Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sequester FAIL

What a month this has been. Just a month ago, Mark Amodei said this. Remember what he declared in Elko?

“I am tired of the drama,” U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei told an audience in the Red Lion Inn & Casino. “I’m full up on drama. Drama doesn’t get anything done.”

Yet what are he & his Republican colleagues in Congress giving us? Oh, just $85 BILLION worth of unnecessary & destructive drama!

Earlier today, Senate Republicans filibustered the Democratic Sequester alternative. This was shortly after their own Sequester finesse was voted down 38-62. And after the House finally passed VAWA renewal, it went on an extended weekend break.

Here's something to remember.

I'd encourage folks to keep a rhetorical angle to this in mind. It's safe to assume that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his allies will soon argue, if they haven't already, that Republicans shouldn't be blamed because neither chamber passed an alternative plan, even after Boehner demanded the Senate do all the work(as if the House Speaker can credibly give orders to the Senate).

But that argument will be misleading, to put it mildly. Senate Democrats came up with a credible compromise, brought it to the floor, held a vote, and found that a majority of the chamber supports the Democratic alternative. House Republicans, meanwhile, refused to craft a compromise, chose not to bring a bill to the floor, didn't hold a vote, and was afraid to find out whether a GOP alternative could get majority support.

The bottom line hasn't changed all month: one side is open to negotiation and compromise; one side isn't. When blame-both-sides-for-everything pundits consider who bears responsibility for failure, it seems no other detail has any relevance at all.

And here's the ugly wake-up call we're in for.

Yes, there will be some deficit reduction, but it will come at the cost of growth and employment. You don’t have to be a deficit dove to see that this is a poor trade. When given a choice between stronger growth and higher deficits, it’s always better to take the former; with growth there’s more space for fiscal adjustment, on account of higher revenues and greater economic activity. By contrast, sacrificing growth to deficit reduction is a sure way to harm the economy -- with higher unemployment --without real improvement to the country’s fiscal position. Any “confidence” gained by reducing deficits is outweighed by the overall drag of a slower economy.

Which is why the best policy for sequestration has always been to repeal the measure. We’ve done a substantial amount to stabilize the debt over the last two years. Given a 50-50 split of spending cuts and new revenues, you only need $120 billion a year of deficit reduction to stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio at 73 percent by 2022. We can delay that for several years while the economy recovers, and still be in good shape for the near-future.

Yet that's deemed "irresponsible" on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, what's considered "responsible" by "tea party" darlings and numerous Beltway media pundits is essentially a self-induced double-dip recession. And remember that the deficit can't be cut by all that much if there isn't enough revenue to collect.

It's become increasingly obvious that austerity is harming economic recovery. So why are we getting even more of it? This is the greatest EPIC FAIL of the year... And we're only 1/6 of our way into 2013!

This "Sequester Showdown" just reeks of pure madness. It's just too bad that we have to suffer the consequences while Congress continues debating how much more austerity madness to inflict on the nation.

Finally, VAWA

It was a long time coming. After over a year of ridiculous political wrangling, both houses of Congress have finally passed the Violence Against Women Act. Here's what happened.

After an up-or-down vote, the Violence Against Women Act passed out of the House by a margin of 286-138, with 199 Democrats and 87 Republicans voting in favor of it. The bill had already passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote several weeks ago, meaning that it now heads to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law.

VAWA was allowed to expire in September, 2011, and then stalled for all of 2012 over expanded protections for LGBT women, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants. House Republicans objected to these additional protections, and repeatedly blocked the bill.

On Thursday, after pressure from Democrats and from within the GOP itself, House Republican leadership allowed the bill to go for an up-or-down vote, after first voting on a Republican version of the bill that did not include the additional protections. That bill was expected to, and did, fail by a vote of 166-257.

In a statement, President Obama said that ”Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear.” [...]

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., [also released a] sentiment:

There is absolutely no reason that it should have taken this long for the House leadership to come around on a bill that had overwhelming bipartisan support. But passage today is a validation of what we’ve been saying since this bill expired in 2011 –VAWA has never been, and should never be, a partisan bill. That is why I applaud moderate Republican voices in the House who stood up to their leadership to demand a vote on the Senate bill.

For the last 18 months, the House G-O-TEA let VAWA die and did nothing to actually bring the bill back to life. Only after feeling intense pressure from women's advocacy groups and a string of high-profile election losses did House Republican leadership finally agree to real VAWA renewal.

Yet even today, a majority of House Republicans voted AGAINST full VAWA renewal. And on top of that, 27 House Republicans voted against both the watered down VAWA that House Republican leadership preferred and the bipartisan Senate version that ultimately passed. Yes, that really happened.

But to their credit, both Reps. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) & Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) ultimately voted for the full VAWA. Heck had originally opposed full VAWA renewal last year. But this year, he finally changed his tune.

It's appalling that it's taken so long to pass a bill that had never been considered "controversial" before. But at least now, it's finally happened. And it provides a glimmer of hope that an end to the "tea party" "War on Women" may finally be within reach.

An Evolution on Equality

Want to be blown away? Read this.

More than 80 Republicans and conservatives have attached their names to a brief to be filed with the Supreme Court later this week arguing that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

First reported last night by The New York Times,the brief will be filed in the Proposition 8 case before the high court. The signees include two Republican members of Congress —Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Richard Hanna of New York —as well as a number of former Republican advisors and elected officials. Former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman also attached his name to the brief. Last week,Huntsman, who is Mormon, announced his support for same-sex marriage. They all join Ted Olson, the former solicitor general for President George W. Bush and conservative attorney, who has been leading the suit against California's Proposition 8. [...]

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign and co-founder of AFER, praised the news, declaring in a statement, "We're proud to have these prominent Republicans join Ted Olson in supporting a freedom-based Constitutional argument for equality. None of us —Democrat, Republican or Independent —would want to be told that we can't marry the person we love, and these signatories are blazing the trail for the next generation of fair-minded Republicans still to come."

While a few of the names on the list were expected, there were many surprises. Former EBay CEO, current Hewlett Packard CEO, & 2010 California Gubernatorial Candidate Meg Whitman (R) notably switched her position from support for Prop 8 to support for marriage equality. Former New Jersey Governor and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman (R, no relation to Meg) also signed onto this amicus brief. And as noted above, Former Utah Governor & 2012 Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman (R) finally announced his support for marriage equality.

Perhaps most surprising are all the former George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney staffers who signed onto this amicus brief. Even top Republicans are now realizing that their party's embrace of bigotry in recent cycles is only endangering its future.

Next month, The US Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments on two marriage cases: the above mentioned law suit challenging California's Prop 8 marriage ban, and the law suit challenging DOMA (the ban on the federal government recognizing gay & lesbian marriages, as well as allowing states to deny recognition of marriages performed in other states).

So why are these Republicans speaking out now? Of course, there are political ramifications, as I hinted at above. However, there's also an important legal argument that can't be dismissed. Towleroad's Ari Ezra Waldman tries to make sense of both.

For us, the freedom to marry sits squarely within the American progressive tradition of fundamental fairness and equality. Constitutional lawyers have special terms -- substantive due process and equal protection -- for those basic concepts and both are on prominent display in AFER's brief to the Supreme Court. The decision to marry, AFER argues, is a right of fundamental importance, one recognized by the Supreme Court 14 times in a diverse array of cases. It is so fundamental that the Court has refused to limit the right of even prison inmates to marry, for example. When a right is so fundamental, any restrictions on that right have to pass a high hurdle to pass constitutional muster; Prop 8 doesn't even clear a low hurdle. Prop 8 also violates equal protection because it treats identical couples differently simply on the basis of their sexual orientation. AFER argues that such discrimination can only be constitutional if it passes a high hurdle --namely, heightened scrutiny -- that puts a considerable burden on Prop 8 proponents to argue that banning gays from marrying somehow advances an important social interest; but the brief makes the correct argument that Prop 8 cannot survive under any level of scrutiny. Of course, raising well-adjusted children encouraging opposite-sex couples to have their children inside marriage are not consequences of keeping gays out of the institution of marriage. Therefore, marriage discrimination must go.

The Republicans who filed their brief in support of the freedom to marry don't disagree with AFER's analysis; in fact, their brief starts from the premise of the existence of the fundamental right to marry. But they chose to emphasize a different part of the American legal and political tradition and imply that Prop 8 is no longer justified rather than never justified. The Republicans argue that the institution of marriage is central pillar of human freedom and limited government, situating themselves within the classically liberal tradition of individual rights. They also argue that although the judicial directive is one of restraint, courts cannot remain blind to developing social science: Prop 8, like other laws that outlived their purposes, is "outmoded" and subject to equal protection challenge because the newest social science evidence suggests that there is no difference between opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

Notably, I agree with where the Republicans' brief ends up -- namely, calling for the end of Prop 8 and all bans on the freedom to marry; but I cannot abide either of the Republicans' arguments. Marriage is not simply about freedom. If it were, why is the state involved in it at all? And, for that matter, why are we stopping at two-person marriages? Plus, Prop 8 is not "outmoded." It was never a constitutionally justified form of social policy. It was always bald discrimination regardless of whether 75 Republicans bought into the biased pseudo-science and outright lies that got Prop 8 passed in the first place.

I also cannot bring myself to embrace the theory that all these Republican signatories have legitimately "evolved" on the freedom to marry. Some of them, including prominent congressional voices from the past decade, came to Congress before "gay marriage" entered the public consciousness. They may have truly evolved, and I heartily embrace their support! But, Republicans like Meg Whitman, who ran for governor of California on a staunch pro-Prop 8 platform just 2 years ago, is either the beneficiary of rapid social chance or a craven politician who never really believed in discrimination but was willing to say anything to get elected. In a way, that form of anti-gay leader is worse than the true believer. The latter has the benefit of honesty of conviction, however disgusting and hateful those convictions might be. The Meg Whitmans of the world were willing to destroy the lives of gays just to achieve power.

But the Republicans' brief may serve an essential legal and political purpose. It is clear that if Prop 8 is going to be declared unconstitutional, it will be because of the vote(s) of one or several of the Court's conservative justices. The Republicans' brief not only gives these justices a conservative legal argument to vote against Prop 8, it also gives them political cover and provides evidence of an emerging consensus across the political spectrum that bans on gay marriage are things of the fringe.

So these signatories likely have a variety of reasons for signing onto this amicus brief. Some truly do have ideal reasons, while others may be doing so for more craven reasons. Nonetheless, all have evolved on this matter.

Yet several prominent Nevada Republicans are still resisting evolution for any reason. Nevada's own federal marriage law suit is called Sevcik v. Sandoval because Governor Brian Sandoval (R) is defending Nevada's Question 2 marriage ban in court. And both Dean Heller & Joe Heck dismissed calls to evolve on marriage equality just last year.

We may very well see "The Supremes" strike down DOMA & Prop 8 (either narrowly or perhaps broadly) this year. And voters have evolved dramatically on marriage equality in just the past three years. So what are Nevada Republicans like Heller, Sandoval, & Heck waiting for? Why keep fighting progress & equality?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Needed Reality Check

It finally happened today. The Assault Weapons Ban finally had its day (of hearings) in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And there was plenty of explosive testimony on this key aspect of gun safety reform.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), the Chair of the Judiciary Committee who has also introduced the new Assault Weapons Ban, oversaw testimony from various experts. One was a doctor who actually treated

Also on hand to testify was Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Police Chief Edward Flynn. Unfortunately for him, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) tried to derail his testimony by badgering him over prosecutions of people who fail background checks. Nonetheless, Flynn was able to make his point by correcting Graham on what police officers are supposed to do.

Neil Heslin also testified today. He lost his son in Newtown. And he asked a simple question, the same one that we keep asking here.

Basically, today's hearing refuted what Joe Heck asserted during his town hall in Henderson last week. Assault weapons are truly dangerous weapons meant to kill masses of people in a very short amount of time. The kind of "recreation" they were created for is illegal in civilian society (hint: murder).

Heck should know better. And so should Harry Reid & Dean Heller. They need to look beyond the twisted politics of Capitol Hill and notice what's happening here in the real world.

Remember this: The NRA is NOT the victim. Look at the real victims. This is what our Members of Congress must do.

The Real Crisis at Our Doorstep

This can be awfully maddening. While Beltway media pundits are fixated on Congress' latest manufactured crisis, they're essentially serving to suck oxygen out of the rooms in Washington where all the serious problems facing our country and planet are being discussed. Yes, that's right. Because these media pundits and kooky G-O-TEA politicians are so busy pointing fingers and engaging in petty, histrionic nonsense that they're threatening to crowd out everything that actually matters.

So what are the real problems we face that aren't getting enough attention in Washington? Here's an example.

The world has suffered from severe regional weather extremes in recent years, such as the heat wave in the United States in 2011 or the one in Russia 2010 coinciding with the unprecedented Pakistan flood. Behind these devastating individual events there is a common physical cause, propose scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The study will be published this week in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and suggests that man-made climate change repeatedly disturbs the patterns of atmospheric flow around the globe’s Northern hemisphere through a subtle resonance mechanism.

“An important part of the global air motion in the mid-latitudes of the Earth normally takes the form of waves wandering around the planet, oscillating between the tropical and the Arctic regions. So when they swing up, these waves suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the US, and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic,” explains lead author Vladimir Petoukhov.

“What we found is that during several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks. So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays. In fact, we observe a strong amplification of the usually weak, slowly moving component of these waves,” says Petoukhov. Time is critical here: two or three days of 30 degrees Celsius are no problem, but twenty or more days lead to extreme heat stress. Since many ecosystems and cities are not adapted to this, prolonged hot periods can result in a high death toll, forest fires, and dramatic harvest losses.

Climate change caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning does not mean uniform global warming –in the Arctic, the relative increase of temperatures, amplified by the loss of snow and ice, is higher than on average. This in turn reduces the temperature difference between the Arctic and, for example, Europe, yet temperature differences are a main driver of air flow. Additionally, continents generally warm and cool more readily than the oceans. “These two factors are crucial for the mechanism we detected,” says Petoukhov. “They result in an unnatural pattern of the mid-latitude air flow, so that for extended periods the slow synoptic waves get trapped.”

This is even more evidence confirming the link between climate change and recent extreme weather. It strongly suggests that climate change has indeed had a hand in such recent meteorological disasters as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Superstorm Sandy last year, and the ongoing drought effecting huge swaths of the nation (including Nevada).

And in case that isn't bad enough, it gets even worse. A new Oxford University study of Siberian caves reveals what may happen if we see a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius (as scientists now believe we're at least heading for). The last time this happened, which was around 400,000 years ago, there was a substantial melting of permafrost. And that led to an epic release of greenhouse gases that were previously stored in the soil covered by permafrost. If this happens again, we may very well see 100 billion tons of carbon emissions by 2100. Just to put that into perspective, that roughly causes 2.5 times the amount of climate change as current deforestation!

So this is the real crisis at our doorstep. Yet what do we keep hearing from Capitol Hill? Oh, just more drivel on the manufactured crisis.

Yet while Congress is paralyzed by insane fiscal gridlock, the military is not. Rather, it's quietly embarked on a clean energy revolution. Since 2009, The Pentagon has been implementing renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. That's led to fewer carbon emissions, lower costs, and better national security.

If the military can get serious about climate change, why can't the rest of the country? Here in Nevada, we especially stand to benefit from the clean energy revolution. And we're also already suffering from climate change. So what's the hold-up? Why not do something about this real crisis?

I suspect the inaction is largely because of the "tea party" fueled climate denial campaign. Fossil fuel industry campaign contributions probably also have something to do with it. And frankly, it's just so shortsighted and irritating!

Most likely 90 years from now, no one will be asking how much the federal budget deficit was in 2013. And no one will likely ask who was to blame for the string of manufactured fiscal crises of our time. Rather, whoever is alive then will likely ask what was done to combat climate change. That will be our true lasting legacy. So why don't we ditch the manufactured BS and start solving the real crises of our time?

Victims, Guilt, & Guns

A manhunt is now underway for Ammar Harris, the lead suspect for the Las Vegas Strip shooting last week. Another person of interest is also being sought. The search for Harris is now nationwide.

Police believe an altercation at Aria led to the shooting. Yet despite this, there's been media speculation about victim Kenneth Cherry and his personal life. "Oh, he was a pimp! It was all just a pimp war." (Never mind that Cherry was never arrested for any crime, and that he's one of the slain victims in this crime.)

It's not as if this hasn't happened before. Still, it's disturbing to see certain victims of gun violence villainized in some corners of the media and treated like perpetrators. Why go there?

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin near Orlando, Florida. Even though he was the slain victim, some in the media were ready to villainize Trayvon. Why? He was wearing a hoodie!

The NRA pushed hard for Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, the statute that George Zimmerman now uses to justify the murder of Trayvon. The NRA & ALEC then pushed more states to pass similar "Stand Your Ground" law. Even Nevada now has a modified version of it.

For decades, the NRA has (mis)used its juice in Carson City and Washington to weaken gun safety standards. They've essentially bribed lawmakers in the not-so-distant past with campaign contributions and prestigious "A" ratings. Meanwhile, victims of gun violence were all too often marginalized, forgotten... And in some cases, even treated like criminals.

Last night in Illinois, we saw a groundbreaking development. As mentioned above, the NRA has enjoyed immense political clout. But now, that's being called into question as former Illinois state legislator Robin Kelly won the Democratic Primary for the 2nd Congressional District spreading from Chicago's South Side to exurban Kankakee County.

Kelly ran against Debbie Halvorson, herself a former Member of Congress who lost her old seat in 2010. Because she had some name recognition from that and challenging Jesse Jackson, Jr., in this seat before he resigned, she was considered the early frontrunner. But in the wake of Newtown and increased gun violence right in Chicago, this special election to replace Jackson became a referendum on the NRA. And the gun lobby hasn't been used to taking criticism on the campaign trail.

To be sure, this is a heavily Democratic district, and messages that resonated in Illinois' 2nd district may not be equally as effective elsewhere. But that doesn't negate the fact that this was the first race in recent memory in which a major party's candidates felt the need to distance themselves from the NRA. The far-right lobbying group's "A" ratings for some of the candidates practically became "a scarlet letter," forcing some Democrats who'd previously bragged about NRA support to scramble in the other direction.

Even in reliably "blue" districts, that just hasn't happened in recent years. Democrats, at nearly every level, had been led to believe that supporting gun control was a recipe for electoral failure, so they reflexively avoided the issue. This race set out to challenge those assumptions, and the results were unambiguous.

Indeed, Kelly was only too pleased to tout her "F" rating from the organization, which in turn led to support from Bloomberg and progressive groups like the CREDO super PAC. It helped separate her from the pack and positioned her to become a member of Congress in April.

And because of this, Capitol Hill must rethink its relationship with the gun lobby. And in fact, it will have a chance to do so today as the Senate Judiciary Committee finally gives the Assault Weapons Ban a hearing. The gun lobby has attempted to blithely dismiss calls for gun safety reform as "The Connecticut Effect", but that strategy may not be so effective any more.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

We've just seen too many untimely, unnecessary, and uncivilized deaths across the country. From Tucson to Sanford, and from Newtown to Las Vegas, the shootings have piled up. And the gun lobby's excuses are wearing thin.

Driving down Las Vegas Boulevard is not a crime. Wearing a hoodie outside is not a crime. And for goodness sake, going to school is not a crime. But you know what? Murder is. And while protecting criminals' right to murder, it can be just as dangerous and dastardly.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sequester Bulls**titis

Over the past month, we've been looking at what may happen if Congress allows "The Austerity Bomb" that's more commonly referred to as "The Sequester" to explode. This morning, The Sun posted an article on how "The Sequester" will hit Nevada. Hint: It won't be pretty, but it will be quite painful & ugly.

“In Southern Nevada we’re really concerned. McCarran has 41 million come through that place every year,” Sen. Harry Reid said Monday. “We’re told there are going to be long waiting lines [due to "Sequester" mandated TSA cuts]; we don’t need that, it should be avoided —it’s unnecessary.” [...]

In its state-by-state report, the White House estimated that Nevada would lose almost $13 million in federal funding for primary, secondary and special education programs. That equates to 170 teacher and teacher aide positions that might be eliminated.

Head Start funding and child care grants are also on the list of cuts.

In public health, more than $1 million will disappear from programs such as child vaccines, HIV testing and infectious diseases. Several hundred thousand dollars are also set to be slashed from police initiatives, and job training. [...]

“These are not just numbers in a spreadsheet; real people will be hurt by arbitrary across-the-board cuts,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev. “We already receive low levels of federal funding to support critical programs in Nevada. We don’t have enough funding in Nevada to start with, and the sequester will leave us with even less.”

Yep. This is what we're set to get. And we're getting this "Austerity Bomb" because Republicans held the debt ceiling hostage in 2011.

Remember this. Remember this when they now cry about "#Obamaquester" or some other new cutesy Twitter hashtag they're using to describe their own manufactured crisis.

Their political games are causing real economic pain out here in the real world. Earlier today, Katrina Vanden Heuvel noted just how out of touch Capitol Hill's austerity fetish is with the economic reality of this country.

The stark reality is the economy is still in trouble and Americans are still hurting. The economy contracted last quarter, even before Americans got hit with the end of the payroll tax holiday, which will take $1,000 out of the typical family’s annual paycheck. The Congressional Budget Office projects that growth will inch along at about 1.5 percent this year. That translates into continued mass unemployment — with more than 20 million people in need of full-time work — and falling wages. The richest 1 percent captured an unimaginable 121 percent of all income growth in 2009 and 2010, coming out of the Great Recession. They pocketed all of the growth in income, while 99 percent of Americans actually lost ground. That trend is likely to get worse rather than better.

Federal Reserve Governor Janet L. Yellen described the tragic human costs of widespread, long-term unemployment in an important speech this month. Families lose their homes; divorce and depression rise; children are scarred; skills are lost. A young generation is leaving school to sit on the couch.

Yet most of Washington — from the newly reelected Democratic president to the self-described insurgent Tea Party Republicans — is ignoring this reality to focus on cutting deficits.

The Republican Congress seems intent on letting the “sequester” take place — the idiotic across the board cuts that were explicitly designed to be anathema to both parties. Senate Democrats call not for repealing these cuts, but for “paying for” delaying them for a few more months.

Why this fixation? Deficits aren’t careering out of control. In fact, as the Congressional Budget Office reports, in relation to the economy, the deficit has fallen faster over the past three years than at any time since the demobilization after World War II. Calls for cutting Medicare benefits ignore the reality that the slowing rise in Medicare costs has already cut about $500 billion from its projected costs over 10 years compared to estimates made two years ago.

In fact, the too-rapid and premature decline in deficits in a weak economy is hindering any recovery, as Yellen noted.

That's the problem. Instead of focusing on furthering economic recovery, President Obama has to try negotiate with Congress to end yet another manufactured crisis. Yet because "The Overton Window" on Capitol Hill has shifted so hard in the direction of austerity, we've had to choose between a little austerity and a whole lot of austerity.

But again, we ignore Europe at our own peril. Austerity has only produced Great Depression levels of economic misery in Greece & Spain, and it's thrown most of the rest of the European Union into a prolonged double-dip recession. Austerity isn't working in Europe, so why should we think it will help America?

Go ahead and take a closer look at the fallout from this "Austerity Bomb" explosion. And remember how we reached this point. Keep these in mind when you hear the Beltway pundits spinning their way to complete absurdity on "the blame game".

Greg Sargent, along with Brian Beutler and few others in DC (but not infected with the weird disease plaguing many other media pundits there), thinks an end to this latest manufactured crisis is near.

I’d only add that Democrats have literally no incentive to do anything other than follow this course [of letting Republicans cannibalize each other]. After all, there’s no reason for them to agree to any package of cuts to replace the sequester, since no package of cuts is preferable to them. What’s more, the current public opinion environment favors Democrats on not one, but on two levels. The public overwhelmingly favors the Democrats’ approach to bringing down the deficit —through a mix of spending cuts and new taxes on the wealthy — so Dems are already favored to win the basic policy argument that will unfold and be dramatized for voters throughout the month of March. Democrats will be arguing that we should replace the cuts with something voters actually want. Republicans can only continue to argue for more spending cuts to replace the sequester — which will only deepen the public’s identification of Republicans as the party of the sequester cuts in the first place.

More broadly, this will unfold in an environment in which general opinion about Obama is far more favorable than it is about Republicans. The new Pew poll today finds that an astonishing 62 percent of Americans think the GOP is out of touch with the American people, versus only 46 percent who think that about Dems — a 16 point gap.

It remains unclear how many Republican officials will break with the leadership in the spending/defense divide. Justin Green makes the case that this divide is overstated and that the spending hawks have broad dominance within the GOP. That said, defense hawks like Lindsey Graham and John McCain have now signaled an openness to new revenues. If they mount a very public campaign (including the Sunday shows) to pressure their leadership to accept new revenues, it’s conceivable that divide could deepen. And when the threat of a government shutdown looms, that could grow worse, with public opinion suddenly looming as large as it did during the shutdown fight in the mid-1990s. As we’ve seen in the payroll tax cut fight and fiscal cliff battle, these sorts of pressures can result in sudden, unexpected stampedes of GOP officials coming out and calling on their leadership to admit that the game is over.

Perhaps this will finally happen. It's just too bad that Republicans in Washington allowed their "TEA" fueled madness to get us to this point. And we still need for the likes of Dean Heller & Joe Heck to stop playing "the blame game" and clean up the mess they helped create.

A Painful Reality Check

Last Thursday, 3 people died & 3 more were seriously injured on Las Vegas Strip as a taxi cab was caught in the midst of a roadside shooting. Since then, there's actually been some introspection on the state of gun violence in Southern Nevada. And as expected, LVCVA is going out of its way to spin this story away... But will it work this time?

“What’s really important early on is to put everything in context,” said Lori Nelson, vice president of corporate communications at Station Casinos and a crisis communications expert. “It’s easy for a situation to get blown out of proportion, and it was good for the LVCVA to convey that what happened on the Strip on Thursday was an isolated incident.” [..]

“I think the message we sent was that we were an innocent bystander, just like Las Vegas was a bystander in this most recent incident that could have happened anywhere,” she said.

But some critics aren’t buying it. They say the LVCVA’s “What happens here, stays here” campaign and some of the attractions available to visitors can be interpreted as community permissiveness toward fast cars, alcohol, guns, sex and drugs.

While overall crime slipped last year, the recent string of Strip shootings may be spooking tourists. It's a real concern that can't be dismissed. After all, Nevada has one of the highest gun death rates in the nation. Just look at this AP report on the early fallout from last Thursday's Strip shooting.

But real guns remain permissible. Nevada's relaxed gun laws, including the ability to carry them openly, have made Las Vegas an attractive spot for shooting ranges and gun shows. Some observers think police should step up their presence on the Strip, just as they did after three slayings in 2011.

"Clearly they should be looking into this because they have had a string of incidents now, and while they've all been random incidents, they all did happen," said David Schwartz, the Director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. [...]

But with violent crime, as with so much else in Vegas, perception may outweigh reality. As a place built on the promise of letting loose, the city must work extra hard to banish all fear of danger, said Tony Henthorne, a marketing professor at the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration in Las Vegas.

"It's important for any destination that relies on tourism for a major percentage of its income to appear safe," he said, "and also actually to be safe."

And that especially rings true here in Nevada. With the state still so highly dependent on gaming & tourism, we can't afford for tourists to keep away because of perceived and/or actual danger.

Yet the danger remains. Nevada scored a measly 5 out of 100 in The Brady Campaign's scorecard on gun safety. And even though he's been denied firearms access for 1 year, it's still scary to think that Steven Brooks came very close to buying a rifle! (What if he hadn't received so much media attention?)

This is a real problem. While the gun lobby continues to spout wild conspiracy theories and extreme rhetoric, real people keep dying. And if Congress fails to act on meaningful gun safety reform, voters will take note.

Haven't we suffered enough? Can we handle more of the same on gun violence?

Monday, February 25, 2013

More Sequester Madness

We've been concerned for some time about the potential impact of "The Sequester". Recently, Desert Beacon pinpointed how Nevada will be hurt by this hefty "austerity attack".

And by the way, take a look at how austerity is working out in Europe, where it originated. Greece & Spain are mired in Great Depression levels of economic contraction and unemployment. Italy has suffered immensely as well, which is why voters there largely rejected austerity in last weekend's election.

And it's not as if Americans don't realize what austerity has done to Europe. Just take a look at what kinds of budget cuts Americans want to happen.

Consider the chart that Pew published with its [recent report on Americans attitudes on the federal budget] -- the only popular spending cut is to foreign aid, which represents less than 1% of the federal budget, and even here, a plurality of Americans want foreign aid to go up or stay the same.

This is not uncommon. On nearly every area included in the survey -- education, infrastructure, health care, national defense, environmental protections, aid to the needy, etc. -- less than a fourth of the population wants to see spending cuts, and a clear majority want spending levels to either increase of remain at current levels.

So a rather large supermajority of Americans don't want austerity! People are realizing just how reckless this "Sequester" is. So why is Congress still poised to let this happen?

If implemented, "The Sequester" likely won't even make a lasting debt on the budget deficit. But wait, isn't that why it was created? Yep... But since it will hurt economic growth if implemented, "The Sequester" undermines its own purpose by reducing the amount of taxable income.

Again, Americans are realizing this. Even many Republicans don't want this to happen. For goodness sake, what has the Republican Party come to when Governor Jan Brewer (R-Arizona) becomes the voice of reason?!

Perhaps she and other jittery Republicans are finally worrying about what happens if/when these budget cuts go into effect. And perhaps they're remembering what happened the last time Republicans in Congress wreaked havoc on the federal government.

“Before the [1995] government shutdown it was very much an open question in most people’s minds which party would win,” recalled Paul Begala, a Clinton White House veteran, and an insider at the time of the shutdown, in a telephone interview Friday. “Republicans were very confident at the time that the government would shutdown and people’s lives wouldn’t change. They were wrong. … [W]e all saw that theory proved in ‘95 and ‘96 and it’s going to happen again.”

Sequestration is different from a government shutdown in some key ways. It won’t bring myriad government services to a halt, but it will delay them and complicate them and make things more expensive and less convenient for ordinary taxpayers. It will also lead to layoffs and furloughs.

This week, the Obama administration is taking steps to publicize these costs, including the president himself, who will deliver remarks at a shipbuilding facility in Virginia on Tuesday.

“If you live in Newport News or Pascagoula or any other of a hundred Navy towns — San Diego to Portsmouth — you know this is going to hurt because this is going to stop construction on ships,” Begala predicted. “So I don’t think it’s going to last very long.”

Once it happened, the 1995 federal government shutdown was declared a political disaster for Congressional Republicans. Americans were largely blaming them for closed doors at everything from national parks to the National Institutes of Health. And they paid a hefty political price during the rest of the 1990s.

If no budget agreement is reached by March 27, we may see another government shutdown this spring. But so far, many political players in DC think "Sequester" backlash will be enough to bring about a deal on that and the larger federal budget some time next month. At this point, many Nevadans are hoping this is true and Congress can get its act together soon.

So What's the Excuse Now?

Remember when we discussed the possible end of "deja vu politics as usual" in Carson City? Well, that day may truly be arriving soon. The new RAN/POS poll offers some surprising hope for future tax reform.

Despite opposition among business groups and in the Legislature, the public widely supports the margins tax, according to a new poll by the Retailers Association of Nevada.

The survey, by well-known national pollster Glen Bolger, was conducted February 16-18, 2013, among 500 likely voters, with 125 cell phone interviews, and has a margin of error of +4.38%.

Among the findings, which crossed a wide spectrum of issues (and you can see details in the attachment here):

Margins tax: 58-39, support (but people are divided about the salutary impact vs. loss of jobs--see details in attachment)

Now keep in mind that POS is a Republican affiliated pollster. And it's been doing this poll for a conservative business lobbying outfit. That makes these numbers even more eye popping. Glen Bolger actually tested the opposition's messaging. And despite that, The Education Initiative still leads 58-39!

This just goes to show how out of touch legislators may be with their own constituents. Instead of pursuing regressive, "revenue-neutral" nonsense, why not look at something that the public supports and the state needs? As we discussed yesterday, Nevada needs a more diversified economy. Yet that won't ever happen if we don't have sufficient public infrastructure. Something must change.

The Education Initiative offers that change by asking the largest corporations doing business here to pay something closer to their fair share. That, in turn, will provide at least $800,000,000 more for K-12 schools. And that, in turn, will provide a critical investment in building a more stable and sustainable economy here.

So what are legislators waiting for? At least if they won't pass it, "We the People" will have our own opportunity to do so next year.

The Solution Is Here. (So Why Not Solve the Problem Already?)

Once again, we're reminded of the immense potential of renewable energy here in Nevada. Up north, Reno is poised to become a global leader in geothermal research, development, and power generation. The seeds have already been planted...

“Reno has the highest concentration of geothermal companies probably in the world,” said Steve Hirsch, director of the East Africa Geothermal Partnership, part of the U.S. Energy Association.

Karl Gawell of the national Geothermal Energy Association said, “What’s happening around the world is you’re seeing a strong core of development in Indonesia and the Philippines, but in the U.S. there’s not a city that would come close to Reno.”

Regarding our geothermal stature, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that world geothermal energy development is exploding, and Reno people and companies will be tapped for their expertise in exploration, training, design, equipment and maintenance, bringing much needed money back into the community.

But are they being properly watered?

On one hand, we have groundbreaking geothermal programs at UNR and Truckee Meadows. We've also seen geothermal start-up's grow into strong businesses. As the global geothermal market continues to explode, Northern Nevada is poised to be a global leader.

But there's a catch. Even as overall global geothermal demand grows, we're not seeing as much of that right here in Nevada. And a major reason for this lies in what Harry Reid told legislators in Carson City last week. It's difficult to grow the renewable energy sector here when the state's electric monopoly is going out of its way not to invest in local, home-grown renewable energy.

“We want to fix that and a lot of legislators are looking at how do we spur development and projects,” said [Paul Thomsen, director of policy and business development for Reno based geothermal firm Ormat Technologies] . “These are gold mines for Nevada’s rural counties. Development in this state will come to a complete stop because developers can’t invest large amounts of capital to do exploration work if they don’t see power purchase agreements on the horizon.”

It's ridiculous. It's inefficient. It's counterproductive. And it's just plain stupid. Why aren't we using the power we have right here in Nevada?

Last month, ALL of the new electrical generating capacity came from renewable sources. The potential is here. Yet we risk falling behind other states and other countries as they more aggressively pursue both geothermal and overall renewable energy development.

Oh, and by the way, the climate crisis is still here. We can't ignore the real threat at our doorstep. And that's why it's even more imperative that we develop more renewable energy capacity that can easily be attained here in Nevada.

So what are we waiting for? What is NV Energy waiting for? And what are Nevada legislators waiting for? This needs to be fixed. Both our state economy and our planet's well-being depend on switching from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewables. It's time to start doing that. (And we can start by closing the loopholes in Nevada's renewable portfolio.)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Big Picture

One would think that last Thursday's pomp & circumstance surrounding AB 114 becoming law meant Nevada did something truly revolutionary. And it actually did address an important aspect of gaming policy. However, we need to put this into proper perspective.

Ralston got us off to a good start...

But I'd like for us to expand on this.

In particular, we should look at this. It took just hours for the Legislature to fast-track AB 114 to the Governor's desk. Yet SJR 15 and The Education Initiative are already on legislators' desk, waiting for action... And #NVLeg leaders don't want to even act on those, let alone act as quickly as they did with AB 114.

While some in Carson City are just treating tax policy as bargaining chips and previews of future campaigns for higher office, there are real problems we're seeing out here. Poor Nevadans might actually faceunaffordable charges for health care that's supposed to be affordable & accessible. Our colleges & universities are fighting each other for (synthetically) limited resources. Many roads across this state remain tattered as mass transit operations in Clark & Washoe Counties continue cutting back. Nevada's working families are hurting, yet legislators are debating ways to inflict even more pain on working families.

What's wrong with this picture? Here's a hint: Look at the big picture. We need an economy that works for all Nevadans. And we need an economy that's no longer dependent on just one industry. We've known for decades that our only hope for a brighter future lies in economic diversification, yet we still haven't invested enough in the public infrastructure necessary to build that diversified economy of the future.

Why is this? Sure, the gaming industry has tons of clout in Carson City thanks to its countless lobbyists and endless campaign contributions. Legislators are quick to act on gaming industry demands because they want on that gravy train.

But what happens when that gravy train runs out of fuel? Again, our state's economy can't survive on one industry alone. Even gaming industry insiders recognize that, which is why they've occasionally paid lip service to aiding economic diversification.

But now, more than ever before, Nevada is at a crossroads. Either the state can begin shifting both the tax base and the economy away from overdependence on gaming, or we can continue making the same mistakes to our own detriment.

Now I don't want to belittle the big move on online gaming. It has plenty of potential, and the state should pursue that. The only way Nevada will continue to a be a gaming leader is if we innovate. Yet, the same truth applies to overall economic development... And we've yet to lead there. It would just be nice if the Governor and the Legislature felt the same urgency on improving the state's overall economic health as they did in pleasing casino lobbyists.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Scary Reminder from Steven Brooks

Oh, what a week this has been. Yesterday in the Southwest Vegas Valley, a coalition of progressive activists gathered outside Two. Joe Heck's office demanding action on gun safety reform. And at that rally, OFA super volunteer and mental health professional Linda Cavazos talked about the intersection of mental health care policy and gun safety policy.

Yet while activists down south were asking Heck to act on gun safety, the Steven Brooks story took a disturbing new turn up north. Yesterday, KRNV discovered that Brooks tried to buy a gun at a Scheels store in Sparks. Brooks apparently moved to Reno earlier this month, and there's been concern of him returning to Carson City despite being banned from the Legislature Building. Legislature security were placed on alert once news broke of his attempted Scheels purchase.

Now here's the scary twist to this story. Even though Brooks was committed to a mental health treatment facility after his first arrest, Scheels may still sell him that gun! Yes, despite everything we've seen from Brooks in the past month, he can still purchase firearms and ammunition.

This is the reality of our current gun laws, both in state and federally. Even people who may pose a threat to themselves and to others can still access firearms. This is a serious problem.

Imagine what may happen if Steven Brooks gets that gun. Remember what (allegedly) Brooks threatened to do to Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D-North Las Vegas)? And remember what Brooks has been up to for the past month? And he may still buy a gun?

Nevada, we have a problem. And Congress, you must act.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Message for Joe Heck

In a very eventful week on gun violence, this was the climax. On the day after the Las Vegas Strip shooting that killed 3 and wounded 3 more, and 3 days after Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) agreeing with local right wing talk radio host Alan Stock's characterization of Gabby Giffords as a "prop", there were both progressive protesters and "tea party" protesters outside Heck's district office in the Southwest Valley.

 @OFA_NV & more #nvp2 grassroots outside @RepJoeHeck&#039... on Twitpic

 #teaparty also protested outside @RepJoeHeck's office #... on Twitpic

Just hours after Heck appeared on Alan Stock's show, he held a town hall meeting in Henderson where he took several questions on gun safety. And after that disastrous radio debacle, Heck tried toning down his language on guns. He even endorsed universal background checks and legislation to curb illegal gun trafficking. Yet even on Tuesday, he used some rather strong language in defending civilian use of military grade assault weapons.

That's why OFA Nevada, ProgressNow Nevada, the Southwest Democratic Club, and more grassroots progressives were paying a(nother) visit to Heck's office. They wanted to know what he will actually do when he returns to Washington. Will he abide by what he said Tuesday when he promised to reach across the aisle on gun trafficking, background checks, and even allowing CDC research on gun violence? Or will he cave to "tea party" pressure (again)? After all, they were there to protest Heck doing anything on gun safety!

Kathleen Wilson is a Navy veteran, a mom, and a local OFA volunteer. She went to Joe Heck's office to ask him to use common sense when looking at gun safety reform proposals.

Teresa Crawford and Linda Cavazos are OFA "super volunteers" in Henderson. Teresa is also a registered nurse who lives just down the hill from Heck's posh guard gated community. Linda works as a mental health professional, and she & her husband are responsible gun owners. They spoke about what Heck said this week, the gun violence Southern Nevada has experienced recently, and why Congress must act on all of President Obama's gun safety agenda.

Outside, progressive protesters outnumbered "tea party" protesters by about 3:1. Yet several Heck staffers came outside to greet both sides. And they had "constituent comment forms" on them. Heck himself was not to be found.

 @OFA_NV @SWLVDems @ProgressNowNV & more #nvp2 outside @R... on Twitpic

 @OFA_NV crowd outside @RepJoeHeck's office day after #V... on Twitpic

This has been quite a week here in Southern Nevada. We had another painful reminder of the reality of gun violence in this country. And a Member of Congress here has been trying to straddle the fence in the gun safety debate.

But now, it's time for Joe Heck to act. And it's time for the rest of Congress to act. After today's event, some OFA volunteers will hand deliver letters to the respective offices of Senators Harry Reid (D) and Dean Heller (R) asking them to act on the entire gun safety agenda proposed by the President. Nevadans demand action. That's something Heck's staff should have noticed today.

Andy Hafen & the Big Picture of Henderson

Last night, I stopped by a neighborhood meeting. And this wasn't just any neighborhood meeting. Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen answered questions and talked about the current state of the city at this neighborhood house party.

 #Henderson Mayor #AndyHafen now talking #HealthCare & #U... on Twitpic

 Hen Mayor #AndyHafen meeting constituents @ house party @Hen... on Twitpic

Last night, Hafen pointed to the many achievements of the city in recent years in explaining how strong the state of the city actually is. Forbes has named Henderson one of the safest cities in America. Bloomberg Businessweek has named Henderson one of "America's 50 Best Cities". Henderson is often considered to be the best run municipal government in Southern Nevada.

So why have Ralston, Coolican, and especially the local "newspaper" been turning up the heat on City Hall lately? It has to do with the Chris Milam stadium scandal. In recent weeks, accusations of fraud (on Milam) and corruption (in the city) have been flying all around City Hall.

Last night, Hafen cleared the air and explained his side of the story. Basically, Milam promised Henderson a stadium. Henderson, in turn, signed onto an initial agreement to support Milam's bid for vacant BLM land just south of The M Resort on the condition that Milam builds a stadium on that land. But at the last minute, Milam terminated the agreement. And on top of that, he started marketing that land for residential development! And especially considering the full inventory of our local residential real estate market, that was considered the ultimate insult.

That's why Henderson filed suit against Milam. Yet despite this brouhaha, Andy Hafen said he'd still like to see a stadium built on that land. The city just has to make sure it finds a developer who will actually abide by one's word (and not try terminating a contract at the last minute).

 #Henderson residents @ house party thanking #AndyHafen for e... on Twitpic

  on Twitpic

  on Twitpic

There was also some talk about development overall last night. The entire Las Vegas Valley has been hit hard by the "real estate bubble" bursting. One can even go around Henderson and still find vacant offices & "blue taped" houses. Yet in the past year, there have been signs of recovery. And Mayor Hafen was introspective in discussing how the city can better manage future growth.

Yet with that being said, the entire group thanked Mayor Hafen and the city for its extensive and award winning parks, trails, & recreation center network. Mayor Hafen boasted of the city's many family friendly amenities. This is something that makes Henderson quite unique in Southern Nevada, since other municipalities have historically revolved more around gaming & adult entertainment. Hafen and the audience talked about how this has aided economic diversification and neighborhood stability here.

And then, there's sustainability. Henderson was the first municipal government in Southern Nevada to adopt a sustainability plan. All around town, one can find signs of it as old street lights have been replaced by energy efficient CFL lights, landscaping & xeriscaping have converged, LEED certified buildings have popped up, and recycling has continued to be expanded & innovated. Henderson has gone out of its way to become a greener place to call home.

And it didn't end there. Getting back to economic development, there was even talk about the state of public education in the city. It's helped that K-12 schools here are considered among the best in the valley. (And it probably helps there that Henderson has many of the most affluent neighborhoods in the valley.) The group also discussed the expansion of Nevada State College (NSC). NSC has aggressively pursued public-private partnerships, and it's been pursuing students who want a four-year college education in a more intimate and flexible environment. While the city doesn't have too much say over CCSD schools, it is making sure NSC continues growing and prospering.

And that finally brings us to the Nevada Legislature. Of course, Mayor Hafen was happy that the new higher education funding formula means a much larger revenue stream for NSC. In addition, Hafen hinted at the ongoing C-Tax fight in describing how the city gets money back from Carson City. All in all, Hafen seemed encouraged by what's developing in the Legislature now.

Overall, it's a complicated big picture for Henderson. The city has certainly taken some tough punches over the last five years from both "The Great Recession" and embarrassing incidents like the Kathleen Vermillion scandal, outbreaks of police brutality, & now the Chris Milam stadium controversy. Yet with all that being said, the city is still considered the best run in the state as it piles up prestigious awards, avoids the kind of ugly labor conflicts that have plagued both Clark County & the other major cities in the valley, opens new parks just as the above mentioned cities have threatened to close parks, and pursues new economic development opportunities. It hasn't always been easy for Henderson, yet the city has managed to avoid disaster.

And with this big picture behind him, Andy Hafen runs for reelection as Henderson Mayor. Believe it or not, he answered questions from residents for over two hours last night. He certainly had plenty to talk about. And he's hoping more residents see the opportunity and progress that he sees in that big picture.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

From Newtown to Vegas, a Sober Warning

Early this morning, we found out about the horrific Las Vegas Strip shooting and car crash that left 3 dead and 3 seriously injured. Now, we have a few more details on what happened. And we have shocked tourists up and down The Strip.

Police said a confrontation at a Strip resort spilled onto Las Vegas Boulevard, leading to sporadic gunshots being fired from the Range Rover as the vehicles traveled north. The accident occurred near Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road, the site of several major casinos, including Bellagio, Caesars Palace and Bally's.

"This doesn't happen where we come from, not on this scale," said Mark Thompson, who was visiting from Manchester, England, with his wife. "We get stabbings, and gang violence, but this is like something out of a movie. Like 'Die Hard' or something."

Police were contacting authorities in three neighboring states about the Range Rover Sport with tinted windows and paper dealer plates that fled the scene about 4:30 a.m.

Metro Police Sgt. John Sheahan said the vehicles were seen pulling onto Las Vegas Boulevard near East Harmon Avenue, near City Center, then heading north. Although authorities initially said gunshots were fired from both the SUV and the Maserati, Sheahan clarified that gunfire came only from the Range Rover.

Police said the Maserati hit the taxi cab, which went up in flames, and the driver and passenger were killed. The male driver of the Maserati also died, and his passenger was shot.

"What is the genesis of this, when did this all start? We don't know yet," Las Vegas Police Sgt. John Sheahan said.

One of the passengers in the Maserati was injured in the shooting and taken to University Medical Center, where he was being interviewed by detectives.

We've especially been seeing many shocked tourists today. They've had a rude awakening of what's actually possible on The Strip.

"This is something we never see in our country, drive-by shootings on the street. This is a completely different world. We're allowed to have guns in Norway, but it's very restrictive. You can't carry guns on the street, and the police don't carry guns. We're not used to this at all."

- Ellen Singh; Oslo, Norway.


"I live near Illinois. You see this kind of thing all the time, and we came here to get away from it. We had a hostess with us who just yesterday had said, 'Oh that kind of thing never happens here.'"

- Selena Pratt; Bettendorf, Iowa. [...]


“This is a little different. These things don’t happen in our country. Nobody carries guns, because it’s quite illegal. But in different countries you see different things. This is a shooting in the street. Does this kind of thing happen all the time? It’s quite — impolite.”

- Jose Antonio Zepeda; Chile.

That's because America has both a high gun ownership rate and a high gun violence rate. Oh, and we also have one of the most permissive sets if gun safety laws (both federally and here in Nevada) in the world. So we can especially understand why foreign tourists would be shocked and horrified by what happened this morning.

Of course, LVCVA is doing its best to downplay this. It doesn't want scared tourists to stay away from Las Vegas. And perhaps this incident alone won't hurt tourism. However, this is not the only recent Strip shooting. And if this level of violence persists, it's hard to see how it doesn't affect Strip tourism. No wonder why LVCVA is trying to downplay this latest outbreak of gun violence.

Mere hours after this latest Las Vegas Strip shooting, Vice President Joe Biden addressed gun safety reform to an audience in Connecticut. Many there are still reeling from the Newtown shootings. And families there and across the country are demanding action from Congress on gun safety.

And Biden particularly had something to say about politicians fearing a "political price to pay" for supporting gun safety reform.

That’s a big change in the conventional wisdom, which has long held that taking on the gun rights lobby is at best risky and at worst suicidal. But Biden’s not the only one saying it — Democrats are gearing up to make support for gun control a key plank in their 2014 platform.

The “standing assumption” today is that “this is kind of the third rail of politics,” Biden said. “That if you take this on, somehow, there will be a severe political price to pay for doing it. Because that’s what’s happened in the past.”

The old rules no longer apply after the schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn., Biden said, calling inaction on gun control “unacceptable.”

“What I say to my colleagues … I say to you, if you’re concerned about your political survival, you should be concerned about the survival of our children,” he said. “And guess what? I believe the price to be paid politically will be to those who refuse to act, who refuse to step forward. Because America has changed on this issue.”

Even though Biden was speaking in Connecticut, he could have very well used that as a rebuttal to much of what Joe Heck said on the radio and at his town hall on Tuesday. It could also serve as a pep talk to Senators Harry Reid & Dean Heller as they weigh their options on gun safety legislation pending in the Senate. As many Members of Congress keep dragging their feet on gun safety, we're continuing to see these troubling shootings across the country. And as we've been finding out the hard way, Nevada is not immune to this.

Something must change. We're already paying the price for past inaction. Can Nevada and the nation afford any more?

Harry Reid's Mean, Green Ultimatum

As of late, we've seen more and more signs of its arrival. It's happening, and we can't ignore it any more. Climate change is here, and we must do something about it.

Harry Reid has talked about this before. But last night, the US Senate Majority Leader asked something of the Nevada Legislature.

[Reid] said [NV Energy] should not get credit for buying hydro-electric power from Utah or “allow them to meet the portfolio standard by handing out energy-efficient light bulbs at Home Depot.”

“Closing these loopholes will strengthen the law and send a powerful signal that Nevada remains committed to kicking our dependence on out-of-state, fossil fuels,” he said.

Environmentalists and renewable energy developers have blamed NV Energy, in part, for a stalled renewable energy market in Nevada.

State Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, avoided mentioning loopholes or NV Energy in statements released after Reid’s speech but applauded his proposal to strengthen the state’s renewable energy standard.

Reid certainly caused a stir in Carson City last night, but he wasn't wrong on the facts. In September, The Sun uncovered NV Energy's scheme of "filling the renewable energy portfolio" by purchasing electricity from out of state and purchasing so much that it has "credits" to offset its dirty power plants in-state. Not only has NV Energy exploited loopholes in state law, but it's also been undermining the very purpose of the renewable energy standard.

Nevada has already begun feeling the effects of climate change. Communities are already being hurt, especially in rural areas that have depended on agriculture. And communities all feel even more pain if we fail to act.

Hopefully, legislators were taking heed to Senator Reid. This is serious. Nevada shouldn't be losing out on both green job creation and an opportunity to really make a dent on carbon emissions. And we shouldn't lose out just because the local electric monopoly is too greedy to do the right thing.

It's Hitting Home... & We Can't Wait Any Longer.

How often have we been warning about this? How many times have we discussed the real dangers of gun violence? And for how long have we just glanced at the gun safety solutions in front of us without taking action?

Today, it's all unfolding right on the Las Vegas Strip.

At least three people are dead this morning and the Las Vegas Strip is shut down in several directions after a shooting and a car fire near Bally’s.

Sgt. John Sheahan says five vehicles were involved in the crash, including a taxi that burst into flames and killed two people around 4:30 a.m. Thursday at Flamingo and Las Vegas boulevards.

Sheahan says people in a Maserati and an SUV were exchanging gunfire before the Maserati hit the taxi.

The Maserati driver, the taxi driver and a taxi passenger were killed.

At least three more people have been hospitalized. And now, the entire Strip has been shut down between Tropicana and Flamingo, as well as parts of Flamingo Road.

Keep in mind at least three people have already died. And a portion of the street that serves as Nevada's economic life blood has been shut down. (More) Blood was shed on Las Vegas Boulevard.

And this happened less than 48 hours after Joe Heck tried straddling the fence on gun safety reform. And this happened just as Dean Heller and Harry Reid have still not said exactly what and how much gun safety legislation they will support.

We can't wait any longer. Congress must act. This bloodshed has become too much. And it's really hitting hard here in Nevada now.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Joe Heck Plays Ball on CIR

Last week, we took a closer look at Republicans struggling to find common ground and common purpose on immigration reform. Last night, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) tried to carefully "thread the needle" on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) at his Henderson town hall. He acknowledged receiving plenty of lobby pressure by the extreme anti-immigrant Numbers USA. And perhaps in tipping his hat to them, he proclaimed his continuing opposition to the great threat of "amnesty" that absolutely no one on Capitol Hill is proposing.

So far, the only major difference between the "Gang of 8" plan that Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) is touting and President Obama's CIR plan that he rolled out here in Southern Nevada late last month is that Obama's plan has more specifics. Perhaps that's why Heck refused to endorse either of the twin CIR proposals last night. However, he also didn't rule out CIR.

@Astrid_NV & @LauraKMM talking #cir w/ @RepJoeHeck afte... on Twitpic

  on Twitpic

And perhaps in the biggest stunner of the night, Heck said he can support the earned citizenship proposal at the heart of both Obama's plan and the "Gang of 8" plan.

Numbers USA wasn't the only group that's been lobbying Heck on immigration. DREAM Big Vegas has been pushing Heck and Senator Dean Heller to support CIR. They've been succeeding with Heller, they found a surprise with Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City), and it now looks like Heck is next. With Heck's CIR announcement last night, there's now the possibility of the entire Nevada Congressional Delegation uniting to support a CIR bill. (All 3 Democrats, Reid, Titus, & Horsford, strongly support CIR.)

Clearly, the changing demographic reality of Nevada and the nation are finally weighing on all of Nevada's Congressional Republicans. In addition, both business and labor in this state and nationally have been calling for CIR for some time as it makes economic sense. It sounds like Joe Heck is now listening.

Yet at the same time, some "tea party" backed Republicans have offered their own anti-CIR plan. And a few top G-O-TEA politicians are even admitting that they just don't want to support anything that Obama supports. So it may still not be easy to get Heck fully on board with CIR, but at least there's now a real possibility.

Heck Pulls Back on Guns

Yesterday morning, we saw fireworks. Rep. Joe Heck went on KDWN's "Alan Stock Show" and agreed with Stock calling Gabby Gifforda a "prop" as both were decrying President Obama's push for gun violence prevention.

 Room filling up for @RepJoeHeck #NV03 town hall #nvpolitics ... on Twitpic

 @RepJoeHeck answering ?'s @ #NV03 #Henderson #Vegas tow... on Twitpic

At last night's town hall in Old Henderson, on the other hand, he was singing a very different tune. Last night, he actually started answering questions his constitutents have had on gun safety. And not only that, but he also suddenly found some common ground with President Obama on this matter.

However, there was a catch. While Heck was willing to extend an olive branch on universal background checks and curbing illegal gun trafficking, he was not willing to do the same on the Assault Weapons Ban and ban on high-capacity magazines.

  on Twitpic

Even though last week's KLAS/SUSA poll showed 57% of Nevadans support a ban on military grade assault weapons (and only 33% opposed), Heck didn't want to budge on this. He even claimed that the previous federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994-2004) didn't work. Unfortunately for Heck, the data on hand shows otherwise.

These so-called “external features” not only themselves allow for faster rates of fire and other more lethal uses of the guns, but also serve as effective proxy definitions for the sort of weapons best suited to kill people as efficiently as possible. The definition of “assault weapon” in the new federal ban proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) with respect to semi-automatic rifles and pistols is focused on two kinds of each. The rifles are civilian equivalents of “assault rifles,” the main class of rifle used by modern militaries. “Civilian” versions are distinguished only by their inability to fire either automatically or in bursts without a conversion kit. The pistols have features that make them liable to be converted to full automatic versions (that is, into submachine guns) or otherwise enhance their lethality (e.g., allow for faster rate of fire).

[The new Assault Weapons Ban] picks out those sorts of weapons in two ways. First, it bans specific guns (like the AR-15s used by James Holmes in Aurora and Adam Lanza in Newtown) that are particularly deadly. Many of these guns are civilian equivalents of military assault rifles, because — as assault rifle expert C.J. Chivers puts it — these guns were “conjured to form solely for the task of allowing men to more efficiently kill other men” because they are “smaller, lighter in weight, more tactically versatile and require a lighter per-man effective ammunition load than the infantry rifles that preceded them.” The Feinstein provisions, unlike in the 1994 federal ban, specify that “altered facsimiles with the capability of any such weapon thereof” are also banned, so taking out a single screw and calling the weapon something different would not allow manufacturers to skirt the ban. The second provision defines generic features — like barrel shrouds that allow for faster fire or (for pistols) magazines outside the pistol grip —and bans any gun that has more than one of them and a detachable magazine (the old ban allowed a maximum of two features, making it easier to skirt).

These aren’t merely cosmetic features: they’re the ones that mark guns optimized for effective performance in combat-style situations. They also mark guns easily convertible to full automatic fire, like the TEC-9 submachine guns once favored in gang killings. One such kit is fully legal, despite the 1934 National Firearms Act banning the possession of automatic weapons without a permit. The kit produced by the company Slide Fire product allows you to turn your AR or AK series assault rifle into a rapid-fire machine without technically running afoul of the federal definition of “machine gun.”

The notion that assault rifles are similar in caliber to hunting rifles, and hence no more dangerous, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for similar reasons. As the California Attorney General’s office explains, “Caliber has no bearing on a weapon’s status as a series weapon and should be disregarded when making an identification. For example, upper receiver conversion kits are available to convert almost any AR series weapon into .45 ACP, .40 S&W, 7.62 X 39 mm, 9 mm, 10 mm, or .223 caliber.” [...]

There is evidence that the 1994 federal ban saved lives despite a series of loopholes closed in the Feinstein bill and several state bans. Though there isn’t reliable data on the number of people killed by assault weapons in the United States, there is strong evidence from the Mexican border that both California’s assault weapons ban the federal assault weapon ban lowered the homicide rate. The clearest comes in a 2012 academic paper that treated the expiration of the federal assault weapon ban in 2004 as a natural experiment —California still had its assault weapon ban, but Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona didn’t have equivalents. The authors tracked homicides and weapon seizures in the Mexican provinces bordering the states, finding disproportionately lower homicide rates in provinces near California. This difference remained when other potential causes (like police presence) were accounted for, suggesting the federal and California bans had successful kept assault weapons out of the hands of cartels and other criminals. The expiration of the federal law, on this paper’s model, has gotten roughly 239 people killed on the Mexican border per year since 2004. This is consistent with another paper that found “the expiration of the AWB is responsible for at least 16.4 percent of the increase in the homicide rate in Mexico between 2004 and 2008.”

The 1994 ban, according to a Department of Justice review, also appears to have caused the percentage of crimes involving assault weapons in some major US cities to drop from 72 percent to 17 percent.

Even with its loopholes and other flaws, the 1994 federal ban actually did work to a large extent. And the new proposed ban goes a long way to fix those past flaws.

What's the purpose of civilian ownership & use of military grade assault weapons? And why are high-capacity magazines needed? How are these fit for "recreational use"? Heck didn't really answer that. And his spin falls flat once the facts are brought out.

Otherwise, it seems like Heck at least wants to be seen as "moderate" and "reasonable". So at least he's now open to background checks, curbing trafficking, and even lifting the ban on CDC researching gun violence. So maybe there's a chance of something getting through this Congress? Heck seems amenable to at least some measures, but it remains to be seen if his House G-O-TEA leaders allow a floor vote on anything... And if Alan Stock and the rest of the Nevada "tea party" will tolerate this talk from Heck.