Tag Archives: Nevada

Nevada, Mild Wild West: Laxalt and the Background Checks Initiative

Nevada’s getting some unwanted publicity with commentary like “wild west” in regard to the Silver State’s gun laws.  It’s not that the state’s residents haven’t tried:

“Last year, voters in the state narrowly passed Question 1, an initiative that required most private buyers and sellers of guns to conduct a background check through a licensed dealer. Millions of dollars from national groups supporting and opposing the law poured into the state.

The initiative, which passed by 50.4% to 49.5%, mandated that private-party gun sales — with a few exceptions, such as transfers between family members  — be subject to a federal background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is administered by the FBI.”  [LATimes]

Then came the December letter from the FBI saying it could not comply with the state’s requirements, and the Attorney General Adam Laxalt — not a fan of the initiative — announced that the state wouldn’t prosecute any violations of the act until the FBI changed its position.  Not only did Laxalt oppose the initiative, he bragged about blocking implementation, and was duly patted on the head by the leadership of the gun manufacturers’ interest group, the NRA:

“The attorney general who made the decision, Adam Paul Laxalt, spoke at the NRA’s annual meeting this year, where he was hailed by the NRA’s chief lobbyist for ensuring that Nevada’s new background check legislation for private sales was still not the law of the land. Laxalt had publicly opposed the background check measure before it passed, a mark of opposition the NRA had publicized in its fight against the measure.” [Guardian]

Lost in the messaging melee, any reference to the FBI’s statement that the state records could also be used to run background checks to implement the new statute.  Thus, the wrangle remains between gun background check advocates, anti-regulation interest groups, public safety officials, and an Attorney General’s office which has no interest whatsoever in implementing gun safety regulations.

Indeed, Laxalt sees himself as some version of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus at the bridge:

“In fact, Laxalt, who is running to replace Sandoval, boasted of his role in opposing the measure. In an April 28 speech at the NRA’s annual convention, he cited his criticism of the initiative as an example of his record of supporting gun rights. “Attorneys General,” he said, served as “the last line of defense against the Obama Administration” on gun policy.”  [MJ]

A stance he will maintain in his campaign for the governorship.  He will no doubt adhere to the talking points established by the National Rifle Association, i.e. we can’t stop evil; we can’t legislate away 2nd Amendment rights; suggested legislation would not have stopped the last current outrageous tragedy. Worse still, there’s the canard about “it’s not the ‘right’ time to discuss firearm regulations.”

Perhaps the best we can hope for at the moment is that House Republican leadership will withdraw HR 367, the NRA bill to allow more sales of silencers (noise suppressors), a position in opposition to law enforcement leadership who say silencers make officers’ jobs more dangerous.  In a better world, the Congress and the states would move to:

Require universal background checks.  While this addition may not have prevented the Las Vegas disaster, but it could stop some of the other 33,000 annual gun deaths in this country.

Ban the sale of high capacity magazines.  Truth is, if I haven’t hit the target in the first ten rounds, odds are good I’m not going to — the only result may well be my attempts to explain to my insurance agent why I blew out the south end of my house trying to hit the burglar who was after a $179.95 television set.  The arguments in favor of high capacity magazines range from the bizarre to the totally unpersuasive.  If, as reported, most of the carnage in Las Vegas happened in the first five minutes, then limiting the capacity of the murderer’s guns could have at least reduced the number of dead and injured.

Ban the sale of kits designed to modify semi-automatic guns to automatics.  Allowing the sale of devices to make legal firearms illegal makes no sense whatsoever.

In a still better world we would:

Require safe storage for all firearms. We’re losing 1,300 children every year to gun related injuries. [CNN] [Pediatrics] Some of these are suicides, some are accidental, others are intentional…all are to be deplored and the issues addressed, if for no other reason than this is the equivalent of about 22 Las Vegas shootings per year.

In order to have rational discussions about how to more effectively keep concert goers, night club celebrants, movie theater patrons, and school children safe it’s going to be necessary to filter out the NRA noise — incomprehensible noises about Slippery Slopes, Gun Confiscations, and Law Abiding Folk.  Requiring insurance hasn’t deterred people from buying cars, requiring licenses hasn’t stopped people from taking bar exams and getting certified for positions in the trades and professions, and arguing that law breakers will ignore the law invites the rejoinder that if this is the case then why not legalize bank robbery if the robbers persist in going where the money is?

Some little sanity would go a long way.

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Filed under Gun Issues, Nevada, Nevada politics, Politics

It’s A National Emergency, we think…

Since his attempt to revive Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign in the face of a crisis in the increased addiction to opioid drugs in this country fell flat,  Dear Leader appeared to suggest the problem is a matter of law enforcement — a major mistake.  The genesis of the issue comes from the over-prescribing and over use of opioid medication once advertised as “virtually addiction free.”  Indeed, Purdue Pharma is still facing litigation from the state of New Hampshire over its advertising of Oxycontin. This, in addition to the 2007 guilty plea from the corporation for mislabeling the drug, and the payment of  $634.5 million to resolve a DoJ investigation.  Meanwhile, Nevada holds its unfortunate position in the top ten states when counting opioid death rates.  There were 224 overdose deaths in 2014, another 259 in 2015 [CDC] related to natural and semi-synthetic opioids; Nevada’s statistics were more bleak citing some 465 opioid related deaths in 2015.

Since we probably can’t arrest our way out of this mess, in Nevada or anywhere else, the answer in the long run is prevention (better guidance for physicians and tracking, combined with better public education on the nature of opioid addiction) and treatment.  And, for treatment, people have to have a way to afford it.

Medicaid has been a Godsend for many suffering through an opioid addiction.

“The authors of the report (Urban Institute) draw a parallel between the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and spending on addiction medications, saying it has brought addiction treatment to previously underserved populations.

“What we saw was this gigantic, rapid, ongoing expansion in treatment,” says co-author Lisa Clemans-Cope. “It was particularly fast after 2014 when the big Medicaid expansion came into play. There’s definitely an effect of people getting access to treatment. That’s the primary driver of growth of spending.”

So, Medicaid spent more on treatment after 2014 – because more people were in a position to afford the treatment programs available to them.  Therefore, the next time a Republican politician stands before us with plans to slash Medicaid spending, and turn the Medicaid program into a block grant lottery for the states, we might well ask:  What does your proposal do to assist the states, like Nevada, deal with the treatment expenses of individuals trying to cope with opioid addiction and who are seeking assistance to make that treatment affordable.

Gee, the states are supposed to “benefit” from greater flexibility?  Would that be the flexibility to choose between supporting special education children with speech and physical therapy and opiate addicts?  Or choosing between the needs of the families of opiate addicts and the severely disabled?  Or choosing between the needs of opiate addicts seeking treatment and women seeking mammograms and other cancer screenings?  Santa doesn’t come without some expense.

Somehow the Republicans have managed to entangle themselves in their own rhetoric.  We can cut taxes, expand the military, all by cutting social safety net programs, and still have money for fighting opioid addiction in this country!  Santa will bring us tax cuts and another Santa will keep Granny in the skilled nursing facility, help cousin Elwood find a job in a new industry, make sure the family can get immunizations, cancer screenings, treatment for acute and chronic medical conditions, and insure that the Interstate Highway System is continually maintained.

It’s Jude Wanniski’s Two Santa Theory — a position only definable as something coming from an opiate induced delusion:

“Unfortunately, Mr. Wanniski opened Pandora’s box when he let loose the two-Santa theory. Republicans are now bound to it, whether they know it or not. As Keynes once put it, “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

**For more information: See the following excellent articles in the Nevada Independent — “Another side of the opioid heroin crisis,” “For Many Governors…” “As Out of Control opioid epidemic rages..”

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Filed under Economy, health insurance, Medicaid, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics

Indivisible Northern Nevada

There are several grass roots groups in Nevada growing up in Resistance to the Trumpster Fire Administration.  If you haven’t already found a group, here are a couple in the northern Nevada area.

Here’s Indivisible Reno.

Indivisible Lake Tahoe can be reached on Facebook.

Not sure where to look? Recommend that your friends go to the Indivisible Guide.

Having trouble finding members of Nevada’s congressional delegation?  There’s a section on how to deal with Missing Members.  Finding a local group? Click here for the national map interactive.

The dots on that map are increasing by the day, so check back often to keep up with the progress.

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I Guess I’m The Establishment

Clinton Logo

At the risk of bringing out the woodwork crowd, let’s open the door anyway. I’m a Clinton Supporter, and have been for some time.  Not that my support is exactly a necessity for anyone’s campaign – I supported Biden in 2008.  Kerry in 2004, and Bradley in 2000.  No one is now speaking of Presidents Biden, Kerry, or Bradley.  However much my endorsement may be the Kiss of Ultimate Obscurity, it does come from a recovering Republican whose former party went berserk in 1968 and over the edge in 1980.

I am a Democrat because I believe in capitalism.  As anyone who’s visited this blog more than a handful of times can attest, I do believe that capitalism works, and that it works better when financialism is restrained.  Wall Street is not an existential enemy.  For all the flaws in the system there has to be some way to distribute capital from sources of surplus to sectors of need, and no one has figured out a better way to do that than capitalism to date.  In short, a mixed economy provides the best way for businesses large and small to obtain the capital they need to sustain themselves and grow.  A mixed economy is, in my definition, capitalism regulated by rational restraints on the tendency to monopoly and financialism.

Therefore, it would be out of character for me to worry about Secretary Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street gatherings; I’m certainly not a Socialist by any stretch of the definition.

I am a Democrat because I believe there is strength in diversity.  We’ve become the greatest nation on this planet because, not in spite of, the cultural diversity of this country.  This is the nation that gave the Jewish genius Albert Einstein a safe haven in 1933, and we were better for it.  Sergey Brin came from Russia, and founded Google – pretty good for an immigrant. Jerry Yang came from Taiwan, to found Yahoo! I’m certain we’re better for attracting Carlos Santana and enjoying his music, and I’ll always think of Albert Pujols in “cardinal” red.  There’s Puebla Foods entrepreneur Felix Sanchez de la Vega Guzman whose NJ based company is now worth $19 million.  Interested in drones? Then you probably already know about Jordi Munoz who co-founded 3D Robotics.  I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about Garrett Morgan, the African-American inventor of a modern traffic light – I’m not sure I like him when stopped for a long pause, but he’s probably saved my life innumerable times.

In short, I’m not in need of a revolution of any sort.  I certainly don’t feel the need to make American great again – what’s not great about a country that attracts the best and brightest from all over the world?  Nor do I feel the need to upend the socio-economic system, remember I’m not a Socialist.  We can, and should, do a better job of diminishing the income inequality gap in this country.  However, that doesn’t require a “re-distribution” of any sort.  We need to adopt economic policies which encourage entrepreneurship and the expansion of the American middle class.

I am a Democrat because I believe John Donne was right. No man is an island. All that “rugged individualism” palaver is just so much gibberish seeking to justify selfishness, or “I got mine, now you try to get yours…sucker.”  Perhaps someone with money to burn can hire a private security company – but I need the local police.  And, even the family which can afford the security company still needs someone to insure that the clothing on their children’s’ backs isn’t highly flammable or toxic.

When the woman in the family is earning only about 3/4th of what a man in the family can make, then the entire family suffers for it, and so do the merchants who would otherwise see more retail sales at their grocery stores. How much productivity do we lose each day a youngster has to endure crowded classrooms and underfunded education systems?  How much more attractive are our cities and towns when they have libraries, parks, and an investment in the arts?

I am a Democrat because I believe in democracy.  Notice please that’s not libertarianism of any sort. My definition of the little d – democracy holds that where there are no holds barred there’s the least real freedom.  Without rules we’d be back to ‘might makes right’ and reverting to the savagery of ages past, like bronze, iron, and stone.

Again, let me affirm that I believe we have one of the best political systems on Mother Earth, if we truly cherish it and make it possible for more people to vote in our local, state, and national elections.  Getting registered to vote in this nation should be far easier than the effort required to buy a gun.  We need to renew our Voting Rights Act, to revisit our campaign funding schemes, and to require that the FEC  truly have the capability to ferret out and punish untoward practices.

I tire very quickly when individuals launch into conspiracy theories and assorted assertions of fraud and misadventure.  At the beginning of this piece I said that I’d backed several candidates none of whom were elected to the office aspired to; I could have named many more from state and local elections.  With the exception of the 200o election, which I believe to have been messed up by election rigging in key states, I do not believe that if a specific candidate loses a specific election it must be because of some nefarious plot to defy Democracy and Vox Populi.  The glazed over look in my eyes is probably there because I stopped believing in conspiracy theories long ago.

If this renders me “establishment” so be it. I do not expect any other person in this great free land to pass my political purity test and I have no interest in sitting for anyone else’s.

There’s a difference between partisanship and zealotry. I am a partisan.  Perhaps in the eyes of some I am worse yet – a pragmatist. I don’t believe in intransigent positions for the sake of intransigency and purity – if I did I’d still be a Republican.  I believe that compromise is a good word, and a good political outcome.  So, here I am, and if that’s “Establishment” it’s a badge I’ll gladly assume.

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Filed under Nevada politics, Politics

Birds of a Feather in the Refuge

Wampler “Birds of a feather, flock together.” So sayeth all grandmothers offering advice about the accumulation of friends and acquaintances.  For all the palaver about a “peaceful” occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge from the Bundy Boys, they’ve kept company so far with the two notorious cop-killers in southern Nevada, and now it comes to light they have an armed felon in their midst.

Neil Wampler, California patricide, “…Wampler was a ubiquitous presence at the start of the occupation, often seen roaming the compound and talking to reporters. He said he drove to Oregon from his home near San Luis Obispo after seeing an online call for people to support the cause in Burns.” [Oregonian]  And, yes, by his admission, he’s armed.

Little wonder Mr. Wampler’s concerned about gun rights, as a convicted felon (2nd degree murder of his father during a drunken fight) Mr. Wampler doesn’t have any.   As a convicted felon he is prohibited from firearm ownership in California, and in Nevada, and in Oregon.   Mr. Wampler doesn’t agree, however:

“California and federal law generally prohibit felons from possessing firearms. Wampler told The Oregonian that he can legally possess a gun. Cipolla, the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said Wampler cannot have a gun because of his murder conviction.” [Oregonian]

Thus we can assume that Mr. Wampler is a law unto himself; if he says his criminal record doesn’t prohibit his gun toting, then his sovereignty must be respected? This position seems to capture the sovereign notion that the law applies to thee but not to me.  And, Mr. Wampler isn’t the first of the Malheur Loons to make threats, he just seems to be the most recent:

“We are peaceful people, I certainly am,” he says. “And the only circumstance, the last extremity, I think that any gunshots would be fired is if the federalists tried to root us out of here. They would find out then, that we are not playing. We’re not gonna give an inch. And I say that very seriously.” [Oregonian]

Shorter version: If the authorities try to make us leave the Refuge we’re going to start shooting people, even if we Loons have worn out our welcome in the county. [Oregonian]

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Filed under Gun Issues, terrorism

What the Heck? SNAP go his arguments

Joe HeckWe can update statistics on the SNAP (food stamp) program in Nevada by referring to the Caseload Summary of the DWSS, (pdf).  For FY 2012 there were 187,896 adults and 163,969 children receiving SNAP benefits. Of these, 143,115 adults and 124,890 children lived in Clark County, and 24,834 adults and 21,672 children lived in Washoe County. (p.45)  In sum there were  351,865 receiving food assistance.

The average value of the benefits statewide per case in FY 2012 was $258.56, per month, and per person averaged to $122.70. [DWSSpdf]

And, yes there are more people participating in the SNAP program in Nevada, as indicated by the following chart:

NV SNAP participation per 1000

This trend is in line with the employment (unemployment) trends in Nevada since FY 2003.   Nevada’s highest unemployment rate was 14.0% in October 2010, and was lowest (3.8%) in April, 2000.  [BLS] Nevada’s current unemployment rate of 9.5% earns the Silver State the dubious honor of being 50th in the ranking of state unemployment rates as of August 2013. [BLS]

NV Unemployment 3There’s good and bad news herein.  As DETR explains:

“Service-providing industries are expected to create 100,500 jobs in the ten-year forecast horizon. A lot of the growth in the service-providing industries is a reflection of increasing population and consumption over a decade. Leisure and hospitality industry is projected to have 36,100 more jobs by 2020, the largest employment gain in jobs among all industries. Most of the gain is anticipated to be generated in the accommodation and food services sector.” (pdf)

The number of jobs is increasing — but, as we discover from the BLS tables of average hourly wages and weekly earnings — the average hourly wage in the leisure and hospitality sector is $13.54 per hour, with an average weekly wage of $352.04.  This is the lowest rate of all the sectors in the tables, the next lowest rate being $16.67 in “retail trade.”

Thus, we have a situation in which the unemployment rate which drives a significant portion of the SNAP applications is decreasing, but the kinds of jobs increasingly available are in the lowest wage categories.   With the highest unemployment rate in the nation, and jobs increasing predominantly in the lowest wage sector, Nevada will be hard pressed to find ways to reduce family poverty.

Representative Joe Heck (R-NV) explained his vote on the continuing resolution, with dramatic cuts to the SNAP program, in a statement which doesn’t square with the reality of employment projections in Nevada:

“Every able-bodied American that does not have dependents should be required to meet the work requirements … the reforms put in place by this bill ensure that only those that meet the income guidelines receive the assistance they need,” Heck said in a statement. “The best thing we can do to help those on SNAP and other forms of federal assistance is create an economic environment where the private sector can grow and create more good-paying jobs.”

Instead of pragmatic assistance to those employed in low wage jobs, Heck offers verbiage: “create an economic environment….”  Pure GOP speak for Business Subsidy Good; People Assistance Bad.  The advice is singularly unattached to the reality that the jobs actually being created tend NOT to be “good paying.”

What Representative Heck asserts, but does not substantiate, is that any of the 351,865 receiving food assistance in Nevada do NOT meet the income guidelines.   The issue to which Representative Heck may be applying his penchant for generalities is the BBCE guidelines.

In fiscal year 2010, GAO estimates that 2.6 percent (473,000) of households that received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits would not have been eligible for the program without broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE) because their incomes were over the federal SNAP eligibility limits.  [GAO]

However, what Representative Heck isn’t including is another segment of the GAO Report on SNAP:

GAO estimates that BBCE increased SNAP benefit costs, which are borne by the federal government, by less than 1 percent in fiscal year 2010. In that year, total SNAP benefits provided to households that, without BBCE, would not have been eligible for the program because their incomes were over the federal SNAP eligibility limits were an estimated $38 million monthly or about $460 million for the year. These households received an estimated average monthly SNAP benefit of $81 compared to $293 for other households. BBCE’s effect on SNAP administrative costs, which are shared by the federal and state governments, is unclear, in part because of other recent changes that affect this spending, such as state budget and staffing reductions in the recent recession.  (emphasis added)

In short, one can argue that the broad based categorical eligibility did increase the cost of SNAP — but it cannot be seriously asserted that these were the “budget busting” increases cited by those who object to funding the program.

However, there’s always that fall back position: Generalizing about “waste, fraud, and abuse.”  The USDA defines welfare fraud as (1) exchanging SNAP benefits for cash; (2) an application who is dishonest on his or her application; and (3) a retailer who has been disqualified for past abuse lies on an application to be restored to the program.

Further, the USDA has taken serious (and effective) steps to reduce SNAP abuse:  “Due to increased oversight and improvements to program management by USDA, the trafficking rate has fallen significantly over the last two decades, from about 4 cents on the dollar in 1993 to about 1 cent in 2006-08 (most recent data available).”

Those who oppose the SNAP program are more likely to cite stories of “dead people getting SNAP debit cards.”   For example, an audit in Nevada found cards issued to 27 deceased persons. [LVRJ]  This from a total of 351,865 recipients — see what your calculator returns when you divide 27 by 351,865.

Calculator

This news was followed by the following opinion statement:

About 2,400 people were in both databases, and 749 of the deceased were not shown as deceased in the Welfare Division database. Auditors then reviewed 50 of these cases and found that 27 cards had been used after the cardholder had died. Because the sampling number was so low, it is likely that far more than the 27 cards of dead people still are being used. [LVRJ]

It could be.  At the same time it could also be true that the small sample size tended to make the problem look as though we were viewing the heavens with binoculars.  Larger issues may be suggested but the details are extremely hard to determine.   Phrased more elegantly: “A study with low statistical power has a reduced chance of detecting a true effect, but it is less well appreciated that low power also reduces the likelihood that a statistically significant result reflects a true effect.” [NCBI]  The comparison of Vital Statistics databases with SNAP rolls is obviously a desirable thing; however the extrapolation that this “proves”  serious fraud is a step too far.

There is no substantiation for the allegation that the broad based categorical eligibility (BBCE) guidelines for SNAP added an unbearable burden to the federal coffers.  There is no evidence that SNAP is beset by waste, fraud, and abuse — indeed the level of abuse has been reduced in recent years from 4% to 1% (and note not all the fraud is on the part of the recipient).

“Over 99 percent of those receiving SNAP benefits are eligible and payment accuracy was 96.20 percent in 2011 –a historic high. Payment errors are less than half what they were 10 years ago, which has reduced improper payments by $3.67 billion in 2011.” [USDA]

And here comes the kicker — the reason that SNAP benefits were audited for comparison to Vital Statistics?  The federal government directed this:

USDA publishing a final rule in August 2012 that requires States to cross check against the Social Security Master Death File, Social Security’s Prisoner Verification System, and FNS’s Electronic Disqualified Recipient System, prior to certifying individuals for the program, to ensure that no ineligible people receive benefits.”

It really doesn’t quite do to cite an example of an audit to “demonstrate” fraud and abuse, when the intention of the agency conducting the audit was part of an on-going effort to reduce that self-same  fraud and abuse.

If Representative Heck can’t cite any rationale for his desire to “reform” SNAP other than to berate the BBCE — not a significant part of the poverty reduction problem — and to bemoan “abuse and fraud” also not a significant problem, then his objections are hollow ideology at the expense of those recipients who find themselves seeking employment in a land of low wage jobs.

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