Monday, January 26, 2015


Fighting human trafficking has become one of the most passionate causes of many in these past several years.  Media exposure of the suffering of victims of sex trafficking and labor slavery has raised the issue to new awareness and the extreme economic differences between and within countries have provided traffickers their opportunities to make a buck. Lack of education of girls and boys and local corruption and lack of prosecution of traffickers are often cited in US State Department reports as a cause, as well.
 An academic center at the University of Denver to study, assemble data, and advocate has been established, the only center of its sort in the world.  Several Grand County high school students have made advocacy against trafficking their cause.  A $45,000 Rotary grant, championed by Denver Rotary and  supported by eleven Rotary clubs, including Winter Park/Fraser, Granby, Grand Lake,  Kremmling , Summit (Frisco) and Breckenridge Mountain clubs,  with matching funds from Rotary International and  a Rotary district, have provided resources  to aid a  non- profit Bosnian organization, Novi Put,  and Mostar (Bosnia)  Rotary Club to combat trafficking  in Bosnia. 
Girls (and boys)  are lured into jobs or  hooked by traffickers on drugs,  and are set to work in sweat shops or become virtual slaves as domestic help, getting little or no pay.  They may even be trapped or tricked into becoming sex workers and find no way to escape.
 The Denver District Attorney’s Office even has an assistant DA assigned to prosecute traffickers and the Denver police department has a focus as well.  Last year, the Colorado state legislature passed laws to make it easier for law enforcement to prosecute traffickers in Colorado and a privately funded safe house was set up in northern Colorado to provide refuge and rehabilitation of victims.
In Colorado, runaway teens are often victims of traffickers who lure them into prostitution with promises of drugs and escape from the streets.  Mexican and Central American coyotes sneak undocumented workers into the US.   Victims find work that in no way fit the job description that was advertised.
 Bosnia is ranked by the US State Department as one of the worst actors in combatting trafficking and is on par with the Ukraine, Cambodia, and Burma and others in the mid-East, Asia, and Latin America.  Bosnian girls in rural areas rarely have education past the 4th grade. Roma (gypsy) girls (100,000 of them in a country with a population similar to Colorado) are mostly illiterate.  Their economy is the worst in Europe, never having recovered from the devastating wars of ethnic cleansing in the 1990’s.  Corruption plagues the country and there has been virtually no prosecution of traffickers.  The Rotary grant is aimed at encouraging  Bosnian girls to stay in school, setting up literacy training for Roma, training and organizing  university student volunteers to mentor families with girls at risk, and conducting a public information campaign. Kicking off the grant implementation with a visit to Bosnia in September were Rotarians from Denver, Summit , and  Granby Rotary clubs.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Je suis Charlie, a cry raised in support of freedom of the press, was an admirable reaction to the terrorist attack on a French weekly publication that specialized in satirical  cartoons guaranteed to insult  Muslims, Catholics, Jews , and more.  Hats off to the million plus demonstrating in Paris on behalf of  freedom of speech, even if many of those marching did not agree with the editorial policy of the publication, Charlie Hebdo.

No one in the US mainstream media has published or reproduced the kind of editorial content like Charlie Hebdo.  Why?  After all, doesn't the Constitution protect free speech like Charlie Hebdo's?  It does.  Even hate speech is protected from government action in our country, but with limits. Hate speech as defined by the American Bar Association offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits. The US Supreme Court has frequently redefined those limits and ruled hate speech that promotes imminent violence against a protected group can be prosecuted. Charlie Hebdo’s offensive cartoons do not promote imminent violence.

Why has mainstream media not reprinted or shown pages from the French magazine? That is not censure by the government and it is available elsewhere and on line. It is their editorial policy not to offend religions or others.

There is a moral reason, too.  It is a matter of respect of other religions.  Pope Francis said it best January 15 :“ ..both freedom of faith and freedom of speech were fundamental human rights” and that "every religion has its dignity “ : He continued,  "... in freedom of expression there are limits. cannot make fun of faith" and that “anyone who throws insults can expect a punch."  That is a pragmatic statement.  It is not blaming the victim as some have charged.  It is a comment that we should not be surprised if there is a reaction if we insult a religion. These are lessons Europe has not learned very well, resulting in centuries of bloody wars and religious conflict.  We in the US carry our own baggage, but our political leaders have set the standards that get it right, though disrespect still boils below the surface in many quarters and some fume against “politically correct speech”.

The causes of terrorism are more complex than theological interpretations. Most Muslim terrorists are angry young people who come from countries with oppressive regimes or areas of military conflict with the West. The concept of free speech is alien to much of the world where governments control and approve all speech. They mistake hate speech by our citizens for officially sanctioned government policy.  If we insult the entire 1.6 billion Muslims because of the actions of a relatively few, we should expect a reaction directed at both our government and citizens.

 Many Muslim leaders and clerics condemned the Paris attacks and proclaimed terrorism as an aberration of their faith. In reacting to terrorist attacks, we Americans should do more to understand the differences among Muslims and take personal responsibility to condemn and refrain from hate speech.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

With reports that by mid- December, 2014 enrollment in Obamacare (ACA) had soared, those wishing the health care reform law had died of its own causes had reason to be disappointed.  The much maligned law has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of computer mess-ups it experienced in its first two months of life in 2013.  There are still those who would like to shoot it down.  Obamacare is not yet flown out of harm’s way.

By the same date in 2013, in 2014 twice the number of people had signed up with the Federal plans through the exchanges, bringing total enrollees close to seven million, including the 700,000 enrolled through state plans. The state run market places are running smoothly. (Expectations are over 9 million customers when the open enrollment period ends; we are only half way through the period.) Many automatically rolled over their old plans, and of the 1.9 million new enrollees in the federal plans, about 87% needed a government subsidy to be able to afford the premiums of insurance sold through the federal exchange.

Per the Commonwealth Fund's recent survey, US adults who did not get needed care because of cost from dropped from 43 percent in 2012 to 36 percent last year. (Denver Post, 1/15/2015)

The future of plans bought through the federal exchange is now up in the air thanks to an anticipated Supreme Court ruling to be released later this year.  If the Court takes the law’s wording literally, as the plaintiffs charge they should, subsidies could only be provided to enrollees in the 15 states who set up their own exchanges, including Colorado. In the 37 states with no state exchanges, consumers would not get their federally bought plans subsidized unless their state governments set up their own state run exchanges.    Most would be unable to afford health insurance without the premium lowering subsidies and would be faced again with the financial strain and consequences of lack of access to health care as in past years. Those most affected would be consumers in red and southern states dominated by GOP legislatures and state houses that were and are least likely to set up state run exchanges. 

Often however, legislative intent is also considered in court rulings on statutes as well as the exact wording of the law.  The defense will argue that the intent was for everyone to be able to have access to Obamacare and receive subsidies if they needed to make it affordable, whether they set up their state exchanges or left citizens to sign up with the federal marketplace.

Early reports are that the newly GOP dominated Senate and the overwhelmingly Republican lopsided House may try to take some pot shots at the ACA instead of trying to repeal the law. They rightly assume the President would veto any repeal legislation.   One volley is removing the medical device tax, but it would increase the federal deficit unless some other funding sources are found to take its place.  The other would change the definition of full time employers so that employers would not have to insure so many employees.  None of these legislative actions fundamentally change Obamacare; they just either hurt consumers or will add to the deficit.

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi Daily News January 15, 2015

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015 first stretch in the 2016 horserace for the White House. For Hillary Clinton, theGOP's Benghazi issue is beating a dead horse

2015 is going to be the first stretch in the 2016 horserace for the White House.  The GOP will be sorting out their candidates as the establishment and Tea Party wings battle it out in primaries and debates. Every poll and handicapper are agreeing on the Democratic side. Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming odds on favorite.  If she does not balk at entering the starting gate, it will take an unforeseen earthshattering stumble to keep her from getting the nomination.
 Republicans who fear her candidacy in the November 2016 presidential derby have done their best to lame her.  The GOP’s strategy for the past two years has been Benghazi, Benghazi, and Benghazi.  The attempt to tie her into the unfortunate death of Americans, including the much respected Ambassador to Libya, in a terrorist attack in September, 2012, has flat out failed. She was charged by many in the GOP with orchestrating a cover up.  The November 21, 2014 the Republican led House Intelligence Committee issued a final report that exonerated the State Department and placed the failure on the CIA. The report conclude the CIA failed to provide more security personnel even though before the attack the State Department had made such a request that was still pending at the time of the attack. The CIA had not turned down any requests for help before or after the attack. Neither the Department of Defense nor the CIA turned down any requests for help or air support during the attack. Ambassador Susan Rice’s inaccurate statements on a talk show were based on “the best available intelligence at the time”, edited by the Deputy CIA Director, and the CIA was at fault for not getting more eye witness accounts that led to faulty conclusions of the nature and motivation of the attackers.
What is left to the GOP is a regurgitation of old news long overcome by the Clintons: Whitewater, impeachment, and innuendos and personal attacks.  Post 2008 Hillary Clinton moved on, stepped farther out of the First Lady shadow, and made her mark as an independent, competent, leader of the State Department that gained her respect of her colleagues, employees, and women worldwide. The GOP charges that she accomplished little should be directed toward President Obama who set the course she faithfully followed.
It is way too early to predict the presidential derby winner. Much depends on the nature of the GOP’s outcomes or even if unexpectedly Clinton drops out. She will need to overcome dynasty fatigue but a Jeb Bush run would neutralize that. She needs to establish she is indeed a champion of the middle class, especially if the GOP’ candidate favors economics that trickle down from an enhanced 2% rich. If the GOP’s candidate persists in turning off minority voters needed to win enough electoral votes, she would gain an advantage.  As horse races are unpredictable, so are Presidential derbies.  Just ask George W Bush who watched the economy go into a near death dive in the latter days of the 2008 campaign.