Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sequester in March: Out like a lion? Compromise is likely

To paraphrase Shakespeare's line in Julius Caesar: “Beware the ‘end' of March.”

The sequester that requires $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts, which will be felt in March, and a resolution to keep funding government all come together in a super storm before April. Even then, the crises are not over.

In May comes the debt limit and in April budget brouhahas. Both political parties should heed the classic warning, but the GOP has more to fear, which is why plunging off the cliffs will not happen.

Will the sky really fall if no compromises are reached? The impact may not be as dramatic as a James Bond movie or even as much as the White House predicts, but we would soon know from experiencing it hands-on. Depending on the extent of the consequences and who will get the blame could color to the political landscape in the 2014 elections and even change the party in control in one or both houses of Congress. 

What we do know is that a significant degree of bad things will happen if Congress does not start compromising. Even those not from the White House agree. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts a rise in unemployment and even retarding of economic growth. 

Republican governors are getting nervous, too. They see the downside of the sequester. Republican-dominated Texas is looking at forcing local school districts to fire teachers. Michigan, with a Republican governor, worries about losing money for people to heat their homes. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia calls the threatened cuts “devastating” since they depend so heavily of federal workers and military contractors who live there.

Blue-leaning states like Colorado would feel the pain, too, according to non-partisan observers. There are 10,000 civilian employees of the military and 6,500 at the Denver Federal Center, some of whom will be furloughed with ripple effects through our local economies as they lose take-home pay. TV station KKCO 11 recently interviewed National Guard officials, the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, and others and reported estimates that “more than $48 million in wages would be lost to Colorado over the next few months,” that the furloughs of civilian technician employees of the National Guard would “directly impact their readiness and ability to respond” to a disaster. I fear that could be critical in a looming wildfire season.

How likely is the GOP to get the blame? A recent USA/PEW public opinion poll was revealing: The GOP will take the biggest hit because the public is not in sympathy with their stonewalling on closing loopholes and their relying exclusively on cuts to spending to solve the deficit problem. President Obama won the balanced and fair argument in the November election and he is still winning in the court of public opinion polls in February.

Would who takes the blame be a political game changer? Swing states like Colorado, already turning blue, could get even bluer. A Republican-held House seat could be even more in play in 2014 when heavyweight Democrat Andrew Romanoff takes on incumbent Republican Congressman Mike Coffman in the 6th District.

Elsewhere, Tea Party glitz could lose its luster, too, as fellow travelers find fanatical adherence to the concept of slashing federal budgets now butts up against reality of security lines at the airport, school boards announcing the reduction in teachers for next fall, the economy showing another month of negative growth, or Wall Street tanking and the unemployment figures rising. GOP leaders are not blind to the potential harm to their party, which is why it is most likely they will find a way to get their Tea Party members to come down from their stone wall and start dealing.
This is my column that appeared in the

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sequester.cliff..taking a step forward into the abyss...

The English language can be a landmine for some not born to it.  Recently,  I heard a  former US ambassador  reminisce  about a foreign ambassador  who  boasted to him of  progress they had made to overcome a crisis. Said the foreign ambassador: “We stood at the edge of a cliff and then we took a step forward.”     In my mind, I visualized an old beep- beep roadrunner cartoon with a hapless  critter stepping into thin air and falling into a  crevasse. 
 That also reminded me  about  those on both sides of the aisle thinking that there would be progress if they  stood at the edge of the sequester cliff,  took a step they called forward , and plunged head  first into the chasm.
Many  economists and the Congressional Budget Office predict that if the sequester’s  dire cuts to both domestic programs  and the Pentagon take place  March,1,  sooner or later unemployment would rise  to 9% from 7.9% today and we will slip into recession (as we  tisk tisk  a 1.5% growth in the last quarter).   
Nothing in Sen.Marco Rubio’s  GOP response   to Obama’s State of the Union Address  last week was reassuring.   Rubio’s message : middle class  America,  government shouldn’t help you; free enterprise will.   All we need, he said, is 4% growth to solve our debt woes to help the middle class improve and get jobs.  Rubio’s sole specific economic pump priming to increase growth   was limited to   more drilling for gas and oil on public lands and ramping  up coal mining. Romney’s similar approach was rejected  in November 2012. No surprise:  the President leads congressional Republicans when it comes to dealing with the country’s debt limit, according to a Feb. 15  Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Rubio’s rhetoric contrasted sharply  with  the President’s advocating  for  what government could do for the middle class today…increase minimum wage, make preschool mandatory, invest in roads and bridges. 
On the face of it, the GOP and Democrats seem  oceans apart. Both short term plans to stimulate  the economy  preferred by the Democrats and Republicans’ sole  reliance on spending  cuts now as their  long term plan to tackle the deficit  look   as dead in the water  as the   ill-fated cruise ship  that lost power,  and full of unbathed,  unflushed passengers,  drifted in the sea several days  last week .
Some appearing  in this  past Sunday’s media gave sound advice: Tom Friedman, writing in the New York Times , implored the President “ to make one more good shot at a grand bargain on spending, investment and tax reform …. because it  would give the country so much more of a lift “.   A grand bargain would include both short term stimulus and long term tax and entitlement reform.    Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summer on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show   said the need for  short term stimulus must not be ignored, but we should not  exclude  long term plans, either.” It was possible to chew gum and walk across the street at the same time”
Is there any  hope Congress can  pull back from the cliff’s edge? In his address, Obama threw some  life lines to the GOP: He proposed to reduce Medicare costs by  the equivalent amount proposed by the Simpson Bowles debt reform commission and he supported  tax reform, including reducing  taxes on businesses that created jobs in the US. Did the GOP seize the opportunity to deal? Not yet.
Republicans  should  also stop opposing closing tax loopholes and  take a reality check.  Simpson-Bowles (as well as Mitt Romney) proposed closing  loopholes because cuts would alone not be enough to resolve the deficit problem.   Math counts.
Washington Post ‘s  Ruth  Marcus  on ABC’s“This Week”   had the best line of Sunday:  “Put the GOP and the Democrats on that stinky ship  until they came to agreement.”
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This is the original version submitted to the Sky Hi News. The newspaper published a heavily edited version in today's newspaper due to space constraints.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

All is fair in love and in drone warfare, not so much

The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war. — John Lyly in Euphues, 1578

Lyly's comments may hold true today in matters of love, but the lack of any rules in warfare no longer works because the nature of war has changed. The agony of defining what is or should be “fair” in warfare got a public airing this month in discussions about the use of drones.

In Lyly's day, swords and pikes, cannons and muskets were the weapons of choice. Disputes were settled by wars fought between armies.

Modern warfare ranges from suicide bombers, roadside bombs, mass killings of civilians, and deployment of weapons capable of widespread and indiscriminate death. Drones are the newest delivery method.

Even within the past 12 years, we have realized after invading Afghanistan that war is no longer just a matter of one country pitted against another or ethnic civil wars, but rather a war of ideologically motivated terrorist organizations with established histories of attacking the U.S. homeland and who cross borders.

There is a practical downside to drones, too, which weighs in deciding their use. Such strikes are not considered fair by others. Per a Pew Survey in June 2012, “Global approval of President Barack Obama's international policies has declined significantly. In nearly all countries surveyed, there is considerable opposition to … drone strikes.”

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander in Afghanistan, warned of “widespread resentment against drone strikes in Pakistan … hated on a visceral level, angering large numbers of potential allies.”

The difficulties faced by decision-makers who have been issuing the licenses to kill got the spotlight in Congress and media. In his exit comments, Leon Panetta, outgoing secretary of Defense and former head of the CIA, referenced the conflict he felt personally between his Catholic faith and his duty to make life-and-death decisions.

The White House released its own legal memo attempting to define rules, and to justify the killing of U.S. citizens in Yemen who had joined al-Qaida. The act was committed without the due process protections of our Constitution and a 16-year-old U.S. citizen was collateral damage. The public was made aware that the president himself signed off on a kill list, but we realized that without rules, it was solely a matter of trust in his judgment. Those who followed him could use the precedent he set, whether or not we trust their judgment.

Unlike the world view of drone strikes, an overwhelming 83 percent of Americans in a Feb. 8 Washington Post poll approved of the use of drones to target terrorists (dropping to 65 percent if the target is a U.S. citizen). It appears Americans seem content to let the president, the CIA and the Pentagon carry on with drone strikes using self-devised rules, even when public relations downsides are considered.

Some are torn between doing all we can to protect our national interests and doing it within our national traditions and standards. We are at war, but I find myself agreeing with thoughts of some senators, who believe there needs to be a judicial body trusted with classified information at least to provide a semblance of due process when Americans are added to a kill list.

When targeting for drone assassinations of leaders of al-Qaida and its affiliate members, the question becomes one of practicality: How can best we scotch a terrorist threat to us and which method causes the least loss of innocent lives, or the lesser cost to the U.S. in blood and treasure? By those measures alone, drone warfare beats invading a country, even when the highest estimate of the numbers of civilian casualties in drone strikes are counted. War is hell, but drones are a “fairer” hell.

The above is my column in the Sky Hi News today.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The GOP and their struggle to get Hispanics to like them

 While the GOP continues searching its soul for reasons why they lost in 2012, they are beginning to realize that If the GOP  ignores Hispanic views on issues and continues expressing hostile attitudes toward Hispanics,  the party will continue its march toward minority party status like lemmings trekking to the sea. 
 Louisiana Governor  Bobby Jindal of Asian descent   commented  to the Republican National Committee last month regarding the GOP attitude to people of color .  The first step in getting the voters to like you is to demonstrate that you like them.”, he said.
How to get Hispanics to like them is a major  challenge for the  GOP..  A  December 2011 survey, conducted by  Latino Decisions found forty-six percent of Latino voters said Republicans "don't care too much" about Hispanics, and another 27 percent said they "are being hostile,". It should have been no surprise that 71% of the Latino vote went to Obama in 2012,  a major factor in  Obama’s  victory.. With growth of  the Hispanic population projected to be able to swing Texas elections by 2018, that state could turn blue soon, duplicating  the 2012 results in  Florida, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico. .
Those  Republicans who understood that  have joined Democrats in the US senate to propose a comprehensive immigration bill.  Those who have  not, especially in the House, are still old school…  objecting to the clause giving Hispanics a path to citizenship they call “amnesty”.
 In Colorado,  75% of   Hispanics voted for Obama in 2012 (up from 61% in  2008).  The  percentage of Hispanic   vote in the state had increased from   13% in 2008 to 14% in 2012.  Heavily   Democratic leaning  Hispanics   helped swing the state blue  in the Senate, Presidential,  state legislature and  governor’s races over  the last four years.  Why did Hispanics in Colorado vote even more strongly for Obama in 2012  than they did in the national average and  even  in past years?    Motivation  was  often the   GOP messaging  itself….both at the national level and  especially at the state level.  
Mitt  Romney  added to the alienation. His  policy to solve the 11 million undocumented workers in the US was “self deportation”, with an interpretation held by  Hispanics s GOP government   would make conditions so tough,  the undocumented would want to return to Mexico.   When he said he would overturn President’s executive order which helped Dreamers stay in the US, get a job,  and go to college without getting deported, he hit an even rawer nerve. (Dreamers are hoping to be   college students, undocumented ,   brought as children to the US , who have graduated from US  high schools).
 The GOP also misread the polls when they  concluded Latinos cared more about education, health  care, economy and jobs than immigration, but they falsely  assumed  that meant  conservative solutions  would  also appeal   to them.    Exit polls showed the opposite; Hispanics liked Democratic approaches on those issue  more than the Republican positions.  Even conservative social values did not move Hispanics to the GOP.  73% of Catholic Hispanics and 82% non religious Hispanics voted  for Obama.
Immigration policies and education issues intersected in the Dream Act controversy, too., influencing polling outcome  on both of those issues.  Many Colorado Hispanics who  can vote   have relatives who are  Dreamers and/ or they noted the acidic tone of Republicans in opposing the Dream Act in the state legislature and on the campaign trail. Particularly irksome to  Hispanics was the  unity  of GOP  Colorado legislators  against  giving Dreamers in  state tuition or even reduced out of state tuition.  Now that  Democrats  control of both houses of the state legislature,  a bill allowing  Dreamers to be charged  in state college tuition has an excellent chance of passage. Many Colorado  Republican legislators  must have missed Jindal’s memo as they continue  their vehement  opposition.

The above is a version of my column that appeared in the Sky Hi Daily News today

Also posted today, an excellent piece by Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli on public opinions of immigration reform: