Sunday, April 30, 2017

Trump's crackdown on undocumented immigrants will not result in immigration reform

A version of this appeared in the May 3, 2017, Sky Hi News under the headline of "Trump's Wall of lies"

There are three messages coming out of the Trump administration: Trump claims priorities are to  deport  undocumented immigrants criminals first and deal with the law abiders later .  He proposes to deny federal funding to "sanctuary cities" that do not report "illegal immigrants" to ICE (the federal immigration enforcement agency). The latter is on hold due to a federal judge calling it unconstitutional and that there is no  legal definition of "sanctuary cities". Last, even if an illegal immigrant  is not a criminal, they are still subject to deportation, but it is just not the Administration's  priority to search them out with their  expanded ICE deportation force.  The hard line Trump  policy means a lasting solution to the Latin American  immigration issue is nowhere in sight because of the influence in Congress of ultra-conservatives and the continued support of Trump by his political base., the Pulitzer  winning non-partisan, independent fact checking project funded by the Annenberg Foundation , posted a list of "whoppers" told by Pres. Trump in his first one hundred days. One of those was Trump's claim that "sanctuary cities breed crime".  To make his point, even during the campaign,  Trump  pointed to an example of a murder committed by an illegal immigrant,  once deported and back again. Making a selective case a poster child does not mean that the conclusions can be generalized. Fact Check found there was no evidence that the crime rate was worse in sanctuary cities and some studies showed that the criminal element among immigrants was similar to the rate in non immigrant populations. Fact Check's own definition of "sanctuary cities" is " are those that limit the degree to which local police cooperate with requests from federal authorities to detain and turn over unauthorized immigrants."  

 That the Trump policy of giving priority to deporting criminals  has bi-partisan support. It was also the policy of the Obama administration, who immigrant rights advocates dubbed "importer in chief" for the increased numbers deported during his term.  The political problem occurs  in  urban areas with large immigrant populations, with friends and relatives  who are citizens and voters. Others such as  border residents, and many business people  see advantages in immigrants  as a low cost work force . There are also  voters who  consider the Trump folks racists, inhumane, and  hatefully divisive.

On the other hand, Atty General  Jeff Sessions reminded all that anyone who is here illegally, criminals or not, are subject to deportation. The result is to drive even those without criminal records who are here illegally back into the shadows. The recent deportation of a dreamer, a young person who was baby brought to America by an undocumented parent,  adds a great deal of fear among the immigrant population and has resulted in problems for big city law enforcement.  Witnesses to crime who are undocumented are now fearful to come forward  to report crime as are those who are undocumented.  The greatest impact has been on the reduction of reporting of domestic violence, noted in California in the US news article and there has been a noticeable impact specifically  in Denver, as well.

There is even a wider impact on  US citizens. A friend of mine was involved in a fender bender with a driver who appeared to be Hispanic with a limited command of English.  While she was able to get coverage from her insurer, her insurer told her to reported it to the police.. At the time, she did not consider the damage sufficient to require a police attendance, but she did get the first name and telephone number of the driver she rear-ended. There was no visible damage to the other car.  She was advised to file a police report later, but no one ever responded to her telephone call and she is unable to reach the other driver, making it impossible for her to file the report.  This is just one example of what happens when  those who fear deportation, even if they are not criminals, are driven underground.  You can imagine what happens if in the case of other situations that may or may not involve a crime as either a witness or a victim.

Trump’s promise to build a beautiful wall does not have full support of the GOP Congress because of budget/deficit impact and the actual construction will be carried over to future funding requests. However, his increase in ICE funding and personnel helps keep  the support of his base.The only real solution is comprehensive immigration reform that gives the undocumented at minimum legal status, if not a path to citizenship.  Politically it is a hot potato and  still damned by many on the right as "amnesty" because they consider all illegals  law breakers. Expect little to happen in this GOP dominated Congress on immigration reform, especially one with such an ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus wielding so much power and influence and with Trump's political base sticking with him.

 Those on the right claim the undocumented have no legal rights under the Constitution. Wrong, say others.. Except for voting, getting some government services, or getting some government jobs and gun purchases, they do, especially rights to due process and equal protection.   Civil rights as found in the Constitution's 14th amendment apply to persons, not "citizens" and there have been many court decisions upholding that.

See  for some of the court decisions upholding those rights.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Whatever happened to old fashioned populism?

A version of this was submitted to the Sky Hi News for publication July 26, 2017
I have been active on behalf of issues in Denver since the 1970's and some once called  me a populist .  The issues we used to call populism do not resemble the ones today. In fact, the greatest promoter of populist issues, Donald Trump, seems bent on sabotaging  his own self-defined populist campaign promises by supporting and celebrating GOP's Congress' health insurance bills that takes 22 million out of the insured ranks to give tax relief to the rich and insurance companies..

Once upon a time populism meant considering the needs of ordinary people.  Now, consideration seems to mean loyalty to an ideology or a fixation on restoring either free market or single payer in health care insurance, getting a check in the win column of keeping campaign promises, or satisfying those who are  financing the next election. How about returning to the days of  putting constituent or consumer interests first?

Back in the olden days, as I like to call  it when sharing my oral history to my children and grandchildren,  populism was not just a revolt against the establishment, it was trying to reshape priorities and values that identified and addressed the needs of ordinary, every day people.  Government was not seen as a de facto enemy,  but  it was viewed as a potential ally.  But government  needed to change its ways, and so populists put pressure on  changing  government policies and demanding government get more involved, not less active.

Much of Denver's populism then was shaped by consumer  and neighborhood activists Among them were conducting surveys of grocery prices to show the poor paid more for lower quality food  and were trapped in segregated neighborhoods because of lack of public transportation to be able to shop elsewhere.  The tearing down of historic structures were fought and resulted in saving Union Station for future use as a multi modal transit system and a charming lower downtown.Mountain views, an asset unique to Denver, were protected by ordinance. Power companies switched from coal to gas and wind, and solar to help reduce the infamous choking brown cloud of air pollution.

New concepts of design, set backs, streetscaping, store front  openings to sidewalks , encouraging  apartment living,   were part of the “city is for people” movement in urban planning . Bike lanes and paths were developed..   A park and ride transit  bus system, and eventually our light rail system, was promoted and supported.  Rail yards were turned into parks, and the former  blighted area  became a new baseball park, the Pepsi Center, an amusement park with a cleaned up and  landscaped Cherry Creek and Platte River running through it.    The airport was moved away from Park Hill and  Denver International became the key economic generator. Denver Health became financially self sufficient thanks to the ability to get paid for their services via Medicaid and now Obamacare.  

Federal environmental  legislation was applied to urban areas,  promoting clean air and water. Power plants switched from coal to natural gas or installed pollution reducing equipment. The major power provider is becoming more reliant on wind and solar.

Did populism hurt economic growth? Thanks to a succession of mayors , beginning with Federico Pena, supporting the populist concepts, Denver iis a thriving place, often listed as one of the best cities in which to live. Unemployment statewide is the lowest in the nation at 2.9%.

Note: Felicia Muftic headed the Metro Denver DA's Consumer office, ran for Denver's mayor in the late 70's, served as Denver's Clerk and Recorder' for nearly eight years in the Pena Administration, was an executive with Consumer Credit Counseling Service, and was a public relations and charitable giving consultant to local businesses supporting access to education for  minority  kids. . She divides living  in Winter Park/Fraser and  in Denver's near West Side. She is co-author of Plan Metro Denver's Interim Transportation Plan and author of the Colorado Consumer Handbook ( both long out of print but available in the Denver Public Library) and  currently a political columnist for the Sky Hi News.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Think approval of GOP plans to replace Obamacare is at 17%? Watch it sink lower.

Are you listening to what the GOP Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives is saying? They claim the compromise on replacing Obamacare to which they agree is better because it will bring down cost of premiums.The problem is that they remove the funding sources and still millions will lose their coverage or being stuck with junk insurance.   Here is how they reduce the premiums: : permit states to remove essential benefits, increase the cost of premiums to those with pre-existing conditions (and putting them in a high risk pool) and those over 50. All of this is so that they can remove the Obamacare taxes on the top 2% and certain medical devises to the tune of $600 billion, (all figures are over the next ten years) and end Medicaid expansion. What the Freedom Caucus did was to agree to keep the form of Obamacare for now ,contrary to their campaign pledge last November to repeal Obamacare in its total.    

 The Medicaid expansion adopted by 2/3 of states provided health insurance to those who had too high of income to qualify for traditional Medicaid, but not enough to afford any premiums. This would recreate that gap for the nearly poor. It could cost Colorado taxpayers $15 billion to make up the difference of those losing coverage. And once again, the GOP does not plan to have the Congressional Budget Office to estimate the impact and cost because "the CBO is only right part of the time" . Give us a break. So it will be wrong for sure on this one? It is the only official estimate out there, but they are afraid to let voters know the truth because the public approval of the GOP plan (AHCA) may sink below 17% which it is now...especially when so many voters learn how many will still lose their affordable insurance or benefits.
That Ryan/Trump decided to go through with both continued attempt to go forward at the same time that the GOP was attempting to keep the government open and avoid a shutdown was probably not wise.  The GOP tried to put the onus on the Democrats, claiming the Democrats were  about using the threat of a government shutdown as a bargaining chip over  the GOP Obamacare replacement plan. Nancy Pelosi, House minority leader, denied this and rightfully pointed out that the Democrats did not have enough House members to affect the shutdown issue. .In any case,  the AHCA  compromise vote was being delayed by House leadership  until later.  GOP House leadership probably counted their votes and realized that if a vote were held now, the Trump/GOP compromise would go down on flames because more moderates had shifted their support from "yes" to "no".  The compromise was even worse than the original GOP plan.

. The  President and House leadership bowing to the Freedom Caucus and the Freedom Caucus "compromise"making the original bill even worse by making all benefits optional and controlled by separate States lost more votes from the GOP moderates who saw their own political future in jeopardy in 2018, having to face an angry electorate.  What no one seems to have calculated in Washington is that public opinion shifted away from repeal and replace to retain and repair as more realized and got educated about the benefits of Obamacare  they were going to lose.  This shift in opinion was  thanks to the  media exposure on the Congressional debate and the marches and sign waiving town halls.   Even Colorado's GOP Representative Mike Coffman who had supported the original AHCA now said he would vote no on the compromise.

Also factoring into the moderate House GOP members' fleeing the compromise AHCA, was that any vote would be on the record, yet the chances that their bill could pass the Senate would  only be unlikely.  In other words, in order to try to keep a campaign promise that now has become very unpopular with more and has little chance to become law, the House members "are walking the plank", committing political suicide in order to stubbornly stick by a campaign promise when the public mood had changed  The GOP has a much smaller margin in the Senate and one third of them will be facing an electorate whose opinion of Obamacare had shifted dramatically since November.  

The longer a vote on the AHCA is delayed, the more opposition to it  will grow  and we can depend on the Resistance and Individual movements continue to  making sure the public gets educated.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trump is losing support of independents thanks mostly to the repeal/replace Obamacare effort

This posting was carried as a column in all editiions ot fhe Sky Hi News, April 27-28, 2017.

Donald Trump won the electoral vote while losing the popular vote.  His overall approval rating this month is at 40 to 42%, down from his 46% popular vote in 2016.  Polls show now that, while he has kept his base happy, he is losing independent voters mostly over the Obamacare repeal/replace effort.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC  in a mid April  poll found  24-point swing in disapproval of Trump by independent voters versus his disapproval rate  in February.  While President Trump retains support of 96% of his 2016 voters, per an ABC/Washington Post poll, the problem  is that  his base alone is not enough to get him reelected  nor is it enough to give the GOP helpful coattails in  Congressional races in 2018. His leverage over those GOP senators and representatives to support his legislative agenda until then  is weakened, too.  He needs those independent voters  

In the recent Georgia House District 6 and in the recent Kansas election, there has been a 20% swing against the GOP  even in traditional deep  red districts.  While it may not be enough to turn many of those red districts blue, it signals some Republican incumbents in less deeply red districts are vulnerable and are feeling  freer to distance themselves from Trump and his positions.

So far Trump ‘s followers are giving him an A for effort regardless of  limited  success.  They approve of his legislative agenda, his appointee’s approval for the Supreme Court, a saber rattling foreign policy, and use of executive orders.  His draining the swamp promise has been kept, though  limited to purging Obama’s loyalists and leaving  those positions vacant or replacing  them with an invasive species of Wall Streeters and foxes to guard the hen house door pledged  to sabotage the Obama legacy.
So why the swing in the mood of  independent voters?  Per the WSJ poll, “more believe the government should do more to help them.”   Why? Their poll showed the  repeal/replace Obamacare  legislative  fiasco dramatized that Trump had promised to  replace Obamacare with something better but  instead the GOP plan  he backed was harmful to millions and  to them, too. The debate also  reminded  non-ideological independents  that the federal government’s role after could have value to their own  health, life, and family finances.

Only 17%  of all voters now approve of the   GOP plan  that  would have made access to affordable health care  insurance and benefits dramatically worse and would cost them more from their own pockets. Rumors of  compromise details in a plan reboot  reveal improvements could be undone by states.
Voters also became better educated about the health insurance issue with the focus of media coverage  on  the Congressional  machinations.   At the beginning of the year, 35% of voters wanted Obamacare repealed but in their ignorance had not realized  their newly acquired ,and about to be lost , affordable insurance obtained  through the ACA and the  exchanges  was the same as Obamacare.  For others, longer experience with the  benefits of the ACA  helped them understand  small government ideology does not pay their medical bills or keep them healthy as well as the ACA (Obamacare)  does. What also helped educate them? Chalk it up to the Resistance and Indivisible movements waving  message signs  while  marching and raising a ruckus  at  legislators’ town halls in red and  blue districts and the media coverage that they generated.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Rumors of a House compromise on replacing Obamacare is a political figleaf

Rumors of a House compromise on replacing Obamacare. This "compromise" restores the essential benefits and coverage of pre-existing conditions and then allows the states to take them away. It keeps the tax relief for the rich and eliminates medicaid expansion shifting the cost to the states like $15 billion to Colorado. taxpayers... ..and still leaves 24 million (420,000 in Colorado) without insurance...and raises premiums on older Americans. What a crock. It is a political figleaf. It would be DOA in the Sentate.

Their motivations are the problem:
The House only wants to make sure its Freedom Caucus can go back to their constiuents to tell them they kept their campaign promises. The Whiite House only wants a W in their w deficient column. What both should be doing is listening to their middle and lower middle income constuents who only want lower out of pocket expenses and health insurance they can afford. This does enither and takes away insurance from most of them. How about setting a goal that meets the needs of their constiuents?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Trump threatens to blow up Obamacare exchanges. Why?

(This was carried in all editions of the Sky Hi Daily News, 4/19/17)

Have some in Washington DC lost their minds over repealing/replacing Obamacare?  Intervention is seriously needed.  The GOP House leadership and President Trump are so determined  to get their widely and wildly unpopular  health care agenda through Congress,  that  last week Pres. Trump threatened to blow up the Obamacare exchanges  immediately.  The question is why is Trump so desperate to get this particular bill passed now?

Last month GOP attempts  to pass their  repeal/replace bill went down in flames. Their plan endorsed by Trump and written by House leadership, the AHCA, did not have enough support in the House to be voted upon. Public polls put approval as low as 17% once the Congressional Budget Office disclosed 24 million would go without insurance over the next ten years.

This month Pres. Trump threatened to withhold subsidies which make premiums affordable, thereby  wrecking Obamacare insurance policies bought on the exchanges. Why? To force Democrats  and moderate Republicans to cave in.  6.4 million  nationally and 178,000 in Colorado are exchange customers.  Over 850 residents of Grand County (population 15,000)  received their insurance through Obamacare  exchanges thanks to subsidies that average over  $668 per policy. If GOP House members thought they were facing angry townhalls now, just wait until Trump tries to pull  off that stunt.  

In addition to  reducing participants in the exchanges, the AHCA phases out medicaid expansion. Nearly 600,000 in Colorado have benefited from Medicaid eligibility expansion under Obamacare.  As reported in the Colorado Statesman,  the AHCA would result in “  $15 billion in Medicaid costs for Colorado to pay, end the Obamacare Medicaid expansion and likely leave more than 420,000 residents without health care coverage.” Denver Health, which depends upon the ability to be paid for services, would lose $85 million a year. Denver Health also provides services to Grand County through their ski area clinic.

Driving the renewed effort to pass the GOP/Trump’s  AHCA is more than just philosophical,  ideological dedication to arguments that the free market system is always better, or  keeping campaign promises,  or a desire to give consumers more choice of plans with benefits they can cherry pick.   The claim that Obamacare is failing anyway is bogus  because the problems that are real can be fixed.  Consumer choice? The 24 million unfortunates losing insurance would choose between nothing and nada.

The puzzle is why are the GOP and Pres. Trump  trying again  to get their plan passed.The prime suspect  has to do with tax reform  The AHCA  contains nearly a  $300 billion reduction in  Obamacare taxes for the top 2%. Of course, to remove $300 billion in funding would require reducing benefits and the numbers of beneficiaries, and the AHCA would do just that.
 It is a sneaky way to bury a very unpopular tax relief in  health care legislation  before an even more contentious tax reform bill is taken up .The Congressional leaders know that to get tax reform passed, they will need Democratic votes in the Senate, but including  the $300 billion tax relief for the rich would be a poison pill, making that piece of  legislation difficult to pass, risking another loss for Pres. Trump.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

With the Syrian missile strike, another old fashioned American streak trumps isolationism

The whiplash about faces of the Trump administration on recent foreign policy positions is a welcome return from isolationism to the more traditional US view on foreign policy. It was difficult to understand how making America great again or putting America first  could be accomplished by Candidate Donald Trump's withdrawing from the world,  weakening alliances, and turning a blind eye to war crimes being committed before our  very eyes.

 In fact, the history of the US is that we have a streak in the American psyche that wants us  to withdraw from control  of the western world's agenda. We  are  plagued  by fatigue of war and  domestic  priorities.  In spite of that,   eventually we get drawn back into engagement when visual evidence of atrocities and terror  happening to others becomes intolerant. It was moral indignation of ethnic cleansing  that led to US and NATO intervention in the Balkans in the 1990's.  The underlying decency of Americans in our sympathy toward others and  a concern about human rights,  however latent, are some of  of the values that indeed make America  great.

What has changed since the rise World War II  is that  cameras were not in Auschwitz and Dachau to bring  atrocities into American living rooms until after   pictures were published  of the camps' emaciated  liberated  survivors.  That pogroms and persecutions of Jews before World War II  were tolerated because  anti Semitism and racial and religious discrimination were shameful values shared by so many in Europe and the US. Moral outrage and  indignation found its formal outlet  in the Nuremberg trials and the  subsequent  using of  the trials as a template to set up War Crimes Tribunals  in the Hague to prosecute those who committed crimes against humanity  In 2016. former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was convicted  of genocide for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and sentenced to 40 years in prison. That may be Bashar al  Assad 's ultimate end,   to face justice in the Tribunals if he survives either a  violent or  a peaceful end to the Syrian conflict. US  Secretary  of State Rex Tillerson yesterday also indicated that Assad should face war crime trials.

 The visual reporting of television and the internet has brought an unprecedented degree of  depiction of pain and suffering into the every day consciousness of human beings, so excessively that gut reaction had been  so numbed by a constant flow of  pictures of dead children and intentionally  targeted and bombed hospitals and schools that wide spread world  indignation was slow to reach a breaking point. It did  reach that point  in Donald Trump 's  TV view one  evening  of a report of a Syrian gas attack. The public support of Trump's missile attack response , whether it was or was not militarily significant, showed that politically the public has his back., that they too had reached the end of any tolerance of atrocities that supported his intervention on moral grounds.  This was a surprise no doubt  to him and others  who had assumed it was .Candidate Trump's outspoken doctrine  against the US ever intervening in conflicts on moral grounds that helped propel him to election victory. .His  core supporters of that policy were  reduced to a whimper in the accolades that followed the missile strike Trump ordered.  The decent streak in America at last  awoke.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Was the missile strike in Syria the right move? Could be.

Version of this appeared in all editions of the Sky Hi Daily News April 12, 2017

History will judge if the missile strike in Syria was the right move. It was a moral action, justifiably  a dramatic way to object and  to deter further  use of chemical weapons,  but will it lead to a resolution of the conflict? There could be some positive outcomes. At least  it did not start World War III. It could induce  Russia and Syria to begin considering a political solution; makes the use of chemical weapons too militarily costly to be used by even the most evil leader; sends a message to North Korea that they should not take comfort that their nuclear threat  to the US west coast, will be ignored. It could motivate  China to put more pressure on the crazy North  Korean leader to cool his ICBM nuclear plans because he will not know what that unpredictable  Trump will do next, especially since a US missile carrying fleet has moved near the Korean peninsula.

US military intervention is not the solution to Syria.  There is real fear that if  Syrian President Assad is taken down, those who fill that vacuum could be worse. There are those who oppose even a threat of military action because they support peace.  Peace is a goal, not a strategy. For those who believe in peace, how we get to peace should be the question. Empty threats and name calling accomplish very little in convincing those to change their ways when they do not  see peace supporting their personal or national interests.

To reach peace, we could take a page from the 1990's in the Balkans. Bosnia had a large Muslim resistance movement which NATO helped with military aid and by taking out the Serbian air force which resulted in the Dayton Accord peace settlement.  Unlike Bosnia, the resistance in Syria is fragmented and contains even those we are fighting, including ISIS. The hope is that the Syrian Sunni population gets assistance from the Saudis, Jordanians, and Gulf States and they become the non ISIS military resistance on the ground, leading to a stalemate or power shift resulting in a diplomatic settlement.

There are other means to force a diplomatic solution such as placing economic sanctions on the offending regime or its allies.  That pressure is already being hinted with threats of more economic sanctions beyond those  already imposed on Russia, the Assad regime’s enabler,  for their stealth invasions of Crimea and Ukraine.  

The risk with threats to  use military force to reach a peaceful resolution  is that if the threat is not backed up , threats in the future lose their effect as a  credible tool later.  President Obama came under extreme criticism for not taking military action when Syria crossed the red line when they  used chemical weapons, Russia negotiated their removal to stop the US threat in 2013. Obviously they failed to get them all removed.

But striking Syrian airfields and taking out the Syrian air force  is risky business, putting us in direct military conflict with Russia’s military presence there.  So serious are such repercussions, that Congress is correct in demanding approval first  to authorize further military action. Relying on a past authorization of the use of force early in the Iraq invasion is not enough because the  risk of war with Russia was not a factor then.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Democrats should be careful what they wish regarding the outcome of the Russian Connections investigations

Democrats ought to be careful what they wish. Some are hoping that Donald Trump does not finish his full term because of impeachment or some other damning evidence.The Senate recently voted to permit states to refuse to use federal money to fund Planned Parenthood.  The vote was a tie and Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie.  This should be a reminder that   if Mike Pence  becomes our president because of a presidential vacancy, he is also a hard line ideologue who opposes much of what the Democratic party stands for on policy and administrative action. Donald Trump’s  ideology is more populist and more flexible, and more driven by promoting US and self aggrandizement.