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.