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When Parrots Make Policy: Ron Knecht and the Great Trickle Down Hoax

parrot

Ron Knecht is the Nevada state controller.  He is a true believer in the Trickle Down Hoax and associated subsets of this egregious rationale for corporate welfare.  Not sure about the validity of this assertion? Read Knecht’s own words.   Mr. Knecht is most upset about the spending approved by the last session of the Legislature, sufficiently upset to grace Nevada editorial pages with his latest diatribe.

The first proposition in Knecht’s screed is that we are under-reporting the level of Tax Burdens on Nevada citizens.  His second major point is that “substantial empirical research shows that the numbers that determine the impact of government on economic growth and the public interest are total government spending amounts, not only those from particular accounts or sources. Research cited in our Controller’s Monthly Report #1 (at controller.nv.gov) shows that total public-sector spending, including state and local levels, has been too big a fraction of our economy for over 55 years.” [EDFP]

There are two problems with this paean to Koch Corporation Economic Theory. 

Problem One:  The assertion assumes that all government spending has a negative relationship to economic stability or growth.   Gross Domestic Product Formula

For an individual who has an academic background in mining economics, it’s remarkable that he’s possibly forgotten the good old, often cited, GDP formula in which “G” for government is part of the formula by which we measure the economy of both the states and the nation. Nor can we assume all governmental expenditures are counterproductive.  If, for example, the Federal government  decided to close Nellis AFB, what would be the impact on the Nevada economy?   Here’s the answer: (pdf)

As of 2012 there were 32,771 included in the base employment figures. 8,186 active duty military, 20,231 dependents, 289 reserves, civilian employees totaling 868.  There were 563 “non appropriated funds” civilian employees, and 2,055 on-site contract civilians; 579 “other civilians” were employed at the base.  The estimated dollar value of the jobs created at Nellis AFB was $229.7 million.  Expenditures at Nellis (federal and state) totaled $5,071.4 million.

Problem Two: Since the argument that all government spending is necessarily excessive is untenable, Mr. Knecht falls back on a subjective observation: “total public-sector spending, including state and local levels, has been too big a fraction of our economy for over 55 years.”   We’re left with at least two questions about this assertion. First, how big is “too big?”  Secondly, what’s magical about speaking of the last 55 years (since 1960)?

There is no way to objectively answer the initial question, the percentage of state and local spending relative to the GDP ranges from 5.9% in 1948 to 11.4% in 2014.  We could be dramatic and declare that this represents a 93% increase in state and local spending from their own sources over a 67 year period, but then we have to remember we’re speaking of 67 years, and the annual increase is an unimpressive 1.38%.

The percentage of state and local governments from their own sources as a percentage of GDP was 8.4% in 1960.  This would yield a 36% increase over the last 55 year period, an annual increase of 0.6545.   Even if we extend the numbers as globally as does Knecht in his discussion of expenditures and include federal, state, and local outlays, the total expenditure as a percentage of GDP was 25.7 in 1960 and 31.7 in 2014, an increase of 23% over the 55 year period, or  0.4181 annually. [OMB download Table 14.3]

State Local Expenditures GDP There’s nothing particularly dramatic about the state and local expenditures chart, and even less about the total outlays of the federal, state, and local expenditures.

Fed State Local Spending percentage of GDP The annual increases simply do not support the level of histrionics associated with the clamor from right wing politicians for decreased government spending.  Further, there is no reason not to take the numbers back as far as they go – to 1948.  There’s nothing magical about the last 55 years, certainly nothing in the actual numbers, which supports the assertion that we’ve experienced some form of grotesque increase in the level of spending as a percentage of GDP.

Problem Three:  Hyperbole doesn’t equate to substantiation. Knecht continues:

“This continued metastasis of government has slowed economic growth significantly over the last half century, directly damaging the public interest and producing an ever grimmer (not better) future for our communities and children. And Nevada politicians and special interests have played a substantial role in this uncaring destruction, especially those who supported this year’s taxing and spending blowout.

What are the true facts? First, state spending’s (sic) already excessive burden on our lives and wellbeing has increased 10 percent faster in the last decade than the incomes of Nevada families and businesses. (Due to changes in reporting categories, there is no pre-2004 total spending data comparable to figures since then; otherwise, we would use it. Hence, meaningful comparisons to earlier years such as 1992 are not possible.)” [EDFP]

These paragraphs don’t represent an economic argument, they are an ideological one.   Again, there’s an un-anchored assertion, that without the increase in government spending there would have been greater overall economic growth.   Since there’s no empirical data available because we can’t undo the government spending in the last 50 to 67 years, we’re left with an assumption – that all the revenue collected and spent by various levels of government would automatically have been re-invested in productive economic activity.   

The experience of 2007-2008 should have given us an example of what can go wrong when money isn’t transferred in ways described by classical economic theory.  Money didn’t necessarily move from investors into plant expansion and greater employment – too much went to feed the Wall Street Casino, into increasingly sophisticated financial products which had more interest in Bubble Manufacturing than in creating financial stability.  Perhaps in some utopian, and essentially academic, system money not spent on taxes would have been put into research, development, manufacturing, and sales efforts – but in the very real world of modern finance that’s not how the system works.  Mutations such as the management theory of shareholder value, and the rise of the Financialists, insured that the old illusions don’t make a solid foundation for current realistic economic discussions.

Additionally, as noted with the Nellis AFB example, not all government spending is universally considered economically counter productive.  Nor can it be effectively argued that government spending doesn’t enhance economic stability and promote growth.   Investments in infrastructure, such as the national highway system, can lead to decreases in production costs, and increases in output, yielding a net rate of return above that of private capital as shown during the forty year period from 1950 to 1989. [Rand pdf]

Knecht also attempts to create a cause and effect relationship between “excessively burdensome” taxation/spending and stagnant wages.  Welcome to the land of Post hoc ergo propter hoc.   Controller Knecht’s diatribe manages to ignore the effects of “gains in labor productivity, the division of earned income between labor and capital profits, and the allocation of labor compensation among wages and nonwage benefits.” [Brookings]  Nor does he cite the trends related to full employment, declining union density, the misclassification of employees, and the race to the bottom in labor standards. [EPI]  Knecht’s also omitting a new notion, “downward nominal wage rigidity,” in which workers in a buyers market are fearful of losing all employment so will settle for lower wages. [RCM]  [Economist]  Even the hard-right Federalist Society, of which Knecht is a member, cites “reduced labor demand,” “increased labor supply,” (and gratuitously tosses in the Affordable Care Act) as causal factors in wage stagnation.  In short, his simplistic, post hoc ergo propter hoc argument misses the point from the left, the center, and the right.  He might as well argue that wages have grown slowly since the beginning of the general economic recovery,  mid 2009, because Serena Williams won the Wimbledon Tournament on July 4, 2009.

Problem Four: Here’s another leap of logic which borders on the inexplicable.  Knecht’s syllogism appears to be: (1) Nevada has a median state and local tax burden; (2) Local governments are subsidiaries of the state; (3) Therefore, the state is responsible for negotiation results between local governments and local public employees.

“In fact, Nevada’s total state and local tax burden – that’s what matters, not headcounts – has risen to the midpoint: 25th or 26th in the U.S., depending on how measured. Because local governments are subsidiaries of the state and governed by it, legislators and governors bear significant responsibility for local spending too – especially the excesses caused by state laws allowing public-employee unions to drive local spending ever higher.”

There’s almost nowhere to begin with this other than to assume Knecht believes that local employee contracts are to blame for “excesses” in local spending.  Again, we’re in subjective territory.  How much is too much?  How much, for example, is too much to pay a police officer or sheriff’s deputy for being willing to engage with some of the most dangerous people in the state?  For being targets for radical right wing lunatics while the officers are trying to catch a bit of lunch in a pizza establishment?  How much is too much for a firefighter – how many people are willing to run into instead of out of a burning building? 

How much is too much to pay a county social worker?  The average caseload for a Child Protective Services investigator in Clark County is 18. The average case load for those responsible for supervising foster care is 13.  Or, to put it another way social workers are responsible for about 25 children per worker. [LVRJ]  The recommended standards are 12-15 children per social worker in foster family care, 12 active cases per month for initial assessment and investigation for every social worker; 17 active ongoing family cases per social worker with no more than one new case assigned for every six open cases.  The standard for a combined assessment and investigation in ongoing cases is 10 ongoing and 4 active cases per social worker. [CWLA]  

While hard cap number ratios may not reflect the flexibility needed to handle all local cases, recruiting and retaining trained professionals who are responsible for assessment, service planning, implementing and monitoring services, advocacy for children or adults who need basic services, interdisciplinary  and inter-organizational collaboration, record keeping,  and practice evaluation and improvements. [SWorg pdf] And, all this for about $45,000 to $66,000 per year.

Of course, there’s always that pesky teacher’s union – driving up the costs of public education – since there’s no way to run a school without teachers.  The current Clark County salary schedule begins at a non-too-impressive $34,637 and terminates for an “ASC + PhD” on step 15 at $72,331.  The median household wage in Nevada is $53,042.   In the private sector a doctorate in economics will get a person about $98,200 early in his or her career; a doctorate in statistics will get a person about $99,900 in the early years, increasing to approximately $128,000 in the later years.  [Payscale]

Aside from declaiming, without context, that salary negotiations are a significant driver of “excessive” local spending, Knecht also ignores another picky detail – population. In 1960 there were approximately 291,000 residents of the state of Nevada, 285,278 to be more exact.  By 2010 there were 2,839,000 residents.  There was an 895% increase in the population of the state in last 50 years.  This is the point at which “headcounts” do matter, it obviously takes more people to deliver services to 2.8 million persons than it does to provide them to 291,000.

NV Population 1960 2010

And now comes Controller Knecht’s finale, discounting efforts made by legislators to address spending issues in a rational manner:

“…as if hearing every detail of the budget means that politicians make the right decisions. Legislators can’t really know the value of each spending proposal when they hear almost exclusively from proponents, most of them paid for by our tax dollars to advocate for their interest, not for voters, taxpayers and the public interest. They certainly can’t determine its net social value unless they get equally extensive testimony in the same hearings on the damage done by the taxes needed to fund each item – and they never do that.”

There are a couple of features which require untangling in this paragraph. First, a person can be an advocate for social workers and also be a voter, a tax payer, and a person concerned with the public interest.  An advocate for highway funding is also a voter, a taxpayer, and concerned with the public interest.  There is no way to compartmentalize people, their advocacy, and their public spirit.   In Mr. Knecht’s taxonomy anyone who advocates for better police, fire, education, and social services, or highways, health inspections, public mental health services, parks, wildlife, and libraries – is not advocating “for the public interest.”  As if the public interest lies solely in diminishing these services in the name of “smaller government.”  This isn’t an economic argument – it is completely, totally, an ideological statement; and, it’s judgmental to boot.  So also is the term “net social value.”

“Net social value” is one of those buzzwords associated with radical right wing economics of austerity, and unfortunately it comes without any real meaning. [Guardian] It’s related to the economic term “social return on investment,” which is only slightly more precise.  “Social Return on Investment is an analytic tool for measuring and accounting for a much broader concept of value, taking into account social, economic and environmental factors.” [NewEcon]   Knecht’s context seems to place the “net social value” proposal closer to the Cost Benefit Analysis methodology and not quite so analogous to the SROI calculations.  Analysis in these terms can get very mushy very quickly.

For example, in purely economic terms (and ones Controller Knecht may find troubling) one of the best SROI or “net social value” or just old fashioned economic stimulus spending is the SNAP program.  A USDA Study designed to test whether or not SNAP benefits improved the economy found that an increase of $1 billion created about $1.79 billion in economic activity (GDP.) Or, that every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates about $9 in economic activity. [USDA]

If we expand the terms to include socially beneficial activities the measurement becomes more difficult to manage. How, for example, do we measure the quantitative benefits of public libraries?  Several states have made the attempt and most have returned results which might be at variance with Mr. Knecht’s ideological preferences.  South Carolina reported that for every $1 spent on public libraries contributed $2.86 in value to the state’s economy.  Florida studied 17 public libraries and demonstrated about $6.40 in economic benefit for every $1 in their budgets. [ALA]

Mr. Knecht assumes that “net social value” cannot be determined unless there  is equal weight given to the opponents of government spending for government services.  This, in turn, assumes that the arguments of the opponents are of equal quality and veracity as those of the proponents.  The evident extrapolation of Mr. Knecht’s argument is that any advocacy of government spending on government services must be self-serving, and therefore cannot be in the public interest. However, what are we to make of a hypothetical argument advanced by public health nurses that the state invest more in the inspection and regulation of out patient surgical centers? Simply because some such centers do not care to be inspected and regulated are we to assume that there would be a “negative net social value” to the increased number of inspections? What are legislators to do?  Knecht advises “focus?”

“Above all, they can’t make the right decisions if they substitute laboring over program details for focusing on the premier fact that government is already so big – even while still growing – that it has slowed economic growth to a long-term crawl and thus damaged our communities and children’s futures. If they really cared, they’d address and fix that first.”

Repeat the drum roll: Larger government = slow economic growth. As we’ve seen earlier in this post, that argument doesn’t stand under even cursory scrutiny.  This is a highly subjective point of view, and informed more by ideology than by economics.   If our legislators “really cared” they’d go over those program details, looking for ways to streamline services without compromising the basics, and in doing so would address issues in education, public safety, public health, and the quality of life in Nevada – without resorting to ideological blinders.  We could use more wise owls, and fewer parrots?

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Filed under Nevada budget, Nevada child welfare, Nevada economy, nevada education, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics

Who Are We?

Sorrow So, we have the usual post mid-term election gnashing of teeth and rending of fabrics, and while I’ve assiduously avoided the Pundits, there are some ordinary types who  have some insights which deserve a mention and more.

Messages and Media

For example, there’s this excerpt from the comments section of the previous post:

“It isn’t so hard to realize what we need to do — but I’ve been saying this for five years straight. We need to run against REPUBLICANS, not the one Republican that is our opponent. We need to put Republicans on the defensive, instead of letting them define the situations so we are too bust defending ourselves.”

There are two kernels of useful insight illustrated here. First, that Democrats have to define their agenda more clearly and succinctly for public consumption.  The first element leads to the second: Democrats need to adopt the time honored rule of election campaigning – define your opponent before he or she defines you.

What ARE we for?

Economically speaking we’re FOR increasing the prosperity of the 99% of the citizens in this nation; those who are not members of the exclusive set of 1%’ers  whose income is primarily obtained by investment.  Or, in a shorter version – we’re the party for Middle Class Americans.

Socially speaking we’re FOR liberty and opportunity for all. We respect the rights of every single citizen in this nation – white, black, young, old, male and female, gay and straight.

Politically speaking we embrace diversity.  There are fiscally conservative Democrats who are socially liberal.  Socially liberal Democrats who are economically more conservative,  and we want every one of them to believe that the right to vote is essential for one and all.

We can distill this down even more finely: We are the party for the vast majority of Americans, and those who want everyone to participate in our democracy.

Who ARE they?

The Republicans are the party of the 1%, a party which embraces the interests of Wall Street and the financial sector.  They oppose increasing the minimum wage; they oppose equal pay for equal work; they oppose any proposition to make health insurance more affordable, and any plan to allow students to refinance student loans at more affordable rates.  They oppose any regulation of the financial sector, in the face of the Enrons, World Coms, Lehman Brothers and similar debacles.  Ye shall know them by their works.

The Republicans are the party of exclusion.  “Some people” ought not to be included in ‘their America;’  while they speak of divisive politics in sneering tones,  it was their idea to peddle the notion that both white and black Americans receiving social services were ‘stealing from the pockets’ of hard working people.  While they speak of the politics of division, it is their adherence to the idea that America is a Christian Nation – in spite of large numbers of non-believers, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, and non-evangelicals among us.    The only way their Politics of Complaint works is via the ideological buttress that they are a Persecuted Majority – a more illogical concept is difficult to imagine.

The Republicans are the party of Big Daddy Government.   Hey, African American citizen or Hispanic American citizen – know your place, and it’s not at the precinct polling station.   Hallo, Little Lady – Father knows best. You should have that transvaginal ultrasound procedure, whether you want it or not.  Your employer will decide if you can get affordable contraceptive prescriptions.  Hello, little man – we’ll tell you all those things of which you should be afraid.  Don’t fret, while you’re worried about your job being off-shored to some Asian manufacturing base, Big Daddy will protect you from ISIS, Ebola, the IRS, the Homosexual Agenda (whatever that might be?) and Big Government.

We’ve seen Big Daddy on the silver screen, he was Burl Ives in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.  He’s white, he’s rich, he’s large. He’s a fetishist of the first water.  He will have what he wants when he wants it.  He’s Entitled to what he wants when he wants it.  Not a very appealing character – but he was never meant to be; he’s beyond caring about being acceptable, he’d rather simply be obeyed.

Media and Messages

Forget about seeing the corporate media independently reveal the elitism, or the exclusionism, or the innate authoritarianism of the Right.  Corporations are people, with shareholder value to consider, ratings to gain and advertising to sell.   Witness the disdain with which the chatterati observed the Occupy Movement.   Witness the decline in the popularity of broadcast and print media as sources of news.  It’s in the interstitial  spaces where opportunity lies.

There’s room in the use of one of the oldest axioms of political life: All politics is local.   However, in this world there are two kinds of local: Your neighbors, friends, and physical community; and your social media friends and followers.   Thus far both parties seem to be clutching  a rather old fashioned view of social media – both my e-mail inbox, and the inbox of a Republican friend were overflowing with Send Money Messages (attached to precious little substance) during the last campaign – who’s going to be the first to fully capitalize on the power of social media to DEFINE the opposing party? The opposing party’s candidates?

There are spaces in and among interest groups.  During the recent election I received three glossy mailers opposing a tax increase to support the Nevada Distributive School Fund – all three contained massive misinformation, and all three came from the same source – a combine of Real Estate Interests.  There was precious little tie-in between candidates and the tax issue on display in this little segment of the world.  There should have been. Who should have told me that a combination of corporate interests and Republican allies were opposing more money for schools?

Big Money groups, a product of the highly unfortunate but ultimately predictable decision in Citizens United,  can only drive a message so far. And their range can be constrained by defining them as antithetical to local interests.  For example, a pro-NRA candidate won the Arkansas election for Senator, BUT Washington state voters overwhelmingly passed I-594, an initiative requiring background checks for firearm sales. [MMA]

“[Washington voters] showed that while the gun lobby can intimidate politicians in Washington, it’s a lot harder to intimidate America’s voters,” former US Representative Gabby Giffords said in a statement last night. “This victory for responsibility in Washington State sends a clear message to the other Washington that if Congress is not ready to act to reduce gun violence, voters in states around the country can and will take the matter into their own hands.” [The Nation, 11/5/14]

There’s a message here.  The Big Money NRA took a position antithetical to local interests.

There’s also another space into which the message can be inserted: All politics is national.   There are some newly elected Republicans who could come to symbolize the state of the party. Do your friends and neighbors, physical and social media, relate to this comment from Joni Ernst (R-IA)

“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere. But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”  [HuffPo]

Then there’s newly elected Representative Crescent Hardy (R-NV4) opining on the situation with the standoff between Federal officials and the ‘sovereign citizen’ domestic terrorists on the Bundy Ranch:

“But Hardy also claimed that the BLM and federal park rangers had no right to enforce laws on the property in question. Asked about that odd statement, Hardy cited the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, which he said were ‘part of the Constitution,’ although he acknowledged he couldn’t immediately identify a passage to support his contention.”  [LVRJ]

And who could forget Senator Ted Cruz and his government shutdown, except that he’d very much like to have everyone forget he was for it before he was against it. Remember the headline, “House Republicans Credit Ted Cruz As Government Shutdown Looms?”   He’d very much like for us to forget this, unfortunately for Cruz and the Republicans – it’s still out there.  Who would like to be associated with these three? Some will, and the rock bottom base of the GOP will cling to these characters like quagga on a row boat – the great American middle?  Perhaps not so much, especially if Democrats are capable of defining their opponents before the opponents define them.

A modest example: What might happen if some party activists, or some interest group, or just a small group of independent citizens, put together a Top Ten List of Great Republican Quotes periodically, and sent them to everyone on their “mailing” list – to be forwarded to everyone on the recipient’s “mailing” lists… Or how about a nice Viral Video?  These activities are relatively cheap and depend more on relationships than money – things could get interesting? If a single person shipped off a Famous GOP Quote to everyone on their e-mail list even if it’s a modest five person collection and each recipient forwarded the message to another five … it doesn’t take long to get to some 625 people, 3125 people….

Here’s hoping the Democratic Party in Nevada, and elsewhere, is not depending on the Big Draw of  a Presidential election to create an atmosphere conducive to the Democratic agenda for 2016.  I hope that the candidate recruitment process is going on NOW. That the messaging process is being calculated NOW. And that the penultimate strategy is we have nothing to fear from Republican candidates other than fear itself.

Democrats have a party the leadership of which: Produced 63 consecutive months of economic growth; we have 54 straight months of increased private sector employment; the unemployment rate has dropped from 10.1% in October 2009 to 5.9%; the federal deficit has been reduced by 66% since October 2009; the rate of federal spending increases is the lowest (1.4%) since the Eisenhower administration; 95% of Americans pay lower taxes than at any time in the last fifty years; 7 million Americans have health insurance they could not have afforded before the ACA; and the rate of health care spending increases has been less (1.3%) than any year since 1965. [pdf]

Cutting through the Crap from the Noise Machine

No regular viewer of the Faux News Machine is going to believe anything in the previous paragraph.  There is a non-productive tendency to want to answer everything tossed out by the Noise Machine when in fact it may better serve Democrats to let them indulge in their regular tantrums and merely enjoy the ludicrous irrationality.

Perhaps we’d be better served by a narrative about fear – as in we’re tired of being afraid.  When did this nation become such a country filled with shrinking violets that we can become frightened of ONE case of Ebola infection in our entire territory?

When did this nation become so afraid of our own neighbors that we must arm ourselves to the gunwales and tremble before the prospect – highly unlikely – of a home invasion?  (the rate is about 0.42%)  When did we become such a troupe of Wet Pants Dancers that we, all 319,000,000 of us,  don’t think we can stand up to 33,000 wacky terrorists in Iraq and Syria?

When did we become so afraid of “debt” that we can’t even consider improving our physical infrastructure, building schools and libraries, expanding our parks, employing more high school counselors, increasing the capacity of our community colleges and technical schools, improving medical and social services for veterans, investing in medical and scientific research….   There are issues here. Positive, practical issues.  We could use some new voices – voices that aren’t afraid – voices telling us we are the strongest, most productive, richest, and most vibrant nation on the face of this planet – and it’s high time we acted like it.

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Filed under Nevada politics, Politics

History, Nostalgia, and the Right Wing Call to Repeal the 17th Amendment

Don't Tea Bag On Me Flag There’s a difference between history and nostalgia, and nowhere does this appear in more stark contrast than in the musings of radical conservative columnists.   We don’t have to burrow through the ideological muddle of Justice Scalia’s mind to find examples, we can simply pick up a copy of the Elko Daily Free Press and find one of their columnists opining about repealing the 17th Amendment.

The 17th Amendment calls for the direct election of U.S. Senators, removing the power of the state legislatures to appoint them to office.  By the ultra-conservative lights, however dim, this is the source of all evil, the font from which the liquefaction of Federalism flows.  The first clue that this argument is based on nostalgia not history are the citations from authority – such as George Mason and James Madison.  The Senate shall be, in their 18th century view, the bulwark of state’s rights, and the state’s rights will be protected by the state legislatures.  It just didn’t work out that way.

A system designed in the late 18th century to preserve a fragile union, with an eye toward the southern states’ inclination to maintain their “Peculiar Institution,” devolved into a license for corruption by 1913.  Author David Gans explains:

“Election of Senators by state legislatures was a disaster. Far from being “good politics” or “good constitutional design,” the system led to rampant and blatant corruption, letting corporations and other moneyed interests effectively buy U.S. Senators, and tied state legislatures up in numerous, lengthy deadlocks over whom to send to Washington, leaving those bodies with far less time to devote to the job of enacting the laws their states needed for the welfare of the people. These ills made the case for bringing the election of Senators in line with the Constitution’s fundamental values of protecting democracy and securing the right to vote to all Americans a very strong one. Once the Senate relented and approved the Seventeenth Amendment, the States ratified the Amendment in less than eleven months.”

That last sentence is important – far from being an imposition of the national government, the approval of the direct election of Senators came from the state legislatures themselves, and in only eleven months.  Something must have been going very wrong.

Here are a couple of examples which may serve to demonstrate why the state legislatures were none too impressed with the 18th century system:

“ In 1899, the Montana legislature sent William Clark to the U.S. Senate after he personally contributed $140,000 to the legislators of Montana.  A decade later, the Illinois legislature elected William Lorimer – known as the “blond boss” – to the Senate after bribes offered to state legislators helped break a deadlock in the state legislature.  Clark ultimately resigned his seat; Lorimer was expelled by the Senate after the Chicago Tribune unearthed the critical facts.” [USCon.Org]

If we are worried about the influence of money in politics in the wake of the Citizens United decision, imagine how much more money might be effectively expended by very-special-interest in state races in order to buy-in a Senator?  Nostalgia tells us that the legislative appointment of Senators would allow the flowering of originalist federalism; history tells us that there’s a reason why only 11% of Americans like the repeal idea. [HuffPo]

There are two other considerations, the first being the concept of counter-balance.  Big Money has greater influence in smaller elections, like those for state legislatures.  Secondly, there’s the problem of stalemates and this did turn into a political reality in the early 20th century:

“A deadlock delayed the selection of New York’s senators in the First Congress, and the phenomenon became more and more common as time wore on. Between 1891 and 1905—a period of only 14 years—there were 45 deadlocked senatorial elections in 20 different states!” [Const.org

Obviously, while the legislature is deadlocked the state is under-represented in Congress.  It’s one thing to embrace the bucolic nostalgia for a simpler time and country, and quite another to face the historical fact that money + small political bodies = big problems.

By Tea Party understanding, the loss of Federalism (or the demise of States’ Rights – a term which has acquired a tainted meaning in the wake of the modern civil rights movement) has created such evils as the New Deal,  Motor Voter Laws, No Child Left Behind, and Medicaid.   Controversial as those laws may be, the Tea Party seems to have no problem with such incursions into States Rights as the Hyde Amendment, the rejection of state campaign funding reforms, or the efforts of major energy companies to defeat state’s efforts to control air and water pollution.   In short, the modern advocates of repeal are often highly selective in terms of the list of evils the loss of States’ Rights has engendered.

What might be alarming is that the fringe Right has some critical allies.  ALEC once gave serious consideration to supporting model legislation to repeal the 17th Amendment, and then dropped its advocacy in the face of significant opposition. [HuffPo]  There are still bastions of support.  Still those who would trade the nostalgia of yesteryear for the reality of 21st century America – and give yet more power to the corporate interests who have the money to go for the glory.

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Filed under campaign finance reform, Congress, conservatism, Constitution

Getting From the Swampy No to a Functional Yes

SwampWith all due respect to my fellow liberals and progressives — and with this introduction you know the criticism is about to pour forth — enough ink and pixels have given their all in the effort to analyze, explain, or otherwise explicate the ‘problems with the Republican Party’ specifically those who’ve been elected to the House of Representatives.  Enough. It doesn’t matter all that much.

It doesn’t really matter, for example if one adopts the “Neoconfederate” model [Salon] or the “two foundings” explanation [Salon], and we can argue if the ‘two foundings’ in question were the Continental Congress and the Federal System, or the Early Federal Period and the U.S. Civil War.  It’s interesting, it’s academic, and as amusing and thought provoking as the argument is it’s not very useful at the moment.

It doesn’t matter too much if the origins of the present dysfunction are religious, social, racial, psychological, pathological, psychiatric,  or a combination of all the above. What matters is that something is very fundamentally wrong with the way the people’s business in conducted in the Congress of the United States.

Getting To No

As of January 6, 2013 there were 48 members of the Tea Party Caucus, all Republicans.  Of the 435 voting members of the House, 234 are Republican, 199 are Democrats. Two independents caucus with the Democrats.  218 votes are needed to pass legislation. If all the members directly affiliated with the Tea Party Caucus refuse to join their other GOP caucus members, the GOP leadership can control only 186 votes.

In short, the ultra-conservatives in the House of Representatives do not have anywhere near the number of votes necessary to enact the agenda of their choosing, but they have more than enough votes to prevent the leadership from enacting legislation cobbled together with Democratic support.

This is the perfect recipe for NO. No action. No real pragmatic politics. No major legislation. No long term solutions.  The high wire act in the 113th Congress is more conducive to (1) short term stop gap measures to alleviate large problems, (2) interim short term budget appropriations and resource allocations, and (3) periodic breakdowns.

Little wonder then the Absolutely Do Nothing Congress has passed only 34 “ceremonial” bills and “108” substantive bills so far. [WaPo] However, if governmental gridlock is the desired result then the 113th is doing splendidly.

Getting Nothing Done

One of the problems with polarized politics is that hyperbole replaces reasoned discussion, and all too often things become A CRISIS!  There are a couple of ways a crisis can occur. First, and most obviously, there is a situation, unforeseen, which arises from a natural or man-made disaster or catastrophe.  Floods, tornadoes, an attack, an unpredictable infrastructure failure might all qualify as a crisis.

The second crisis category is manufactured.  There appear to be two forms of manufacturing of late. One manifestation is the “political crisis” in which a problem of long standing has been ignored or left unresolved for enough time to create an overwhelming backlog — the Veterans’ Administration issues in regard to wait time for medical services is a classic, as is the number of refugee children who have arrived unattended from Central America — a number that’s been increasing since October 2013.

The other form is more ephemeral and depends upon the Crisis, or Scandal du Jour.  For example, the Benghazi attack in 2012 has generated 25,000 pages of documents submitted in 13 hearings. That the documents have done nothing but reinforce the initial reporting, and that the hearings have generated nothing but easy copy and headlines, is immaterial.  The Congress is ‘dealing with the crisis…’

Meanwhile

While Congress fritters and frets its way to the end of the 113th session there are some issues which may fall into the first manufactured category — the backlog swamp.

Infrastructure: Residents of Los Angeles were recently reminded that 92 year old water pipes cannot be expected to last forever, and when they fail they have no regard for sacred public spaces — like Pauley Pavilion. Over 170 school buildings and 165 bridges in New York were constructed over a century ago. The average age of the 6,800 water lines in New York is 69 years, and 2/3rds of them are susceptible to internal corrosion and failure. [FutNy]  One out of every nine bridges in this country falls in the structurally deficient category, and the average age of a U.S. bridge is 42 years.  [2013RC] We have a early 20th century power grid which is supposed to keep us going in the 21st century. Failure to address aviation needs is costing the U.S. economy valuable revenue as a result of congestion and delays.  [2013rc]

Civil Rights:  The Civil Rights Act, and the provisions safeguarding voting in America are overdue for review. Voter intimidation, suppression, and curtailment are no longer the sole province of the old Confederacy.  We continue to put this issue on the back burner at our peril as a democracy.

Public Health and Safety: Heart disease and cancer continue to be the main causes of death in this country, but Alzheimer’s is climbing up the tables.  An aging population will require more health care services in a wider variety of settings than our current system can address.  We kill 34,677 of us every year in traffic accidents, but we continue to defer highway improvements because of budget constraints.

We kill off 26,631 individuals annually in firearm accidents, another 19,766 in firearm related suicides, and yet another 11,101 in firearm homicides. [CDC]  Still we wrangle about requiring universal background checks and how we might prevent straw purchases.  We can’t even seem to agree that stalkers and spousal abusers shouldn’t have immediate access to firearms.

Whether it’s Alzheimer’s or assault rifles, we’re still operating with entirely too many Medically Under-served Areas, there are 297 such reports for Nevada, and a search of neighboring California turns up 2,065 records. [HRSA]

Immigration: We have a mess going in this department.  It’s hard to ignore the fundamentally racist rantings of the Deport’em Now crowd, who never seem to have much to say about the northern border.  However, we will need to tune them out, or at least down,  if we are going to attract the best and brightest scientific and technical minds we’ll need for a 21st century economy.  We’ll need to figure out how to invite in those who have joined our Armed Forces, willing to die for this country, only to discover later there are voices demanding that they mustn’t  live here. Something rational needs to be done to meet the needs of children who came here as toddlers and have known no other country, and those who have one native born or naturalized parent and another who is not.  Comprehensive immigration policy reform would help. So would adequately funding the judicial, social, and educational components of our immigration policy — security is the easy part — it’s the larger, more complicated portions of the problem we’re delaying.

Might we add more to this list? — items which if we let them progress on their own long enough we’ll find ourselves in a “crisis” situation — climate change, income disparity and inequality, educational funding and curriculum development, and the regulation of capital markets to improve stability.

Our Bottom Line

One of the more egregious practices of failing businesses is the Run To Ruin mentality.  Got an aging delivery truck? Never mind, just keep depreciating it without putting any funds in replacement and capital improvement accounts, and when the thing finally gives up the ghost go out and get another loan to cover the cost.  Delaying serious proposals for maintaining our national safety, health, economy, and infrastructure is tantamount to adopting the Run to Ruin model on a national scale.

Another highly questionable business practice which will lead directly to bankruptcy court is the Disposable Asset Theory of Management  wherein all facets of an enterprise are ultimately disposable, including personnel.  Low wages and paltry benefits yielding high employee turnover? No problem, just hire more and cheaper labor. With 3 job seekers for every position available there will always be somebody.  Eventually those training and retraining expenses will add up, predictably levels of service will decline… and those adherents of the DAT management style should be looking for a buyer sooner rather than later.  Deferring the issues of hiring and retaining well trained and competent public employees is, again, like trying to run the country on the cheap (DAT) and then expressing surprise when “things don’t get done.”

By far one of the most predictable ways to go out of business is to ignore the changing circumstances and economic atmosphere around a firm.  Ever so redundantly speaking — Rule Number One: If you have an increasing share of a declining market you are in very real trouble. Think Kodak.

Let’s be optimistic and believe that eventually we will move from dependence on fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources.  In old fashioned retail terms this means fossil fuels will be a declining market.  So, WHY are we subsidizing an industrial sector which we know to be on the way out?  Again, if we take a short-term defensive approach to energy policy we’ll be violating Old Rule Number One in ways that will not be helpful in the future — or we can wait for the Crisis in which the oil sector sputters out and takes a chunk of the economy with it.

Avoiding the Run to Ruin, Disposable Asset Theory, and the Ostrich Stance mistakes means we are going to have to stop lurching from crisis to crisis, and start doing some serious public policy planning.  We need to stop talking about running government like a business, and start doing precisely that — running it as a long term, asset rich, enterprise with public service as its core.

Instead of the Doctrine Of No, how about functioning based on the belief that Harry Truman was right: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

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This Flag Isn’t Funny Anymore

Gadsden Flag Not Funny

Tea Party members had some fun with their Gadsden Flag. Some waved it at soccer games, others flew it on poles. Others combined it with a Confederate Battle flag, and still others added captions of their own.  The fun is gone now.

Two Las Vegas Metro officers are dead.  Shot by a pair of white supremacists.

Witnesses told police one of the shooters yelled “This is the start of a revolution” before shooting the officers. Gillespie later said he could not confirm that.

The shooters then stripped the officers of their weapons and ammunition and badges, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. They then covered the officers with something that featured the Gadsden flag, a yellow banner with a coiled snake above the words, “Don’t tread on Me.” [LVRJ]

Let’s speculate for a moment what will happen to all those yellow banners in the wake of this tragedy.

There will be Gadsden flag owners who quietly fold up their flags and put them away in cupboards, drawers, or closets.  They may well believe that whatever antipathy they have toward the government, it doesn’t do to wave a banner which was used to cover the bodies of police officers.

There may also be some enablers.  Their banners may be relegated to the closet, but they will add this to their litany of complaints.  IF the shooters hadn’t used the flag it would still be authentically American. The shooters by their lights are marginal, and not representative of the Tea Party movement, they are “not one of us.”

We’ll probably get some response from the excusers.  IF the government hadn’t threatened to use force at the Bundy Ranch, IF the government hadn’t killed the person who assaulted the Georgia courthouse, IF the NSA didn’t spy on civilians, (blah, blah, blah) then the Patriots would not have felt compelled to drape the slain officers in the yellow flag.  Now they can’t fly their flag anymore because ‘liberals’ will refer to the Las Vegas shooting.

A tiny minority will gather to the yellow flag cause.  The two shooters will be martyrs, just what they might have had in mind.  There are still some among us who find Timothy McVeigh a martyr to The Cause.  Still some inclined to believe every e-mail forwarded to their inboxes filled with vitriolic, hyperbolic and wildly false information which they believe validates their warped world view.

But, this wasn’t “going out in a blaze of glory.” This was an ambush on two police officers who were having lunch.  Two men, doing their job, for their community, their friends and their families.  It was nothing more than a cowardly attack on two unsuspecting peace officers.  Nothing more.

Yellow is the color of cowards.

 

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TR knew something about anarchists…

TR on Anarchism

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Five Reasons Senator Heller’s Vote Is No Surprise

Heller 2Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) was one of 18 members of the United States Senate to vote against a bill to end the government shutdown, and to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of default. [roll call 219] This comes as no surprise. Absolutely no surprise.

For all of Senator Heller’s posturing as Mr. Moderate, his voting record has been indicative of a banner representative of Tea Party America.

#1. NO on the bill to avoid default and end the government shutdown. (H.R. 2775)  Roll Call 219.  Why would anyone be  surprised? Senator Heller also voted against the bill to end the 2011 stalemate.  [RGJ 8/11] In the 2011 vote Senator Heller was one of 26 members voting to dive over the edge; in 2013 he was one of 18.

#2.  NO on the TARP bill.  Otherwise known as the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, and perjoratively called the Bank Bail Out, there were two votes on this measure in the House.  After it failed on the first attempt the stock market tanked. [roll call 674] Thus advised of the economic and financial consequences of a failure to put some props under the financial sector, the House held a second vote.  Once more, then Representative Heller voted against the measure. [roll call 681]   If there has been a bit of campaign material I’ve received from Mr. Heller that has not reminded me that he was “against the bank bailout” I must have missed it.

There was much to despise about the TARP bill, however, the hard sad unavoidable fact was that our credit markets had ground themselves into a solid freeze in October 2008.  While this isn’t a particularly good analogy — think of an engine which has run out of oil — at some point the lack of liquidity creates a seizure.  There was an appalling lack of liquidity, and we were in the midst of an equally appalling seizure in capital markets.  Representative Heller voted not to add any oil to the motor.

#3. Senator Heller has been a consistent proponent of the so-called Balanced Budget Amendment.  Of all the naive and misleading proposals offered to the American public, this ranks among the most egregious.  In 2011 he joined Senator Jim DeMint (R-Heritage Action) to introduce this bit of fiscal insanity. [DB]  A “balanced budget amendment” would do nothing to help state governments, it would do nothing to promote tax equity, and nothing to make the federal government operate like the state governments. [DB] And, NO, this is NOT like your family budget! as explained here, and here.

#4. He co-sponsored S. B. 712 with Senator Jim DeMint which would have summarily  repealed all of the provisions of the financial regulation reform enacted in the Dodd-Frank law. [DB]  Rep. Michele Bachman (R-MN) introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.  Under the ubiquitous heading of “gettin’ rid of guv’ment regulation,” Senator Heller would have undone every effort made by the Dodd-Frank Act to rein in corporate greed, require banks to maintain adequate capital, require financial institutions to adopt plans for unwinding failed banks, and protect consumers from mortgage and other financial frauds.

What doesn’t say “Tea Party” better than teaming up with former Senator DeMint and Representative Bachmann?

#5 Senator Heller has taken a consistent position in opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

“Senator Heller would gladly allow the insurance industry to continue to offer those junk  “defined benefits” plans, to exclude infants and children with “pre-existing conditions,” to spend less than 80-85% of the premiums they take in on actual medical treatment and services.   He would repeal the tax cuts available to small businesses which offer health care insurance to their employees, and would allow the infamous “Do-nut Hole” in prescription medication coverage to reopen.”  [DB]

All the benefits of the Affordable Care Act notwithstanding, Senator Heller would happily vote to repeal the ACA.

The titans of the financial sector and the major insurance corporations haven’t been Senator Heller’s only concern, he’s also taken the side of Big Oil, voting in July 2010 to protect BP from oversight in the wake of the Gulf Oil Spill, and voted not once but 8 times to protect tax breaks for the big oil corporations.  [DB] See votes 153, vote 78, vote 80, vote 1140, vote 835, and vote 40.

Still wondering where Senator Heller stands in relation to what remains of the Republican Party?

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