Thursday, December 29, 2011

GOP vision would diminish America

My column Dec. 28 2011 in the Sky Hi News

I wonder what this new year will bring. Whatever happens, 2012 is going to be a special one because of severely conflicting visions of America.

What happens in the coming year may go down as a crossroads, an American spring, even breaking political gridlock in Washington, or not.  

The contributing factor is that the Republican party has taken a turn to the hard core right. Democrats have stayed pat. Each one of the potential GOP presidential candidates has tried to position his or her platform as being the purest and most conservative. Every public policy is subject to the measure of whether it reduces the debt and shrinks the role of the federal government.

Recently, it appears the Republican primary goal has been to protect the tax status of the rich. When it comes to foreign affairs, military strength and physical intervention are their measures of America's strength in the world. Any other approach is condemned as appeasement. Only Ron Paul differs. The Right wrings its hands, seeing the U.S. in decline and making a case that theirs is the only way to restore America's power in the world.

The Left has spent the past year protecting programs they traditionally treasure, Social Security, Medicare, education, and responsible withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Democrats' vision is nearly the diametric opposite of the new Republicanism.

The villain in all of this is us. Americans want the federally provided services the federal government has given them. We want America to be the most powerful military in the world. We want low taxes, too. In short, we want, want, want, but what we do not want is to pay for it. 

We do not need to decrease taxes to be competitive in business in the world, according to Fareed Zakaria on CNN Dec. 11. Per the OECD (an international body studying economic development matters), the U.S. ranks 27th in taxes as a percentage of gross domestic product and we are still ranked by the World Bank as the best large country in the world in which to do business. 

Here is why the GOP vision if implemented will make us a nation diminished. America's greatness is more than the myopic view of military might and intervention. It is also our moral leadership in human rights and democratic governance, our innovative, educated populace, and a nation that can transport its people and products from border to border and beyond.

The GOP seems bent on defunding this human and physical capital, exempting from cuts more military might and promoting tax policies that would only increase one of the greatest income gaps between the rich and the poor in the industrialized world.

We are already familiar with a slip in our education levels compared to other countries, and our debt is a potential time bomb, though 40 percent is due to diminished income to the treasury due to the recession. The trend line shows we have slow, steady growth and job creation that will eventually reduce the deficit significantly.

At the beginning of 2012, according to the Census, one out of every two families are either poor or living in poverty. The major economic driver of growth is consumer demand, and our diminished middle class cannot afford to be vigorous consumers. Even the rich confirm that the motivation for expanding business is based on many more factors than just favorable tax reductions. 

According to the World Bank and the OECD: Federal spending on basic science is one half of what it was in the 1950s. Five years ago, our infrastructure was ranked in the top 10; now we are 24th. Once we ranked first in college graduates; now we are 14th.

In the GOP's rush to reduce the deficit, education and infrastructure are their main targets for cuts and they continue to defend the rich from tax increases. They are pursuing a vision that will further diminish America's place in the world.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Market, Free Market

Version of my original column submitted to the paper; skyhidaily news(   printed an edited version Dec.21, 2011

So many of our Christmas traditions come from Europe, some coming sooner and others later.  One that is only now catching on lately is a Christmas Market.  In the old country, especially in German speaking regions,  the village town square is filled with stalls selling hand made tree ornaments and goodies and toys and items to give at gifts when Christmas eve comes.  I treasure the tree ornaments my junior year abroad children brought to me so many years ago from Austria. Those markets are like our crafts fairs and farmers markets with a Christmas theme .  It is old fashioned, free market capitalism for which so many yearn.
Being nostalgic  for the free market olden days has also become an unstated litmus test of the GOP presidential contenders and their media spokespersons .  It is  held up as a standard of economic good, and it will cure what ails us including high health care costs and Wall Street busts.  The sound bite of the month is that the President Obama Is an enemy of the free market because  he supports more regulation of Wall Street   and his health care reform law  is a government  take over the health care market.
  I love the free market too, when it is truly free, fair, safe, and competitive. Following my European sister in law around  the huge farmers market in Zagreb, Croatia, this summer I saw the free market at its best.  She went to her favorite vendors who usually had the best quality and turned over the tomatoes to see if there was a rotten spot or a worm hole. She picked and poked and then bought.  There must have had twenty different tomato vendors  there.
Neither the health care insurance industry nor Wall Street meet standards of being  free, fair ,safe  or  competitive.  It is not Obama who is the enemy of the free market system;  it is some of the participants in that market who do it the most harm.  The financial sector has utilized  modern technology and shell game techniques to fool their customers, both unsophisticated  consumers and the experienced investors.   The old “liars can figure and figures can lie” approach  permeated the securities markets pre the 2008 crash may possible by unregulated financial instruments such as  derivatives   and hedge funds  and unwise lending practices.  Dodd/Frank  Wall Street Reform  brings  tougher  regulation and new scrutiny to those worst practices, to the howl of protest by the GOP and bankers.  .
  Major contributors  to the bubble that burst in 2008 were  practices that were unfair to consumers and  undermined  free market choices. The least able to shop wisely  in the credit  market were   everyday consumers, who assumed that they could afford the house if the bank told them they could and   were incapable of finding the worm hole in the shiny pages and fine print of documents shoved under their faces at closing.  Credit card companies found imaginative ways to soak their customers. There was no place to go for a consumer to complain or someone to make lenders behave  fairly .   
 The Consumer Protection   Bureau was established in the Wall Street reform legislation to provide a solution.  The GOP and Wall Street lobbyists are stonewalling appointments to the agency, hoping to eventually sabotage it by putting more banker-foxes  in charge of the hen/house  of consumer protection….all in the name of free market economics.
“Let competition of health insurance companies  cross state lines  and we can lower health care costs”, say the GOP, offering that as the alternative to Obamacare.   Bad news:  There is no free market .  A few nationwide health insurance companies and their subsidiaries control the market, free to collude on prices , restrict  offerings and divvy up customers because they are freed  from anti trust laws.  That is why Obamacare establishes  an open, affordable market of  exchanges  providing a choice of competing for profit and non profit private insurers, offering  coverage fairer to consumers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The GOP is becoming even more disconnected from the middle class

My  column in today's Sky Hi News

A riddle: How is hanging Christmas lights outside like politics?

The puzzle with the answer hit me the other day as I was doing that annual chore: If you do not make the proper connections, the lights do not go on. The voters will light up best for those who make the right connection, and polls are showing the Democrats are beginning to make some headway.

A shift in public attitudes has coincided with the GOP presidential contender debates and the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. OWS brought focus to the fact that the rich had gotten richer and the 99 percent of us had not, and it contributed to a change in public attitudes toward taxation fairness, even trumping debt and job creation concerns. The GOP also helped fire this mood shift by consistently defending the rich and big business in Congress and in their nearly weekly presidential hopeful debates.

According to a New York Times/CBS News poll Oct. 31, 70 percent of Americans said that congressional Republicans' policies favored the rich; two-thirds thought wealth should be more evenly distributed and that taxes should be increased on millionaires. A very critical shift in opinion from earlier polls was that 65 percent thought the way to lower the deficit was to increase taxes on millionaires instead of closing the deficit by cutting popular programs such as education, earned entitlements, and environmental protection.

In addition to giving the public a distasteful menu of cuts to middle class-benefitting programs, GOP candidates and congress people proposed a shell game of delaying any decisions until sometime in an indefinite future when the entire tax structure could be made flatter. They even approved a tax hike, in effect, on the middle class by trying to block an extension of the payroll tax cut, holding it hostage to removing the part paying for it with a tax on millionaires. When that position ran into public outrage, they shifted the terms of their ransom to agreeing to their proposal to reduce funding to the EPA and approval of an oil pipeline without the normal scrutiny. They are at least making big energy happy, if not anyone depending on continuation of the payroll tax cut.

Republicans try to justify their protection of the rich and big because they contend those are the job creators; raising taxes on them will kill jobs. Many of the same rich and big have publicly stated that tax policy is not the main reason they add employees and those same polls cited above showed that the public had more faith in Obama's job creation proposals than they did in the GOP's plans.

The GOP has complained the president had declared class warfare, making him appear to some as whipping up class anger, not that anger did not already exist. To explain away the anger, the newest GOP line is to say it is generated by wealth envy. That kind of bogus psychoanalysis shows how disconnected the GOP is from reality.

Obama seized on the fairness issue in his seminal speech in Kansas on Dec. 6, when he resurrected the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt's populism, setting forth “fairness” as a theme of his 2012 campaign.

If the GOP continues to be disconnected from the public mood as they have been, they will turn on the lights in the minds of independent voters that will only help the Democrats.

Monday, December 12, 2011

GOP is relying on voters being unsophisticated and dumb?

Of all the arrogance.  I heard at least two spokespeople for the GOP on Sunday talk say that Americans really do not care about policy; they just know they hurt.  (unstated: so they will vote for the other side). Do they really think voters are that dumb?  Is that what the GOP hopes happens…that there the vote will be based on the question: Are you better off than you were in the past? There is a reason polls show that the blame for the great Recession lies on the Bush administration and Obama is down 4 on the list.  Do they really think that voters know that it is possible to have policies that would make their situation worse, even though they do not think the Obama policies were good enough?  If the GOP hangs it hat on the unsophistication of voters, they may be in for a shock in November 2012.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gingrich as Scrooge

My column in the Sky Hi News, Dec. 7, 2011
‘Tis the season of giving and charity, yet elements of our politically active citizenry have just not gotten into the spirit.

Arguments using terms of humaneness are ridiculed, while others want to put poor kids back into the dark ages of sanctioned child labor and orphanages. Others think the way to save the cost of Medicare is to cure the diseases inflicting seniors.

All of these approaches have their supporters, and many reside on the right end of the political spectrum. In fact, the chief advocate for these positions is one in the same: Newt Gingrich. Credit him with schizophrenia when it comes to matters of a warm heart.

Both Newt Gingrich and Gov. Rick Perry had the fortitude to address the problem of what to do with the 11-or-so million illegal immigrants in this country. Perry's campaign was buried in the landslide of GOP right that cheered electrifying the border fences and zapping offenders, and deporting everyone who was undocumented. Gingrich escaped lynching by appealing to the humanistic culture, but his rise was in spite of his position on “amnesty.” He is the last, best known un-Romney left standing at this point.

Gingrich brings with him years of recorded pronouncements, but he is still capable of surprising us. His most recent sound bite, claiming child labor laws were “truly stupid” and proposing to put poor kids to work as school janitors to instill a work ethic, will haunt him as he takes his campaign forward. Charles M. Blow, opining in the New York Times (Dec. 3, 2011) captioned his piece as “Newt's War on Poor Children.” Blow cited statistics that shames Gingrich's rationale that poor kids need to have someone to give them a work ethic early in life because they all come from welfare households. According to Blow, 75 percent of poor adults are working and most poor children live in a household where at least one parent is employed.

As a parent and grandparent of working kids, I appreciate they are protected by the stupid laws that keep them from working with knives and dangerous equipment, or exposing themselves to toxic chemicals or working long hours that prevent them from succeeding in school. What does Gingrich want to do? Subject all of our kids to  abuses for which those stupid laws were written? Or does he mean only poor kids should not have those protections?

This “war on poor children” is in character with Gingrich's past positions, too. Newt Gingrich will forever be identified with welfare reform proposals in the famous ‘90s “Contract with America”, of which he was the architect. While even Democrats embraced and enacted some of it, forgotten in the fine print was the proposal he made to take poor kids from dysfunctional families and put them in orphanages, later called children's homes, a political renaming because of the bad name orphanages had gotten. I thought conservatives have a thing about preserving parental rights. What were you thinking, Newt? Recently Gingrich has admitted he may have used the wrong terms, and what he meant was to call them “prep schools.” A rose is a rose is a rose.

What we ought to support instead is more of what cities are already doing: partnering with the private sector and nonprofits in summer work youth programs, mentoring, internships, and promoting their access to education or a GED. We not only need to give them income, we also need to give them tools to succeed. Tossing them in orphanages or making them janitors will neither not cut it nor warm many hearts.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Role of foreign policy in 2012

The Republican debate about national security between GOP contenders for president last week reminded me of the 2008 Democratic primary between President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

While economy, jobs and health care issues had given Obama an early leg-up in the primaries, Clinton nearly took him down on her right-of-center stance on national security. Post-GOP debate pundit commentary raised Clinton's iconic ad of the 3 a.m. call and the question: who was ready to be commander in chief on day one. Those measures of ability will still be present in 2012 to one extent or another.

There are three factors that will influence the impact of national security issues on the 2012 election outcome: In which candidate will the majority of voters have confidence that the 3 a.m. call will be answered with competence on day one; whether economic concerns will trump national security worries at the time of the election; and whose foreign policy aligns best with the views of the majority.

On point three, Obama wins hands down today. Polls conducted lately by Gallup, and nearly every other organization, found 63 percent of the Americans approved of Obama's handling of terrorism. Gallup found in late October that 75 percent of Americans approved of our pulling out nearly all U.S. military forces from Iraq.

Aside from Ron Paul's libertarian isolationism, GOP candidates either fell all over themselves trying to sound more neo-conservative or more experienced than the other. When all was said and done, other than tweaking time lines for troop withdrawals, amounts, or leadership style, there was not much fundamental difference with the administration.

That was most noticeable on the debate about what to do about Iran, which was a matter to what degree we should do more of the same of what the Obama administration was already doing … more embargoes, more international pressure, more saber-rattling, more covert action. Even Obama has taken no options, including military action, off the table.

Hitting the president for not doing enough covert action, when no one knows how much covert action we are doing now, was strange, to say the least. If we know about it, it is not covert, is it?

How about being ready on day one? Nearly all of the recent attacks on American security have happened in the first months of a presidency and the fitness and readiness factors should not be taken lightly. The Obama/Hillary contest was instructive. Clinton was obviously viewed as strongest on defense. Obama won anyway. Voters had enough confidence in his abilities, perspectives, and background to give him a pass. “Good enough, if not the best” was the litmus test then and could be again.

Here is where experience does count. Those with experience in the national and international arena — Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich — made the best impression. Gov. Perry sounded like he was still running for governor of Texas, a dangerous perspective. His fellow Texan George W. Bush was under the illusion that everyone abroad had the same aspirations as a Texan. It must have come as a shock to Bush that Iraqis did not rise up to embrace democracy when U.S. forces tore down Saddam's statue, since any red blooded American would have done so.

The moral to that story: Provincial perspectives can lead to very bad judgment calls. Perry's simplistic “yank the aid from Pakistan” correctly yielded a slap down from Bachmann for ignoring Pakistan's nuclear power.

Herman Cain demonstrated he had read his briefing books this time. Romney played to the neo-con crowd, a mask of his lack of geo-political credentials. Santorum did not make much of a mark.

The extent to which national security will sway voters' choices a year in advance is unknown. Much can happen that could bump it up in our list of worries. However, if the general election candidates bloody themselves to a draw on economic issues, it could be a tie-breaker.

My column appearing in the Sky Hi News today

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Grand County, Colorado, ground zero for needing Obamacare

My column in the Sky Hi News Nov. 23, 2011
Welcome to Grand County, one of Colorado's ground zeroes when it comes to the health care insurance problem.

While Colorado's statewide average of those without insurance is 16 percent, northwest Colorado and similar rural areas have between 20 percent and 25 percent uninsured. That is one out of every four or five of us.

It is exactly our kind of community that stands to gain the most from the health care reform law so many in our area call, with contempt, “Obamacare.”

Some cold hard statistics gathered by the Colorado Health Institute were reported in the Nov. 16 Denver Post by Michael Booth. (“Number of uninsured Coloradans up 22 percent in two years, report says”).

Linda Gorman, health-policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank in Golden, fired back that the study seemed aimed at justifying more government health care. “The questions should be,” she was quoted in the article, “whether people are getting the medical care they need, not whether they are insured.”

Gorman could answer her own question if she climbed out of the bubble of her think tank and talked with shoppers she meets in our county's Safeway or City Market. It would be an instructive couple of hours.

My husband is a retired physician who does our grocery shopping. While shopping, he is frequently asked for names of specialists he recommends and where one can go for help with a medical problem.

He relayed to me the story of four local citizens who had sought direction from him recently. One was a jack of all trades who could only find part time work over the past year. He was referred to a local charity that had a network of primary care doctors who volunteered free or low cost services. He could not afford the medication to treat a debilitating chronic condition.

Another, a fast food worker holding down a total of three jobs to support his family, made too much money to qualify for a low cost doctor's visit, but he had a medical condition that required some surgery he could not even begin to afford.

A waitress only wanted a checkup, but she had “some issues” and was afraid she could not afford the extensive tests she might be required to take. None of these had insurance; none qualified for Medicaid and they faced gambling they could get by without care hoping their problems did not become emergencies later. These are among the 540,000 in Colorado who would benefit from Obamacare.

They or others like them will arrive at the emergency room sometime in the future with strokes, stage three cancer, or other diseases that reach an acute level and have become extremely expensive to treat due to lack of earlier care. If any of these patients need surgery or hospitalization and cannot afford to pay, they get treatment regardless, and the unpaid bill is absorbed by the hospital who passes the cost on in higher charges for us all. This runs up insurance premiums for those of us who have health insurance and costs government more for Medicare and Medicaid.

It is estimated by the American Medical Association that those who have insurance pay $1,000 more per family per year for insurance than they should because of this and helps account for the often cited statistic that health care in the U.S. costs two and a half times per capita than elsewhere in the industrialized world.

We are already paying for the uninsureds' care and are paying more than top dollar for our care, too. It is no wonder that the Congressional Budget Office estimates net savings from Obamacare would be $120 billion to the government over the first 10 years and trillions thereafter, a statistic conveniently ignored by GOP presidential candidates who hyperinflate Obamacare costs as trillions without citing the offsetting savings and offer no plan to cover most of the 30 million of our nation's uninsured.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What we can learn from recent votes on issues; swinging pendulums rest in the middle

My column in the Sky Hi News today:
As the Republican Party tries to read the tea leaf residue of the votes on issues recently, Democrats were taking comfort that there was hope voters had not swallowed entire cups of Tea Party brew.

It may be too soon for either side to conclude much, but there may be justification for the Tea salesmen to be a little worried and the Democrats to feel encouraged. The coming 2012 election battle will not be for the hearts and minds of either ideological extremes, but the victory will belong to whichever side appeals to the more moderate middle. The middle made its voice known in these early November contests.

Ohio voters overturned the law passed by the GOP-dominated legislature and their governor, John Kasich, to prohibit collective bargaining by public employees. Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, who was the object of sit-in protests over similar legislation, was probably having a few turns in his tummy digesting the news.

Mississippi voters rejected the personhood amendment that would have elevated a fertilized egg to human being status in the eyes of the law. This pro-life overreach was more than voters there could stomach, too.

I often wonder how my traditional rock-ribbed Republican parents would have voted if they had not departed this earth in the late 1980s or had lived in either one of those two states. Dad was staunchly anti-union and later anti-New Deal, and both were pro choice. Both looked warily at any extremes that rocked the boat.

I do not remember my father complaining about taxes, but just wanting them to be spent honestly and efficiently and not to benefit the slackers of this world. My mother observed often that wild political pendulum swings would always come to rest in the middle. If change came, it had to come slowly and be absolutely necessary.

They were true conservatives in the political science definition of the word, but they would not have qualified for that definition given the litmus tests every single candidate seeking GOP support to run for president has to pass these days. Nor did they fit the definition of reactionaries, yearning for the good ol' days of Hoover, either. They had voted for FDR for his first two terms.

The GOP, however, found one spot of cheer … a vote in Ohio against Obamacare mandates, the part of the health care reform law that required everyone to buy into the system according to their income levels. The mandate issue is chock full of irony.

Karl Rove, the GOP political strategist, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that this was a significant vote. In a sense, he was being self-congratulatory since he played such a significant role in turning Obamacare into a dirty word. Ironically, the same week an appellate court upheld the constitutionality of the mandate clause and followed the pattern of other conservative judge's rulings on the subject. Other courts had ruled otherwise. The Ohio vote was effectively symbolic since the constitutionality question will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the spring.

While I can guess my parents would have stood with the two governors on the collective bargaining issue and opposed personhood laws, they would have struggled with the health care mandate issue. They hated freeloaders of any social welfare system … those who took taxpayer money and did not make an honest effort to do their share. In fact, mandates were the brainchild of conservative think tanks for that reason . 

I could see the irony played out in the GOP candidate debate that took place the same week. While all pledged to overturn Obamacare, Michele Bachmann got a roar of approval for proposing that the poor pay their share of taxes, even if it added up to a couple of hamburgers. Freeloaders able but unwilling to pay into the health care system were fine, but the poor should not to be let off the tax hook, it appears.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

US power limited by actions of others and recession

US power is limited by actions of others and recession

My column in the Sky Hi News today
The Greek debt theater and the dizzying rise and plunge of the U.S. financial markets within a 24-hour period brought sharp focus to the fact that there are external events and conditions that limit the ability of our U.S. political systems and leaders to control our own destiny.

The U.S. has two problems: We are not the only power in an interconnected world and the often lamented structure and practice of our political system allows difficult, hard decisions to be uncompromised into inaction. There has been much less attention in this difficult economy paid to foreign and military policy, yet they have equal bearing on our economic well-being. It is time we sit up and pay attention.

The U.S. was in a unique position after World War II because the powers that challenged us or were allied with us were in ruins. Fortress America had survived and we basked in the illusion that we had the military force and leadership to continue as numero uno for our lifetimes. That did not last long.

The Cold War began soon after and the Soviet Union balanced our power and defined our foreign affairs for the next 40-plus years. We had the economic system that allowed us to increase our military might and we were able to spend the weaker communist system under the table.  The resulting illusion then was that we were almighty.

That too did not last long as Europe united and China and India arose. Our mentality is stuck in nostalgia, that post World War II, post Cold War were the natural state of our being. In reality, we have spent most of the post World War II constantly challenged, reacting mostly with military action both threatened and conducted as a succession of powers emerged. We succeeded, but the nagging recession is a new reality.

To continue to look at the world through the prism of military power alone could result in our spending ourselves under the table, too. Our economic ability to rely on continued high military spending, to invade and occupy, is shaky, either because we lack the will to pay for it or even the resources.

Instead of going solo, we need allies and alliances to chip in their blood and treasure. We also need foreign policies that do not goad potential world rivals to fight us with the sword. Trade and diplomacy should help us avoid expensive military action instead.

That is why I shudder when I hear the chauvinistic declarations of some GOP candidates who are either naïve or who appeal to our nostalgic pride in America to see the world from the perspective of solely a military power. The GOP debate this week will be about foreign policy. So far the candidates, save one or two, have shown lack of interest or sheer ignorance of world affairs. One who has ventured to offer an opinion is Mitt Romney, whose pronouncement so far has been to roll back every recent cut to the Pentagon  budget and increase military spending by 20 percent.

Most GOP presidential candidates so far have been united in their approaches: to criticize President Obama for withdrawing our nine year long occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and for his leading from behind by playing a supporting role in Libya. In the meantime, there is no will among any of those candidates to raise taxes or to do more than decimate any social programs to pay for longer engagements .

Another policy proposed by Romney has been to stop trade and engagement with China to force them to adopt policies more favorable to us. China could be our largest future trading partner. Economic interdependence with us could be the best deterrent to future military conflict. The antithesis of the Romney approach has been engagement, favored by Jon Huntsman, former ambassador to China. While Huntsman has little chance of being the GOP candidate, a dialogue between the two may expose Romney's narrow  global vision.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How ideologically based policies can hurt the advocates

 My column in the Sky Hi News Nov. 2, 2011

The problem I have with ideologically based theories is that true believers can carry them to ridiculous conclusions that eventually butt smack dab against expectations of ordinary people when their theory is put into practice.

The Tea Party mantra of small is beautiful, that government is the problem, that the states can always handle it better than the federal government, has some fatal flaws: The public still looks to the federal government anyway to help when the chips are down, and voters take it out on whomever is in power, even years later, for not having the ability or will to fix their problems .

The current GOP mantra is getting EPA and Wall Street regulations off the backs of business so jobs can be created. Rick Perry‘s jobs plan is exclusively to drill for oil and gas unshackled from government environmental regulations. That is music to Texans' ears, but just wait until the next BP-like oil spill destroys shrimpers' income and coats South Padre Island beaches in goopy oil. Watch the fingers point to the EPA and regulators then. Woe be unto a President Perry if he is in the White House.

Closer to home, Colorado's Jensen Farms' listeria-tainted cantaloupe disaster can be directly attributed to lax inspection, as reported in the Denver Post on Oct. 30. Because the Food and Drug Administration inspections are so underfunded, industry is supposed to regulate itself, hiring third parties to do inspections instead. Rarely, according to the Post, do the third party inspectors ever blow a whistle; their employers may not like it.

Many of our recent e coli and tainted meat scares can be traced to the lack of hard nosed, toe-the-regulation-line inspections. However, somehow the public assumes and expects the federal government to be doing its job regardless of whether taxpayers give them the wherewithal .

Who took the fall for the Katrina disaster? It was not the private sector. Federal failures were a major black eye for George W. Bush who looked incompetent in the face of the inability of the federal government to do what was expected of it.

Yet in September the GOP tried to hold the FEMA disaster fund hostage to budget battles in the wake of the Joplin tornado and a hurricane.

What if the GOP captures the White House, and both houses of Congress and repeals the Wall Street reform act? No one has challenged the GOP, including the Occupy Wall Streeters, with any vigor. It is partially because no one understands what the legislation does, but a few years from now, when consumers get suckered by lenders playing deceptive shell game marketing tricks, as they did leading to this last crisis, or one bank holds the whole economy hostage to their economic failure, whoever is in the White House will be blamed.

While focus has been on what reform did not do, the act did establish a consumer protection bureau and it tackled the “too big to fail issue.” Before the reform act was passed, when big banks that also had investment arms threatened collapse, the bailouts were the only way to keep them from bringing down the rest of the banking dominos and our entire economy to boot. Now there is a mechanism to wind down an investment bank without having to resort to a bailout. Repeal Wall Street reform will leave us again with one option to avoid taking down our economy: bailouts.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Defining American Exceptionalism

My column in the Sky Hi News today

“American exceptionalism” is the new GOP rally phrase of the day.

Sounds great. I am a believer that we live in the greatest country on earth, but we need to look behind the flag-draped curtain into the definition some Republicans give it by asking a few tough questions.

It is almost exclusively defined in the mind of Mitt Romney, for example, as militarism. His proposal is to roll back all cuts inflicted on the Pentagon, increase spending on our military and missile defense systems. He needs to be challenged on the “pay for” realities.

How? If not by raising taxes, what exactly would he cut while reducing the deficit at the same time? Earned safety nets such as Social Security, Medicare? Our nation's future development of the next generations by cutting money to education? Infrastructure?

Is indefinite occupation of troublesome nations with our boots on the ground the policy a President Romney wants to perpetuate as he berates Obama for our combat troops departing Iraq? If so, how much of the cost of $2 billion per week just for Afghanistan and Iraq should he want us to continue to spend?

American Exceptionalism to many in the GOP means that the U.S. should never undertake military action in conjunction with anyone and that we should always lead, and never lead from behind. Does that mean we should also shoulder all the financial burden of any action ourselves? Does it mean we should unilaterally take action even though the rest of the world, especially our allies, should not be expected to contribute their blood and treasure and leadership?

Would President Romney give the Pentagon a blank check to proceed with weapons systems that reflect yesterday's tactics ? Or would he shift resources to enhance the techniques we have found to be so successful against terrorists who embed themselves among civilians in failed states, or in aiding those engaged in the Arab spring? Drones, air cover, command and control abilities, and special ops, State Department democracy trainers, private security contractors have proved lately to be very effective in taking down al-Qaida and others who have terrorized us. Besides being more effective, these new tactics have resulted in fewer deaths of civilians and it has given us the ability to conduct war on the cheap.

What I have noticed is the U.S. flag is not being burned by the Arabs. On her visit to Libya the day before Gadhafi was killed. Hillary Clinton was greeted by Allah Akbar, and that was just a month after President Obama in no uncertain terms at the United Nations reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Israel. When has anything like that ever happened? Or when did other Arab nations ever give us material support in an action against another Arab state as they did in Libya?

It was not the U.S. exceptionalism of military might the Arab Spring movement sought to emulate, either. It was their goal to establish democracy and human rights along the principles Obama laid out in his Cairo speech that helped spur them on.

It is true Pakistan, Syria and Iran remain on the unfinished business list. What does a President Romney plan to do that differs from President Obama's approach? Unilaterally invade and occupy ? We know what that got us in Iraq and Afghanistan. More economic isolation? We need more than unilateral action to make that work. More covert action? Covert by definition is secret so we do not even know if we could do more.

Sadly, too, American exceptionalism is taking on a new meaning. We are exceptionally behind most of the rest of the industrialized world in any measure of health care outcomes, in education, and in the conditions of our highways and roads, and our universal access to efficient communication provided by broadband. We are a nation overburdened by debt. That is not the kind of exceptionalism of which we should be proud.

Joe Scarborough is way off base this morning

On Morning Joe this morning, Joe tried to saddle the Obama administration with the same guilt as the GOP as a way to channel the Occupy Wall Street movement away from Democrats.  The case he made is that Wall Street campaign contribution money had bought Obama just as it had bought off his opponents.  
That is so yesterday, Joe. to put an equal  plague on both houses. According to the campaign finance watchdog, Open Secrets " Romney, a former executive at Bain Capital, has collected more than $7.5 million from interests within the FIRE (short for finance,insurance, real estate  sector) since he launched his campaign earlier this year, according to the Center's preliminary analysis of the latest campaign finance reports. Overall, Romney has raised more than $32.2 million for his 2012 presidential effort.

"Romney has received nearly twice as much as Obama from the finance, insurance and real estate sector, according to the Center's preliminary analysis. Still,  Obama has raised about $3.9 million from the FIRE sector -- about 4.4 perinsurancecent of his overall $89 million war chest."

So Wall Street money is now flowing to Mitt Romney.  Pres. Obama must have not met  their expectations in the past two and a half years.  Could it be they were disappointed in him? Perhaps there are two reasons that could have caused their money to flow elsewhere for 2012. 1) Wall Street Reform actually did scotch their freedom to conduct their business as usual, to conduct the speculative actions of hedge funds and opaque investment instruments 2) more vigorous prosecution by the Justice Department  of insider trading and ponzi schemes.. Granted, no big fish responsible for the meltdown have gone to jail yet , but investigations and prosecuting actions are in process. 3) Romney is from Wall Street.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wall Street Occupiers have more to learn from MLK

The dedication of the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington  took place  as another movement,  Occupy Wall Street, is in  infancy.  There are many lessons the new movement could learn from  King’s leadership  .   The civil rights movement was also fueled by anger with  unfairness and injustice , but its success  was the result of using the right technique to bring others outside the group along with them.  Occupy Wall Street has taken one of those lessons to heart and it will succeed in moving others to join them if they stay the course.  The   lesson is that peaceful, civil disobedience ultimately will be more successful than violent acts of defiance. There are other lessons yet to be learned.
Dr. King’s technique was inspired by  Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s independence from the British Empire.   Using non violent protests and reacting peacefully  when authorities used physical violence against them gained them sympathy, respect, and support. 
 The alternative is  violence and our family has experienced some of it. My husband was born in the old Yugoslavia in 1933.  He saw first hand what happened when one group felt they had been poorly treated by the power structure in the midst of a world depression . Rage turned into   violence; parliament members were assassinated, and, when World War II came to the Balkans, so did civil war.  A dictatorship emerged, imposing  peace, but as soon as  strong man Tito died, the conflict resumed, climaxing in the bloody ethnic cleansing war of the Balkans in the 1990’s.  It is that life experience that had him  fearful that the US could experience the same expression of anger in violent riots and demonstrations. 
I grew up in an eastern Oklahoma town that had become the refuge for  many African Americans after race riots and KKK action in Tulsa in the 20’s and 30’s.  Oklahoma was the icon of poverty in that pre World War II period , choked with  dust storms, with masses of Okies immigrating to California. The African  Americans in that part of the world had learned that violence got them nothing but more poverty and even more institutionalized separation that was not equal.  It was MLK that showed them another way out of that wilderness, and how to use the democratic system and court decisions to end segregation.  The snarling police dogs, the murder of civil rights leaders, the peaceful hymn singing marches,  brought sufficient sympathetic support from diverse quarters  for the  causes so eloquently expressed by King,  that  it ended  government supported  segregation. The US worked through its civil war  of decades past with a much different outcome than Yugoslavia experienced..
Those same techniques developed by Gandhi and  MLK helped the participants in the Arab Spring overthrow oppressive dictators.  The outcome of the revolution in Egypt is jeopardized by violent religious strife. Tahrir square occupiers  have forgotten that non violence was their effective tool and that violence could nip their establishment of democracy in the bud as the military  imposes  the very same practices to stop the violence that  were  the reasons for the revolution. Non violence is not a one time matter; it must be practiced until the goal is reached.
  Occupy Wall Street has a chance  to translate sympathy into  votes and governmental action,  democracy’s  way of facilitating change. Non violence has been their mantra and  response to action by police.  They so far have learned the lessons of the civil rights movement well.  They need, though, to heed another lesson from MLK: to identify their goals and objectives.
The Occupy movement so far is just an expression of anger. Participants have not agreed on what they want either the private sector or government  to do.  Dr. King moved the civil rights activists past  anger to specific  objectives concerning  voter rights and eliminating  segregation .  They also need to channel their  rage into  reformist  goals if they  want to  rally  others to take action beyond merely  expressing sympathy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Disconnect between Wall Street and Wal-Mart

My column in today's Sky Hi News...
In the past weeks, the angry Left began a revolt and it is spreading. Occupy Wall Street has the potential to counterbalance and even overwhelm the power of the Tea Party. While both of these populist movements share anger, a feeling that they have lost control of their destinies, and were born in raucous demonstrations, there are some profound differences.

How presidential and congressional contenders tap into the anger could determine the outcome of 2012. Riding the tiger of populist anger may be an opportunity to score some political points, but there are dangers too.

Peggy Noonan, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote last week that she sees a “new convergence of thought among Democrats and Republicans who are not in Washington and not part of the political matrix. They are in agreement about our essential problems and priorities, that the economy comes first, all other crises … come second.”

She had watched two focus groups of “Wal-Mart” moms, middle and working class women in Indiana and Florida, who related their personal and economic pain and fear of layoffs and foreclosures, who just wanted someone to “fix it,” and sadly concluded that those in Washington “won't care till they're affected.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor dismissed the demonstrators as a “mob.” He may regret his words some day. The demonstrators are a manifestation of wider unrest, an unrest described by Noonan that goes beyond the parks occupied by demonstrators. The Wal-Mart moms may never join the demonstrators, but they may express their shared anger at the ballot box.

The 2012 winners will be those who have conveyed that they, too, “feel the pain” of the Wal-Mart moms and their “fixit plan” contains enough hope it will work.

The difference between the Tea Party and the president lies in the “fix it.” The new movement has not yet focused on the “fix it” part. It needs to do so if it is to spread beyond the demonstrators and encompass the broader population.

The Wal-mart moms' anger is not so much directed at the president, according to Noonan's observation, but at resentment of Wall Street and being suckered in by bankers to go into debt. They blame both parties in Congress.

I noted in Noonan's reporting the women were not demanding the Tea Party platform of lower taxes and shrinking the federal government, either. The Tea Party anger and fanatical single-minded dedication to anti-tax libertarianism and states rights were turn offs to some in 2010 and in Colorado, support of their anointed GOP Senate candidate proved toxic. The Democrat, Michael Bennett, won. With GOP presidential candidates trying to pass the Tea Party litmus tests, riding that tiger could eventually hurt them in critical swing states, especially if the Occupy Wall Street movement broadens its base.

The President does not need to become the demonstrators' spokesperson, but expressing empathy with all of those struggling in the economy and also reminding us of his policies that contrast with the GOP's, could give focus to some constructive action both the Wal-Mart moms and the demonstrators angry could support.

The GOP's obstructing his jobs bill , their mantra of “kill Dodd-Frank (Wall Street reform),” and tagging Obama's “tax fairness” as “class warfare” only adds fuel to the new movement's fire.

The President has a strong case to make. Independent experts interviewed on Sunday TV talk agreed that the jobs act would create more jobs and even be insurance against a double dip recession.

Obama signed legislation that addressed Wall Street greed. Killing reform would allow Wall Street to revert to practices that caused the 2008 crash … the banks too big to fail, of turning a blind eye to predatory lending, of lowered standards for capital requirements or down payments, or obscure, unregulated investments. Those kinds of practices caused the speculative bubble that led to the Great Recession, the biggest jobs killer since the Great Depression.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Obama needs to counter GOP issues immediately

My column in the Sky Hi News today; also linked by the Wall Street Journal in

The 2012 Presidential campaign is in full throttle with the GOP trying to sell us their pitch that small government, low taxes will cure the Great Recession and any other problem that even indirectly relates to it.

President Obama, on the other hand, has hit the road in defense of his jobs plan, revving up friendly crowds in pep rally style. That approach is not enough if he wants to become more credible to the less friendlies who still have an open mind. He needs to do a better job of countering the GOP's substantive arguments as they arise and not wait for a year.

In the past three years, the GOP has repeated untruths until the untruths have been accepted as fact, even after such assertions got shot down by impressive numbers of independent experts. Instead of calling the GOP out immediately, the administration has often remained silent, allowing the Republicans to turn fiction into common wisdom and making it harder for Obama to persuade voters later.

Now we hear that the president is waiting until the GOP settles on a candidate to paint a contrast between himself and the other guy. Why wait? There are platforms held in common by all of the GOP presidential hopefuls and the president can begin at least countering those now and save other attacks specific to the GOP nominee for later.

To a person, the GOP candidates are firing salvos against health care reform and the president's jobs act. They are a Greek chorus of “kill them both.” The president has not returned substantive fire other than lobbing back fairness issues. This may rally an already sympathetic base, but he needs more substance to woo the skeptical middle. It is not enough to have a day or two of rebuttals by experts on talk media, either. The president himself needs to draw more on credible evidence and logic than he has been doing. His challenge is indeed couching complex argumentation in effective sound bites.

The GOP attack line has been “kill the jobs plan; it won't work. We need long term solutions instead.” That last phrase is the GOP's Achilles heel because the voters need help today, not years from now. Credit Obama for repeating ad nauseam, “pass this bill NOW.” He has not countered the “won't work” argument, though. The rating agency Moody's and the poll by Bloomberg News of leading economists conclude that Obama's job plan will save us from a double dip recession, improve the GDP growth, and increase employment somewhat. Obama should shout out these evaluations and accuse the GOP of hurting job creation and risking a double dip recession by holding short term measures hostage to the long term. Both are needed and complement each other.

Obama's failure to make a case for health care reform has allowed “Obamacare” to enter our vernacular as a dirty word. Both the Simpson/ Bowles report and the Congressional Budget Office say it will save the deficit billions. The president is making a mistake if he is waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in the spring on the laws' constitutionality to begin his counter-attack, because no matter what the Court's ruling, there will still be finger-pointing and threats of new legislation throughout the 2012 campaign.

Polls show that two provisions already in effect in advance of the 2014  full health law implementation are popular: allowing young adults to stay on their parents' insurance and requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions. Is that what the GOP wants to kill? The GOP has never had a plan to provide affordable coverage for the 30 million uninsured other than to let them continue to burden the inadequate ERs, rely on hospital charity that passes their cost on to the paying public, or palm the solutions onto the states who cannot even pay their teachers and firefighters. Obama should call them on it sooner than later.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The party of "no"; it' deja vu all over again

Republicans are once again the party of “no.” John Boehner dissed all but a few elements of the short-term job  proposal made by President Obama, calling the package an election year gimmick.

At the GOP debate in Orlando, Fla., last week, Obama's job creation plan for shovel ready projects was compared to dog poop. The president's proposal for long term deficit reduction, a problem most Americans place way down on their list of worries, got ignored or damned because it contained some revenue enhancements. Credit Republicans for being consistent if not constructive.

Polls show Obama is beginning to be blamed by more people for the state of the economy. While most still believe that Bush dealt Obama a bad hand, Obama needs to do more than draw his own line in the sand and raise fairness issues.

So far he has done a poor job of reminding voters what he has done to keep the economic situation from getting worse. He has not countered the GOP claim that he made the economic crash worse and he has failed to make the case the GOP approach will bring more pain to the middle class. It is not that he lacks ammunition.

• Indeed, it could have been worse. We have forgotten Obama kept us from a Great Depression, a feat of historic importance . His early 2009 stimulus created close to the 3 million jobs it was planned to generate yet GOP candidates are still telling the fib that it was “zero.” The bailout of the auto industry is a success story, and the auto and Bush bank bailouts have mostly been paid back to the U.S. treasury.

• The GOP's dog won't hunt. Their reliance solely on tax and budget cuts will not work to reduce the deficit enough. No one from the Simpson Bowles report to any mainstream economist says that is realistic. Both more revenue and cuts are needed, which Obama is proposing.

• The GOP plans inflict needless pain. The GOP-dominated House voted to reduce the deficit in ways that would cost future seniors a bundle to maintain Medicare benefits, and GOP candidates would remove government guarantees of Social Security funds. They are ignoring less painful methods.

• Half measures get half results. Passing part of the Obama short term jobs plan will get only partial results. The GOP's stance that “less is best” is a formula for less job creation. It is a matter of degree.

• GOP strategy makes the patient sicker. Their modus in Congress has been to hold hostage reasonable, popular and necessary legislation as a method to leverage getting their way. Opposing raising the debt limit or not approving FEMA funding is a callous disregard of the collateral damage to job creation, business and Americans trying to recover from natural disasters.

• No country should be left behind to be sicker and dumber in this competitive world. The GOP's plans to short both environmental protection and education will leave us in the dust of our competition, from China to India and many others.

• Obama has compromised some while the GOP has obstructed all. Obama has already agreed to reform the tax structure. His “Obamacare” and the education reforms announced last week give states more latitude to opt out from parts of some federal government requirements, so they have more flexibility to formulate their own methods to meet standards.

• Obama, unlike Republicans, is not backing down on standards necessary to protect consumers from medical insurance company bad practices and to provide affordable access to health and education. The GOP has proposed no practical way to replace Obamacare.

• GOP candidates' solution to shrinking big government and dodging control from Washington is to palm off entitlements and health care onto states, which are already financially strapped. That is like shifting these programs from one pocket to another pocket shot full of holes.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Raising Cain on "obamacare"

Herman Cain just won the Florida GOP straw poll.  In the Orlando debate this week, he also made one of the silliest statements  I heard…Not only were his allegations geared to fear,  based only on some speculation that there would be long waits for tests if we had “obamacare”,  he showed just how out of touch the GOP is. Cain’s comments need raising, even though most still do not consider him a winner in the long run, but  they are much like other Tea Party panderings made by other candidates.
 His comments  got cheers from the crowd.. Those are the same kind of crowds that roared  cheers that so many had been executed in Texas, that those without health insurance should die, cheers that a gay marine ought to be booted out with restoration of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Cain said he was a colon cancer survivor because he had early detection and claimed if we had “obamacare”, he would have died waiting for tests.  Sheer speculation; sheer fear mongering, not based on any fact or study .  That was bad enough, but what he neglected to say is that there are 30 million uninsured in this country who do not get or cannot afford such tests and checkups and they will have that access to preventative medicine when “obamacare” is implemented in 2014.  Lucky Cain; he could afford insurance and tests;  many others cannot.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Weak leader? Obama showed 'em

My column appearing in the Sky Hi News today...all editions

Be careful what you wish.  For the past year, the GOP has criticized President Obama for weak leadership and they have stonewalled every attempt he has made to be the adult in the room. They have dared him to take stands on deficit reduction and job creation, hoping his proposals would be unpopular.  They openly wished he would fail and they tried to strategize every way they could to fulfill their prophesy. 

Obama finally took their bait to take leadership after it became clearer where the center and the left had registered their preferences as reflected in the polls. In the past two weeks he grabbed the GOP hook, providing both long- and short-term proposals, ran away with it, and kicked off a substantive tug of war between a Republican Party captured by Tea Party fanatics and his base to see who could reel in the independents in 2012.

It is no more Mr. Nice guy.  While the president challenged the GOP to come up with short-term job-creating solutions, he provided his plan and drew his line in the sand.  Republican House Speaker John Boehner immediately dismissed Obama's job plan as gimmicks.  He took tax cuts off the table in advance, and dared the president to present his proposals for long term debt reduction.  Monday, the president did just that providing long-term proposals, and he made it clear he would veto any GOP legislation that tried to reduce the deficit on the backs of entitlements without raising taxes on the rich and making their percentage paid equal to the middle class.

The GOP is now left to defend their proposals for job creation and deficit reduction that polls show are not where most of the voters are.  Republican proposals may warm the heart of their base, but they need more than the affection of the Tea Party to win in 2012.

The GOP has banked its success over the past year on making deficit reduction a priority.  Polls show that voters overwhelmingly place job creation over deficit reduction because that is where their pain is felt and the reason consumer and industrial production demand is lacking. The GOP has gamely tried to tie job creation exclusively to long term deficit reduction plans based solely on cutting federal services and keeping taxes on the rich low. No expert mainstream, independent numbers cruncher believes that is possible.

The GOP claims tax increases are job killers. It isn't necessarily so, as one Democratic spokesperson pointed out Monday morning.  Both Reagan and Clinton increased taxes, and employment figures improved; when Bush cut taxes to the rich, jobs were lost. The burden on the GOP will be to convince voters that tax cuts to the rich will trickle down to create jobs in the short term, not some time in the distant future, if ever.

Both House Republicans and GOP candidates have dug themselves into an unpopular hole by proposing deficit reductions that would cut popular programs such as Medicare, either by raising eligibility ages or requiring future seniors to pay in $6,000 more per year, claiming Social Security was a fraud or unconstitutional, or requiring seniors to risk their Social Security in Wall Street investments.

Letting states fund entitlements is another proposal that is pretty hard to swallow. Many financially strapped states cannot even pay for teachers' and firefighters' salaries.

The president on the other hand Monday left Social Security alone, but he proposed alternatives to Medicare that would leave benefits to seniors unchanged by using other cost cutting measures. He still needs to detail a plan to keep Social Security solvent and he promised he would handle it separately since it is not a deficit related issue at this time. We can bet his solution will not be to privatize it or to palm it off to the states.

One thing the GOP cannot claim any more is that Obama is a weak leader. He showed ‘em.

For more commentary, go to

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Obama gets stung, charges

This is an unedited version of my Column; the edited version appeared in the  Sky Hi News Sept 14, 2011

One of my favorite childhood stories was Ferdinand the Bull.  Ferdinand had been bred for the fighting ring, and he grew into a magnificent beast. However, he preferred to be peaceful, smelling the flowers in his pasture. One day, a bee stung him where it hurt, and he  snorted and raged.  The ring impresario signed him up.  While the1930’s  story  contained a  pacifist message,  the lesson that I took away  from it was that sometimes it takes a trauma for someone to change otherwise innate  behavior. 
Pres. Obama has smelled the flowers for the past several years.  He waited patiently for Congress to act on his agenda, spoke the jargon of compromise even though one half of the participants stonewalled him,  proposed concepts of legislation without specifics, allowing Congress to shape the outcome, and he generally acted like the flower smelling peacemaker in the ring, ready to step in with solutions. 
This summer a swarm of bees stung him where it hurt.    Polls on his job performance  plummeted and  “any others but him” was winning. While the stimulus of 2009 kept us out of a depression,  the recovery was so fragile,  it was vulnerable to even the slightest head wind.   A war in Libya rang up oil prices ; a European economy sank; Japan’s natural tragedies reduced parts supplies.  The US Congress demonstrated  a  near lack of will  to raise the debt limit, creating a world wide loss of confidence in the US’ ability to act rationally. The fanatical tea party had managed to place fear of long term deficits and their anti tax agenda  ahead of any other consideration . They irresponsibly crafted a  strategy to risk destroying  the American economy  during the deficit reduction flap in order to remake government  into  their ideologically based ideal . Fear of a double dip recession and a prediction that unemployment would stay the same through the 2012 election were the final stings.
Rubbing salt in the wound,  recently Republicans had decided to make talking points  of the dismal employment figures a big deal
Last Thursday, Obama  lowered his horns and charged into Congress . His message was no bull feathers, either. His demeanor changed .In his address to Congress, he literally stared into the eyes of the Republican section of the hall. The furrows between his unblinking eyes deepened.  He did not present a general concept  as he once did. Instead, Monday  he delivered the bill to Congress  containing  exactly the details of his program to increase jobs, turning  the Republican’s newly found concern about jobs back on to them.  He pinned the Republicans against the wall.  His proposed legislation was based on measures supported by Republicans pre Tea  party and Democrats, too,  so that  If the GOP embraced his proposals, Obama could claim victory. If they stonewalled him, he could pin the blame for continued joblessness or a double dip recession on the GOP and expose their obstructionism. If they went half way, he could still blame  anemic job figures on the GOP .
 A near hush has descended on the GOP crowd.  Perhaps the Republicans were distracted by Gov. Perry’s attack on that Ponzi scheme Medicare.  Perhaps the whole nation was fixed on remembering 9/11. Perhaps the Republican party leaders were afraid of being branded obstructionist since their poll numbers had tanked, too, but they were  unsure how many Republicans would join in compromising. .   Some Machiavellian GOP members  were reported by Politico to ask,” why compromise now; they had Obama just where they wanted him”.
 Waiting until next week  is Obama’s charge to the super committee for long term deficit reduction.  Will the GOP opt to hold  short term measures  hostage to the long term and drag their feet to  make sure nothing significant happens to improve the unemployment figure before November 2012?  If those  strategies succeed, the losers will not only be the Democrats; it will be the  suffering  middle class.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I watched the Tea Party/CNN sponsored debate of the GOP presidential hopefuls last night and something profound may have happened.  Political theory and Tea Party character came face to face with real life.  Wolfe Blitzer posed a question to Ron Paul, the libertarian, in the context of the “obamacare” mandate requiring all to carry health insurance. “What should be the policy if a 30 year old male, who thought he was healthy and would not need insurance, and was allowed to opt out of insurance, had a serious health problem and was in a coma for 6 months in a hospital”? Paul, true to the libertarian view, said that individuals should take responsibility for their own health care and have insurance. The follow up question: what then should we do, let him die?
The most telling response from many more than a few in the audience was a shouted chorus of “let him die”.
Even Paul, a physician, was taken back and he responded,” no, when he practiced medicine back in the 60’s at a faith based hospital, the church took care of the expenses.” 
Aside from Paul’s living in the wrong century, where hospital stays cost far more than it did in the 1960’s and most charitable care hospitals have been bought out  by for profit large administration systems because they could not afford to provide charity care or raise enough money to do so, everyone there missed the most important point:
30 million people are left out of the system now and area unable to take responsibility for their own care if they wanted to because  they cannot afford the cost of insurance on their own that is as more as $12,000 per year for a family of 4.
There is indeed charity care.  That young man is not left to die today. However, his cost of care is passed on to consumers who already get health insurance and take responsibility and the expense  is then reflected in health insurance costs which are estimated to cost that family $1000 per year.  This is ER medicine and charity care which now provides everything from treatment of the flu to the long term hospitalization of the lingering coma patients for those who either do not have insurance or now have the ability to opt out of the responsibility of carrying it. We do not feel the cost if we have insurance, because of the matching from our employers or the deductions from pay checks or we have Medicare.  We just pay the deductible and assume that is the cost.  The result is a very inefficient system that costs two and a half times per person more than anyone else in the industrialized world and gives us outcome that ranks us near the bottom when the average is taken between those fortunately to have insurance and those who do not. The cost is buried where we do not feel the cost and we are fooling ourselves.
The universal litany, parroted by all of the GOP candidates is” kill Obamacare”.  Only they do not provide any other solution than, let the private sector be free to deal with it.  What? Isn’t that is the system we have had for the past one hundred years?  Let the private sector compete?  There is no competition in the private sector. Two or three for profit insurance companies control costs across all states and they are exempted by law from antitrust action, free to set prices and divvy up markets.  That is the reality.
Or the old and oft repeated myth that tort reform, which means keeping patients from making a frivolous lawsuits for mal practice (one person’s frivolity may be someone else’s dire situation) has been scored by the Congressional Budget Office as having a minor effect on the entire cost of health care and almost 2/3 of the states have already enacted caps on pain and suffering so bringing along the other one third would not do much.
What was astounding about the “let the patient die” folks in the audience, is that this is coming from the same group of Tea Party seniors who waived their signs in 2009 chanting,” do not let Obama take my Medicare away from me (before they realized it was a government program)” and railed in fear that death panels would decide their care. It is a description of their values that as long as they get their Medicare, others can die if they do not have insurance.  I am speaking as a person on Medicare and I find that view morally abhorrent.
The other oft parroted GOP slogan is that Obama care has stolen billions from Medicare to fund “obamacare”.  That is mostly Michele Bachmann’s shtick.  However, the $500 billion was taken from the useless subsidy of private insurers to administer a program called Advantage that provided an advantage to no one in improving their health outcome.  Instead, the measures taken by “obamacare” extend the life of Medicare by another 8 years, according to CBO.  Perhaps if Bachmann keeps repeating that mantra of hers enough, it will take on a truth that soars above the reality, or perhaps that has already happened.
Two other exchanges reached the level of repeating something when it is false until some take it as truth: Gov. Perry’s assertion that the original 2009 stimulus created no jobs.  CNN’s post reporting “fact check” again cited the CBO which it stated a range of over a million to nearly three million jobs were saved or created by the stimulus, which by the way, contained the GOP preferred many, many tax breaks. 
The other mantra, if repeated enough, could take on the aura of truth, even though reality is quite something else. It was couched is terms that only Tea Party members would catch and the general public would not.  The reform of Wall Street, to help us avoid another bubble crash based upon fraud and banks too big to fail, and obscure and false representation of investments passed on to other institutions, was called by all on the stage:  the Dodd Frank legislation. That piece of legislation is Wall Street Reform passed by Congress.   Just unleash Wall Street to do their thing was the agreement on stage.  What? To do again what brought on the first crash?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How safe Congressional districts contribute to gridlock and how to fix it

This is the unedited version of my 9/7/2011 column that appeared in the print edition of the Sky Hi Daily News.  The unline version has not yet been posted.

Do you really want to change the way Washington works?  Angry with the gridlock and control by  members  of  the House of Representatives or even state legislatures  who draw a line in cement and refuse to budge? The cure  could lie in making districts more competitive .
There is a controversy   shaping up in redistricting  Colorado’s  6th  Congressional district held by Republican Mike Coffman that illustrates how making a district more competitive could  blunt   vitriolic partisanship and unwillingness to compromise.
There is a rule of political science in play here that applies to all levels of districts:   the more a district is  divided equally among  parties and interest groups,  the more a candidate has to appeal to a wider variety of factions in order to put together a winning majority vote. Compromise is forced to take place at the lowest level .  Waiting until the elected candidate gets into office means that to compromise might require backing down on a  campaign promise and risk  losing the next election.  
 Incumbents elected from safe districts have a greater chance of getting re-elected  provided  they are  able to fight off primary challengers. The more they  stick by campaign promises , the more likely they will retain their seats.  This certainly makes compromise less likely.
Political parties understandably  strive to carve out safe seats in areas where  their party  registration dominates.  In 1985 the Supreme Court ruled manipulating boundaries to give one party an advantage was unconstitutional.  As a result, judges tend to look more favorably on competitive districts if they are asked to rule on competing plans .  In spite of this, of 435 Congressional seats, the Congressional Quarterly found 359 safe. i
To keep up with population shifts reflected in the census, redistricting is required every ten years. Because Colorado Democrats and Republicans could not agree in the state legislature on  Congressional  boundaries last spring, redistricting will be in the hands of the courts.
The State Supreme Court  will review a redistricting commission proposal  this fall for  how the state legislative boundaries will be drawn, including whether Grand County will be put in a solely west slope state house  district or straddle the continental divide  with some eastern counties.
  Given Grand County’s predominantly  Republican registration, being placed with  more Democratic leaning eastern counties  in a state house district might be seen more favorably  by judges as making for a more competitive district , with an eye to higher court decisions,   though the state constitution does not list the degree of  competition as a criteria.
 The US Congressional district boundaries will also be decided this fall, but  in federa l Denver District Court because both political parties and Hispanics have sued.   Some criteria judges will  use  are whether  districts are more competitive and whether Hispanic voices are being given short shrift in representation, contrary to the Voting Rights Act.
 Rep. Mike Coffman  recently advocated  restricting  bilingual ballots in the name of cost cutting . The Hispanic community, already angered by  Republican’s over the top anti immigration reform positions , took his proposal as an attempt to make it harder for Hispanics to vote.  The Democratic  Party immediately put forth their plan to Denver  District Court that would have changed Coffman’s currently heavily  Republican  district boundaries to include more Hispanics  and to make this district more competitive, divided equally between Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.
Both increasing competitiveness and Hispanic representation are strong  arguments that could sway a judge to rule in favor of  plans submitted by  Democrats and Hispanics.  That could force  Coffman, a party line loyalist,  to  appeal to a wider variety of ideologies  and special  interests  to win  his upcoming 2012 race.  
If enough  redistricting decisions in ours and in other states  decrease the number of safe districts,  eventually we could  change the polarization plaguing Washington and other legislative bodies . Of course,  in the short term, the best route would be for  voters themselves to kick out  those unwilling to compromise.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reapportionment and Grand County; being part of an eastern district OK

The on line verision of my column that ran in the on line edition of the newspaper today. A heavily edited version appeared in the print edition.

Grand County's tempest over reapportionment has even merited the attention of big city Denver Post, and we are now their hot topic of discussion regarding our placement in a state House district.

There was a time when the Colorado Legislature was of interest only to those with statewide concerns. But after the brouhaha in Wisconsin over public employees unions, the boycott by the minority Democrats, court suits, and recalls, who controls a state legislature warrants extra attention by even those who usually focus on national policy and politics. State districts safe for one party have gained new importance.

The final opportunity for input to the state Reapportionment Commission is Sept.1. Even if the matter is eventually decided by the Colorado Supreme Court, no doubt a report by the Reapportionment Commission will be part of the testimony considered by the judges, so there is still time to influence opinions.

I listened the other day to comments by a Democratic county official, shaking his head sadly that Grand County would even consider not being a part of a West Slope legislative district because our commonality of interest on water issues, agricultural concerns and resort industries was so obvious. No matter which of the possible districts we could join, Grand would be only 20 percent of the vote, so that our ability or lack of ability to influence issues would not change. We would always be the tail trying to wag the dog, barking loudly to get attention.

I am scratching my head to recall any negative experiences of our being a part of other East Slope districts. Grand County is already in an Eastern Slope district. We have been in a state Senate district now represented by Gilpin County resident Jeanne Nicholson (D). Nicholson has spent many hours in Grand County and advocating for us. Just being part of an East Slope district in itself has not been detrimental to Grand County interests. So what is the flap about?

Is it partisan politics? Grand County's registration is weighted toward Republicans. Being part of a Boulder Democratic district would introduce a tad more Republican competition to a solid Democratic district. However, inclusion in a western district would make that district safer for Republicans. No wonder they approve. I can understand why there are Democrats who do not want to be an even more diminished minority in an enhanced heavily Republican western district. It would make it harder than it is now for Grand County Democrats to challenge the GOP candidates and the resulting frustration could discourage participation in party activities.

There are valid arguments of substance on both sides that deserve serious consideration, but the rebuttals by the east district advocates to arguments made by supporters of western district inclusion have gotten belittled. There are some points are worth heeding.

If Grand County were combined with Clear Creek, Gilpin, and western Boulder (including the Peak to Peak Highway), we would share common interests in tourism and recreation, fire protection, pine beetle infestation, and small community concerns with transportation and education. Only 21 percent of that possible configuration is suburban. Grand County wage levels are far more similar to these three counties and are 50 percent less than the average in the rest of the proposed west district. Those to the west want to suck more of our Grand County water for hydrofracking and our county has only a minor interest in supporting such drilling efforts. While a western district appears compact on a map, we have quicker access to western Boulder than to the core population of the western slope district. It would take four hours driving to reach Rangely and two to Steamboat, yet at most it would take two and a half hours for us to reach the farthest eastern regions of a western Boulder district.