Friday, November 28, 2014

Ferguson: lessons for the world about American exceptionalism

Ferguson: Lessons for the world about American exceptionalism
We in America take pride in the exceptionalism of our form of government and our caring about human rights.  We could be exceptional in another way: the example we set.  Ferguson dramatized the good, the bad, and the ugly.  We can hope the takeaway for the world will be, while local government sometimes fails, the federal government’s reaction was the good part, and American values and governing systems finally prevailed. 
As a frequent traveler spending time with family and friends scattered over Europe, what I do know is that those abroad look to the U.S. for setting a standard.  When we successfully meet challenges similar to what they themselves experience, they watch us closely to see if there is a template for future policies that might work for them too.
Europe itself has had its checkered past in dealing with “others” and experiencing civil disobedience that became violent.  In post-World War II, the 1990s Balkan wars are the poster child of hatred and ethnic cleansing. There have been other localized ethnic and racial violent protests, some suppressed, some resolved peacefully.  Spain still is in pain, though for now, violent separatist movements have either been dealt with by compromises or by granting more autonomy to its restless parts.  Paris suburbs experienced violent uprisings in their Muslim community over discrimination. 
What American democracy does provide is a model for peaceful regime change by honest elections, the rule of law, and outlets for frustration when citizens perceive their government is unfair.  Human nature is to rage when unfair treatment is not pacified by hope that the powerful are listening.
Channeling violent and anarchic anger to lawful and constructive actions takes leadership and empathy. President Obama showed both.  He was uniquely equipped to let Ferguson know he understood.  No one conveys credibility like one who has experienced discrimination himself and who looks like the aggrieved.  In the Trayvon Martin case, Obama said that if he had a son, he would have been Martin’s age, and in Ferguson, he agreed minorities had a real problem with police, and "the problem is not just a Ferguson problem, it is an American problem."  His empathy went only so far.  He had no sympathy for those who destroyed property.  They were criminals and should be prosecuted.  He supported those who protested peacefully.  To justify his endorsement of peaceful protesters to those who sympathized with rioters, his message was, “I've never seen a civil rights law, or a health care bill, or an immigration bill result because a car got burned."
Now it is up to local governments to do their part in accepting the existence of a police problem with minority relations and to take steps to change.  It may take honest reevaluations, federal pressure, minority hiring, retraining of police forces,police body cameras, and changing protocols and attitudes.  We must affirm that peaceful protest is more effective than violence.  It is then that we are indeed an exceptional nation worthy of being a standard for others to follow.

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi Daily News Dec. 6, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Elections and executive orders have consequences, but not in the way some may think

Listening to retiring GOP Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn on MSNBC’s Morning Joe November 20, I was alarmed by the way he linked possibilities of Southern violent reaction to the president’s executive order on immigration and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white cop.  I hope he was wrong that racism was behind his constituents’ threats, but that was the sad and ugly implication of his comments.

Coburn’s comments ignore those who sincerely and vocally believe the president violated the Constitution. However, the ruling of constitutionality is not a matter of even the president’s past or present interpretations or the opinion of some member of Congress. It is the courts’ and the place to settle it is there.  Hopefully Okahomans seek that recourse.

Should Obama heed voter opinion expressed in the midterm? Immigration did not register in the list of voter issue concerns per an AP exit poll. The economy trumped all.  A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll revealed over 70% approval of the elements of the compromise immigration bill, yet 48% oppose the President’s executive action, breaking along party lines. Go figure.   

Midterm elections do have consequences. More extreme anti-immigrants elected to Congress dimmed any likelihood of compromise or Congressional action.  Presidential elections also have consequences and the president won his second term in 2012 with the electoral firewall of high Hispanic voting states. Obama’s order carries out some promises he made in 2012. The prospect of the GOP gaining the White House and overturning executive orders or blocking comprehensive reform will inspire Hispanics to turn out to vote Democratic in 2016.
Let us get this straight: a “pathway to citizenship” is not part of the President’s order. It is not “amnesty” or comprehensive reform or granting citizenship or Obamacare.  The President’s executive order is limited to setting prosecuting priorities for three years. That order gives protection from deportation of dreamers whose parents brought them to the US when they were young and parents of children who were born here. The executive order can be overturned by Congress or the next president.

The order addresses one of the Hispanic and Asian communities’ greatest concern: deportation that breaks up families, leaving kids born in the US behind while a parent is sent back to Mexico or Central America or Asia. There is no deferment for the other six or seven million who are left out of the executive order, including recent arrivals.  

The GOP has avoided taking any action or compromise on immigration reform by demanding “securing our borders before doing anything else.” President has increased security, deported a thousand a day, and will do even more with his executive action.  The goal of “securing the borders” will never be achieved by those looking for excuses for inaction.  

The Senate bi-partisan compromise bill sent to the House over a year ago, languishing there without vote, did combine more funding and action in securing the border while providing a status for those already in the country.  

Should Obama heed voter opinion expressed in the midterm? Immigration did not register in the list of voter issue concerns per an AP exit poll. The economy trumped all.  A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll revealed over 70% approval of the elements of the compromise immigration bill, yet 48% oppose the President’s executive action, breaking along party lines. Go figure.   

Midterm elections do have consequences. More extreme anti-immigrants elected to Congress dimmed any likelihood of compromise or Congressional action.  Presidential elections also have consequences and the president won his second term in 2012 with the electoral firewall of high Hispanic voting states. Obama’s order carries out some promises he made in 2012. The prospect of the GOP gaining the White House and overturning executive orders or blocking comprehensive reform will inspire Hispanics to turn out to vote Democratic in 2016.

A version of this appeared in the 11/26/2014

PS 11/24/2014: Oklahoma is not typical. Per a survey conducted by Hart for Bloomberg only 28% of voters disapprove of the President's executive order. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

There are millions who are giving thanks this season for Obamacare (ACA).  A recent Gallup poll disclosed that 70% of those who signed up for it like it, few plan to drop it. By the end of 2015 around a total of over 17 million will have subscribed to it, even discounting a 400,000 recently reported 2014 miscount and updated forecasts. Yet the law is still more unpopular than popular. Why?
One reason is that only 16.5% of Americans could not afford or qualify for health insurance before Obamacare.  The rest of us with employer insurance, or Medicare or Medicaid, or individual private market insurance had to be convinced that either we were not harmed or we benefited from the law.     
The administration did not help its popularity when it bungled the roll out and made some misrepresentations that if the three million with substandard individuals who bought policies liked their insurance or doctor, they could keep them. The GOP raised a ruckus. However,  when it comes to the many millions who signed up for Obamacare, the GOP is  raising no ruckus about those they would leave high and dry without insurance. They still plan a vote to repeal Obamacare while not offering  another way to provide similar benefits to the same numbers.  
The GOP also used fear mongering and flat out lies to turn people against Obamacare.   Remember “death panels” and “death spirals” or costs bankrupting the country or Medicare being robbed to pay for the ACA?   Remember when the GOP told us exchange premiums would soar so high that Obamacare would collapse in a financially unsustainable “death spiral”? It is not happening. 2015 exchange premiums have risen only 1% on average nationwide.    No government panel has told anyone to pull the plug on Grandma. The GOP inferred that the ACA would take away Medicare benefits.   Instead, the savings in the law added 14 years to the life of Medicare per the non-partisan independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and no traditional benefits have been lost.

The challenge for the Administration was to convince the public that even those who had insurance were now protected from abuse from anti-consumer practices of insurance companies.   Most consumers did not even know they were victims until they faced bankruptcy because of their inadequate policies.  Employees’ human resources departments provided them with limited choices and left buried  in fine print caps on coverage, dumping the sick, not covering some pre-existing conditions, discrimination against women, and using premiums for over inflated overhead instead of covering medical services .     The GOP wants employees to return to “those good ole ’days” by removing mandates on employers to provide insurance.
The CBO originally concluded the ACA would reduce the deficit over ten years.  Those forecasts have changed relatively little compared to the size of the deficit.   Simply repealing the ACA, per the CBO, would run up the deficit.  Chipping away at income streams, taxes, mandate fines without finding other “pay fors” as the GOP wants to do, would also rack up the deficit.

(This is a revision and update of an earlier version) The edited version was published in the  December 12, 2014 The CBO understands the finances, even if Gruber thinks the public does not.  That "fix" made permanent will be vetoed by President. Now, Congress should give the same guarantee to those who already signed up for Obamacare and like it. Colorado dropped from 17% uninsured to 11% uninsured, 4th largest drop in the nation.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Time to sign up for Obamacare

Open enrollment for Obamacare has already begun and to be insured by January 1, sign ups must be completed by December 15.  Grand County has cut its uninsured numbers in half and the Colorado state run exchange is ranked as one of the four best run sites in the US  for signing up for insurance. The exchange is where you can compare policies and  buy private health insurance, and it provides a method to administer subsidies to make insurance affordable based on an individual’s or family’s income level.   This is not the same sign up site as the one that got so much bad publicity last year. That was the federal site to be used by states that did not set up their own exchanges.  Our Colorado state site had a relatively smooth rollout.  The site is  or call 855 752 6749 for free in person help. Consumer Reports has a site that may help you understand the law at  
 If you do not get health insurance from your employer or parents and you are not already covered by Medicare or Medicaid or the exchange, this is the year that the penalties for those not having insurance become significant. 
 Some in Congress want to take affordable health insurance away by repealing the entire law. It will not happen. Bills repealing Obamacare will be vetoed by President Obama and there are not enough votes in Congress to override the veto.
 There was a loud flap about the three million who had those high deductible sub-standard insurance policies and faced losing them, calling foul because of broken promises to be allowed to keep their insurance or their doctors.   Those who would like to take away Obamacare insurance from the 20 million who will have had it by the end of 2015 need to remember that most of those getting insurance in the exchanges once did not even have a doctor they wanted to keep because they could not afford insurance in the first place. 
 Some in Congress favor fixes instead of repealing the law. That includes repealing taxes on medical devices and removing the mandate that employers provide insurance for their employees or pay into Obamacare to cover their employees they dump into the exchanges.   A way to replace the income generated by these taxes, savings and fines to finance Obamacare has not been proposed.  Obamacare may cost 1.3 trillion ( billions less per the Congressional Budget Office) over 10 years, but it actually reduces the deficit  per the Congressional Budget Office because these fines, savings  and taxes offset  costs, and  reduces the rate of cost increases.  If the GOP fails to fund the fixes, the deficit will indeed be run up.   
 A  Supreme Court decision in the future may take away subsidies provided by the federal exchange, but Colorado has a state run exchange that would not be immediately affected.  In the long term, financial soundness of the law could be affected if many other states do not establish their own state exchanges.

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi Daily News  Nov. 21, 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

The monkey is now on the GOP's back. Now they must come the party of yes, and the winning "yes" at that.

  The “party of no “now must become the “party of yes “ or face an electorate  in 2016 already fed up with inaction on issues important to them.  The monkey is now on the GOP’s back to provide solutions.

The GOP won with anti-Obama and anti-gridlock sentiment. If the GOP thinks all they have to do is make good on promises to roll back Obama’s programs, and send the White House legislation they know will get vetoed, they may lay the seeds for their own defeat in 2016. Voters clearly want more than more gridlock. If the GOP proposes alternatives, what they advocate may turn blocks of voters against them. If what they pass accomplishes little, they risk being called failures.

2016 is not 2014. The make-up of the electorate will be larger and more diverse in 2016 because it is a presidential election year. Only a third of the electorate, older with fewer minorities, voted in 2014. The GOP will be defending more Senate seats in blue states in 2016 than Democrats contested in red states in 2014, with a greater chance of Democrats retaking the Senate.

There are three issues that could activate blocks of the electorate to vote against the GOP: immigration, health care reform, and middle class prosperity.
Hispanics historically turn out in greater numbers in presidential years than in midterms. In recent elections that has been sufficient to keep the GOP from gathering enough electoral votes from battleground states with large Latino minorities to win the White House.

The newly elected Representatives and Senators may have run on anti- immigrant platforms, but they will not be able to hide votes on the record that could solidify the Hispanic support  of the Democratic party for another decade. GOP threats to take revenge on Pres. Obama’s executive orders regarding deportation will certainly further alienate them. Another turnoff will be if GOP fails to provide a legal status for undocumented immigrants already in the US.

So far the GOP has found simply advocating repeal sheltered them from having to craft fiscally sound alternatives to Obamacare that will allow the millions who like their Obamacare plans to keep their Obamacare plans.   Polls show voters want Obamacare “fixed”, not repealed and taking away benefits could cause a revolt from the deprived. However, the GOP has not yet found a way to fund changes that would pass Congressional Budget Office scrutiny while also providing similar popular benefits and affordability to current and potential 30 million customers.

If the GOP attempts to push through legislation that increases college costs, makes health care unaffordable again, or opposes minimum wage increases and leaves the middle class waiting for economic growth to  trickle down to them, they will give Democrats a gift  of a 2016 campaign issue: middle class well-being.  Short term job creation programs for infrastructure and the Keystone Pipeline may provide better wages and jobs for some, but not for all sectors. The GOP has two years  come up with real solutions to aid  the struggling middle class or face  fickle, fed up voters in 2016.

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi Daily News Nov. 13, 2014   They did not impeach either Reagan or Bush for taking unilateral action using executive authority. Obama, of course, is different?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Deal or no deal in the next two years?

Deal or no deal in the next two years?

Here is how it will likely play out.  The GOP will have to tread carefully on compromising with the White House with an eye to keeping their base happy, but  the White House has even less motivation to compromise since the lame duck President is not up for reelection.  There may be some deals, but they will be few and far between. Otherwise, it is back to ye ole gridlock .

One reason, among others, that Republican Cory Gardner beat Democratic Senator Mark Udall in Colorado was that he convinced voters that he was the one to end gridlock and reach across the aisle.  Now the new GOP Senate majority will have to make good on those words.  If the more radical GOP dominated  House  bills are taken up by the GOP senate and passed on to the White House while  knowing in advance the President will veto them,  the GOP’s intentions to reach across the aisle will look like an empty gesture.

Where there is most likelihood of bi-partisan deals is when a large number of their respective base supporters would not be ticked off or the legislation would meet a need felt by all sides or create some jobs. Observers believe that means mostly infrastructure improvements, corporate tax reforms, trade agreements, and maybe some energy export legislation.

If the GOP Senate sends legislation to the President on tax policy that does not make the middle class feel better about their economic situation, or opposes minimum wage,  or equal pay, and yet continues the great income disparity, they may give  Democrats a campaign gift for 2016:  class warfare…the rich vs the middle class.  Here is where the GOP has the most incentive to compromise and Democrats should be willing, too.  It would make both parties look good.

Where there is least likely to be a deal is with Obamacare. The President will use his veto pen if the GOP legislation weakens the financing mechanism, or otherwise fundamentally tinkers with health care reform. Essential to the financing mechanism are the individual and employer mandates which broaden the pool to keep it affordable and fiscally sound and able to cover pre-existing conditions. The GOP has not yet agreed on a financially feasible way to allow the millions who like and need their Obamacare plans to keep their Obamacare plans.

 If the GOP Senate continues to oppose comprehensive immigration reform, and fights the President over executive action, they may find themselves up a creek. Opposing legislation containing a dream act and a pathway to citizenship may inspire a stronger Hispanic turnout against the GOP in 2016.  If the GOP softens its position to appeal to Hispanic voters, their own party may revolt.  So many of its newly elected senators ran on anti-immigrant platforms.

The president also has every reason not to compromise on the immigration issue, either. He needs to make good on promises to the Hispanic community he has made and broken so many times. Any more delays or tepid deals would hurt the 2016 Democratic candidate, since a fed up Hispanic community could sit on their hands or split votes.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What did not happen in the midterms

If you believed the pundits at the beginning of this summer, the midterms were going to be about Obamacare and the economy.  In fact, jobs and the economy were at the top of the voter concern list in any poll.  But in nearly every Senate race, not only in Colorado, it became as much or more about social issues and last-minute fearmongering about the rise of ISIS and Ebola.   How did that happen? 
Aside from campaign strategy that crafted negative political ads to put fire in the belly of specific demographic groups, something else was at work.  Neither Obamacare nor the economy turned out to be political gold mines. None of the disasters predicted earlier happened to Obamacare.  In fact, the American Medical Association said it was working as designed; eight million both signed up and paid premiums and would not take kindly to the GOP trying to yank away insurance the most ever were able to afford for the first time in their lives.  Nationwide, ACA premiums did not soar.  The GOP came up with no viable alternatives, so calls for repeal became underplayed lip service.
In Grand County the percentage of the uninsured was cut by half in the first nine months of the year, and the ACA will kick into higher gear with mid-November enrollments.  The premiums in the Colorado exchange will rise only a little over 1% this coming year and the silver plan will fall by over 10%.  Nationwide ACA premium increases came in under 5% increase.    In Connecticut 2014 rates had been very high, but giant United HealthCare decided to participate in the state ACA exchange for 2015, and premiums dropped by nearly 5%.
Partisanship was another factor.  Voters viewed Obamacare through glasses tinted by their politics.  Democrats liked it; Republicans did not.  Polls showed that individual provisions of Obamacare, with subsidies and Medicaid expansion making insurance affordable for the lower middle class and providing coverage of preexisting conditions, were always popular.  Better-heeled Republicans still thought Obamacare was a failure.  It did not benefit them, and besides, Obama’s name was attached.  Polls were so dismal that Democrats could not make a big deal of its success.
The economy had improved considerably, but not enough for everyone to beat the drums of victory or to damn the results with any credibility.  Many in the lower income brackets had found jobs, but wages were depressed, and trickle-down economics barely dripped or worse.  On the other hand, core constituents of the GOP, those in the upper income levels and most seniors, were doing fine, thank you. They felt the rewards of a booming Wall Street and a more robust business sector, but they wanted it to do even better.
Democrats did accuse the Republicans of opposing minimum wage or making it more expensive to finance college, but it never seemed to be a decisive argument that appealed to the middle class. Only incumbent governor John Hickenlooper made it a campaign slogan that “Colorado was back” and the economy was among the best in the country.

PS 11/5: Hickenlooper beat Republican Bob Beauprez to return to the state house, while Democrat Mark Udall lost to Republican Cory Gardner. 45% to 50%..  Most down ballot state positions were voted Republican and the state Senate got a majority Republican after being Democratic.  It took a great deal of thought and splitting votes for Hickenlooper to win under those circumstances and it makes his victory all that more significant.