The SNAP-ping Turtles Attack: Food Stamp Fraud Myths and Legends

Food Stamps

Among the most depressing of the many Republican attacks on people who are the least able to defend themselves are the ones snapping away at the SNAP program, aka Food Stamps.  It’s even more depressing that the attacks are based on myths and urban legends.

The attacks are continuous.  As of April 16, 2016 approximately 41,000 lost access to food assistance as a result of the Walker Administration’s work rules, although his department of Health Services admits it doesn’t track people who find work on their own. [WEAU]  Another 1,000 will lose access to food assistance in West Virginia. [Dpost]  Add yet another 5,000 in Georgia who’ve lost access because of work rule changes. [USAPP] Louisiana hacked off the access for 30,000 in late 2015. [AJA] And, then, of course, there’s the viral display of the lady who took it upon herself to embarrass a fellow human being for using assistance to feed his children.

The tantrum, if true, illustrates the extent to which the myths and urban legends about the food assistance programs have become part of the Republican narrative about food stamps and the people who use them.

One of the more persistent myths is that there is an abundance of food stamp fraud, and the fraud is the result of misuse of the assistance by the recipients.  

First, the food assistance program is actually one of the most efficient and honest programs in government.  And, most of the fraud is on the part of retailers, NOT the customers.

“SNAP fraud has actually been cut by three-quarters over the past 15 years, and the program’s error rate is at an all-time low of less than 3 percent. The introduction of EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards has dramatically reduced consumer fraud. According to the USDA, the small amount of fraud that continues is usually on the part of retailers, not consumers.” [HC.org]

Even during the last Recession, SNAP problems were miniscule: “SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program, and despite the recent growth in caseloads, the share of total SNAP payments that represent overpayments, underpayments, or payments to ineligible households reached a record low in fiscal year 2011.” [CPBB]

The USDA, which administers the program has taken notice of the allegations of “waste, fraud, and abuse,” continually leveled at the assistance, and presented a report in 2013:

“The report indicates that the vast majority of trafficking – the illegal sale of SNAP benefits for cash or other ineligible items – occurs in smaller-sized retailers that typically stock fewer healthy foods. Over the last five fiscal years, the number of retailers authorized to participate in SNAP has grown by over 40 percent; small- and medium-sized retailers account for the vast majority of that growth. The rate of trafficking in larger grocery stores and supermarkets—where 82 percent of all benefits were redeemed—remained low at less than 0.5 percent.”  (emphasis added)

More specifically, most of the fraudulent use can be attributed to these small retailers:

“While the overall trafficking rate has remained relatively steady at approximately one cent on the dollar, the report attributes the change in the rate to 1.3 percent primarily to the growth in small- and medium-sized retailers authorized to accept SNAP that may not provide sufficient healthful offerings to recipients. These retailers accounted for 85 percent of all trafficking redemptions. This finding echoes a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that suggested minimal stocking requirements in SNAP may contribute to corrupt retailers entering the program.” [emphasis added]

However, the lady in the supermarket screaming at the customer, is probably thinking  it’s the food assistance recipient who commits most of the fraud and not the retailer.  She’s likely not concerned that the USDA has initiated rules to sanction 529 retailers, and permanently disqualifying 826 outlets for trafficking in benefits, or falsifying their applications.  Or, that in 2012 the USDA reviewed more than 15,000 stores and permanently disqualified nearly 1,400 for various program violations. She’s also not likely concerned that the USDA has expanded the definitions of fraud to include newer schemes. [USDA]

snapping turtle

Let’s conjecture that the screaming-mimi is associating food assistance with lazy do-nothings who are eating from her hard earned sacred tax dollars. Again, she’s wrong.

Using Nevada (pdf) as an example for the moment, the median income of SNAP recipients in the state was $20,479 per year, or about $1700 per month, and 49% of the households had at least one person working in the previous 12 months; 29% had two or more workers, and only 21.8% had no one working in the previous year.  Why might the person not be working? Try acknowledging that more than 1/2 of SNAP beneficiaries nationally are either children or the elderly. [StoH]  And, no – they are not undocumented individuals: “Undocumented immigrants are not (and never have been) eligible for SNAP benefits. Documented immigrants can only receive SNAP benefits if they have resided within the United States for at least five years (with some exceptions for refugees, children, and individuals receiving asylum).” [StoH]

On a national basis, children account for 44% of food assistance, the elderly and the disabled account for another 20%.  That leaves 36% who are non-elderly, and not disabled, of whom 22% have children to support and feed, and 14% are childless.  [CBPP]

SNAP recipients Those interested in the SNAP statistics for every Congressional District in the nation can find the pdf files here.

Those interested in living in the fact based universe will also find that far from munching on the taxpayer’s dime, every $1 dollar in food assistance generates $1.80 in economic returns to the community. [USDA]

snapping turtle However, we can publicize every FAQ, every article, every report, in the land and there will still be screamers at the Wal-Mart who are convinced that low-life no-gooders mooching on the dole are taking their earnings and wallowing in sin and sloth.  The right wing echo chamber has done a good job of vilifying children, the elderly, the disabled, and the down on their luck to find an excuse to cut spending for at risk citizens. 

snapping turtle

The snapping turtles have also done a good job of associating African Americans with food assistance programs.

“The 2013 data shows, white people are nearly three times less likely than African-Americans to live in poverty; yet, white people claim more food stamps.  According to the data, not only do white people benefit from food stamps, they also benefit from not having politicians and cops target and malign them as lazy, unproductive welfare queens who take advantage of a social safety net. As the chart indicates, racist ideas about welfare have come to overshadow statistical facts that reveal that the face of food stamps is in fact white.” [AnHQ]

There is support for this conclusion  in Nevada statistics.  In Congressional District One 58% of food stamp recipients are white, in Congressional District Two 80.3% are white, in Congressional District Three 66.3% are white, and in Congressional District Four 52.9% are white.  According to the Census Bureau Nevada District 1 has a population of 693,623 of whom 380,587 are white; District 2 has 697,426 residents of whom 580,111 are white; District 3 has a population of 734,973 of whom 499,767 are white; and District 4 has a population of 713,077 of whom 470,799 are white. As much as the popular right wing mythology may want to reinforce the narrative of the Welfare Queen it just doesn’t fit with the statistical reality.

snapping turtle  When statistics don’t fit … try ideological mythology. Food Stamps make you dependent on Government, and dependency is evil incarnate because it is a disincentive to work.  This, flat out, makes no sense at all.  For example, I live in an area with a public water system. Does hooking up to the water system mean that I’m lazy and have no incentive to walk to the spring for the daily bucket? Or, that I should have to dig my own well, and install my own septic tank?  Perhaps this is plausible if I live far enough from my neighbors to put in a septic system, but I don’t so the result would be “my septic tank next to your well.”  Not a pleasant nor hygienic prospect.  Do public roads make me a lazy dependent? Does having a police department make me less independent – should I have to hire my own rent-a-cop?  Maybe in some radical libertarian  landscape no one depends on anyone else, but this is only a fairy tale of dystopian proportions.  Not a land in which any rational soul would want to reside.

snapping turtle

There’s another element not often discussed in polite circles – good old fashioned selfishness.  The trick is to make selfishness acceptable. Perhaps some of the snapping turtles harbor an unhealthy notion that someone out there somewhere is taking money out of their shells, someone who is undeserving of assistance.  I’d be willing to bet that a right wing snapping turtle would never agree that food assistance should be denied to an octogenarian, or to a disabled person, or to a small child, or to a young mother trying to keep food on the table while going to school to complete her education. So, the “undeserving” must be meanly labeled.  They’re Lazy, they’re druggies, they’re people who “have too many children.”  (I’m particularly appalled at the argument which goes: “They” have too many children,” while the next contention is that funding for family planning must be eliminated.)  The line “I saw people at the food bank who are driving better cars than mine,” illustrates the issue.

This example is a visceral reaction – not a questioning skepticism.  Is the vehicle the only asset of any significant value in the entire household?  Does “better” mean newer? If so, then what was traded in to buy it? The comment better illustrates a definition of poverty that would have only the totally destitute ‘deserving’ of assistance, not someone with a functioning vehicle, an air-conditioner, a television set, a refrigerator – as if these consumer items weren’t a necessity in modern American life. Define poverty harshly enough and all manner of selfishness can be justified.

snapping turtle

There’s one myth justifying selfishness we can dismiss. The one that says we should drug test SNAP recipients to see if they’re worthy.  Seven states spent more than one million dollars on drug testing welfare recipients only to discover that there wasn’t a reason to do it in the first place.  Missouri spent $336,297 testing 38,970 recipients to find 48 positive tests. (0.123%) Oklahoma spent $385,872 on tests for 3,342 people and got 297 positives. (11%) Utah’s results were less rational, 9,552 people were tested and 29 were positive. (3.03%) Kansas screened 2,783 persons, with 11 positive results, a 3.95% result costing $40,000. Mississippi tested 3,656 persons and got 2 positive drug tests. Tennessee tested 16,017 people and got 37 positives.  Arizona tested 142,424 persons and got a grand total of 3 positive results. [TP]  Not that it will put much of a chink in the armor of the snapping turtles, but the numbers certainly don’t justify the expense or the rationale for selfishness underlying the testing.

snapping turtle forbidden

I’d like to see the day when (1) Congressman Sludgepump launches his canards about SNAP recipients being lazy moochers, and a reporter asks if he knows the demographics of the recipients in his District, or  when (2) State legislator Gloomcryer decries the possibility of drug use by food stamp beneficiaries and he’s challenged to cite statistics to support his contentions, or when (3) we finally become outraged at the outrageous duplicity and mendacity of the Snapping Turtles. 

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Filed under conservatism, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, public health, Republicans

Culture Wars in the Potty

Iron Age

Once upon a time, for example back in the Iron Age, patriarchal bands hunted, planted, and herded.  Their story was collected, passed down, and now is accepted by some as literal. [AlterN]  Unfortunately, the Iron Age Rules of the Game don’t fit for everyone in the 21st century.  If one of the central rules was an “iron-clad” patriarchal system in which women were only “help-meets,” and daughters could be sold into slavery, [Exodus 21:7]   then it’s plausible that the biblical literalists might be disturbed by the autonomy of the modern era.  However, that’s no excuse to badger everyone into believing urban myths and blatantly false propaganda about women and members of the LBGT community.

As the backlash builds to the HB2 law in North Carolina, die-hards in Texas are doing a bit of chest pounding, declaring that the President can’t tell them to accommodate the needs of transgender children. [TPM]  The Lt. Governor offering:

“We will not yield to blackmail from the President of the United States,” Patrick said in a press conference responding to the administration’s letter. “We will not sell out our children to the federal government. And the people of Texas and the legislature will find a way to find as much of that money as we can if we are forced to. There is no compromise on this issue.”

He said that the debate over bathrooms “is the biggest issue facing families and schools in America since prayer was taken out of public schools.”

The biggest issue facing families and schools? Really?  This potty issue would be more important than the fact that the 2011 educational budget cuts are still having an effect [TXTrib], and that current budget levels have Texas ranked 38th in the nation? [DMN]  Or, perhaps there’s a more simple way of addressing the issue, such as the logic put forth by an Oklahoma legislator speaking of a bill to ban abortions:

“This is our proper function, to protect life,” said Senator Nathan Dahm, the Republican lawmaker who authored the bill, with fellow state Republican colleague David Brumbaugh confusingly adding, “Everybody talks about this $1.3 billion deficit. If we take care of morality, God will take care of the economy.” [InJust]

That’s right. If “we take care of morality then God will provide for the schools,  infrastructure, revenue streams, median household incomes, and corporate profits?  Surely, if we just follow all those Iron Age rules in the book – or at least the ones we want to – eating shrimp is OK? Wearing blended fabric clothing is all right? – then Life will take care of itself.  Leaving a person to wonder what ever happened to “God helps those who help themselves?”

Golden Rule

Or perhaps more importantly, what ever happened to the rules and advice imparted by Luke 6: 31, or by Number 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths, or Sutrakritanga 1.11.33, or Udana-Varga 5:18?

If we take a step further into Biblical territory we find:

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Proverbs 6: 16-19

Thus, spreading false information about gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered people is abominable? Publishing misinformation and outright lies about Planned Parenthood is hateful?  Disseminating that which is harmful to individuals who do not share a particular interpretation of the Iron Age Rules is abominable?

It is NOT true that homosexuals are more likely to be pedophiles and child molesters. [UCDavisEdu] It is NOT true that transgendered people are a hoax. [MMA] It is NOT true that transgendered people just want to ogle the opposite sex in the restroom.  That’s the province of the immature.  What’s required to play the Potty War Games according to the Iron Age rules is to discount and discredit actual scientific research with statements like:

“I am not convinced by any science I can find that people with definitively male DNA and definitively male anatomy can actually be locked in a cruel joke of nature because they are actually female.” [MMA

The correct interpretation of this statement is  “I am perfectly willing to deny and discredit any scientific findings which don’t comport with my opinions,”  even if doing so is harmful to others.

And, accommodating the needs of transgendered children certainly isn’t harmful.  The LAUSD has already implemented a policy of accommodation for a decade with positive results:

“Opponents of A.B. 1266 have expressed concerns that students will abuse the policy, imperiling the safety of others. But our experience stands in stark contrast to such fears: In all the years since the LAUSD implemented its policy, we have encountered nothing but positive results. We are committed to providing safe schools for all children. Our equal access policy enhances, rather than diminishes, school safety.” [HuffPo]

Absent anything other than acceptable results in states that do have statutes protecting transgendered individuals, conservative media has resorted to contriving situations designed to make people uncomfortable and then reporting it as “news.” [EM.org]

rest room sign

What would happen if we were to follow the Big Rule, the one in Luke 6:31 et. alia., and thought of our rest room accommodations accordingly?  A single person’s discomfort is not an excuse for discrimination against – a transgendered person, a person in “gastric distress” who needs to find the first facility immediately available, a young father who wants to change his baby’s diaper, a father or mother escorting a child to the toilet – anyone who’s just trying to get by doing to others as he would have them do unto him.

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Filed under abortion, conservatism, gay issues, privacy, religion

DIY Business News: How to stop yelling at the TV screen and get some real news

Stock Ticker Old

Spare me the whining about Americans and their financial illiteracy.  It’s not like they are getting any help from institutions which ought to be assisting them. 

Media bashing gets a bit cheap at times, but in this realm the broadcast media isn’t delivering anything close to real “business news.”  For starters, most of what passes for “business” news on the cable TV outlets is nothing more than financial sector gossip and stock market reporting.   When everything is said and scrolled across the screen, what the consumer has gotten is information of the stock markets, by the stock markets and for the stock markets.  

If we take the most generous definition of an investor possible – one including individual investors, investors in retirement 401(k)’s, IRAs, mutual funds, and ETF’s – then we can claim that 48% of the adults in the U.S. have money invested in “the market.” [CNN]  Meaning, 52% of Americans have no investment in “the market” at all, and one could question how carefully those who have funds in the retirement accounts are attending to the investments made on their behalf.  Drilling a bit deeper into the numbers we find that only 13.8% of all U.S. families held any individual stock. [CNN] “Ownership of savings bonds, other bonds, directly held stocks, and pooled investment funds sustained sizable drops in ownership rates between 2010 and 2013, although none of the four types of assets are commonly held, with ownership rates in 2013 varying between 1.4 percent (other bonds) and 13.8 percent (directly held stocks).” [FED pdf]

The best face we can put on this is that what passes for business news in this country is stock market information of direct interest to at best 14% of the nation’s adult population.  Why? We can guess — (1) It pleases the managerial types who are focused on short term gains in stock prices? (2) It’s cheap to produce?  Reporting on stock prices is really easy, especially if the big driver is something accessible like the Dow Jones Industrial Average. (3) It gives executives an opportunity to tout the value (whatever that might be) of their companies, thus moving their stock prices up?  However, what it doesn’t do is give anyone a clear overall picture of business in the United States of America.

Do It Yourself

If business news isn’t what’s on offer from the news channels which purport to provide it – then where to find it? 

The Federal Reserve has all manner of publications available online which will inform the inquisitive about consumer and personal finance.  Auto and Student debt is up at the moment, while the home ownership rate is falling, but not as many homeowners are now in default.  Interested in income inequality, or wealth gaps? Information is available from the FED on those topics as well.  Look and one can find all manner of information and analysis, unfettered from political punditry, on the subject.  In fact, one can discover that the way we talk about income inequality may be a function of how we measure it.

The San Francisco Federal Reserve is pleased to highlight its blog, with features ranging from how the FED recycles old currency to how Medicare payments may be curtailing inflationary trends.  If more generalized information is the target, then the Beige Book is as good a source as any:

“Commonly known as the Beige Book, this report is published eight times per year. Each Federal Reserve Bank gathers anecdotal information on current economic conditions in its District through reports from Bank and Branch directors and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources. The Beige Book summarizes this information by District and sector. An overall summary of the twelve district reports is prepared by a designated Federal Reserve Bank on a rotating basis.” [FED]

Think of the Beige Book as “one stop shopping” for general economic news in each of the FED’s regions.

 Hard Hat

Labor:  A steady diet of cable business news might leave a person with the idea that labor news doesn’t exist except so far as it concerns minimum wage issues, or the latest protest of less than living wages. It’s more difficult to find than information about economic trends, but it’s there.   A person might want to start with Labor Press.OrgLabor Notes, is another source.  Union labor issues are well publicized in AFL-CIO sites.  There’s more information available from the SEIU, and AFSCME.

Those cable shows – and they are just ‘shows’ – could fill a goodly amount of their time just from Department of Labor information.  They won’t because they’re too busy tossing softballs to CEOs, but they could for example offer the investor’s side of the argument about fiduciary responsibility and financial advisers from DoL information.  If it’s numbers that are wanted, there’s a whole bureau for those – the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Want the current consumer price index, the unemployment rate, payroll employment figures, average hourly earnings, the producer price index, productivity statistics, or the employment cost index? All these are available from the Department of Labor.

Doing Business:  Republican presidential candidates Cruz and Kasich both proposed eliminating the Department of Commerce.  This is taking the Tea Party Express right over the edge into the Silly Swamp.  One excellent source of information about our economy is the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which compiles data regarding personal income and outlays – read: income and spending – what could be more “economic” than that?  Want information concerning the Gross Domestic Product? Consumer Spending? Corporate Profits? Fixed Assets?  Balance of Payments? State and Metropolitan GDP? Quarterly GDP by industry? It’s all available from the Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis.

When thinking of broadcast media it’s important to remember that what keeps the cable ‘business’ news going are advertising sales, and a commercial which might cost $2,000 to $3,000 for a network broadcast sponsorship could be as cheap as $175 on cable.  Little wonder their business seems to be limited to softball interviews and streaming the DJIA numbers on the screen – which you could do at home on any computer monitor.  Those shows are relatively banal because they probably can’t afford anything else.

Enterprises like Bush’s Baked Beans, Chef Michael’s Canine Creations, and Slap Chop are right in the mix with Ford, Chevrolet, and Wal-Mart sponsoring what passes for business and news reporting. [HuffPo] We’d be better served to Keep Calm and Do It Yourself.

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Filed under Commerce Department, Economy, labor, media, Tea Party Express

Gee I’m Glad I’m Not A Conservative Republican, I can sleep at night

Monster under bed

It never fails to amaze me what disturbs the radical right.  When the city of Charlotte, NC declared that transgender individuals should use the rest room which best suits them the troglodyte state legislature promptly  enacted a solution to a non-existent problem.  Should anyone question their motives, such as a Fox News broadcaster asking specifically how many children have been molested in restrooms by a transgender person, the Governor has a quick response:

“How many cases have you had in North Carolina in the last year where people have been convicted of using transgender protections to commit crimes in bathrooms?” Wallace asked.

“This wasn’t a problem!” McCrory replied. “That’s the point I’m making. This is the Democratic Party and the left wing of the Democratic Party.”

“Have their been any cases of this?” Wallace pressed.

“Not that I’m aware of,” McCrory admitted. [C&L]

There would be a reason for that. There haven’t been any.  There weren’t any last year, and there haven’t been any in the last five years.  The charade continued:

“If there’s no problem then why pass the law in the first place?” Wallace hammered.

“There can be a problem,” McCrory fired back. “Because the liberal Democrats are the ones pushing for bathroom laws.”

“I’m not interested in that,” he added. “We did not start this on the right. Who started it was the political left.” [C&L]

Oh, because there CAN be a problem. Like there Can be a monster under my bed?   The logic defies description.  Because a city decided to protect the rights of a group of people, and because those people give some other people the creeps, therefore the state legislature should enact a statute forbidding the protection of those aforementioned individuals? Or, perhaps, because some little junior high school boys might want to sneak into the girls locker room we can’t enact protection for transgender kids and adults?  Bluntly speaking, junior high school boys and those adults who haven’t matured much beyond that stage are much more sinister than any transgender males or females using a restroom in which they’re comfortable.

Children If the Republicans want something to worry about, something more tangible than the non-existent child molesters who seem to populate the imaginations of conservative politicians, how about the scary prospect of hungry children?  In 2014, in the richest nation in the entire world, 15.3 million children lived in what is politely known as “food insecure” households. [FA.org]  As of 2014 there were 415,129 children in foster care. 107,918 children were waiting to be adopted.  Instead of worrying about some fictive character lurking in a rest room, how about getting a bit more worried about REAL children who aren’t eating, and aren’t finding homes?

Vote suppression map The  tortured conservative  logic is similar to argument for voting restrictions of which the Republicans are so fond.  Talk about an upcoming election and they begin to sound off on Voting Integrity.  Ask them about the number of prosecutable cases of voter impersonation fraud and the babbling begins.  Inform them that voter impersonation fraud is mostly smoke and no fire [Politifact] [Brennan Center] with 31 cases out of one billion ballots cast [WaPo] and the response is invariably along the line of “But but but It Could Happen.”  Yes, and there could as likely be a monster under my bed.

It’s more disturbing to find that in the 2012 elections some 35.9% of Americans voted.  48.7% of us voted in 1964, 47.3% voted in 1968 and we haven’t gotten above 45% since. [EP.org]  However, by Republican lights it’s better to be frightened of 31/1 billion ballots than of low turnout elections.  What’s the difference between these two issues  — voter impersonation fraud and low voter turnout? One’s a real problem and the other is a Monster Under The Bed.

Unstable Furniture Beware those doing mathematical calculations!  Like the distraught lady on the American Airlines flight who “saw something” and “said something,” only the Something was an Ivy League economist working on a differential equation. And, no, he’s not an Arab – he’s Italian. [WaPo] That didn’t stop the Ditzel from reporting that he made her feel uncomfortable, like he Might be a terrorist.  Unfortunately, the Ditzel didn’t know that since 2011 there have been 238 Americans killed by terrorist attacks, that would be an average of 29 annually.  29 annual deaths is about the rate for Americans killed by being crushed under unstable furniture or television sets. [WaPo] [CPSC pdf]  One might wonder if she has everything in her home bolted down tightly?

This incident isn’t quite on par with CNN’s epic mistake reporting an “ISIS flag” comprised of sex toys at a British gay pride parade [HWR] but it’s close.  Should we want something REAL to worry about, perhaps we should try avoiding things that make ISIS happy. For example, announcing that we’re AT WAR with ISLAM – which is, of course, precisely the message they’d like to use for recruiting purposes.

Money Stack

If transgender people, imaginary voter impersonators, and putative terrorists aren’t keeping the conservatives up at night then they could always worry about The Debt, The Debt, The Horrible No Good National Debt.  It’s the reason we can’t do anything – like fix our infrastructure or education our children, or take care of our elderly, or provide better Veterans’ benefits, or feed the hungry.  This fear is especially harmful to those who tend to swallow dollar amounts whole.  By the way, if the Republicans need something else to worry about, some 4,800 people die every year from choking related accidents. [NSC]  Here are some soothing words for those who tend to obsess over whole dollar reports on the national debt:

“…this problem — reporters giving the public meaningless raw-dollar amounts — is pervasive in economics journalism. But the people who run CBO are well aware of this point, and present their projections as a percentage of GDP. Interest payments will be 1.3 percent of GDP in 2015, and 3 percent in 2025. The deficit itself will be 2.6 percent of GDP, and then 4 percent, over that same time period.

Obviously, in an ideal world, you’d prefer these numbers to not grow. But increases of 1.7 and 1.4 percent points of GDP over a decade are hardly something to get excited about. [TheWeek]

OMG, we can’t leave the debt to our children! Okay, so it’s better to leave them with crumbling infrastructure? With an archaic energy grid? With a lack of public educational facilities and programs? With no affordable child care? Without food?  Without affordable housing? Without health care?

If the Republicans really wanted something to be frightened of, how about the D+ grade we get for our infrastructure?  Our aging energy grid?  Our colleges scrambling to find funds to replace reductions in state spending?  Those 15.3 million kids going hungry?  Or, if life itself seems perilous perhaps it’s because every day 297 people in American are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police interventions. And, every day 89 people die as a result of gun violence. 31 are murdered, 55 are suicides, 2 are accidental, 1 is killed by police intervention, and 1 in unaccounted for. [TBC]

Or, to put the matter in some perspective, between 2005 and 2015 there were 71 Americans killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. During that same period 301,797 were killed by gun violence. [Trace]

Nightmares are distracting and distractions.  The imaginary becomes more intense than the reality.  Somehow we can’t seem to focus on some very real problems in this country – hungry children, un-adopted children, children in inadequate classrooms, low voter turnout, an aging infrastructure and energy grid, gun violence and its tragic outcomes – because we have to deal with the monsters under the Republican mattresses.

Monsters bed And, that’s a real nightmare.

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Filed under conservatism, CPSC, gay issues, Gun Issues, Human Rights, Republicans, Vote Suppression, Voting

Heck: The Bankers Good Little Soldier

Heck photo

The ad wars begin, with one from the Democratic side of the aisle noting the record of one Joe Heck, currently the Republican representative from Nevada District 3:

“The ad highlights legislation Heck sponsored as a state senator to repeal excise taxes on Nevada banks, criticizes him for accepting more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from the securities and investment industry, and portrays him as in “lockstep with Washington Republicans.”

It also notes that Heck, who now represents Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, once called the mortgage crisis in the state “a blip on the radar” on a 2008 questionnaire.”  [LVSun]

The amount of money candidates receive from the financial industry doesn’t  bother me as much as the voting records of the candidates who receive them.  And, Representative Heck has been a very good little soldier for the financial sector interests.

Marching back to July 26, 2012 we find Representative Heck voting in favor of the interestingly titled HR 4078 “Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act.”  The title was commonplace, everything in those days had “small business” and “job creation” attached to the title, perhaps to obscure the fact that the Congress had done exactly diddly to create jobs or help really small businesses.  The effect would not have been small, or particularly creative.

HR 4078 would have prohibited any federal government agency from promulgating or taking “significant regulatory action,” unless the employment rate dropped below 6%, defining  “significant regulatory action” as any action that is likely to result in a rule or guidance with a fiscal effect of $50 million or more as determined by the Office of Management and Budget, or to adversely affect one of the following, including, but not limited to (Sec. 105) [PVS]  Now why would this bill illustrate Representative Heck’s allegiance to the banking sector?

Answer: Because the Dodd-Frank Act regulating the financial sector was enacted on July 21, 2010 – that would be the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – and the agencies were in the rule making process when HR 4078 was considered in the House.  Now, what sector of the economy was going to see a $50 million dollar effect?  Here’s a clue: It’s not family owned bodegas and gas stations.  The banking industry did NOT want to see any regulation, any restraint, any inconvenience to their consumer gouging practices and HR 4078 was the result.  (And, the law if enacted would have prevented any more attempts to contain climate change – a bonus in GOP eyes.)

Move forward to October 23, 2013, and HR 2374 the “Retail Investor Protection Act.” There’s nothing in this bit of legislation that protects “retail investors.”  In fact, section 2Prohibits the Secretary of the Department of Labor from establishing a regulation that defines the circumstances under which an individual is considered a fiduciary until 60 days after the Securities and Exchange Commission establishes standards of conduct for brokers and dealers.”  Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s part and parcel of the fight to allow financial advisors to push products which improve their bottom line even if the advice isn’t in the best interests of their clients – like retirement funds.  The bankers have been fighting this right down to at least May 6, 2016.  However, the rule – now in place — has some benefits for “retail investors” as Morningstar summarizes:

“This change clearly is a victory for investors. Roughly half of retail U.S. mutual fund assets will be protected by the new, higher standards. They will not prevent bad advice, of course, nor trades from lower- to higher-cost funds. But they do command that all advice, whether successful or not, be offered in good faith, and that the rationale for all trades, whether into cheaper or pricier funds, be recorded. Such precautions will inevitably lead to better overall outcomes.”

Yes, those better overall outcomes and higher standards of responsibility for mutual funds were precisely what the bankers wanted to avoid, and exactly what Representative Joe Heck voted against on behalf of the bankers in HR 2374.

Catherine Cortez Masto It doesn’t take too much financial expertise to see which Nevada senatorial seat candidate is taking marching orders from the financial sector.  On one hand we have Joe Heck (R-NV3) who can be counted upon to find fault with the CFPB, the Dodd Frank Act, and efforts to make financial advisors account for their advice; and, on the other we have a former state Attorney General who actually Did something about that not-so-little blip that was the housing market crash/debacle in Nevada:

“2009: Cortez Masto Investigated And Found Broad Problems With The Bank Of America’s Interactions With Imperiled Borrowers. “In a complaint filed Tuesday in United States District Court in Reno, Catherine Cortez Masto, the Nevada attorney general, asked a judge for permission to end Nevada’s participation in the settlement agreement. This would allow her to sue the bank over what the complaint says were dubious practices uncovered by her office in an investigation that began in 2009. […] The breadth of the new Nevada complaint indicates that Bank of America’s problems extend throughout its mortgage operations, including origination, loan servicing and securitization. Nevada officials also found broad problems in the bank’s interactions with imperiled borrowers.” [New York Times, 8/30/11]”  [CCM]

And, there’s more. [here] What Representative Joe Heck was calling a “blip” was in reality the state of a state which led the national foreclosure rate stats for 62 straight months, and a scene in which some 58% of Nevada homeowners in 2011 were “underwater.”  Some blip.  Gee, even Representative Heck was pleased as of February 2012 with the settlement achieved in part by Cortez Masto,“Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said he is ‘happy to see that an agreement was reached. At a time when Nevada families are struggling the most to make ends meet, I have high hopes that this settlement will provide them much needed relief.’ [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 2/9/12]”

There really doesn’t appear to be much question at this point which senatorial candidate is most disposed to protecting the interests of retail investors (or any other kind for that matter), and consumers of financial products (most all of us), and homeowners… we have a choice between the man who wanted to scale back the efforts of the Dodd Frank Act and CFPB and the woman who took on the Big Banks and fraudulent lenders.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Heck, Nevada politics

Amodei Quacks Like A FLAG-waving Duck

Amodei 3

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) doesn’t like being categorized as “anti-public land,” or more precisely lumped in with the Bundy Boys.  However, his sponsorship of legislation and other activities have him on the Anti-Public Land list:

“Amodei landed on the list for sponsoring legislation that would give the state control of 7.2 million of the approximately 58 million acres of federally controlled land in Nevada, opposition to the creation of the Basin and Range National Monument, membership in Federal Lands Action Group and a statement about the Malheur occupation.

The statement, attributed to Amodei and two other members of the action group, said the lawmakers didn’t condone the Oregon action but added, “we do understand their frustration with increasingly heavy handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers.” [RGJ]

Duck looks The poor little Republican has been cast amongst the Bundys.  How did he end up bunched up with them?  First, he’s a “FLAG” member.

“Rep. Amodei is a FLAG member and introduced H.R. 1484, the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864—which would seize Nevada public land for state control. In 2015, Rep. Amodei also introduced H.R. 488, which would cripple the Antiquities Act by blocking the extension or creation of national monuments in Nevada, unless authorized by Congress. Rep. Amodei has also cosponsored four other bills aimed at curtailing the Antiquities Act and seizing public lands. In response to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Rep. Amodei signed on to a joint statement that condemned federal officials for law-breaking, rather than condemning the actions of the armed militants.” [CAP]

So, what is FLAG, and how does it relate to the Anti-Public Lands crowd?  The organization is the brain child of two Utah Representatives, Stewart and Bishop, who announced its creation on April 28, 2015.  And, the purpose?

Today, Representatives Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) launched the Federal Land Action Group, a congressional team that will develop a legislative framework for transferring public lands to local ownership and control. […] This group will explore legal and historical background in order to determine the best congressional action needed to return these lands back to the rightful owners. We have assembled a strong team of lawmakers, and I look forward to formulating a plan that reminds the federal government it should leave the job of land management to those who know best.” [Stewart]

Who were among the first members of the FLAG group? “Other members of the Group include Representatives Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).” [Stewart]

We should assume the group means what it says.  It wants to transfer public land to local ownership and control.   Towards this end the FLAG group held its first “forum” in June 2015, and among the speakers was a representative of the “Independent Institute.”  Board members of this organization include a private equity manager, a person from Deloitte & Touche USA, a member of the Howley Management Group, the Botto Law Group, a managing director of Palliser Bay Investment Management, Reditus Revenue Solutions, Audubon Cellars and Winery, Berkeley Research Group LLC, and the former chair of Garvey International.  [II.org]  This isn’t a list that inspires one to ask if they are primarily interested in public land for the sake of conservation.

Prof. Elwood L. Miller (UNR) was on the initial panel, adding a touch of accounting expertise to the argument that the federal government is too bureaucratic and caught up in procedural questions to be a good steward of public lands.  Attorney Glade Hall added the usual federal control isn’t constitutional argument. “It is a patent absurdity to assert that such full powers of governance cover 87 percent of the land surface of a state of the Union and at the same time assert that such state has been admitted to the Union on an equal footing with the original states in every respect whatever,” Hall said.” [STGU] A sentiment echoed by the head of the Natural Resources Group, whose book on the “theft” of the environmental issue is available from the Heritage Foundation.

In short, there was nothing to remind anyone of a fact-finding operation in this inaugural panel sponsored by FLAG.  It was of, by, and for individuals who want to ultimately privatize federal lands.

It’s also interesting that the panel members offered these opinions based on personal experience, or “talking to people,” but nothing in the presentations was offered to demonstrably prove that the federal government has no authority (beyond the usual crackpot interpretations spouted by the Bundy-ites and allies) or is actually and provably incompetent to manage public lands.  The guiding assumption – however poorly demonstrated – was that the local agencies could do a better job. Period.

If anyone is still unsure of the ideology driving FLAG, please note that the Heritage Foundation and the Mercatus group aren’t the only players supporting the efforts.  There’s also the John Birch Society (They’re still around) touting the confab on Facebook.  Additionally, there’s the ever-present American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) imprimatur on the project.

One segment of ALEC testimony from a February 2016 FLAG meeting can serve as an illustration of their argument:

“Bureaucratic inflexibility and regulatory redundancy make it almost impossible for the federal government to handle the lands in its charge for optimal environmental health. Any change in strategy on how to manage the lands, such as harvesting trees on forest lands to reduce wildfire fuel loads and prevent pest infestation, can take years to adopt and implement. By the time the federal government is able to act, it is often too late.”

Examples? The argument is made that three factors are responsible for the severity of wildland fires – poor logging practices, overgrazing, and over aggressive fire control. At this juncture, we could well ask how, without regulatory control, can better logging practices be promoted throughout the region? Or, if the Bundy Bunch isn’t convinced by the Federal authorities to pay their grazing fees and not trespass on BLM lands, then how is a state with less in the way of resources supposed to take on the task? 

However, the most intriguing element of the ALEC position is this: Further, they have operated with budget shortfalls for over a decade calling into question whether they even have adequate funds to get the job done.”  At this juncture it’s appropriate to ask – and who is touting cutting the federal and state budgets?  Who, if not ALEC?  Thus, the federal government can’t do a better job because the funding has been cut, and because the funding has been cut it can’t do the job?  Circular Reasoning at its finest, looped in with the obvious cuts and shaving from state budgets.   The ultimate argument would be that neither the federal government nor the state governments can “do the job” and therefore the lands should be transferred to private hands.  Nothing would please the Koch Brothers more?

The second way one gets attached to the Bundy-ites is to get mealy and smushy about their activities.  As in, “we do understand their frustration with increasingly heavy handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers.” [RGJ]  It’s past time to get specific.  Exactly what constitutes “heavy handed federal agencies?”  Are they agencies which are tasked to collect grazing fees?  How long is an agency expected to wait for a person to decide to pay those fees? 

Exactly what constitutes a “violation of rights of hardworking people?”  Exactly what rights have been violated?  How is it a violation of my rights to have to pay the same grazing fees, or have to move cattle from overgrazed areas, just like every other rancher in a given area under Federal management?  Freedom, rights, and independence are easy words to toss around, but without actual evidence of real violations of RIGHTS then the argument is hollow.

Bundy rally And, one lands on the anti-public lands roster by sponsoring legislation like Representative Amodei did in April 2015:

“Most recently, Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV) introduced a “large-scale” public lands bill, which would allow the state of Nevada to seize and sell off public lands. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, also requested $50 million in the federal budget in order to facilitate immediate transfer of public lands to state control.”  [TP]

Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then there’s no reason to list it as anything other than a duck.

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Filed under agriculture, Amodei, ecology, koch brothers, National Parks, Nevada news, Nevada politics, Politics, privatization, public lands, Rural Nevada

Amodei, Heck, Hardy, Sell Out Seniors

Amodei 3 There are three members of the House of Representatives from Nevada who, as of April 28, 2016 at 3:23 pm roll call vote #176, don’t get to talk about protecting retired persons, and their interests.  One of these members is Mark Amodei (R-NV2) who decided to vote “yes” on a House temper tantrum about Department of Labor rules on fiduciary duty.

Heck photo

Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) is the second.  Congressman Heck decided that investment advisers should be allowed to put their own interests ahead of the interests of their retirement account clients.  Perhaps he’s touting the GOP line that making the investment advisers put clients’ interests ahead of their own profits would mean higher costs for investment advice.   The GOP says they want to “protect access to affordable retirement advice.”  If you are inclined to believe this I have some investment advice for you….free of charge.

Hardy 2

And, the third one who doesn’t get to talk about protecting retirees? Nevada 4th District Mr. Malaprop, Cresent Leo Hardy, Republican from Mesquite.   He seems to like the “old standard,” and this raises the question why?  Let’s take a look at the “old standard:”

“Before the new standard, advisers were only required to give “suitable” advice, which left the door open for them to steer clients into products that made the advisers more money but weren’t the best option. That practice was costing Americans an estimated $17 billion a year in conflicted advice, according to the White House. Some people say their finances, particularly their chances of retiring comfortably, have been destroyed by bad advice and that they would have simply been better off without it.” [TP]

Yes, we have it, Representative Hardy evidently believes that it is better for Americans to waste $17 billion per year on conflicted investment advice than to hold advisers to a higher standard of fiduciary responsibility.

Titus

One, that would be ONE member of the Nevada congressional delegation voted to hold financial advisers to a higher standard than “just what will best line the pockets of their firms.”  Representative Dina Titus (D-NV1) was the lone member among the delegation to vote against the GOP sell out to the financial and banking industry.

Thus, the next time one of the three Republicans blather on about how they want to protect senior citizens and retirees – We can smile and say “But what about HJ Res 88 on April 28, 2016 at 3:23 pm.”

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Filed under Amodei, financial regulation, Heck, Nevada Congressional Representatives, Nevada politics, profiteering, public employees, Titus