Category Archives: Politics

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

Profound Cruelty and Indiscriminate Enforcement

If the President meant what he said, “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise,” the president wrote. “Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!” that is one thing, and few would be opposed to the practices. It’s the “and others” portion that is causing problems.

How does one explain entrapping a 50 year old undocumented house painter in an ICE raid?  Hardly one of those ‘bad hombres’ of Republican terrors.  Or, “one hardworking father, heading to work at 5:30 in the morning was approached by two plainclothes officers asking for his ID and they showed him a few pictures of people they were looking for. Once he gave him his ID, they identified themselves as ICE, he was detained and arrested.” [BBB]

And now this, the administration would deport the father of a young woman who gave her life in the service of this country; she gave her life in Kuwait as a member of the National Guard in 2007. Not that Gold Star Families have gotten much respect from the President lately.  But wait, there’s more:

“This week, this administration rescinded the Parole in Place program, harming thousands of military families across the country. This is another example of the careless excess of the administration’s immigration policy.” [NYT]

Yes, family members of our military personnel, who are not documented, can be rounded up and deported.  Those people to whom the Republicans are always saying “Thank you for your service…” now face the prospect that members of their own families can be caught up in an ICE raid and deported. This doesn’t sound like a morale builder, and if memory serves Republicans have been particularly interested in preserving morale.

All the while the President pugnaciously tells us this enforcement is for our own good – to keep us safe – from the people who are specifically tasked with keeping us safe?

All this for the benefit of the crowds who chanted Build The Wall, all this for the benefit of looking like his administration has a rational plan for dealing with complex immigration issues. 

Time was when executive orders and departmental guidelines were strictly reviewed to present guidance as free from complications and litigation as possible, but with this administration the pattern appears to be shoot first and try to answer all the questions later.

And there will be questions, and there will be litigation, and there will be pain created by profound cruelty and indiscriminate enforcement.

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The Dangerous Bill That Passed While Few Were Looking

H.J. Res 41 became PL 115-4 on February 14, 2017. So what?

Technically speaking, it provided for Congressional disapproval of a rule under Chapter 8 of Title 5 US code – which required extraction companies (read oil, gas, etc.) to report their payments to foreign governments.  Thus, major energy corporations need not report payments to foreign governments to the SEC. 

Only Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) of the Nevada congressional delegation voted in favor of this measure. Representatives Titus, Kihuen, and Rosen voted against this resolution. On the Senate side, Senator Dean Heller voted in favor of the bill, Senator Cortez Masto voted against it.

What were the excuses given for this first assault on the Dodd Frank Act?

The SEC’s proposed rule surrounding resource extraction pursuant to section 1504 of Dodd-Frank fails the agency’s core mission on multiple fronts,” said Huizenga, chairman of the Financial Services Capital Markets subcommittee, in a statement. He criticized the rule as “overly burdensome” and one that “puts U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage, and fails to provide investors with useful information.” [TheStreet]

Excuse me, there they go again, any requirement that corporations behave with accountability and transparency is “overly burdensome.”  The “competitive disadvantage” part requires a bit more unpacking. We might roughly translate this as: “If American energy companies can’t hide their payments to foreign governments for oil and gas deals, then they will be at a disadvantage to those who can.” In less polite terms, we could call this the Freedom To Bribe Act of 2017.

“Fails to provide investors with useful information?”  What isn’t useful about knowing whether or not the corporation in which you have invested has used a portion of its income to “buy” assets in foreign countries?

At the signing, the President sputtered the usual pro-corporate drivel

We’re bringing back jobs big league. We’re bringing them back at the plant level, we’re bringing them back at the mine level. The energy jobs are coming back,” he continued. “A lot of people going back to work now.”

The measure has precious little to do with any jobs “big league” or “bigly.”  At the plant or any other level.  Senator Sherrod Brown was more precise:

“The rule they’re trying to repeal protects U.S. citizens and investors from having millions of their dollars vanished into the pockets of corrupt foreign oligarchs,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said earlier this month. “This kind of transparency is essential to combating waste, fraud, corruption and mismanagement.”

However, thanks to H.J. Res 41 and the Republicans in the House and Senate, and a very willing President, we will not have the “kind of transparency essential to combating waste, fraud, corruption, and mismanagement.” 

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Unpleasant Questions about Unpleasant Subjects

The Senate investigators of Trumpster ties to the Putin regime have called for the retention of all relevant documents and communications. However, the body count of Russians associated with the dossier, and diplomacy with the US, seems to be escalating, beginning with the January death of Oleg Erovinkin. Perhaps we should be investigating before too many more Russian officials bite the dust?

How about a bit more emphasis on fighting anti-Semitism? It’s also hitting too close to home:

“A student says to another, “We need to send you to the oven so you can be with your people,” a man engraves a swastika onto a marble column in front of a synagogue and trespassing teenagers yell anti-Semitic epithets at children at a Hebrew academy.

Those are some of the many anti-Semitic incidents recently reported in the Las Vegas Valley, part of an uptick in cases logged across the country in the past year, said Jolie Brislin, Nevada regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. The rhetoric and threats have intensified in the past months, she added.”

While the President may be appalled at these incidents, and has recently spoken about the problem, this doesn’t negate the fact that some of his core supporters feel that his elevation excuses their anti-social, biased, and belligerent behavior.  They’ve taken his “tell it like it is” and “no more political correctness” approach to mean they have license to spew hate and act out their white nationalist-supremacist feelings.  Perhaps we should be investigating the rise of domestic hate groups? Oh, wait, the Justice Department will now be focusing on radical Islamicist foreign inspired terrorists…

And the Mexicans will pay for it…only in this instance it’s the administration policy to deport undocumented non-Mexican immigrants and asylum seekers to Mexico. [The Hill] “Elements still need to be worked out in detail…” and how, pray tell, are we supposed to work out these details when the administration is busy demonizing Mexicans and their government?

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Filed under Mexico, Nevada news, Politics, racism, Republicans

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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Please stop clapping long enough to check your wallet?

The followers of the Orange Agent of Change applaud his “actions” which they take to mean validating their world view informed by Faux News.  If they have a moment, they might want to stop for a moment and check their wallets.

At the next town hall meeting, if in fact your Republican Representative deigns to have one,  there are some pertinent questions you might want to ask because they relate directly to your very own money.

(1)  Why did the Republican House pass HJ Res 67 on February 15, 2017 which rescinded the Labor Department rule requiring financial advisers for retirement accounts to give YOU advice in YOUR best interest, and instead allowing those advisers to revert to giving you advice that could be based on what was profitable for their own firm?

*Nevada note: Representatives Rosen, Titus, and Kihuen voted against this, Representative Amodei voted in favor of it.

The babble you may get from those Representatives in support of this will almost certainly center on the banksters’ argument that the rule impinges on their profitability, and may thereby reduce their ability to provide service to you. Service like this you could do without.  If your financial adviser won’t agree to provide you with retirement investment suggestions based on YOUR best interests, then it’s time for you to reconsider your relationship with that company. You should expect your adviser to act in YOUR best interests and not use you (and your money) to generate fees and revenue for their own company.

(2) Why do House Republicans want to strip the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of its power to protect average Americans from predatory lenders and other financial scams?

“Legislation in the works would limit the bureau’s enforcement authority, reduce its ability to make rules and repeal its consumer complaint system.

It would also greatly shrink the enforcement tools at the consumer watchdog’s disposal, blocking it from being able to go after businesses engaged in deceptive practices and restricting its oversight of big publicly traded companies that are already regulated by agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission.” [NYT] [The Hill]

This is precisely what H.R. 1031, introduced by Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX4) would do.  Please pay special attention to the part wherein the GOP wants to strip out the consumer complaint system.  Without consumer complaints Wells Fargo could have gleefully, and profitably, carried on opening fraudulent accounts and charging fees. Instead, they’ll be paying a $185 million dollar fine. [NYT]  In fact, the CFPB has caused the restitution of some $11 billion for defrauded Americans. [The Hill] The bill looks to be approved by the House Financial Services Committee.  Remember how Republicans are fond of telling you that you deserve to keep your money?  Well, the CFPB is one good way of helping you to keep your very own money out of the mitts of unscrupulous banksters.

Here’s guessing that removing the relative independence of the CFPB is a way to reward the banksters, the predatory lenders, and others who don’t want any restrictions on their actions – no matter the cost to US consumers – and this should not pass unnoticed.  This isn’t exactly helping you keep your money in your wallet or bank account.

Then perhaps the Congressional representative will be willing to hear what you have to say about stripping 320,000 of their health care insurance coverage in the state of Nevada? [previously on DB]

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Filed under consumers, Economy, House of Representatives, Politics, Republicans

Keep Your Hat On

I note with a soupcon of interest that some pundits have picked up the argument that Democrats must be careful to follow their etiquette guides and advice from Miss Manners when dealing with Trumpster voters. All this lest their tender feelings be assaulted and they demure from future liaisons with the Democratic Party.   Perhaps we should note that this question only arises when the Democrats are in the minority in Federal offices, and practically never when Republicans are ascendant.

Democrats are urged to be polite, respectful, and never stoop to holding loud protests, engaging in emotional arguments, and indulging in blatant partisanship.  Republicans can engage in these behaviors and the media pundits describe them as “enthusiastic,” or “active,” or as “representing the grass roots.”  Thus yelling “Lock Her Up,” is rude, but nothing to make the chatterati clutch their pearls.  So, I will be polite to all those Trumpster voters:

(1) By all means, keep your hats on. Let those bright red MAGA hats on your heads remind you that you supported a  candidate who can bellow “Hire American, Buy American” while his brand manufactures his stuff beyond American shores.

(2) Proudly display those Trump/Pence stickers on your vehicle. They serve to remind me that you may be lacking a bit of empathy which I interpret to mean that no matter the number of vehicles at a four way stop, you will consider it your God given right to go first.  I appreciate the warning.

(3) Fly your Trump Flag or a Confederate Flag with all the enthusiasm of a junior high boy with a new leather jacket.  It’s the best indication I can think of that you are a racist, white supremacist, whatever… and that it would be best for me to avoid your company.

(4) Go ahead and tell me you voted for the Trumpster because he was the lesser of two evils.  I’ll be silent in the face of your admission that you could not tell the difference between a candidate with a record of significant public service and a rank amateur with a record of bankruptcies, discriminatory practices, and remarkable misogyny.

(5) Please feel free to be as hypocritical as you wish. I’ll simply smile internally as you demean all those people in town meetings and on the streets as “paid outside agitators.” The charge that the opposition to Republican policies must be “outside agitators” is replete with associations with White Supremacist history.  Again, you are telling me who you are, and I appreciate that heads-up.

Grandma’s ancient wisdom applies:  You are known by the company you keep, and if you don’t wish to be associated with this present company then either apologize or accept the fact that the life long Democrats among you aren’t particularly sorry to see you go.

However, when you can no longer drink the water or breathe the air; when you can no longer eat the fish from polluted streams; when you can no longer find a job that pays a living wage; when you can no longer get health care necessary for yourself or your family; when your small businesses are squeezed out by large corporations; when your tax bill goes up but the millionaire on the hill is banking his or her tax cuts; when your infrastructure crumbles around you because it’s deemed more important to finance new projects than invest in maintenance; when you’ve been unable to vote because you are too old, too young, too dark;  please remember…

The Democrats will still be fighting for you.

 

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