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.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Job creation: The President will focus on the short term while the GOP looks at the future. Why?

The column today appearing in the Sky Hi News:. The Long and the Short of it.
Copyright 2011 Sky-Hi Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. August, 23 2011 3:42 pm

Muftic: The long and the short of it

I listened last Saturday to radio messages delivered by President Barack Obama and Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. I was struck by contrasts in their long and short visions.

President Obama was talking about jobs and what could be done in the short term … reducing payroll taxes and infrastructure investment. Kasich was promoting longer term solutions for future generations and steps to encourage business to invest and eventually to create jobs.

The Republicans talk a big game of creating jobs but they are avoiding proposing ways to improve the job situation here and now, relying on slow-acting solutions. Solving the federal deficit problem is a long term goal of both the White House and the Republicans. However, solutions to the short term unemployment problem call for a different set of approaches and recognition of reality. The reality? It's demand, stupid.

It is a demand problem that is causing the current lack of private sector investment. More investments will not make their customers more willing to buy their products. Consumers need the means to buy with confidence. Those unemployed and fearing unemployment are far more concerned about their problems today than something taking place in the future.

With business sitting on nearly $2 trillion in cash, and interest rates at historic lows, access to capital is not the issue stifling investment. While tax breaks may help, even then no CEO in his/ her right mind is going to take the leap to expand if there is no one able or willing to buy their products. It could mean idle production facilities and large inventories

Who can we blame for this? I nominate two: A Congress that failed to compromise on a workable, credible plan on reducing the deficit, and the irresponsible attempt by the Tea Party to ignore collateral damage of the fallout from their strategy in the debt ceiling debate. The result: Consumers thinking about making purchases and investors seeking opportunity have lost faith in Congress to produce any plans that will address long and short term problems and have clamped shut their wallets.

Congress, left and right sides of the aisle, deserves condemnation for lack of willingness to compromise, wanting to force the president to take the fall for hard choices instead of making those choices themselves about what will be cut. Passing the painful choices to a super committee was one way out; the other was to criticize the president for his lack of leadership — a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

In the past, Obama has allowed Congress to battle it out, remaining above the fray, and avoiding being blamed for making choices that tread on some valued constituencies. That may have been good strategy for getting a stimulus bill passed in 2009 and for passing health care reform, but it has made him vulnerable to attacks from both the right and the left for not being a strong leader on economic issues. It is resulting in his plummeting poll numbers and endangering his re-election. He has been forced now to take the lead.

Republicans have succeeded in making government stimulus a dirty word and thus have taken a major weapon away from the administration's ability to provide more public sector jobs. There are other measures he can still take and he will outline them in September. I fear the GOP will find some excuse to stonewall any of the president's short term job creation proposals because they have Obama where they want him. It is in their political interest to see unemployment remain high so they have 2012 talking points.

Even if prospects of passing Obama's proposals for immediate job creation through Congress are dim, he can at least make his case and pounce on Republicans for being hypocritical obstructionists. If he also presents a credible, fair plan for reducing the deficit and long term job creation, he may help his prospects for success in 2012 even more.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Charting a course back to confidence in the economy

my column published in the online version of  the Sky Hi News 8/17/2011; Another, edited version appeared in the print edition
The United States has a confidence problem ... a big one. It lost it two weeks ago when the debt ceiling debate came to an end, and the thorniest issues are still hanging fire since they were tossed to a committee.

There is a way out of the loss of confidence, but it will take some guts to do it.

The first step of any recovery is to admit the problem. The world has lost faith we can govern ourselves to solve the economic mess. Consumers have lost confidence that the economy will ever improve enough that they can stop planning for possible job losses and be able to spend for more than the bare necessities.

Corporations sitting on $1.3 trillion in cash will not invest until consumers start buying again. Investors are deer caught in the headlights, not knowing which way to jump so they freeze in place.

Voters have no faith that Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the deficit. Both the far left and the far right have lost confidence that President Obama is leader enough to give them the solutions they demand and absorb the political blows that result on their behalf.

We can thank the Tea Party for the largest contribution to causing the problem. This minority within a party fabricated a crisis by threatening to prevent the U.S. from being able to pay its debts. For them it was simply a strategy to force their hard line views on the majority. Their taking the threat to the brink caused a moderate earthquake as the stock market ran amok and fears of a double dip recession were revived as economists here and abroad trembled in the aftershocks.

Imagine if the Michele Bachmanns of the world had their way and the U.S. had defaulted. The markets and investors would have reacted as if it were a 9 on the Richter scale.

The left has also contributed to the loss of confidence. Its reaction to the crash was to blame President Obama for not making rousing speeches in defense of keeping the status quo on entitlements or tying up decisions while the conservative leaning Supreme court ironed out the intent of the 14th Amendment. They joined their brethren's litany on the right in condemning Obama for failed leadership. That is the most self-defeating strategy possible.

Someday the left will realize that they do not have enough votes in Congress to leverage their proposals and that joining the GOP in a feeding frenzy of attacking a Democratic president will not be the path to changing the balance in Congress or keeping the White House.

What can restore confidence? For one: Let's stop equating compromise with failure and let's cut the president some slack so he can make some grand bargain that will make the economy better. The left should stop cutting him off at the knees even if it tweaks entitlements a little.

The right may have to suck up some revenue increases. So be it; what we need is a credible plan that investors, business, and especially consumers feel will give them confidence that the future will be better .

The Simpson-Bowles plan to reduce the deficit has gotten the most votes of confidence from economists. Yes, it proposes raising some revenue and reforming some entitlements, but so what. It has the best chance of working.

Let us also reform the tax structure, simplify it, eliminate loopholes, reduce the top rates and make it fairer to small business and the middle class. Some incentives to encourage companies to hire the unemployed and more breaks for those willing to invest in infrastructure may help in the short term.

If the Democrats and President Obama were to take the lead in advocating a plan along these lines, my guess is 2012 will look a lot better for them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Perry's campaign takes a low road in questioning Obama's love of country

This 2012 campaign is off to a start and its new entry, Gov.   Rick Perry of Texas, is taking the low road already.  We should be having a debate on the advantages of one economic theory and plan to create jobs and reduce debt over another. We got some of that but we also got Perry questioning Pres. Obama’s love of America.   Watch out, Perry. If you want to campaign on that level, you live in a glass house and should not be throwing bricks.
Perry is the same guy who spoke to a Tea Party rally in April 2009 claiming it was permissible for Texas to withdraw from the union if Washington did not start paying attention to them.
Perry:“Texas is a unique place. When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that,” Perry said. “My hope is that America and Washington in particular pays attention. We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what may come of that.”
What sort of a loyal American is that?
Not only did the US  fight a civil war over that  attitude put into practice, the Supreme Court  in 1869 ruled Texas could not do that; it could, however, divide into states.
It appears that Perry, who hopes to carry the banner of the Teaparty, a group that pontificates over being the party of constitutional adherence, is selective in his support of its provisions.
Perry represents a popular attitude in Texas. There is a widespread belief there (and rampant in other southern states) that Obama is not a loyal American.  I know. My inbox has been flooded over the past three years sent to me from those quarters with anti-Muslim, birther viral emails. The “getting Bin Laden” and closer scrutiny and certification of Obama’s birth certificate had seemed to dampen that line of personal attack;   However, Perry’s remark may crank it up again.
In spite of that, polls show 16% of Americans still fall for the birther line.  Why? We can speculate in the same way Perry speculates about what is really going on inside a person’s head and the speculation could get very ugly.   In any case, there is something irrational going on there and Perry sent a message to that crowd.
Let’s get off both of these lines and get back to business…a rational national debate on the issues and policies.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bosnia: domestic violence; human trafficking

My column Wednesday, Aug 10
Copyright 2011 Sky-Hi Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. August, 11 2011 6:47 am

Felicia Muftic: In Bosnia, some changes come slowly

There are times when the world seems so small and familiar and others when we in Grand County live in a world we cannot imagine.

I came to that conclusion recently on a visit to Bosnia. I was the guest of a director of a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the problem of domestic violence and human trafficking in that southeastern European country. 

 The problems those Bosnian nonprofits encountered in counseling victims of domestic abuse were nearly word for word the same as I had heard from staff and volunteers of our own Grand County organization, The Advocates. My Bosnian friend, the director, related the story of a woman who walked into her center, face beaten to a pulp by her spouse, with severe bruising on her arms. As in Grand County, she was asked if she wanted to file charges or legal action against her husband and move to a safe home elsewhere. She declined, giving the excuse familiar to our Advocates' counselors that it was partly her fault, she could not leave her children, and that her husband always acted kindly to her later She just wanted someone to talk with and to get some medical treatment.

Local Bosnian police summoned to the scene wrote up a report, called an ambulance and left it at that. How it will play out is unknown. The hope is that if she survives the next beating, she will follow the recommendations of the counseling agency.

What is remarkable, however, is that there is any attention given at all to the plight of victims of domestic violence in Bosnia. This Balkan country is a patriarchal society. Rebecca West, in her 1941 seminal book on Yugoslav history and culture, "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon," reported that soon after marriage, men often beat their wives for no reason just to establish right up front who would be the boss. Such practices may have become less of a tradition as the Balkans modernized, but attitudes toward abuse being an acceptable practice have lingered.

Bosnia endured a bloody war between 1991 and 1995 as the former Yugoslavia broke apart. About 300,000 died, and parts of the country were pulverized by artillery, rockets, and tanks, and the term “ethnic cleansing” was spawned there. Bosnia is the poorest country in the region. Thanks to rampant corruption, it has been slow to rebuild.

Of 4.5 million people, 500,000 are unemployed and over half of them are women. One positive result has been that the supervising United Nations and peacekeepers have imposed some the Western values on the local police, including giving a greater degree of attention to prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence.

Bosnia's cultural heritage and aftermath of the war have given rise to a horror that we in Grand County can hardly imagine … human trafficking. Many Bosnian women are lured by advertisements from traffickers who promise opportunities to work abroad and to escape from grating economic circumstances. Later, many against their will are forced into prostitution or slave labor as their fraudulent recruiters and employers exploit them.

Our news reports lead us to believe that is something that happens to uneducated Asians. However, such practices have also haunted Russia, Romania, Moldova, and other Eastern European countries soon after the fall of Communism.

Bosnia has only recently become a hot spot for human trafficking. Corruption, increasing poverty, and removal of visa restrictions for Bosnians traveling to the European Union in 2010 have led to more traffickers focusing recruiting efforts in Bosnia. Identification of victims has been complicated by laws that treat children over 14 years of age who are found engaging in prostitution are treated as offenders and punished and not rehabilitated. The patriarchal culture adds to the lack of sympathy toward victims of sexual exploitation. The government has even recently reduced the number of nonprofits tracking and identifying victims and educating the public

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Blame the Teaparty for credit rating downgrade

Listening to Anderson Cooper's CNN interveiw of the Standard and Poor's representative, we can  pin the blame directly on the Teaparty. The S&P official said the reason they downgraded the credit rating on 1) debating even whether the ceiling should be raised; 2) failure to heed Bowles-Simpson recommendations on a long term plan.   My observation:  Simpson-Bowles recommended raising some taxes and reforming entitlements...neither of which the compromise did. ...and which were the key components of the Teaparty's opposition and obstinate votes in the House.  The liberal wing of the Democratic party also deserves a paddling for failure to approve entitlement reform, but they at least tied their position to increasing taxes on the very rich which left the door open for some tradeoffs...if you parsed their litany. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

The debt ceiling deal..who were the most irresponsible?

Copyright 2011 Sky-Hi Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. August, 4 2011 8:44 am

Felicia Muftic: Imagine, a bipartisan compromise

Lo and behold … a deal in D.C. on the debt ceiling? It was no surprise that part of the solution was to send the hard decision-making to yet another committee, so that only a few would take the fall for killing off sacred cows and the rest of the elected representatives could go on record and keep their campaign pledges not to compromise on anything.

What was new was the charge to the panel to come up with a solution or face the firing squad of across the board cuts, which would cause pain to both ideological sides. The compromise included cuts to Medicare providers and the Pentagon, but not to Social Security and assistance to poor and vets. Note that the fundamental decisions of what to cut still awaits the bipartisan panel's judgment calls, though parameters were set by the deal.

On balance, the GOP won most of the battle, but they could also lose the war in 2012. Some Teaparty types may lose their seats if they are viewed by enough voters as having been willing to destroy the economy in order to save it, including taking down Wall Street and harming seniors counting on full benefits. Their “my way or the highway” excluded other more rational alternatives offered by their party leaders, think tanks, or nonpartisan commissions.

The Teaparty's uncompromising ways also failed to change the way Washington works other than to make it even more dysfunctional and more partisan than it was before.

The Democrats did not get taxes raised on millionaires or cuts in spending that were less than what the GOP demanded. They did succeed in keeping the agreed upon debt ceiling until 2013 to provide more stability to the economy and cutting defense spending.

The compromise may also have rescued the U.S. from the World's perception that we were incapable of governing ourselves, but the seeds of doubt have been planted. We will be viewed by investors and lenders as more risky than before. Those with whom I have spoken in Europe feared we had been captured by right wing crazies who were willing to destroy both ours and their fragile recoveries and renege on obligations. That may haunt us later with higher interest rates.

To find the most irresponsible players in this drama, we just need to look in the mirror. The minute anyone proposes to hit our pocketbooks, whether through higher taxes or cuts in entitlements, 70 percent of us want our Social Security, our Medicare, our educational institutions, our defense but we do not want to pay for it. Instead, many want a smaller government, less taxes and more fiscal responsibility. We cannot have all simultaneously; there is not enough wherewithal to go around … at least that has been the conclusion of every commission to date. The compromise panel will have to face that reality, too.

There are some who deserve praise for acting responsibly and who made honest efforts to find compromises. Among those were Sen. Tom Coburn (conservative Republican from Oklahoma), who at least was willing to converse with Democrats, and our own Colorado senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats. In February Udall proposed a constitutional amendment to require the annual budget to be balanced. Democrats approved a FUTURE VOTE ON a balanced budget provision in the compromise. Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, Senate majority leader, credited Udall by name Sunday.

In March Sen. Michael Bennet and Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) wrote a letter to the president asking him to engage in budget negotiations beyond FY2011 that included discretionary spending cuts, entitlement changes and tax reform, to create meaningful deficit reduction. Thirty two Democratic senators (including Udall) and 30 Republican senators signed on to their letter. This became the basis for the last ditch effort of the bipartisan Gang of 6 to work out a compromise within the past month.