Category Archives: Politics

One Great Distraction: Guns, GOP, and Mental Health

blood money The GOP response to gun violence in America is getting tiresome, and no diversion or distraction more so than when its members cite “mental health” as a topic for discussion.

The Republican Party really shouldn’t get anywhere near this distraction, not with their record on making mental health care available to American citizens. [AmerBlg]   It doesn’t do to blather on about Guns and Mental Health in one breath and then take 50+ votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the next.

Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act about 1/3rd of those who did have health insurance in the individual market had no coverage for substance use disorder to services, and 1/5th had no coverage for mental health services, including outpatient therapy, and inpatient crisis intervention and stabilization.  Additionally, even when a person did have coverage there was no guarantee mental health services would be covered comparably to medical and surgical care.   The situation in the small group market was a bit better, coverage for substance abuse and mental health services was more common, but many states did not have “parity” laws requiring comparable coverage with medical and surgical treatment.  Then, there were those 47.5 million Americans who didn’t have any health insurance, and the 25% of uninsured adults who have a mental health condition, a substance abuse problem, or both. [ASPE]

After the passage of the Affordable Care Act mental health and substance abuse are categories covered as part of the package of Essential Health Benefits.  With the finalization of rules as of January 1, 2014 consumers buying health insurance policies can be confident that the health plan will cover mental health services, and importantly, that there will be parity for mental health and substance abuse treatment coverage. [ASPE]

And what was the Republican reaction?  “Repeal.. Repeal.. Repeal…” at least 50+ times. [WaPo]  

January 8, 2011:  There was a mass shooting in Tucson, AZ  six were killed, eleven others wounded including a member of Congress, Rep. Gabby Giffords.   January 19, 2011: The House votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  On February 19, 2011 the House passed an FY 2011 continuing appropriations bill with several amendments to “severely limit” the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The measure passed with no Democratic support.  Further votes were taken to carve up and diminish the provisions of the Affordable Care Act on March 3, 2011, April 13, 2011, and April 14, 2011.  On April 14, 2011 a House resolution advised the Senate to defund all mandatory and discretionary spending associated with the Affordable Care Act.  April 15, 2011 the Republican controlled House passed its version of the budget repealing and defunding the Affordable Care Act.  During the four months after the Tucson Shooting the Republican controlled Congress spent much of its time trying to defund, limit, or outright repeal the law requiring health insurance companies to include mental health services as an “Essential Benefit” and on par with coverage for medical and surgical treatment.  And, they weren’t finished.  Republicans tried to gut the Affordable Care Act provisions on May 3, 2011; May 4, 2011May 24, 2011; and on August 1, 2011 the Budget Control Act cut some mandatory and discretionary funding tied to the Affordable Care Act.

October 12, 2011:  Eight people were killed and another critically wounded by a shooter in Seal Beach, California.  Ironically, on October 13, 2011 the House passed the “Protect Life Act” preventing any funding from be applied to abortion procedures.  More Congressional incursions were made on the Affordable Care Act on November 16, 2011, December 13, 2011, and December 16, 2011.  On February 1, 2012 Congress voted to repeal a long term care insurance program (CLASS).  February 17, 2012 the House voted to cut funding for Louisiana’s Medicaid program by $2.5 billion, and cut $11.6 billion including $5 billion from the Public Prevention and Health Fund.  The cut to the Medicaid program was significant because Medicaid is the insurance provider for low income people, some of whom might be in need of substance abuse or mental health care treatment.  On March 29, 2012 the House version of the FY 2013 budget called for repealing and defunding the Affordable Care Act.

April 2, 2012:  A former student at Oakland’s Oikos University opened fire in a classroom, seven were killed and three wounded.  The House attacked the Affordable Care Act again on April 27, 2012, and more significantly voted on May 10, 2012 to replace the automatic budget cuts to the Defense Department by defunding and repealing portions of the Affordable Care Act. June 7, 2012 the House voted to repeal the medical device tax, and limit the reimbursements for over the counter medications.  On July 11, 2012 the House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

July 20, 2012: 12 people were killed and another 58 were injured in the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater.  Yet again, opponents of gun safety regulations noted that the shooting was the result of mental illness.

August 8, 2012: A shooter gunned down six people and injured three others at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI.

September 28, 2012: Six were killed and two injured in a workplace shooting in Minneapolis, MN.

October 21, 2012:  Three died and four were injured in a shooting in Brookfield, WI.

December 14, 2012:  Newtown, CT; 27 died including 20 first grade children. On December 20, 2012 the House voted once more to replace discretionary spending cuts enacted as part of sequestration by defunding and repealing several provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  On January 1, 2013 the “fiscal cliff deal” passed the House including the repeal of the CLASS Act and cutting funds for the Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan. 

On May 16, 2013 the House voted to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act. 

June 7, 2013: Five people were killed in a shooting incident in Santa Monica, CA which ended on the campus of Santa Monica College.  On July 17, 2013 the House voted to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for employers by one year.  Also on July 17, 2013, the House voted to delay the implementation of the individual mandate.  On August 2, 2013 the House voted to prevent the IRS from implementing or enforcing any portion of the Affordable Care Act.

September 16, 2013:  12 were killed and 3 injured in a shooting at the Washington, DC Naval Yard.  On September 20, 2013 the House voted to approve a short term FY 2014 continuing resolution in which the Affordable Care Act was fully defunded, including the prohibition of all discretionary and mandatory spending, and rescinding all of its unobligated balances.  On September 29, 2013 the House voted again to repeal the medical device tax, and to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act by another year.  September 30, 2013, the House voted to delay the individual mandate, an action which would effectively render the law inoperable.

Votes were taken in the House on October 17, 2013; November 15, 2013; January 10, 2014; January 16, 2014, March 5, 2014 to weaken the enforcement of the Affordable Care Act.  More such votes were taken on March 11, 2014; March 12, 2014; and, March 14, 2014. [LAT]

April 2, 2014: Three were killed, sixteen injured in Fort Hood, TX, scene of a previous shooting in 2009.

On January 28, 2015 Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) introduced H.R 596, a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  The measure passed the House on February 3, 2015. [RC 58]*

May 23, 2015: Six dead, seven wounded in Isla Vista, CA. June 18, 2015: Nine dead at the Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC.  October 1, 2015: Nine dead, nine injured in Roseburg, OR.   Meanwhile, the Huffington Post asked Senators what might be done about the carnage:

“If there’s one issue that these senators wanted to talk about when asked about gun violence, it was the mental health component. Nearly all of those who were interviewed said their attention is on that aspect of the problem, instead of on gun laws.

“What I’ve been focused on, and I think it very much relates to, unfortunately, too many of these mass shootings, is improving our early intervention mental health system,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). “Hopefully we can take some immediate action and find common ground.” [HuffPo]

Improving our “early intervention mental health system?”   What appears to be more than slightly inane (if not outright insane)  is to believe that repealing the Affordable Care Act — such that we cannot assure health insurance coverage for substance abuse and mental health problems, on par with coverage for medical and surgical treatment – is going to augment our attempts at “early intervention,” – or for that matter, for intervention at any stage.

Unless, and until, the Republicans are willing to stop trying to repeal the law that requires mental health treatment coverage as part of an Essential Benefit package, and stop attempting to repeal the provisions saying that the coverage must be on par with other medical and surgical treatment benefits, the noise about “doing something about mental health” is just that – a distracting noise.

Unless, and until, the Republicans are willing to put legislation into the hopper (and bring it to the floor for a vote) increasing (1) federal support for mental health care services, and (2)  increasing the number of low income people in the Medicaid program who have access to expanded coverage, then they’ll have to pardon those who say the “mental health” rhetoric is a hollow, shallow, attempt to distract the nation from any serious and substantive discussion of gun violence as a public health issue.

References: Congressional Research Service, “Legislative Actions to Repeal, Defund, or Delay the Affordable Care Act, July 8, 2015. (pdf) Los Angeles Times, Deadliest Shooting Rampages, October 1, 2015.  Washington Post, House has voted 54 times in four years on Obamacare,” March 21, 2014.  AmericaBlog, “Republicans are using mental health as an excuse to do nothing about gun violence.” October 6, 2015.  International Business Times, “Republicans’ Mass Shooting Response Focuses Not On Gun Control But On Mental Health Reform,: October 5, 2015.  Huffington Post, “Despite Mass shootings, Republicans won’t touch gun laws,” October 6, 2015.

*Nevada Representatives Amodei, Hardy, and Heck, voted in favor of H.R. 596.  Representative Titus voted no.

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Filed under H.R. 1591, Mental Health, Nevada politics, Politics, public health

Fiorina, Lucent, and Lucidity

Fiorina 1 Nevada Republican Party Chair, Michael McDonald, was pleased to post that Carly Fiorina won the National Federation of Republican Women’s straw poll at their convention in Phoenix, AZ last month. [NVGOP]  Gathering 27% to the Hair-Do’s 20% – if that’s to be called a ‘win’ in the sorting of the occupants in the GOP 2016 Clown Car.  There’s another way to sort the candidates, especially those who claim that business acumen is an automatic qualifier for political office. 

Those pundits who have labeled Fiorina “Snarly Failure-ina” are usually referring to her unfortunate tenure – and subsequent Golden Parachuted Escape therefrom – at Hewlett Packard.  However, it’s instructive to go back a bit and start with AT&T.

Twenty years ago AT&T began the process of selling off one of its core assets, the equipment manufacturing division, including Bell Labs the originator of the transistor and a ‘preeminent research outfit.’  The idea was that as a separate entity the equipment division could compete with AT&T competitors and sell its products to flashy outfits like Sprint, Winstar, and PathNet telecom networks.   Fiorina’s star ascended as the head of the group selling gear to “service provider networks.” [Fortune]

The Big Deal in which AT&T spun off Lucent was not without some chickens which would come home to roost later.  There were several clues at the time which projected problems: (1) Lucent was valued at $15 billion at the time of the IPO, but a $21 billion value had been bruited about only a week earlier; (2) its major competitors were Siemens (Germany), Alcatel (France), and Motorola. (3) AT&T loaded the company with $3.8 billion in debt; (4) there were restructuring costs tied to planned major layoffs and Lucent reported a loss of $867 million for 1995 on revenue of $21.4 billion, down from a profit of $482 million and revenue of $19.7 billion for the year before. [LATimes]  And then there was this warning:

Lucent also faces a maturing U.S. market for telecommunications switches. It is making an aggressive push into faster-growing markets in Asia and elsewhere, but it faces tough competition from companies like Alcatel that have long had a powerful international presence. [LATimes]

A bit of history is in order:

“At that time, telecommunications equipment companies had entered a period of unprecedented — and as it would later emerge, unsustainable — growth. Congress had passed a law making it easier for new companies to compete with local phone companies, which had long been de facto monopolies. Households and businesses first connecting to the new-fangled Internet added phone lines and equipment and services, creating a gold rush to build up new network capacity around the world.” [Recode]

For “gold rush” read “financing” for the Qwests and WorldComs and other providers  which had laid far more fiber optic cable and installed way too much capacity, well beyond the needs of the potential customers.  What to do in the service of selling telecommunication switches in a “mature” market – one which was at least saturated if not in the flood zone?

Fiorina administered the practice of “vendor financing” to keep revenues up. There’s nothing necessarily nefarious about this – it was a standard business practice in which Lucent required suppliers to arrange or provide “long term financing for them as a condition to obtaining or bidding on infrastructure projects.” [recode]  When the deals were good, such as the $2.3 billion extended to Sprint, they were very good. But then… there were others of much more questionable obligations. 

It was reported in October 1998 that Lucent and WinStar entered into a $2 billion five year “network pact.” That $2 billion from Lucent was supposed to allow WinStar to expand on an international basis. [IntNews]  The deal didn’t last any five years, it only lasted until WinStar declared bankruptcy in 2001, and sued Lucent for $10 billion claiming that the firm broke its vendor financing agreement. [CompW]  By the time WinStar went under, Fiorina was ensconced at Hewlett-Packard.  WinStar wasn’t the only disaster.

There was also PathNet, a vendor financing deal which made even less sense.  PathNet at least had the sense to notice that first tier cities were all but awash in telecommunications equipment in 1999, so they were going to focus on second and third tier cities for their networks. To this end they secured $2.1 billion from Lucent in vendor financing in February 1999.  [FOonline]  This amount to a company which reported less than $2 million in annual revenue. [recode]  Even using the most generous estimates the company had barely $100 million in equity; it was juggling $385 million in junk bonds at 12.25% interest, and the added $440 million in loans from Lucent only served to jack up the company’s leverage to 8:1. Even higher as they drew more of the loan? [Fortune]

Fiorina has pushed back on the notion she was happy with these short term, dubious deals, however, there’s another side: Lucent at one point predicted annual growth of 17%-22% annually. (1997) [Fortune]  Now, what’s not for Wall Street to love about a 17% annual growth rate? Fiorina may not have been over the moon about the vendor financing deals, but she was determined to rack up big sales. [Fortune]  PathNet filed for bankruptcy in April 2001.

An SEC filing just after Fiorina left Lucent revealed a $7 billion in loan commitments to customers, Lucent dispensing some $1.6 billion. [Fortune]  Why would this be important?  For starters, think Bubble. What the highly questionable home mortgages were to the Housing Bubble, those vendor loans were to the Tech Bubble.  At one point Lucent shares dropped to >$1, and in 2006 the company merged with Alcatel. [Fortune]

So, what do we know?  Fiorina’s tenure at AT&T/Lucent wasn’t much more than that of the Super-Saleswoman who predicted high growth rates and revenues based on vendor financing deals, deals which collapsed as the saturated market finally emerged from behind the curtain of financial manipulation. This isn’t business vision, it isn’t even lucidity – it is merely chasing a fast buck.

References and Recommended Reading:  Linda Rosencrance, “Winstar files for bankruptcy, sues Lucent for $10 billion, Computerworld, April 18, 2001. Staff Report, “AT&T Spinoff Lucent Makes Historic IPO,” Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1996. Scott Woolley, “Carly Fiorina’s troubling telecom past,” Fortune, October 15, 2010. Arik Hesseldahl, “Time to revisit Carly Fiorina’s business record before HP?…” Recode, August 30, 2015.  Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, “Why I still think Fiorina was a terrible CEO,” Politico, September 20, 2015.  Glenn Kessler, “Carly Fiorina’s misleading claims about her business record, Washington Post, May 8, 2015.  Andrew Ross Sorkin, “The influence of Fiorina at Lucent, in hindsight,” New York Times, September 21, 2015. Julie Bort, “Yale Professor on Carly Fiorina’s business record: She destroyed half the wealth of her investors yet still earned almost $100 million,” Business Insider, September 16, 2015.

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Dean Heller’s Immoderate Vote

Heller Goo1

Once again, Nevada junior Senator Dean Heller gets stretched out into Immoderate territory in Senate votes this week.  On September 22, 2015 Senator Heller voted in favor of the unscientific and pretty thoroughly politicized “Pain Capable…” forced birth bill (H.R. 36) [roll call 268]

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) explained the opposition to the bill by noting it is  (1) unconstitutional because it bans abortion procedures before a fetus is medically considered viable and it does not include exceptions for a situation in which a woman’s health in endangered – both elements contradict Roe v. Wade and other precedents.  [RealityCK]

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) added: “Do we really want to make a criminal out of a physician who is trying to prevent a woman with preeclampsia from suffering damage to her kidneys or liver, or having a stroke or seizures?” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). “Do we want the threat of prison for a doctor who knows that his pregnant patient needs chemotherapy or radiation treatments?” [RealityCK]

For those unfamiliar with lady parts and how they function (which unfortunately seems to include a majority of Republican men in Congress) let’s note that preeclampsia generally occurs after 20 weeks, and one of the first signs is an increase in the woman’s blood pressure.  There is one and only one cure for preeclampsia – the delivery of the fetus. [MayoClinic]  The decisions made by the woman and her physician are going to be really tough at this point. 

The delivery has to happen before damage to the kidneys or liver becomes permanent – or fatal.  What happens to the fetus is problematic.  The usual assumption of viability in the U.S. is 24 weeks of gestational age.  Less than that gestational age and the fetus will likely not be physically mature enough to survive into the neo-natal period and achieve the capacity to be an independent human being. [NCBI]  However, there is another factor which isn’t biological.  The technology must be available to sustain the fetus delivered this early.  For example, even in developed western European countries such as Portugal the age of assumed viability is higher than in the U.S. [NIH]

What makes Senator Heller’s position so radical is his vote to criminalize the efforts of a physician who is confronted with preeclampsia in a pregnant woman after 20 weeks into the pregnancy – when the condition most often appears – and his assumption that all pregnant women and their physicians have access to the kind of neo-natal technology associated with a neo-natal intensive care unit.  And, not just any neo-natal care unit, in cases of extremely pre-mature infants we’re talking about Level III care capacity.

Now scroll through the Nursing Institute of Nevada list of hospitals and their technical and staff capabilities.  Two list Level II nursery care, six list Level III facilities – and they are all located in either the Las Vegas or Reno area.  Treating preeclampsia outside one of Nevada’s two metropolitan areas requires all the emergency training and equipment for the most extreme emergencies.

As if the situation weren’t complicated enough, preeclampsia’s early symptoms – headaches, nausea, plus aches and pains are all things that happen in a normal pregnancy.  However, when the headaches are severe, there’s blurred vision. severe abdominal pain,  and  shortness of breath – it’s time for the emergency room. [MayoClinic]   The condition occurs in about 5%-8% of all pregnancies, and can appear at any time during pregnancy, delivery, and up to six weeks post-partum, although it most frequently happens in the final trimester. [PreecOrg]

It would be very useful if more Republican men knew that a pregnancy involves more than having a wife who reacts to certain smells, and  has trouble with shoe laces, in addition to the general knowledge that it’s a good idea to keep the gas tank filled in the family wagon.

The radical forced-birth crowd in the U.S. Senate seems not to understand that their anti-abortion grandstanding has implications in the real world in which not all pregnancies are trouble free, not all women and infants have immediate access to the very latest technology and medical expertise, and not all complications in pregnancies take place conveniently before some artificially established gestational age.  It’s too bad Senator Heller has joined this herd.

Recommended reading for Republican men: “Frequently Asked Questions,” Preeclampsia Foundation. “Familial Occurrence of Preeclampsia,” National Institutes of Health, NCBI. “Late Pregnancy Complications,” Patient.Info. “Preeclampsia,” Mayo Clinic. “Medline Plus: Preeclampsia,” NLM, NIH. “Preeclampsia,” WebMD.

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Filed under Health Care, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans, Women's Issues

Words from the Week and the No True Scotsman Fallacy

GOP Dinosaur Distress Flag Understatement of the Week: On the resignation of John Boehner (R-OH): “Boehner has faced constant pressure from conservatives who believed he was too willing to compromise with President Barack Obama and too likely to rely on Democratic votes to pass crucial legislation. The approaching confrontation over government spending had raised the prospect of another possible challenge to his speakership by conservatives, something Boehner has beaten back several times before.” [LVRJ]

Word salad from times past:  Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) on his vote for Rep. Boehner for the speakership: “

“So we ‘fire Boehner’ and start a month-long or longer election for his successor at a time when we should be dismantling the Affordable Care Act, taking care of our veterans, reducing the deficit, navigating foreign affairs and solving Nevada’s federal issues? That’s a great plan, if you want to continue the dig on Congress as a place where nothing gets done. 

“I am perfectly fine with differing views. Not everyone is going to agree all the time. But it is a bit discouraging to get lit up on an issue where in some cases a person has taken a thought or two from one source and treated it like the complete and final word.”

Present Palaver: Representative Amodei’s right on one score – the Congress has a 14% approval rating. [Gallup]  And, he may be correct on another.  When Amodei spoke to the previous “fire Boehner” attempt and predicted a squabble for the Speakership, the comments might have been predictive, this round could see yet another scramble between supporters of Rep. McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Hensarling (R-TX), Rep. Roskam (R-IL) and perhaps others. [TheHill]  And then there’s the comment from Rep. Peter King (R-NY) – “this is a victory for the crazies.” [TheHill]

Possibly very true words:  The extension of Representative King’s remark — “You can’t appease these people.” [TheHill]

More words:  There are two ways to see compromise, and Winston Churchill expressed both.  On one hand he said, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last;” while on another occasion he said, “The English have never drawn a line without blurring it.” [FQ] There are situations in which either or both might be true.  However, the current manifestation of the American GOP seems to have glommed on to the former without consideration of when the latter might be more appropriate.

The Republicans have become more conservative, and thereby less likely to appreciate Churchill’s second comment on compromise.  The Poole-Rosenthal study emphasized this point:

“The short version would be since the late 1970s starting with the 1976 election in the House the Republican caucus has steadily moved to the right ever since. It’s been a little more uneven in the Senate. The Senate caucuses have also moved to the right. Republicans are now furtherest (sic) to the right that they’ve been in 100 years.”  [NPR]

Perhaps Rep. King’s ‘crazies’ have adopted the line attributed to the script writers of the 1949 oater “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon,” in which John Wayne’s character said, “Never apologize and never explain – it’s a sign of weakness.” [AskMeta]  There are some interesting pieces covering this general topic.  See, for example, Paul Rosenberg’s “They’ll always move further right: Why every defeat only makes Republicans more extreme,” in Salon, June 24, 2015.  Or, Ryan Dennison’s post in Addicting Info, “As Democrats move left, Republicans have moved dangerously to the extreme right,” June 28, 2015.  Or, Bill Schneider’s article, “How far right can Republicans go?” written for Reuters, May 21, 2014.

The current flap involving the Republican Congressional leadership illustrates another pattern that may be afflicting the GOP as it moves inexorably to the extreme right – the “reinterpretation of evidence in order to prevent the refutation of one’s position.” AKA The No True Scotsman Fallacy. []

The fallacy is a form of circular argument which substantiates an existing belief by dismissing any counter-examples to it. Such as the classic form:

(1) “Angus puts sugar on his porridge,” (2) No (true) Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge; therefore (3) Angus is not a (true) Scotsman.” Therefore, Angus is not a counter-example to the claim that no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

By changing the characters, we could create another example. (1) Economist A demonstrates that lowering taxes doesn’t create more tax revenue. (2) No true Economist would argue that lowering taxes doesn’t increase revenue; (3) therefore Economist A is not a true economist; and therefore Economist A is not providing counter-examples to the claim that no true economist would claim otherwise.

Or we could say: (1) There are instances in which the circumstances of a pregnancy call for abortion to be provided as a medical procedure; (2) No true conservative would ever countenance an abortion; (3) Therefore no one advocating abortions under these circumstances is a true conservative; therefore there is no counter-example to the claim that there are circumstances in which abortion is an appropriate medical procedure.

Playing the pseudo-patriot card is easy in the creation of a foreign policy example of the No True Scotsman Fallacy.  (1) Diplomat B drafts a treaty with a nation not recognized as an ally. (2) No true American would ever agree to a treaty with ____; therefore (3) Diplomat B is not a true American; and therefore, the fact of the treaty doesn’t provide a counter-example to the proposition that no true American would agree to a treaty with ____”

The problem, of course, with the application of the No True Scotsman Fallacy is that the definition of “TRUE” becomes inextricably entangled with the policy proposals under consideration, and the further the illogical thinking extends the more narrow the definition of “TRUE.”   Thus, the No True Scotsman Fallacy hinges on a definition of  a “true” American or a “true Christian” which serves the advocate’s personal set of ideological beliefs – and only the advocate’s personal set of ideological beliefs.

Hence, no TRUE Republican could compromise with the Democratic side of the aisle in Congress.  Speaker Boehner compromised with the Democrats. Ergo Speaker Boehner is not a “true” Republican.   And then the Republican Party becomes too extreme for Republicans?

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Pain Capable Panderers Get The Wedgies

Heller Goo 2

No matter how much he may try to stretch himself into a “moderate” shape Nevada Senator Dean Heller is aligned squarely with the radical right when it comes to women’s health.   The U.S. Senate can’t seem to address major items like climate change, infrastructure, and the voting rights act, but the Republican controlled body can certainly spend time on women’s bodies.  Witness: H.R. 36, and the vote thereon. [rc268]

H.R. 36 is the product of the House conservatives’ brain-flatulence and emphatic embrace of pseudo-scientific items like a “pain capable” fetus, in which abortions would be banned after twenty weeks.  What’s the science?

“Published research generally supports an experience of pain being possible only later in gestation than 20 weeks. A synthesis of available evidence was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005 by experts from the University of California, San Francisco, and elsewhere, and their report concluded: “Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.” The third trimester begins at 27 to 28 weeks from conception.” [FactCheck]

There are a couple of things to notice in the summary above. First, “evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited,” or, restated, there is limited evidence (read: little) that the fetus is able to perceive pain. Secondly, if we accept the “limited’ evidence, then the perception is unlikely until 27-28 weeks after conception. However, nothing scientific stopped Senator Dean Heller from voting to bring H.R. 36 up for a vote.  The motion to break cloture failed.

Nevada’s other Senator, Harry Reid, offered the following summation of GOP efforts:

“It is said that you cannot make the same mistake twice. The second time you make it, it’s a choice. On every issue imaginable Republicans are choosing to  employ the same failed strategy. Over and over again, they drag Congress and the American people through votes that are publicity stunts designed to boost their conservative records.

Today we stand in the midst of yet another Republican show-vote designed to honor the political wish list of extremists. Once again, Republicans have decided to place women’s health at the center of their ideological campaign. We’ve seen this tactic before.  It doesn’t work. Americans are tired of Republican attacks on women’s health.”

And yes, the bill is going nowhere, and the vote was a waste of time.  However, it does appear indicative of a Republican strategy in this Constant Campaign season.

Enter The Wedgies

For the sake of argument, let’s define a wedge issue as a social or cultural topic introduced into a campaign which seeks to attract and galvanize persuadable voters who might otherwise focus on economic or other major issues.  There’s nothing particularly new about this technique.  We could start almost anywhere, but 1968 seems as good a place as any, as an election into which two divisive issues were raised: “Public Order,” and “busing.”  The former sought to brand Democrats as the party of chaos (Chicago civil unrest) and the party supporting “forced integration” for which “busing” was the stand-in.  The busing (race) issue morphed into “States Rights”  and “welfare queens” (race) during the 1980 campaign, which was, in turn,  revised into the “Affirmative Action” (race)  issue in 1996. The “gay marriage wedge issue” was used to good effect in the 2004 election season.

Clinging to the Wedgies

While wedge issues are extremely helpful during primary elections, their utility may diminish during general elections depending on the level of voter turnout.  The danger of the wedge strategy is that it may be viewed as what is on offer from a party which has very little else to publicize to a national audience.  The second danger inherent in the wedge strategy is that the issue itself may become marginalized and less effective in national elections.

It’s a useful exercise during any campaign season to take a step away from the publicity attached to single issues or single candidates and see what the polling says about national priorities.  For example, the July 28, 2015 polling done by Quinnipiac University shows registered voters placing the highest priority on the economy and jobs (37%), health care (13%), terrorism (12%), and foreign policy (9%).  Immigration (9%), Climate Change (6%), federal deficit (6%), taxes (3%) rounded out the polling.  Those social and cultural issues garner about 2% to 3% in other polling. [TPP]

Note that of the contemporary wedge issues only immigration is seen as a major national priority (9%) and the polls don’t indicate the perspective of the voters in terms of either passing comprehensive immigration policy reform, or on the other hand, a policy of mass deportation. Gay marriage and abortion barely register with a majority of American voters.

Using gay marriage as a wedge issue appears to be one of those issues whose time has come and gone. Gay marriage might have been a potent wedge issue in 1996 when only 27% of the population thought those marriages should be valid, however its luster faded by 2015 when approximately 60% of the American public agreed that gay marriages should be legal. [Gallup] The fact that only the most radical of the Republican Party’s presidential candidates sought to exploit the issue of the Kentucky county clerk leads to the conclusion that this issue has also been marginalized.

The next available wedge issue for social  conservatives is abortion, and it appears to be moving center stage for its close up in the 2015 primary season.  The priority given to the abortion issue by the GOP has been explained thusly:

“The answer lies in the Republican Party’s shift to the right. A decade ago, between 30 and 40 percent of Republicans identified as pro-choice. This May, (2012) that number was a scant 22 percent. It’s hard to know whether that’s the result of Republicans changing their minds about abortion, or pro-choice respondents ceasing to identify as Republicans. But the result is the same: The party is increasingly uniform in its opposition to abortion.” [AmProsp]

This might help to explain why H.R. 36 (and other similar legislation) is perceived as a cohesive issue for Republicans and why Senator Heller and others have attached themselves to it.  Trends in voter affiliation may support the thesis that some are ceasing to identify as Republicans since polling was done in  2003.  As of 2014 32% responded as Democrats, 39% as Independents, and 23% as Republicans; a loss of 7% in self-identification with the GOP since 2003. [PRC]  If the trend continues, we might reasonably conclude that the fixation in the GOP with what appears to be a wedge issue of limited utility could have serious consequences for that party in upcoming national elections.

Given the Republican Party’s march to the right, the willingness of its national leadership to adopt a wedge issue like abortion, and the continual emphasis placed on the topic by ultra-conservatives, probably means we will see more publicity about Planned Parenthood, more non-scientific legislation, and more lock step votes such as that of Senator Heller in the U.S. Senate.   And it’s still over 400 days until the next national election.

Recommended/Reference: N. Coca, “Wedge Issues: A 2008 Historical Preview,” NithinCoca, January 2008.  D.S. Hillygus, T.G. Shields, “The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns, Princeton University Press, 2009.  K. Walsh, “Wedge Issues Take Center Stage in 2016 Race,” USNWR, April 2015.  Sen. Harry Reid, “Republican Attacks on Women…” Press Release, September 2015.  D. Townshend, “Abortion: The New Wedge Issue,” American Prospect, August 2012.  Pew Research Center, “Trends in Party Affiliation,” April 2015.  The Polling Report, “Problems and Priorities,” July 2015.

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Filed under abortion, Heller, Nevada politics, Politics, Reid

Conflated Issues Inflated Fears

Inflation chart cause

There’s fear, right here in the outback, that raising the minimum wage will drive up inflation.  The Humboldt Sun (Sept. 18, 2015 p3)  includes a long LTE titled, “$15 minimum wage would stimulate inflation.”   The author writes:

“The government requires businesses to pay employees more by passing minimum wage legislation. This increase is not because workers are more productive, so it costs more to produce goods and services. Businesses might lay off workers to bring down labor costs, but that results in less output. Ultimately, they must raise the cost of consumer goods.”


There are several macro-economic concepts mashed into this, but let’s assume that the writer is speaking of the form of inflation diagrammed in Chart 2 above, “Cost-Push Inflation,”  defined as follows:

Cost-push inflation … occurs when prices of production process inputs increase. Rapid wage increases or rising raw material prices are common causes of this type of inflation. The sharp rise in the price of imported oil during the 1970s provides a typical example of cost-push inflation (illustrated in Chart 2). Rising energy prices caused the cost of producing and transporting goods to rise. Higher production costs led to a decrease in aggregate supply (from S0 to S1) and an increase in the overall price level because the equilibrium point moved from point Z to point Y. [SFFRB]

Cost-Push inflation might be presented as the Inflation Monster, IF it were the only kind of inflation possible – it isn’t.  There’s also Demand-Pull.  And we return to the San Francisco Federal Reserve for its basic definition:

“Demand-pull inflation occurs when aggregate demand for goods and services in an economy rises more rapidly than an economy’s productive capacity. One potential shock to aggregate demand might come from a central bank that rapidly increases the supply of money. See Chart 1 for an illustration of what will likely happen as a result of this shock. The increase in money in the economy will increase demand for goods and services from D0 to D1. In the short run, businesses cannot significantly increase production and supply (S) remains constant. The economy’s equilibrium moves from point A to point B and prices will tend to rise, resulting in inflation. [SFFRB]

And how does a central bank increase the supply of money? Monetary policy.  The textbook way, prior to September 2008, was that if the opportunity costs for holding noninterest-bearing bank reserves was the nominal short-term interest rate (federal funds rate), then we’d have a situation in which if the funds rate were low the quantity of reserves banks would want to hold would increase. [SFFed]  Note: the banks have an interest in putting reserves to work by lending them.  If a bank found itself with “excess” reserves the obvious thing to do would be to find borrowers and earn a return on the money. Thus the situation wherein the cost to the banks of borrowing money is essentially zero, in a post 2007-08 effort to support the financial markets and kick-start the economy.  Now what?

Why hasn’t there been some awesome Demand-Pull Inflation?  Monetary Policy. The situation has changed, although few outside the financial commentators have paid much notice.

“The change is that the Fed now pays interest on reserves. The opportunity cost of holding reserves is now the difference between the federal funds rate and the interest rate on reserves. The Fed will likely raise the interest rate on reserves as it raises the target federal funds rate (see Board of Governors 2011). Therefore, for banks, reserves at the Fed are close substitutes for Treasury bills in terms of return and safety. A Fed exchange of bank reserves that pay interest for a T-bill that carries a very similar interest rate has virtually no effect on the economy. Instead, what matters for the economy is the level of interest rates, which are affected by monetary policy.” [SFFed]

If Demand-Pull inflation is corralled by monetary policy which is based on the Federal Reserve now paying interest on reserves, doesn’t this argue against raising wages which will increase unit costs of production and hence raise consumer prices?  Not necessarily.

The author of the LTE maintains: “The Federal Reserve has held interest rates at near 0 percent for several years. Some claimed cheap loans would stimulate the economy. The problem is that banks have been fiscally conservative, with few loans and little interest rate to savers.”

A crucial part of this puzzle is the press release from October 6, 2008 from the Federal Reserve stating:

“The Federal Reserve Board on Monday announced that it will begin to pay interest on depository institutions’ required and excess reserve balances. The payment of interest on excess reserve balances will give the Federal Reserve greater scope to use its lending programs to address conditions in credit markets while also maintaining the federal funds rate close to the target established by the Federal Open Market Committee.”

Yes, the interest rate remained low, but the banks with excess reserves on hand had less incentive to loan out those reserves if they could simply leave them on the books and earn interest.  The Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act of 2006 allowing this situation  [S 2856 109th] was quite generous to the bankers, such as section 201 which “(1) authorize payment of interest on funds maintained by a depository institution at a Federal Reserve bank; and (2) authorize the Federal Reserve Board to reduce to 0% the reserves required to be maintained by a depository institution against its transaction accounts. (The current requirement ranges from 3% to 14%.)” [GovTrack]

While the Federal Reserve makes a nice scapegoat for those who believe in broader extensions of consumer credit, it really doesn’t do to belabor its role (or lack thereof) in stimulating the consumer end of the economy when Congress provided the vehicle by which the wall between brokers and bankers was breached (Title 1, Section 101) and compounded the issue by enacting authorization for banks to sit on reserves in order to earn interest (Title 2, Section 202).

And, here’s where the LTE author swims in shark territory – a monetary policy which encourages broader consumer lending would also be a factor in the creation of Demand-Push inflationary pressures.  A person really can’t have it both ways.

How much is too much?

There are, in both fact and theory TWO forms of inflation.  Nor can we assume that inflation is always a bad thing.  Most economists like an inflation rate of just under 3%. [Investopedia]  Why? Because the alternative – deflation —  is even worse.  During deflationary periods workers get laid off, consumers spend less, people hold off major purchases believing prices will fall further, and the spiral continues – downward.

Consumer Price Index 2005 to 2015 The blue line includes items like energy/food which are inherently more volatile, the line for all others shows a fairly consistent rate of inflation right around the 2.5% mark – remember 3% is the economist’s ideal. It’s also useful to note that the wide variances occur between January 2008 and January 2010 – when the U.S. economy was trembling before and  in the wake of the financial crash.

Consumer Price Index chart If fact, before we become too alarmed by inflationary trends we might want to take a look at the column highlighted above from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and note that we are well below that 3% threshold.  In other words, it’s time to stop worrying excessively about inflation – both forms – and start being concerned with why wages and salaries have tended to stagnate over the past thirty years?  [Pew]

“…after adjusting for inflation, today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power as it did in 1979, following a long slide in the 1980s and early 1990s and bumpy, inconsistent growth since then. In fact, in real terms the average wage peaked more than 40 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 has the same purchasing power as $22.41 would today.” [Pew] see also: [EPI]

Our local author is still alarmed, “Recent price spikes are more noticeable than the usual gradual increases.  That naturally leads to call for a minimum wage increase. But if granted, the inflation cycle will begin again.”  To which we’d have to ask:

  • What recent price spikes? The annual inflation rate as calculated by the BLS Consumer Price Index, the figures the economists use, has been less than 2.5% since 2006.  Further, the prices of gasoline has dropped from about $4.11 in July 2008 to $2.73 as of August 2015. [EIA]
  • If not those phantom price spikes, then what else could raise the call for an increase in the minimum wage?  The trends in stagnant wages and salaries?
  • What inflation cycle?  The annual increase in inflation hasn’t risen above 2.5% since 2006 and 3% is the threshold used by most economists to determine a “significant” increase.  During five of the last ten years we’ve experienced inflation of less than 2%.
  • However, let’s not assume that the author is referring to the here and now but to the ubiquitous “awfulness to come somewhere down the road about which we should be terribly alarmed.”  Is there anything in the statistical tables indicating that an increase in the federal minimum wage would yield inflation rates in excess of traditionally  held economic standards?  Given that the federal minimum wage has been raised 22 times since first authorized in 1938, has there been any drop in the real GDP per capita in the last 75 years? (Hint: no)

If it’s not consumer spending driving an inflation cycle in the modern economic environment – what is?  There is something about which we ought to be worried, but it’s not your father’s inflation cycle – it’s the climate created by the financialists:

“Both gross and net business debt have continued to rise since 2007, but the proceeds have been almost entirely recycled into financial engineering—including more than $2 trillion of stock buybacks and many trillions more of basically pointless M&A deals.

This diversion of the $2 trillion gain in business debt outstanding since 2007 to financial engineering is owing to the near zero after-tax cost of corporate debt. The latter has caused the enslavement of the C-suite to the instant gratification of rising share prices and stock options value in the Fed’s Wall Street casino.” [ZeroHedge]

Not to put too fine a point to it, but the brakes will be applied to any inflationary pressure by the bursting of the next financial bubble.

References and Sources: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, “What are some of the factors that contribute to a rise in inflation?’ October 2002.  John C. Williams, “Economic Research: Monetary Policy, Money, and Inflation,” Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Economic Letters, July 9, 2012.  Bernard Shull, “The impact of financial reform on Federal Reserve Autonomy,” Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, working paper 735, November 2012. (pdf)  Douglas Rice, “Inflation: It’s a Good Thing,” Investopedia, May 22, 2009.  Bureau of Labor Statistics: Consumer Price Index, 12 month percentage change. (2015) “For most workers wages have barely budged for decades,” Pew Research Center, October 9, 2014.  EPI, wage stagnation in nine charts, January 6, 2015.  CBPP, “A guide to statistics on historical trends in Income Inequality,” revised July 15, 2015.  L.E. Hoglund, “Gasoline prices: cyclical trends and market developments,” Beyond the Numbers, BLS, May 2015. (pdf) EIA, “Petroleum and Other Liquids: Retail Prices all grades and formulations, August 2015.  Department of Labor, “Minimum Wage Mythbusters.”  CNN, “Minimum wage since 1938,” interactive graphic.  “Meet the New Recession Cycle,” Zero Hedge, April 4, 2015.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, income inequality, Minimum Wage, Nevada politics, Politics

Three Stooges Diplomacy: Nevada Republican Representatives Oppose Iran Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

The voting records of Nevada Representatives Amodei, Heck, and Hardy are recorded here, on roll call votes 491-494.  Unfortunately, those votes are almost perfectly predictable.  Their explanations even more so.

Three StoogesIt takes something, I’m not sure what, to oppose an agreement which intends to curtail Iran’s capacity to develop a nuclear arsenal.  However, Nevada representatives Amodei (NV2), Heck (NV3), and Hardy (NV4) have whatever that is.

Representative Amodei has nothing specific to say about his votes on “the Deal,”  Representative Cresent Hardy (R-BundyLand) made this statement in his press release:

“Americans have learned for themselves that this deal puts the region and the global community at risk. It amounts to inadequate inspections, a frightening implementation timeline, and provides $150 billion in sanctions relief to the world’s single largest state sponsor of terrorism.

Under this agreement, Iran will be allowed to pursue intercontinental ballistic missiles after eight years and conceivably attack any nation in the world. Worse still, in 15 years the regime will have all limitations on uranium enrichment removed. If Iran is only two or three months away from devising a nuclear weapon today, imagine how close will they be with a robust economy and no enrichment limitations?

Supporters contend that we should accept a bad deal over no deal. This is a false choice. We owe it to the American people and future generations to do everything we can to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

This deal fails miserably.” (emphasis added)

Logic fails to adequately analyze this statement.  However, there’s more, from Representative (Running for Senate) Heck:

“My initial concerns with the deal stem from the fact that we caved on anytime-anywhere nuclear site inspections, even giving Iran a say in which sites get inspected, and that the deal lifts the conventional arms embargo on Iran. According to reports, Russia and China were the two biggest proponents of lifting that embargo, no doubt to pursue their own nefarious purposes and regional ambitions.” One thing this deal will not change is Iran’s continued sponsorship of terrorist groups in the Middle East and their influence peddling in Iraq. Those aren’t qualities I look for in a partner on an agreement over nuclear weapons development. In the past Iran has not adhered to international norms and obligations when it comes to their nuclear program, and so Congress now has a chance to review this deal and every aspect of this agreement.” [Heck]

Yes, if it isn’t to be THIS deal then what deal might have been possible?  At least Heck’s statement is slightly more specific than Hardy’s talking point spew.  But taken together they represent the usual oppose anything anytime strategy of the Republican in Congress, even if the outcome of an executive action is positive.  Nor, do they make any common sense.

Representative Hardy is concerned that under the terms of the agreement Iran will develop nuclear weapon capacity in eight to fifteen years.  Let’s inject the specter of the current situation – before the “freeze” during negotiations spurred by the sanctions, and without an agreement:

“In the absence of this agreement, the most likely outcome would be that the parties resume doing what they were doing before the freeze began: Iran installing more centrifuges, accumulating a larger stockpile of bomb-usable material, shrinking the time required to build a bomb; the U.S. resuming an effort to impose more severe sanctions on Iran.” [Atlantic]

So instead of a timeline stretched out to 8 to 15 years to build the bomb, Iran could go back to its pre-negotiations strategy – continue to install, accumulate, and develop on a timeline that puts it about two months from nuclear weapons capacity.   How this puts the region and “global community” at less risk is frankly beyond me.   And we’ve covered this territory before.   Someone needs to ask: What kind of unilateral sanctions  would be so effective that Iran would agree to stop nuclear weapon development in 60 days?

What do we know about sanctions? Let’s Review: “Since 1973, the last quarter-century, only 17 percent of U.S. sanctions have worked. That’s whether they’re unilateral or multilateral. But less than one in five of the cases we have applied have, according to our scoring system, had positive effect.” And, “They almost never work when they are applied unilaterally rather than multilaterally, which in these days is almost always the norm. There is no case—repeat, no case—where unilateral sanctions have ever worked to induce a sizable country to make a major change in policy, no case in history that we have been able to discover.” [DB/Bergsten]

Hardy 2

Representative Hardy is quoting all the right GOP talking points, especially the one about rejecting a bad deal over no deal.  Whatever that’s supposed to mean because there is no other deal.  And, no deal puts the Iranians right back on track to build their nuclear weapons in the next 60 days.

Joe Heck

Representative Heck complains that the U.S. “caved” on anytime, anywhere inspections.  However, when 2/3rds of Iran’s current centrifuges are eliminated and 98% of its enriched uranium stockpile is gone, that puts an effective stop to the program.  As for “ultra-secret, really really really secret, so secret we don’t know about them” installations – how is the United States, or the allies, or the IAEA supposed to know what it can’t know?  Remember, if Iran violates the deal the current sanctions snap back into place for ten years with the option on the part of the allies to hold those sanctions in place for another five.  

Perhaps Representative Heck isn’t familiar with the inspection elements, which include the continuous monitoring of: uranium mining and milling, uranium conversion, uranium enrichment, fuel manufacturing, nuclear reactors, spent fuel, and “suspicious locations.”   What’s not covered under “suspicious locations?”

Representative Heck’s next point, that we’re not dealing with a suitable partner in these negotiations because Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, begs for an answer to at least one question:  If we never negotiated with those who do things we don’t like – then how do we get them to stop doing those things?  There are two options – negotiate or go to war.  Which answer does Representative Heck prefer?

Laboring Under Delusions

All three of the Republican Representatives from Nevada appear to be laboring under some non-productive delusions. 

The first delusion, noted above, is that somehow economic sanctions form a third option in international relations.  And, as noted previously, they don’t.   Only 17% have had positive results since 1973, and they’ve almost never been effective when applied unilaterally.  For example: Cuba.

The second delusion, is that someone, anyone, other than President Obama, could have negotiated a better deal.  This isn’t only “our deal.” The agreement was worked out by representatives from the U.S., the U.K., France, China, Russia, and Germany – along with the European Union. And yes, the Chinese and the Russians may have their own agendas, but so do we, the French, the British, the Germans, and the representatives of the European Union.   To act as if a treaty or agreement is only valid if and only if the U.S. gets everything it wants, when it wants it, is to render this country an outlier in international relations.  The results are splintered relationships and doubts on the part of our allies that we’d ever negotiate in good faith about much of anything.

The third delusion is that past behavior – in this case on the part of Iran – is always predictive of future behavior under different circumstances.  Here’s one central example of the changed circumstances:

“There are also aspects of the deal that Iran can’t easily undo. Iran must dismantle two-thirds of its installed centrifuges, remove 98% of its uranium stockpile, and permanently alter the Arak Plutonium reactor before it receives any relief from economic sanctions. These actions will be verified by the IAEA and will greatly increase the time it would take Iran to obtain weapons-grade nuclear material.” [ACC]

There will perhaps always be those who will cry that this doesn’t change the circumstances “enough” – whatever the standard might be —  but, that opinion doesn’t challenge the fact that the circumstances have changed, and inspection regimes will be far more comprehensive than any suggested in the past, and will have far more force because the negotiations were not unilateral or regional.  (Those wanting additional information about the timeline of negotiations between European countries, the Russians, the Chinese, and the American might want to start here for background information. )

The fourth delusion is that “going it alone,” and “packing big heat,” makes the U.S. look stronger.  We might more politely refer to this as the Militarist Option, wherein we swagger upon the international stage threatening to bomb into gravel piles those who annoy us.   This, of course, isn’t strength, it’s bullying, and we know bullies don’t approach their interpersonal issues from a position of personal strength.

However much opponents of the non-proliferation deal may ignore facts, distort provisions, and rail on about negotiations with our enemies, the deal is done.  All they can do now is whine and enjoy the benefits?

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