Category Archives: Veterans

No Thanks For Your Lip Service

Veterans DayAnother Veterans Day, another lesson in the difference between “Thank You for your service,” and “Thank You” for your service.  Bunting and bands are lovely.  Donated meals are a nice gesture, as are donations to the various organizations which assist veterans and their families.   However, as far as I’m concerned those who proudly plaster their windows and bumpers with “Support The Troops” displays while voting for members of the U.S. Congress who do not support appropriate improvements in services for veterans are merely giving lip service to those who’ve done us a real service.

As of the Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract 2010 (pdf) there were 2,076,987 veterans in the United States, of whom 189,662 were disabled.  There are 27,386 veterans in Nevada, of whom 1,882 are disabled.   As we might obviously expect, most of our veterans were enlisted personnel.  {see table 510 CBSA pdf}

Putting Some Legislation Where Our Mouths Are?

So, who is supporting those veterans with legislation to improve the quality of their lives?  Let’s look at the dismal history of H.R. 466, initially introduced in the 111th Congress.   Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX35) put the Wounded Veteran Job Security Act in the hopper on January 13, 2009.  It passed the House on June 8, 2009.  The bill was sent to the Senate, where it went to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.   Nothing further was seen of the bill.

The bill, the Congressional summary of which is:

“Wounded Veteran Job Security Act – Expands the definition of “service in the uniformed services” for the purposes of uniformed servicemembers’ employment and reemployment rights to include a period for which a person is absent from a position of employment to obtain medical treatment for an injury or illness recognized as service connected by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), or for which a line-of-duty document has been granted by the Secretary of Defense (DOD). Directs such a person intending to return to a position of employment to notify the employer within a specified time period. Requires a person submitting an application for reemployment due to such an absence for medical treatment to provide the employer, upon request, with documentation to establish eligibility for reemployment, including a link between the injury or illness and the medical treatment obtained.”

seemed like a common sense piece of legislation. So, Rep. Doggett re-introduced it as H.R. 2875 in the 112th Congress.  This time it was referred to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Jefferson Miller (R-FL) from which it never emerged.   Rep. Doggett kept trying.

In the 113th Congress the Wounded Veteran Job Security Act was numbered H.R. 1774, and was introduced in September 2013.  It was promptly sent to the Economic Opportunity subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, chaired by Texas Republican Bill Flores (R-TX17).  No further action has been taken on H.R. 1774.

In short, a bill which would protect the job security of a veteran seeking  treatment for a service connected medical issue, can’t seem to get through the Republican controlled House of Representatives in the past two sessions.  Even GOP sponsored bills can’t seem to make it through the Congress — witness the sad tale of H.R. 1293 the Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act of 2009.  The bill would increase the home modification funds for disabled veterans from $4,100 to $6,800.  [GovTrack] The bill passed the House 426-0 on July 28, 2009 — a person might have thought it had a chance in the divided, filibuster riddled,  Senate?  No, nothing happened.  See: [Veterans Guidebook to Opportunities and Benefits: How to Navigate the Funding Process and Services U.S. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand New York 2013, download]

Unfortunately, these aren’t the only examples of our flag pin bedecked Congress members speaking one way and acting another.  On September 19, 2012 the IAVA was moved to outrage over the failure of a Jobs for Veterans bill blocked by a Republican filibuster in the Senate:

“Today, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the nation’s first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, expressed outrage at the Senate’s failure to pass the Veterans Job Corps Act (VJC) – which would help put thousands of young veterans back to work. With Congress shutting down to campaign, no employment legislation will pass until after the election. And with the unemployment rate officially at 10.9%, veterans across the country are left treading water while Congress blocks legislation with procedural tricks.”

Words which might apply just as well in November 2013 as in 2012.  Words are fine…some action would be preferable.

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Filed under Defense spending, Politics, Veterans

Senatorial Arithmetic GOP Style and the Veterans Job Bill

Veterans DayThe list of Republicans who voted against the Veterans Job Corps Act of 2012 is instructive in itself.  Of course, not all Senators are up for re-election this round and in this vote it may be showing.  [vote 193]

Republican Senators not up for re-election until 2016 who voted against the Veterans Job Corp Act:  (1) Ayotte (R-NH), (2) Blunt (R-Mo), (3) Boozman (R-AR), (4) Burr (R-NC), (5) Chambliss (R-GA), (6) Coats (R-IN), (7) Coburn (R-OK), (8) DeMint (R-SC), (9) Grassley (R-IA), (10) Hoeven (R-ND), (11) Isakson (R-GA), (12) Johnson (R-WI), (13) Lee (R-UT), (14) McCain (R-AZ), (15) Moran (R-KS), (16) Paul (R-KY), (17) Portman (R-OH), (18) Rubio (R-FL), (19) Shelby (R-AL), (20) Thune (R-SD), (21) Toomey (R-PA), and (22) Vitter (R-LA) (23) Crapo (R-ID)  23

Republican Senators not up for re-election until 2014 who voted against the Veterans Job Corp Act:  (1) Alexander (R-TN), (2) Cochran (R-MS), (3) Cornyn (R-TX), (4) Enzi (R-WY), (5) Graham (R-SC), (6) Johanns (R-NE), (7) McConnell (R-KY), (8) Risch (R-ID) (9) Roberts (R-KS), (10) Sessions (R-AL) 10

Republican Senators up for re-election in 2012 who voted against the Veterans Job Corp Act:  (1) Barrasso (R-WY), (2) Corker (R-TN), (3) Hatch (R-UT), (4) Hutchison (R-TX) (5) Kyl (R-AZ), (6) Lugar (R-IN), (7) Wicker (R-MS)  7

Barrasso is in an essentially safe seat, the Democrats haven’t sent a Senator to Washington, D.C. since 1970.

Corker had a campaign chest of approximately $6 million as of August 2012, and no challenger reported more than $19,000.  [HuffPo]

Hatch has already spent $10.5 million on his re-election, his Democratic opponent reported $120,000 on hand as of last June.  [OS]

Hutchison announced she would not seek re-election last January.  [The Fix]

Kyl announced his retirement last February.  [WaPo]

Lugar lost to a primary challenger in May. [NYT]

Wicker is facing a “low budget” challenger. [ColDisp]

So, according to the numbers, 33 Republicans who do not have to face re-election for at least two more years combined with 4 Republicans currently holding safe seats and 3 who are leaving the Senate to make just exactly the number necessary to block the Veterans Job Corp Act without needing the votes of the ladies from Maine and Alaska (Snowe, Collins, Murkowski) and 2 Senators who are facing tough re-election battles —-  Brown (R-MA) and Heller (R-NV) who could then  “safely” vote in favor of the bill?

Do the arithmetic?

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Filed under 2012 election, Politics, Republicans, Veterans

Miles to Go, Promises to Keep: The Economics of Military Pensions

Pensions matter. The type of pension determines personal financial planning, and personal finances drive our American consumer economy.  Payments from a defined benefit program are predictable, last throughout a person’s retirement, and make household budgeting easier people  — including retirees from our Armed Forces.

So, members of our military at Nellis AFB or the Fallon Naval Air Station are expecting to retire with defined benefits, our promise to members of the U.S. military and to their families.  At this point it’s advisable to step back and look at what the major political parties are offering in terms of Defense spending and how this might impact members of our Armed Forces and future retirees.

On the Republican Side

The Republican Platform is long on rhetoric, and very short on specifics.  We do know that the GOP is calling for military spending equal to 4% of our Gross Domestic Product. [CPI]  The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports  the GDP is now $15,075.7  (add three sets of zeros and we get  $15.075 trillion.) The platform specifically calls for an increase in the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal, and there are suggestions that spending be increased for a form of nuclear defense shield, although one such program was cancelled for inefficiency.

The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) is under scrutiny for its current shortcomings:

The Pentagon decided to keep paying until the program attained a “proof of concept,” a status that falls well short of production and deployment but would in theory allow the U.S. or its foreign partners to restart the project later if they chose. DoD requested a total of $804 million over 2012 and 2013. But Congress disagreed, and agreed to fund only the first year. [CPI, May 2012]

So, while the GOP Platform is long on “strong America” talk the lack of specificity and the paucity of comments on veterans leads to the conclusion that the military spending envisioned by the Republicans is mainly for nuclear missile systems and missile defense systems.   Page 43 of the Republican Platform for 2012 (pdf) addresses veterans’ issues, and touches upon retirement:

“…we believe compensation and conditions for our Armed Forces in place at the time military service is initiated should be sufficient to attract and retain quality men and women as we honor our promises and commitments to veterans, retirees, and their families. These shall continue and not be reduced or otherwise diminished while in service, or upon separation, or retirement.”

Readers should assume that “these” refers back to the “promises and commitments” to members of military families.

On the Democratic Side

The Democratic Platform is different in focus and emphasis in terms of military spending and priorities.  The document refers to actions taken by the Obama Administration in terms of national defense and foreign policy and continues:

“These actions have enabled a broader strategic rebalancing of American foreign policy. After more than a decade at war, we can focus on nation-building here at home and concentrate our resources and attention abroad on the areas that are the greatest priority moving forward. This means directing more energy toward crucial problems, including longstanding threats like nuclear proliferation and emerging dangers such as cyber attacks, biological weapons, climate change, and transnational crime. And it means a long-overdue focus on the world’s most dynamic regions and rising centers of influence.”

The section on members of the armed forces is as follows:

“President Obama and the Democratic Party are committed to keeping the sacred trust we have with our troops, military families, and veterans. These brave men and women and their families have borne the burden of war and have always made our military the best in the world. We will not only continue to support them in the field, but we will also continue to prioritize support for wounded warriors, mental health, and the well-being of our military families and veterans. We will keep working to give our veterans the health care, benefits, education, and job opportunities that they have earned. That’s why the President and the Democratic Party supported the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to provide opportunities for military personnel, veterans, and their families to get a better education.”

Both sides seem in general agreement that benefits and services to veterans, including retirement should not be reduced.  What is troubling is the lack of specificity from either camp on the “shape” of the benefits for retired members of the Armed Forces, the current defined benefit program or a new 401(k) type program?  The lack of specific support for the defined benefit program opens the door for consideration of defined contribution plans which have problems of their own.  Both platforms state promises should be kept, thus the question becomes — What Promises?

The 401(k) Epidemic

As institutions as varied as the National Football League (in the dispute with its officials)  and the Department of Defense look at ways to reduce costs, pension plans nearly always come into play.  The current military pension plan calls for defined benefits — a 2011 proposal by the Defense Business Board is suggesting a 401(k) style defined contribution plan for members of the military.

“The proposal comes from an influential panel of military advisors called the Defense Business Board. Their plan, laid out in a 24-page presentation “Modernizing the Military Retirement System,” would eliminate the familiar system under which anyone who serves 20 years is eligible for retirement at half their salary. Instead, they’d get a 401k-style plan with government contributions.”  [CBS]

The presentation (pdf) begins with rationales for changing to a defined contribution system, including:

“…in light of the budget challenges facing the Department of Defense, the military retirement system appears increasingly unaffordable. In FY11, the retirement plan will accrue 33 cents for each dollar of current pay, for a total of $24 billion.

According to the OSD Office of the Actuary, annual military retirement payments are forecasted to increase from $52.2 billion in 2011 to $116.9 billion in 2035. As of today, the total life cycle program costs will grow from $1.3 trillion, of which only $385 billion is presently funded, to $2.8 trillion by FY34 (see Appendix D of the final presentation). Increases in inflation and life expectancy will further increase military retirement benefit costs. Moreover, as presently structured, any increase to base pay has an automatic and dramatic impact on future retirement liabilities.”

Other voices agreed, including Douglas Holtz-Eakin, recently the chief economic policy adviser to 2008 presidential candidate Senator John McCain:

“Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office says it’s very important that the military attack its retirement issues. “We’re talking about an underfunding that starts to look like hundreds of billions of dollars in the next 20 years. And if you want to maintain the core mission which is to defend the nation and have the strategic capabilities we need, we can’t have all their money tied up in retirement programs.” [CBS]

There are some positive arguments to be made concerning adjustments in the military retirement program — such as how to compensate service which does not extend to 20 years.  The question now becomes: Where DO we want money “tied up?”  Another question might be: Is the 401(k) format the only option, or the best option, by which to address the need to keep our promises to members of the military concerning their retirement income?

The first thing almost any competent investment adviser will say to a client considering a 401(k) plan is that it is market driven.

“Your money, when placed into a 401k, does not have the benefit of being insured. In fact, depending on the investments that you’ve chosen, you could actually lose money while it is tied up in a 401k. If you see that you’re starting to lose money on a particular investment, you might want to consider changing it.”  [InvestHub]   — or to put it less optimistically:

“Hopefully your money is safe in a 401k plan, although you don’t have the luxury of having your investment protected by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) which safeguards the assets of most pension plans. And ultimately your money is only as safe as the investments and funds that you invest it in – any investment plan carries some degree of risk and uncertainty.”  [Essortment]

Any financial adviser who doesn’t almost immediately mention the market based foundation of 401(k) accounts should be avoided in the interest of financial health and safety.  There’s one other point to consider, besides the intrinsic financial market related issues, there are management fees which also impinge on 401(k) account performance.

Here again we meet our old friend — market volatility — a benign face to the Wall Street trading desks, but a real question mark for retirement planning.  Consider the performance of 401(k) plans in the private sector in 2011, as Bette Davis once advised — Buckle Up:

“The average 401(k) balance tracked the year’s bumpy market returns. At midyear, it reached $72,700, the highest since Fidelity began tracking balances in 1998. The average dropped 12 percent over the next three months, amid growing worries about the global economy and the European debt crisis. Those fears eased late in the year, sparking stocks to climb and boost the average account 8 percent in the fourth quarter.

Typically, about two-thirds of annual increases in 401(k) account balances are the result of workers’ added contributions and company matches. It’s only the final third that’s the result of investment returns, said Beth McHugh, vice president of market insights at Boston-based Fidelity.”  [CSM]

Less elegantly phrased, Manic Mr.  Market, buffeted by the rumors and realities of the financial sector in 2010 and 2011, didn’t add very much to 401(k) investors’ accounts.   If the proposed military retirement 401(k) accounts aren’t augmented by much more than more enrollments or company (Defense Dept.) matching contributions, then members of the Armed Forces would do almost as well simply putting their money in a good old fashioned savings account at the local bank.   This statement might even be more unfortunately accurate if Manic Mr. Market behaves badly at just the moment the service member retires.

Yes, the Pentagon could save some $250 billion over the next 20 years, BUT what might have happened to a soldier’s 401(k) account if that individual’s retirement date was — say, March 9, 2009 when the DJIA bottomed at a measly 6507.04?    If there is inequity in the current system, how much more inequity might there be between the unfortunate soul who retired on March 9, 2009 and the person who retires today when the DJIA is at 13,266.99 and the Nasdaq is at 3130.94?

The backgrounds and affiliations of several members of the Defense Business Board make it clear that most are well aware of Manic Mr. Market’s behavior.  There are representatives of Accenture, Veritas Capital, Citigroup, Renaissance Strategy Advisers, Lovell Group Venture Capital, Fall Creek Management, the Regency Group, and Providence Equity Capital.   There’s even an “Outsourcing Superstar” from NEOGROUP.  [DBB]  What can we infer from their presentation about the efficacy of their proposal?

There’s always one clue to how enthusiastic so-called reformers are about the plans they are hawking — do they recommend immediate implementation?  If something is the End and Be All of Hot New Ideas, then why not put it into effect with alacrity?  If something may not be so good, or faces some stiff opposition, then the “phase in” language appears.  However, if some proposal has some really large question marks attached to it — then we get phrasing like this from the Defense Business Board:

This plan would apply to Reserve and Active Duty personnel. Retired and disabled personnel would be unaffected.”

If we all think we’ve heard this somewhere before — it’s because we have.  The Republican proposals for turning Medicare into a voucher/coupon program are all couched in “this doesn’t apply to current enrollees” verbiage.

If we expect a veteran’s retirement planning to be predictable, and his or her household and other expenses based on a “floor” of defined benefit payments after retirement, then we could do much better than to agree to a plan to make those retirement benefits driven by Manic Mr. Market and his contemporary penchant for volatility.  This election season would be as good a time as any to ask candidates what they think of a plan to privatize military retirement plans?  Plans that could be miles from the promises we should be keeping.

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Filed under Politics, privatization, Veterans

Sunrises and Tax Cuts: One Sure, the Other Not So Much

<Snark> I do hope you appreciate my efforts this morning. I got up nice and early — more a function of a miniature dachshund who had tangled himself in a sheet than an intention — and took my coffee to the deck and Bid The Sun To Rise! <snark>  OK, it wasn’t this sunrise, which is a stock graphic, and much better than this morning’s cloudy rendition.  Now to the point.   The Rolls-Royce Ticket (Romney/Ryan) has Promised an increase of 12,000,000 jobs!

Right there in the acceptance speech: “And unlike the president, I have a plan to create 12 million new jobs.” [Politicususa]  This would be lovely, except that it is roughly analogous to my claim of bidding the sun to rise; it’s probably going to happen anyway:

‘In its semi-annual long-term economic forecast released in April, Macroeconomic Advisers projected that the economy would add 11.8 million jobs from 2012 to 2016. That means Mr. Romney believes his newly announced policies would add an extra 200,000 jobs on top of what people already expected, or a jobs bonus of about 2 percent. The more jobs the better, of course, but that’s not really much to write home about.” [NYT]

And, actually the President HAS a plan to create jobs — the American Jobs Act. S. 1549 was introduced by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) on September 13, 2011.  That it has not moved since isn’t a function of “Presidential Leadership,” but of good old fashioned Republican intransigence.

The legislation includes tax cuts and regulatory reforms for small businesses and entrepreneurs.  But, the GOP doesn’t want to move on it.

The legislation includes provisions for preventing teacher layoffs, hiring more veterans, investments in infrastructure projects, public-private projects for rehabilitating local communities.  But the GOP doesn’t want to vote in favor of these elements.

The legislation promotes work based reforms to create innovative ways to retrain, rehire, and re-employ American workers.  But the GOP doesn’t want this to come to the Senate floor.

The legislation also encourages more re-financing of homes for stressed home-owners. But the GOP doesn’t want to talk about this either.  [AJAfactsheet]

The level of Republican intransigence can be measured by the number of tax cuts they passed up in order to block this legislation:

#1. The Republicans rejected a provision which would cut the payroll tax in half to 3.1% for employers on the first $5 million in wages, providing broad tax relief to all businesses but targeting it to the 98 percent of firms with wages below this level.

#2. The Republicans rejected a full holiday on the 6.2% payroll tax firms pay for any growth in their payroll up to $50 million above the prior year, whether driven by new hires, increased wages or both. This is the kind of job creation measure that CBO has called the most effective of all tax cuts in supporting employment.

#3. The Republicans rejected a proposal for 100 percent expensing, the largest temporary investment incentive in history, allowing all firms – large and small – to take an immediate deduction on investments in new plants and equipment.

#4. The Republicans rejected the Returning Heroes Tax Credit of up to $5,600 for hiring unemployed veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months, and a Wounded Warriors Tax Credit of up to $9,600 for hiring unemployed workers with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months, while creating a new task force to maximize career readiness of service members.

#5. The Republicans rejected the AJA including the plan to expand the payroll tax cut passed last December by cutting workers payroll taxes in half next year. This provision will provide a tax cut of $1,500 to the typical family earning $50,000 a year. As with the payroll tax cut passed in December 2010, the American Jobs Act will specify that Social Security will still receive every dollar it would have gotten otherwise, through a transfer from the General Fund into the Social Security Trust Fund.

The Mornings After

Gee, and here we thought that the sun will rise in the east every morning, and Republicans will always favor tax cuts.  Yes, the President had, and still has, a specific plan to increase employment in the good old United States of America — but as of October 14, 2011 the plan ground to a halt in the face of Republican opposition in the Senate:

President Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan foundered in the Senate on Tuesday night, as a unified Republican caucus and a pair of Democrats joined to deny the proposal the 60 votes needed to allow it to proceed to full consideration.  [WashMonthly]

Any claims of “bipartisan rejection” of the bill can be waived because the two “no votes,” from Senators Nelson of Nebraska and Tester of Montana, wouldn’t have broken the GOP filibuster of the American Jobs Act.  The cloture motion failed on a 50-49-1 vote. [roll call 160] It takes 60 to break a filibuster and the best the Democrats in the Senate could have mustered was 53.  *Senator Reid voted ‘no’ to be on the prevailing side so he could later offer a motion to reconsider under the rules.

Yes, the bill includes tax cuts, and YES it’s paid for, and yes, the Republicans, in a “unified Republican caucus” blocked it.  Now, we get the vague sound of whining as the sun rises.

The Republicans whine, “but the President hasn’t shown leadership on jobs creation,” an interesting wail since the President presented a piece of legislation all packaged nicely with tax cuts and infrastructure investments.   It really doesn’t do for me to park my pickup across your driveway and then criticize you for not driving your children to school.

The Republicans whine, “the bills are too big and complicated,” but when parts of the legislation are offered in the Senate those are filibustered as well.  This comes perilously close to refusing to eat at the restaurant because the menu’s too long, but when offered items a la carte refusing each one.

According to GOP candidate Governor Mitt Romney:  “The President doesn’t have a plan, hasn’t proposed any new ideas to get the economy going—just the same old ideas of the past that have failed.”  [Prospect]

The Republican complaint would have far more authenticity had they worked with the Democrats in the Senate to pass the infrastructure and rehabilitation portions of the American Jobs Act; indeed, the ONLY specific  jobs proposal on the table at the moment  is the aforementioned American Jobs Act.  Governor Romney’s complaint would have far more resonance if he would offer something besides the trickle down economics of Republicans Past.  Speaking of no new ideas… in the words of the Rev. Al Sharpton, “We got the trickle, but nothing came down.”

The sun will rise tomorrow morning whether I take my coffee on the deck or not, the economy will probably create about 11.8 million jobs even if we do nothing, and the Republicans will filibuster anything from the White House whether it has a package of tax cuts in it  or not — just because it came from the Democratic side of the spectrum.

Perhaps candidates in Nevada’s Senatorial race, and in the Nevada Congressional District races should be asked whether or not they support the American Jobs Act, or even portions of it?  Perhaps it’s time we got some answers that aren’t merely more predictable-as-the-sunrise rhetoric?

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Filed under 2012 election, Economy, Filibusters, Obama, Romney, Taxation, Veterans

Overnight Express: News and Views Roundup

Not quite together with Heller (R-NV): “Heller, through his statements and votes in Congress, has consistently supported limiting or eliminating the ability to conduct government business in any language other than English. Heller has sponsored legislation to limit election ballots to English-only, to mandate that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid only be filled out in English and to make English the official national language. Heller also supported a bill to end birthright citizenship.”  [LVSun]   There appears to be just one little problem with Senator Heller’s “outreach” to voters in the Latino/Hispanic community — his proposals don’t exactly match his record.

However, his “no new taxes” allegiance to Grover Norquist et. al. is pleasing to the ears of members of the business community who’ve not yet figured out that in order to support the Republican economic policies to which Governor Romney and Senator Heller adhere, you have to believe that giving the big tax cuts to the top 0.5% of income earners in the U.S. will magically trickle down to local economies.  Small business owners who rightly see themselves as “job creators” seem to have conflated their interests (increasing demand) with the “job cremators” in the ethereal upper reaches of the Wall Street casino who are essentially Financialists for whom actual job creation isn’t a priority.

Not quite a birther?  Republican hopeful Willard M. Romney will be in Las Vegas, NV for a fund raiser ($2500 per) at the Trump International Tower, with The Birther Donald Himself. [RGJ]  It seems Mr. Romney isn’t concerned by The Donald’s foray into the realms of irrationality. “The standard the Romney campaign seems to be advancing here is that it’s OK for the candidate to appear on the same stage as a loon, as long as that loon doesn’t say the thing that makes him loony in the candidate’s presence. And if he does, the candidate can merely disavow it later.” [Salon]  The disappointed birthers may now be busying themselves questioning the President’s college transcripts. [LAT]

Listen Up, and get connected: “None of that matters. Not one whit. The only thing that is going to matter is whether or not Republican astroturf organizations like TruetheVote, Republican governors like John Kasich, Rick Scott and Scott Walker, and Republican True Believers will team up to suppress the vote in enough states to guarantee a stolen election.”  [More at Crooks & Liars] Think this really isn’t happening: Try this egregious example from Ohio.  Governor Rick Scott (FL) has a plan to purge individuals from that state’s rolls. [Think Progress] There’s a lovely example of a inexplicably purged voter in that state as well.

We Didn’t Start the Fire: And why the GOP can’t extinguish its War on Women.   Good litany and explanation here.

Another Romney Theme Another Chart Debunking It:  The GOP is hauling out the old chestnut about Democrats “hollowing out the military” with decreased defense spending.   This canard has worked for them before, but won’t now if this little chart gets enough attention.  Note that the Iraq/Afghanistan warfare spending is shown in red, and that the other chart elements do not decrease.

Financialism can be the cruelest form of capitalism:  Watch what’s happening with American Airlines.   “The parent company of American, AMR Corp., is seeking to cut labor costs by tossing employee contracts where no agreement has been reached. Closing arguments in U.S. bankruptcy court wrapped up Friday; a judge said he expects to rule by June 22.” [MiamiHerald] American has been told to cut labor costs by 20%, meaning a loss of some 13,000 jobs [HuffPo] From last January: “Airline giant AMR, the parent company of American Airlines and American Eagle. AMR, which filed for bankruptcy in November, last week announced plans to retain the advice of Bain & Co., the consulting firm where Romney worked before co-founding private equity firm Bain Capital in 1985.”  [ITTimes] Oh, and did we mention that the pension fund, once an industry gold standard, has come to grief, “the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. slapped liens on $91 million in AMR property after the company paid only $6.5 million of a required $100 million contribution to the plans.”  [HuffPo]

Financialism is often painful — for the financialists:  “JPMorgan dips into cookie jar to offset London Whale losses.” Gains from the sales could provide about 16 cents a share of earnings, about one-fifth of the bank’s second-quarter profit, analysts said. But rather than creating new value for investors, the transactions merely shift gains in securities from one part of the company’s financial statements to another.” [Reuters]  (emphasis added)  As one SEC consultant remarks — dumb move #1 playing with derivatives the company didn’t fully understand, dumb move #2 selling off high value securities they can’t replace….  Do these people really want us to believe they need “de-regulation?”

And, then there’s Citigroup “the biggest U.S. bank to have regulators reject its capital plan this year, dismantled a board committee created during the credit crisis to police the disposal of toxic and unwanted assets. ” [Bloomberg]   This, while it still has queasy mortgages, and loans to Spain and Greece on its books?   Even some big funds are getting bitten, Dewey &LeBoeuf has filed for bankruptcy… with more strain on the Pension Guarantee System.

Recommended Reading:  “How black WWII vets helped lead the Civil Rights Movement,”  The Grio;  unfortunately there’s this article in the same source — “KKK invites North Carolina town to a Whites Only cross burning.”   A semi-sweet ending to the story of a slave cemetery in Georgia in the AJC.

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Filed under 2012 election, financial regulation, Heller, Romney, Veterans, Vote Suppression, Voting, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

Coffee and the Papers

Breaking News: Yucca Mountain is still dead. [Las Vegas Sun] The Clark County, NV Republicans are still in disarray. [KTVN] [Las Vegas Sun] [WaPo] [KOLO] and [LVRJ]  The Ron Paul supporters are seeking “genuine conservatives.” [LVRJ]  And, do click over to NVProgressive for a description of what’s happening in NV-04.

Hearts and Flowers:  If you can read the President’s remarks at the graduation ceremony for Joplin High School graduates without tearing up just a bit, check your empathy chip and replace if necessary.

Breaking the News:  The typical CEO in the United States was paid $9.6 million in 2011, that’s up 6% from 2010.  Or, to put it another way, the CEO’s were paid what it would take the typical American worker 3,489 years to earn.  [RGJ]  Not to get all attacky on the capitalists or anything, but the worker’s earnings aren’t keeping up with worker’s productivity:

“Manufacturing sector productivity rose 5.9 percent in the first quarter of  2012, as output grew 10.8 percent and hours worked increased 4.6 percent.  The increases in productivity and output were the largest since the second  quarter of 2010. Over the last four quarters, manufacturing sector productivity increased 2.5 percent. Unit labor costs in manufacturing fell  4.2 percent in the first quarter of 2012 and decreased 1.3 percent from the same quarter a year ago.” [BLS]

Productivity is a nicer way to say “working harder and longer to make more stuff” and in this case for the same pay or less for doing so.  In this case “unit labor costs” (wages and benefits) declined while production numbers increased.  Declining “unit labor costs” usually mean declining spending power; declining spending power usually means decreasing demand.

Meanwhile in Xenophobia:  Noted citizen of Xenophobia, Representative Steve King (R-IA), drew criticism for equating immigrants to dogs during a recent town hall meeting. [Politico] This might help to explain why President Obama holds a 61% to 27% advantage with Hispanic/Latino heritage voters?  [The Hill]

The Romney Plan student loan plan “By The Bankers and For The Bankers:”  Here’s the former MA Governor: “Reverse President Obama’s nationalization of the student loan market and welcome private sector participation in providing information, financing, and the education itself.”  Here’s a critique.   And here’s a problem for the defenders of free market capitalism:

One of the nicer features of free market capitalism is the notion that he who takes the risk shall be he who gets the rewards.  That’s why some loans have higher interest rates than others.  The greater the risk taken the more interest should be earned to compensate for taking that risk.  However, the old Bush new Romney version stands that principle on its head.

Under the Bush/Romney plan the banks got a subsidy for making student loans, and then the federal government (using taxpayer funds) guaranteed the loans, so that the Banks earned the interest without actually taking any risk!  What the Obama Administration did was remove the Middlemen.  Since the taxpayers (government) were the ones taking the risks, the taxpayers (government) should be the ones earning the interest.  Interesting how the bankers are now bellowing about losing their “privatized earnings” on the “socialized risks?”  And by the way, there’s no “nationalizing” involved, private banks still make student loans and are perfectly free to do so — they just can’t expect taxpayers to subsidize them and guarantee their collection of interest earnings.

There’s more over at the Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus blog.

Dispatches from the War on Women:  “Five female Democratic senators pressed for legislation Wednesday aimed at closing the wage gap between men and women. The Paycheck Fairness Act would bring up to date the Equal Pay Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson nearly 50 years ago.” [Politico] What you should know about the Paycheck Fairness Act here.   Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will bring the measure up for a cloture vote (Yes, the Republicans are filibustering it) during the week of June 4, 2012.

Dispatches on the Despicable:  One so-called charity on behalf of American veterans has already been revealed as fraudulent. [HuffPo] Worse still, almost half of the 39 veterans charities received failing grades from the American Institute of Philanthropy. [HuffPo] The AIP has a web site Charity Watch which will assist donors who want to make certain their contributions are not misused or squandered. The organization advises donors to beware of organizations which use as much as 80% of their donations for more fundraising. [CW] Charity Navigator also has a ratings guide for organizations.

About that Federal Spending Mythology: Two handy charts —

Bloggy Mountain Breakdown:   H/T to The Sin City Siren for the link to this nifty graphic of the War On Women.   Have you been checking in on The Nevada View lately.  (highly recommended)   If you missed this piece on small businesses and the battle with the Big Box stores at Blue Lyon, click over there now.

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Filed under Economy, education, Immigration, Nevada politics, Obama, Veterans, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights, Yucca Mountain

Coffee and the Papers: From the Ridiculous to the Whatever

** Nevada politics is nothing if not highly entertaining.  Consider this pithy summation of the Nevada GOP’s leadership issue:

“The Republicans, pounded by Democrats in critical races the last two cycles, have a reasonable chance to win the state for Mitt Romney, hold onto John Ensign’s Senate seat and take over the Legislature’s upper house. And the glue holding that all together — the man charged with raising money, attacking Democrats and articulating GOP principles — is a Laughlin constable and former strip club lobbyist found guilty of ethics transgressions by two tribunals and whose odiferous city land deal has revolted everyone (except the folks at Roundheels Central on Stewart Avenue), including a conservative think tank on Tuesday.  Come on, folks. This must be a joke.”  [full story Las Vegas Sun]

Well, let’s see now, there seems to be a bit of history.

February 12, 2012:  “Early last fall, when Florida Republicans defied the national party and moved their presidential primary to January, Nevada Republican Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian issued a defiant statement.  “No matter what, we will not allow this disruption to interfere with our goal of creating a presidential caucus that will be the pride of the Western states,” Tarkanian said. “This situation gives Nevadans the opportunity to showcase our ability to adapt and establish our state as a major player in national politics.”  [Las Vegas Sun]

February 5, 2012: “Unable to control how its county parties count and report results, state Republicans were scrambling Sunday to explain why, almost 24 hours after most caucuses ended, the votes still have not been counted. [Politico]

January 5, 2012: “The head of the Nevada Republican Party, Amy Tarkanian has announced her resignation.  Thursday, Tarkanian sent a statement announcing her resignation since her husband is considering a run for Congressional District 4.” [News2]

April 24, 2010:  Sue Lowden proposes “chickens for checkups” health reform plan. [C&L]

November 16, 2009: “Dr. Chris Comfort replaces Sue Lowden, who resigned Sept. 30 to launch her campaign for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination and try to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in next year’s election.”  [NNV]

And so it goes.

**  The Political Animal notes the activities of ALEC, right wing legislators, and national Republican leaders to enact vote suppressing laws, but “…a less well-known phenomenon might be called “bankrupting the vote,” as states and localities (particular cities with heavily Democratic electorates) struggling with fiscal crises simply can’t afford to adequately staff and administer elections. ”  Read the full report here from Reuters.

** Heaven Forefend we’d actually pass a transportation bill wherein states and construction contractors would have a realistic expectation of long term infrastructure improvement projects.  “Also look for the House and Senate to start reconciling their differences over federal highway funding. Last week, the House passed an extension of highway programs through the end of the fiscal year, HR 4348. In March, the Senate approved a two-year extension, S 1813.”  [NRDC]

** There’s a report from the VA’s Inspector General that isn’t getting half as much publicity as it deserves.   “The Department of Veterans Affairs’ mental-health care system suffers from a culture where managers give more importance to meeting meaningless performance goals than helping veterans, according to testimony before a Senate committee Wednesday.”  [WaPo]

Contrary to VA claims that 95 percent of first-time patients seeking mental-health care in 2011 received an evaluation within the department’s goal of 14 days, just under half were seen in that time frame, the report found. A majority waited about 50 days on average for a full evaluation.”  [WaPo]

From the report summary:

“VHA does not have a reliable and accurate method of determining whether they are providing patients timely access to mental health care services. VHA did not provide first-time patients with timely mental health evaluations and existing patients often waited more than 14 days past their desired date of care for their treatment appointment. As a result, performance measures used to report patient’s access to mental health care do not depict the true picture of a patient’s waiting time to see a mental health provider.”

The full report is available in PDF format here.

** It’s really very hard to get beyond House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) comment that a “good” way to finance the reduction in student loan interest rates would be to take the money from the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for cancer screenings for men and women, wellness education programs, and immunizations for children, which he said was a “Slush Fund.”   HHS Secretary Sebelius has more to say here.

**  Did we know that when Nevada Representatives Amodei  (R-NV2) and Heck (R-NV3) voted for the Ryan Budget that they voted in favor of locking in the doubled interest rate for student loans?  We do now.

** Thus much for “Listening to the Generals.”  The GOP controlled House of Representatives rejected the Pentagon proposal for the next round of BRAC (base realignment and closure) Commission recommendations. [The Hill]

**  One of the more interesting characterizations of the upcoming presidential race from the President’s interview with Rolling Stone:

“I think the general election will be as sharp a contrast between the two parties as we’ve seen in a generation. You have a Republican Party, and a presumptive Republican nominee, that believes in drastically rolling back environmental regulations, that believes in drastically rolling back collective-bargaining rights, that believes in an approach to deficit reduction in which taxes are cut further for the wealthiest Americans, and spending cuts are entirely borne by things like education or basic research or care for the vulnerable. All this will be presumably written into their platform and reflected in their convention. I don’t think that their nominee is going to be able to suddenly say, “Everything I’ve said for the last six months, I didn’t mean.” I’m assuming that he meant it. When you’re running for president, people are paying attention to what you’re saying.”

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Filed under 2012 election, Amodei, Boehner, Health Care, Heck, Infrastructure, Nevada politics, Obama, Republicans, Romney, Veterans, Vote Suppression, Voting