large upfront costs needed to build the infrastructure.” [EPI]

So, the administration has spoken of “a trillion dollars in infrastructure investment,” what does this mean?  For the administration is apparently means “leveraging private dollars.” Again, some translation is necessary.  What the administration is talking about is the financing of construction projects. And, we’re back to the difference between funding and financing — if states are facing the same questions posed back in 2015, when Republicans proposed that HTF projects be limited to the revenue accumulated from gasoline and diesel taxation, then many projects, especially of the improvement and maintenance variety will be put on hold. [BondBuyer] Infrastructure funding will be a function of how the administration budget addresses the issue of raising the money necessary to construct, operate, and maintain.  However, if the administration is speaking of “leveraging private funds,” then we should assume that the White House is referring to new construction.  And, now we enter the land of the P3.

A P3 is: “Public-private partnerships (P3s) are contractual agreements formed between a public agency and a private sector entity that allow for greater private sector participation in the delivery and financing of transportation projects.” [DOT]

Let’s put this question of infrastructure investment in purely financial terms:  Who benefits from P3 structuring?  Hint: It isn’t necessarily the state and local governments because bond yields for such things as school construction, road construction, and other large projects have been dropping since their “highs” around 1982 (13+%) to the current rates (3.5+%). [MuniBond]

Bluntly stated, it’s not the financing that’s a problem for state and local governments, they’re paying almost historic low yields (interest) on the bonds they’ve issued for major projects.  The administration is approaching the infrastructure investment issue from the wrong end of the stick — focusing on the financing and not the funding.

#4. Is the use of the P3 structure based on the needs and capacities of the states and municipalities or the desires of private investment?  Some attention is required because:

“In theory, they can(P3)  be effective—but they provide no free lunches. Funding must still be found for the projects—and ordinary households will end up paying the costs through taxes or user fees. In addition, the details of contract construction and oversight are daunting and require a competent, democratically accountable government to manage them. In short, P3s do not allow for simple outsourcing because they do not bypass the need to fund infrastructure or the need for competent public management.” [EPI]

Or, P3s don’t replace the more traditional methods of financing — local and state taxation is still required for paying project costs. There’s nothing ‘simple’ about these arrangements, and they require extensive oversight and management.  Before leaping into a P3 it should be revealed that these generally allow governments and investors to ignore the requirement of Davis-Bacon Act ‘prevailing wages.’ This may ‘create jobs’ but it doesn’t create ‘good paying jobs’ in the construction sector.

#5. Does the administration plan specify financing and funding of infrastructure projects or is it simply a “tax credit” giveaway to investors?  It certainly sounds like it at this point, but the administration, as is becoming more obvious every day, seems to be short on specifics, and the only solid at the moment is the “tax credit” portion of the pronouncements.  If this is a tax credit for projects already in the planning stage, then it’s hard to characterize this as a bright and shiny new proposal.

#6. Location, Location, Location?  Granted that Nevada is an urban state, with most of the population located in two counties, but the roads, bridges, and dams are aligned through predominantly rural areas. Investors, in P3 or other financing schemes, can clearly see the benefits of construction in urban areas (toll roads, toll bridges, etc.) Rural areas, not so much. Nor does the financing strategy address other infrastructure issues in urban areas — how, for example, does Clark County improve its public transportation facilities and components? Washoe County? Or, Douglas, Lyon counties, and Carson City?  How will investment be directed to poorer areas, or areas under served by current transportation systems? Stated more generally:

“The other problem is that Trump’s approach makes it less likely he’ll actually create new jobs. If the customer base can afford it, and they really need the infrastructure, then the project is almost certainly already profitable and private firms are already willing to do it. The tax credit just sweetens the deal on the margins. Where there’s demand, the private market can already create jobs. The less you’re willing to redistribute, the fewer new jobs you can create.” [TheWeek]

This is another point at which the magic hand of the Market fails on one side and succeeds on the other — where there is demand (and the capacity to meet that demand, the tax credits are minimally useful (except to investors) — where there is great need but little capacity to meet the demand, then the tax credits aren’t an inducement to job creation.

We need to take some care to observe whether the “infrastructure” plan is (1) truly about infrastructure needs in Nevada? (2) truly a job creating plan and not merely a way to get tax credit benefits to the investor class, or ignore the Davis Bacon Act requirements for American workers, (3) about getting the infrastructure investments where it is actually needed.

Caveat Emptor.

 

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Filed under Economy, Federal budget, Infrastructure, Nevada highways, Nevada politics, Politics, public transportation

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

Caveats and The Unspoken Big Lie

So, we have two sources telling us that approximately 24 to 26 million people will lose their health care insurance if the Republicans are successful in jamming through their tax shift proposal masquerading as a ‘replacement’ for the Affordable Care Act.  Therefore, it’s now time for a new ‘talking point’ from the GOP, especially since some Republicans like Rep. Mark Amodei are on record saying:

When asked what his plan for a change to Obamacare would be, Heller said, “If you like your health care, you can keep it,” a statement that echoes a promise from Obama that later ended up being false.  Amodei said he would not vote for any plan that resulted in reduced coverage for anyone.  “No, I don’t think you can say forget it, we’re going to let them be uninsured because as a practical solution, that’s not an answer and somebody ends up paying in the end anyhow,” Amodei said. [RGJ 2/22/17]

Well, now we know with some certainty that the GOP replacement bill will result in reduced coverage, and some people and families will be uninsured.  How to escape this trap? A new talking point!

“No one will lose their coverage.” 

The HHS Secretary Tom Price, whose replacement would have cost some 18 million their insurance, opined:

“Success, it’s important to look at that,” he said. “It means more people covered than are covered right now at an average cost that is less. I believe that we can firmly do that with the plan that we’ve laid out there.”  Not exactly.

Then, there was Pete Sessions, a Republican from Dallas, telling his listeners:

“Nobody is going to lose their coverage,” Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee, told CNN. “You’ll be able to keep your same doctor, you’ll be able to keep your same plan.”

A spokeswoman for the congressman later explained that Sessions meant Americans will have the choice whether to obtain or maintain coverage — not that the GOP bill would take coverage away. The American Health Care Act would nix the ACA mandates requiring Americans to have health insurance.” [DMN]

And, there it is, the Big Caveat, which makes taking health insurance away from working American all AOK.  You can “choose” to keep your health insurance! IF and ONLY IF you can afford it. ?

However, even IF you can afford it, the policy you can purchase may not be truly comprehensive. A young person may have to get additional insurance if he or she marries and there is a pregnancy in the plans. More cost. A plan may not cover preventative care? Or mandatory coverage for cancer screenings?  More cost.  It doesn’t take too long to add up the extras until what has been basic coverage becomes optional coverage. Then the risk pool is reduced and the premiums go up. That is how insurance works. The larger the risk pool the lower the premium costs.

Thus, “you can keep your health insurance” IF:

  • You can afford it in the first place, not likely if you are among the low wage workers in this country.
  • You can afford it and are willing to accept lower levels of coverage, and you don’t mind having to pay for additional services for additional  premiums.
  • You are willing to shop for insurance coverage every time the circumstances of your life changes; as in pregnancies, pre-natal care, caring for a special needs child, a family member needs rehabilitation or mental health care.
  • You are willing to see your local, and especially rural, hospitals see higher levels of uncompensated care.
  • You are willing to accept that your doctors and other health care professionals will see less reimbursement for services rendered.
  • You are willing to forego coverage for preventative screening and treatment for medical conditions.

Access to health insurance isn’t the same as having health care insurance.  As the now commonplace tweet has it: “I have access to a Mercedes Benz dealership — that doesn’t mean I can afford to buy something of their lot.”

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Filed under Amodei, Health Care, health insurance, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics

Beware The Artful Codger

One congressional Representative for our northern neighbor, Idaho, has a problem in his Lewiston office: Too many artful codgers showing up there around lunch time with complaints about his political philosophy.

“A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador’s office in Lewiston has filed a complaint alleging a threat from a group of local citizens who routinely visit congressional offices.

Scott Carlton reported the issue to the U.S. Capitol Police early last month. Carlton, who works out of the congressman’s downtown Lewiston office, declined to comment when contacted by the Tribune and referred all questions to Doug Taylor, Labrador’s spokesman in Meridian, Idaho.

The citizen group, LC Valley Indivisible, is comprised of mostly older residents of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, according to its members. The organization is loosely affiliated with the national Indivisible groups that call for town hall meetings with members of Congress to raise issues regarding President Donald Trump’s administration.” [SR]

The group members recall a civil engagement with Scott Carlton, Labrador’s spokesperson. Carlton told people at a Chamber of Commerce gathering that the group was “aggressive,” and reported that he (Carlton) had contacted Capitol Police who have jurisdiction over congressional offices. [Spokesman pdf]

Not that those in Nevada’s 2nd congressional district can complain about this issue too strenuously, Mark Amodei (R-NV2) hasn’t scheduled a public performance since venturing out to Carson City recently. It is noteworthy that Amodei told the Reno Gazette Journal: “… he would not vote for any plan that resulted in reduced coverage for anyone. “No, I don’t think you can say forget it, we’re going to let them be uninsured because as a practical solution, that’s not an answer and somebody ends up paying in the end anyhow,” Amodei said.”

Now, Representative Amodei has a GOP plan before him that does precisely that — reduces health insurance coverage for people in his district, and the amendments to the bill recently announced make the situation even worse, dismantling Medicaid protection for seniors in record time.  However, Representative Amodei doesn’t appear to want to pencil in a town hall meeting in a major metropolitan area in his district — like Reno/Sparks?  Perhaps some of those artful codgers, similar to the Lewiston lunch bunch, might show up?

However, there are other ways to get the attention of elected representatives. I am particularly fond of the Empty Suit Town Hall. Let’s hear it for Lexington, Kentucky:

“…voters in Lexington, Ky., have been clamoring for the state’s congressional representatives — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Garland “Andy” Barr — to tackle constituents’ questions in person. They even booked a venue for Saturday and hand-delivered town hall invites to the politicians’ offices.  The legislators were a no-show, but that didn’t stop things. Instead of McConnell, Paul and Barr, organizers propped up three mannequins wearing suits.” [WaPo]

Perhaps not the best optics for a congressional delegation? At least it’s better to be an empty suit than to sic the Capitol Police on office visitors?

There are other ways to contact GOP representatives like Mark Amodei — and this should be done before the vote on the Repeal/Replace bill on Thursday.

For those living in District 2 there’s Amodei’s contact form for quick e-mail messages. Simply scroll down the page to the “e-mail link.”  The page also has the phone numbers for Amodei’s offices in Reno Phone: (775) 686-5760, Elko Phone: (775) 777-7705 , and Washington, D.C Phone: (202) 225-6155.

This is as good a time as any to remind Representative Amodei what he said to the Gazette Journal: “… he would not vote for any plan that resulted in reduced coverage for anyone. “No, I don’t think you can say forget it, we’re going to let them be uninsured because as a practical solution, that’s not an answer and somebody ends up paying in the end anyhow,” Amodei said.”

Now, if only those artful souls in Idaho can get the attention of their Representative…

 

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Filed under Amodei, Health Care, health insurance, Medicaid, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans

Questions for District 2’s Representative should we ever see a town hall session

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) was pleased to spend his 2016 campaign season supporting the candidacy of one Donald J. Trump.  Now that the campaign is over — there are some pertinent questions the District 2 Representative might address should he ever have one of those ‘town hall’ things.Carter Page

#1. Do the constituents in your district deserve a full and complete explication of the ties between the present administration and the Russian government, its agents, and its affiliated operatives? How likely is it that there will be a full explanation without an independent commission investigation?

We have some hints at the extent of Russian meddling with our elections and administration in chart form here,  Mr. Trump’s connections in Russia here, and the implications here. And, Politifact’s explication here.   There’s the Carter Page  connection. The Roger Stone connection.  More about Wilbur Ross, the administration’s Secretary of Commerce here. A bit of the Russian reactions recently in this article. What of the activities of Paul Manafort?  The names, in the post Flynn flood, keep coming up and out. It seems necessary to have a full, independent, and comprehensive investigation to determine the extent and implications of the Trump ties to the Russians.

#2. How do you explain support for a health care  act which replaces the Affordable Care Act with legislation that doesn’t offer a route to affordable health insurance plans for working Americans? And, which looks for all the world like a whopper tax cut for millionaires, billionaires, and insurance corporations? 

This topic has been explored in the Washington Post, in the Fortune Magazine, and in Slate.

Will the replacement bill require insurance plans to cover mental health services on par with physical health coverage?

Will the replacement bill require insurance plans to cover pre-natal, maternity, and post-natal expenses for American families?

Will the replacement bill require that consumer protections provided by state insurance commissions be retained?

How will be the replacement make health care policies more ‘affordable’ without going back to the days when insurance companies could sell low coverage/high deductible policies which left families with massive medical debt?

How will the replacement bill maintain the fiscal health of rural hospitals and clinics?

Now, all we have to do is wait for Representative Mark Amodei to hold a meeting with constituents to address these, and other issues.  I’d not like to hang by my hair for as long as this might take.

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Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans