Category Archives: Politics

Let’s Review and Make Some Conjectures

Senator McConnell couldn’t have made himself more clear to the Republican leadership — let’s please have less drama from the White House so we can get along with our agenda.  Less tactfully phrased, McConnell and his myrmidons such as Representative Mark Amodei (NV2) and Senator Heller (R-NV) isn’t going to do anything about the dolt in the Oval Office until after they get what they want.  They want two things: (1) to return the control of the health insurance market back to the insurance companies; and (2) to dismantle the financial and consumer protections enacted in the Dodd Frank Act, and the Sarbanes Oxley Act.  Not sure about this, then please consider the current push for the Choice Act:

“At a time when too many hard-working American families are still recovering from the devastating impact of the 2008 financial crash, deregulating Wall Street’s biggest firms again makes no sense. Yet the Financial CHOICE Act threatens to do exactly that.

It would allow the biggest Wall Street banks to opt-out of significant financial protection rules, while those banks that remain in the regulatory system would be blessed with watered down versions of once-tough protections, like living wills and stress tests. Perhaps most worryingly, the CHOICE Act would cripple two of the most important post-crash reforms: the Financial Stability and Oversight Council (FSOC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).” [the Hill]

Review: The CFPB was the agency which brought to light, and then levied fines against Wells Fargo for egregious violations of their customers’ privacy and financial interests.  Little wonder the banks aren’t happy with those “bureaucrats.” Less wonder why the Republicans aren’t going to do anything about the President who had to fire his National Security Adviser — until the Choice Act is safely delivered to his desk.

We should also recall that the Republican version of the healthcare reform act is much less about health insurance reform than it is about bestowing tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, to the tune of close to $765 billion over the next ten years.  We can easily conjecture that the GOP will do nothing about the man in the office who fired the US Attorney in the Southern District of New York, and then the emissary from the Department of Justice who warned him about the dangers presented by the presence of General Flynn.  At least nothing will be done, until the Republicans can cut Medicaid to the barest of bones:

His (Trump’s) promise would be violated by House GOP bill, as it seeks to freeze Medicaid expansion money for states in 2020 by withhold funding at the enhanced match rate for any new enrollees after that point. Other beneficiaries are at risk with the more long-term transformation that program stands to undergo under the GOP bill. The legislation would overhaul the program—now an unlimited federal match rate—into a per capita cap system, meaning that states would get a fixed amount of funding per enrollee. The Congressional Budget Office, analyzing an initial version of the legislation, predicted out of the 24 million Americans who would lose coverage under the earlier GOP bill compared to current law, 14 million were due to its changes to Medicaid. [TPM]

Given there is no CBO scoring on the current edition, we can’t be certain that States like Nevada which expanded Medicaid enrollment in order to make health care access affordable, won’t be left in the lurch — Congressman Amodei’s tortured logic to the contrary.  So, nothing is likely to be done about the executive who fired the Director of the FBI who was supervising the investigation of Russian meddling in our elections (and possible Trump connections to that meddling) until Medicaid cuts are also tucked into the President’s portfolio for a signing ceremony.

When will Republicans address the Leaker-in-Chief’s discussions with the Russian visitors to the White House?  Probably not until the budget cuts to the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, Medicare, Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education come to fruition.  Do we have a situation in which the following is true?  If the Trumpian honeymoon isn’t over, it soon will be.

That sentiment was echoed by a prominent GOP consultant I spoke to who asked not to be named to offer a candid assessment of Trump and congressional Republicans.
“The question for Republicans is whether this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said the source. “Forty percent approval is not the issue; an erratic, rudderless, leaderless White House is.” [CNN]

The camel’s back may not bend until the Republicans have seen their agenda realized, their Randian Dreams made true, and their Austerity Government imposed on the American people.   The damage of this administration and the Republicans in Congress who enable and excuse him is only starting to come to fruition.

 

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Filed under Amodei, Comey, conservatism, corporate taxes, financial regulation, Health Care, health insurance, Heller, income tax, McConnell, Medicaid, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics, public health

apologies

Again, I owe regular readers and all others, an apology for not updating this blog.  The reason is simple, a case of Shingles.  I’ll not bestow upon you my sermon on Get The Shot.  I will encourage anyone over 50 to get the vaccine because the rash is only the beginning. Anyone who has gone through this will attest that the ‘aftermath’ nerve damage is extremely unpleasant.  It shouldn’t be too much longer before DB is back to sitting comfortably and typing away, but for now I beg for your patience. Thank you very much.

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Filed under Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

That last line is rather chilling.

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

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

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Filed under Amodei, Heller, Internet, Politics, privacy

SJR 34 and Your Internet Privacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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