Sunday, August 2, 2015

Heads up: the issue spinners are at work
It is bad enough that the issues facing America are complex, the decisions consequential to our security or to the lives of citizens, but when advocates for one side or the other tell untruths, mislead, or leave out important details, it becomes difficult for citizens to form rational opinions based on facts.  Issues with highly technical components are especially vulnerable to abuse by false advertising.
There are two issues hot on the burner these days which are rife with spin doctors plying their trade. One concerns the Iran nuclear deal and the other, defunding Planned Parenthood. Whatever your position on either issue, heads up.  Media fact checkers are blowing the whistle.
Much of the Iran nuclear deal is very technical. You may have seen the commercial claiming the Iran nuclear deal is a bad deal, ending with “we need a better deal”.   There is very little in the ad that is not misleading.  The ad claims that there will be no inspection of 50 military sites. In Arizona, television station ABC15 ‘s  fact checker consulted experts  and found there will indeed be inspection of military sites that are nuclear  development capable. Other heavyweight experts agree. Not all military sites are appropriate for inspection. If the inspection request is refused, sanctions would be re- imposed.  Touts the ad, Iran can build a nuclear weapon in two months because Iran keeps nuclear facilities.  Experts looking at the deal say because the centrifuges needed to build a bomb are mothballed and enriched uranium is limited or destroyed, it would take at least a year.
The ad is paid for by Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, an ironic name because the result would be a nuclear Iran sooner than much later, if at all. The ad purports to support negotiating a better deal.  We note while we reinstate sanctions and try to reassemble any willing negotiators, Iran could build their bomb within months, and no inspectors would be there to detect it.  Threat of sanctions is not the only enforcer. If Iran breaks the deal, nothing in the agreement prohibits a military strike, per Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
Selective editing of undercover video is a technique as old as video.  Such is the case of the film used to convince lawmakers and the public that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for a profit., an independent non- partisan fact checking group, looked at the original video of an “interview” of a Planned Parenthood official and compared it to the version widely circulated in the media used as a pretext by anti- abortion activists to motivate Congress to defund the organization. Left out of the version often repeated on news reports is the part in which the official carefully explains that the fetal tissue is used for research and that there is no profit. cites experts who calculate that Planned Parenthood’s charges probably do not even cover expenses. That Planned Parenthood makes a profit on donated fetal tissue is not true.  Of course, federal money by law cannot be used for abortions and the federal money now goes only for cancer screening and other women’s health services, which would be defunded. (destroys 2/3 centrifuges and limits all but 3.67% enriched uranium stores; limit refining metal to 5% over 15 years; after 10 years can build some centrifuges)

Friday, July 24, 2015

The part time worker brouhaha. Most part timers choose to be part time

The part time worker brouhaha

A mini firestorm  between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush  about job creation and part time workers  got me digging  into the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) site to find  just how many part time workers wanted to work full time.  What I found  was  the number of part time workers in June, 2015  seeking full time jobs (two million)   is not a high percentage of either  part timers  or of the total 149 million labor force . While important to each individual affected,  only 10%  of  all part timers were actually seeking full time employment.   78 percent of part timers were part timers  by choice and the rest cited other economic reasons.  
Jeb  Bush, former governor of Florida and now vying for the GOP presidential nomination, started the war of words, when he said “that people need to work longer hours”, meaning that part timers need to become full timers and  there ought to be more full time jobs for those seeking them.  Hillary Clinton seized upon the phrase and in a major economic address said that “what workers wanted was a raise”.
Trend lines based on the BLS statistics also show that the number of those who choose to work part time has remained steady even through the ups and downs of the economy, but that those part timers seeking full time jobs increased especially during the Great Recession of 2008. As the economy has improved, their numbers are still  historically high, but  decreasing.
 An  more explosive political issue of concern to 65% of voters is the unfairness of the distribution of income. Uncontested is the fact that the middle class has “hollowed out”.     Neither party nor candidates can ignore this.  The Democrats will force the GOP to defend their plans to help the middle class  because Democrats  believe their own  proposals have  more potential  appeal to the key factor of “does he/she care about us”.  Expect Democrats to  propose stronger Wall Street reform,  minimum wage increases, expanding pay for overtime,   paid sick leave,  increased affordability of a college education, and  reform taxes so the secretary does not pay a higher percentage than the boss. Most  GOP candidates so far promise to help the middle class by relief to the wealthy and business. That  will be a harder sell to the middle class since recent experience has taught them prosperity does not  automatically trickle down to them.
 Bush claims more full time jobs  can be achieved  by raising growth to 4% per year, though he was vague about  how.  Bush and GOP candidates need to be pinned down on the specifics because the political devil is in those details. Will it be tax policy, welfare, trade and spending cuts?  If so, what gets cut and who benefits?  
Is 4% growth even possible?  Such sustained growth has not happened in most of American history. 5% growth did happen under President Reagan, but many  economists  owe that anomaly  to an expanding workforce  when women began working.  The non partisan Congressional Budget Office projected a 3% growth in 2015-2016 and dip in the long term to 2.2 percent due to baby boomers retiring and a shrinking workforce, a rate similar from 2009 to now.     

A version of this column appeared in the  July 30, 2015     


Sunday, July 19, 2015

The GOP comes out swinging against the Iran deal and the Administration swings back harder

 Nearly all  of the GOP members in Congress and their presidential contenders came out swinging against  the Iran nuclear arms control deal before they even  read the text, having  chosen to be deaf, blind, and intentionally dumb to the details of the provisions and the repercussions of killing the deal. Congress  will have sixty days  to become educated, though GOP’s pre-conceived notions seem already set in concrete.  Democrats swipe back harder and  turn to  keeping enough Senate Democrats in line to protect their president’s’ veto without GOP votes.

 Public rebuttals and counter rebuttals have begun. Key Administration arguments for the deal  are that the effectiveness of  verification measures make us safer than  a powerfully sobering result if the deal is killed. There would be no sanctions, no monitors by inspectors, a likely outbreak of war soon, a chance the US could be dragged into another Middle Eastern war to support our allies,  a nuclear arms race in the region, and knowing  Iran would be free to make  a bomb in a very short time.

If war now is considered better than the deal, the President pointed out, Iran’s  nuclear program would only be set back temporarily with conventional means. Bunker busters cannot wipe out their scientists’ knowhow.   The deal requires monitored mothballing  of 2/3 of their centrifuges and limits enriched uranium to 3.67% of stores for 15 years, making a bounce back difficult if impossible. 

Even Pres. Obama agrees there are  short term risks of beefed up hostilities from Iran’s surrogates due to Iran’s improving economic conditions and with the  conventional arms embargo lifted after five years, 8 years for missiles. Separate UN resolutions forbid Iran arming  surrogates.  Israel and our Gulf allies have already been offered more military aid to offset any  threat.

But are the provisions for verification good enough to block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons?
To answer GOP charges that Iran could develop weapons in ten years, their R&D continues, and the administration is naïve, the administration is pitting their experts against the GOP’s that the deal will block the path.  The administration’s  lead technical negotiator, a hardly naïve  Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, is one of the  world’s top nuclear expert scientists,  .

 Republicans criticized the 24 day notice for Iran to approve  inspectors to visit suspected cheat sites, noting approval could still be  delayed for months.  Scrubbing sites in a short period is impossible, per Moniz. Tell- tale nuclear residue lasts for years. Military installations are subject to inspections, but the GOP claims monitoring provisions are vague.  The deal includes  monitoring the entire supply chain of nuclear materials that will provide evidence of hidden cheating to be pursued by inspectors for the next twenty-five years.  

Some in the GOP want to double down on sanctions to change Iran’s  behavior instead. The administration countered that the  purpose of sanctions was to force Iran to negotiate. If Congress kills the deal,  the sanction’s purpose, leverage to force Iran to renegotiate, and  an effective  sanctions coalition evaporates.  US leadership becomes untrustworthy. If  the deal survives,   “snap back” provisions obligate the signers automatically to reinstate sanctions if Iran is caught cheating.

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi Daily News  July 23-24 2015   ($1.6 billion in aid offered to Israel) (destroys 2/3 centrifuges and limits all but 3.67% enriched uranium stores; limit refining metal to 5% over 15 years; after 10 years can build some centrifuges)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Remembering Srebrenica, the worst genocide in Europe since World War II; over 8 thousand slaughtered

Imagine if every  male, man and boy, in Grand County were assembled, hands tied behind their backs, marched to a killing field, and shot dead for one reason: they were all of the same religion, an identified ethnic group, hated by a superior force.
  Something like  that took place twenty years ago in a city with a population a little larger than our county.  You say that must have happened in Africa, maybe Rwanda? It is difficult to believe that such a horrendous event  also took place in an industrialized European country, especially since the Western world had hopefully  learned its lesson from the Holocaust. 
The world is just now coming to grips with its failure to stop the worst genocide  in Europe since World War II. July 11 in   Bosnia, former President Bill Clinton and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright,   prime ministers, presidents, a queen,  from Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo, Turkey, Serbia, and Jordan ( Angela Merkel of Germany paid her respects earlier), marked the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, occurring  in a conflict which gave birth to  the term “ethnic cleansing”.
 On July 11, 1995, 8,372 men and boys were  marched to the countryside, shot to death, and  their executioners attempted to cover up the slaughter by moving the bodies, scattering body parts, and burying them so that no one would know.  A few of the victims played dead or hid under other bodies to escape and testify  to the world.    Thanks to DNA and forensic  recovery of the remains, all but 1000 have been identified, and another 136 coffins with parts of identified victims, were buried in the memorial ceremonies Saturday.
Oh, you say,  the Muslims did it?  (In Bosnia at that time, the largest ethnic group was Muslims).  Wrong.  The killers were Bosnian Serbs , Christian Orthodox, and the victims were killed for one reason. They were Muslim.
 It was a bloody incident in a bloody war as the former Yugoslavia broke apart in 1991 and the province of Bosnia struggled to gain its independence, with ethnic Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslims engaged in a civil war to determine governance. Bosnia’s population was a little more than Colorado’s. Over 100,000, mostly Muslims, died   before Srebrenica and  in smaller incidents of ethnic cleansing. The United Nations had already intervened and had established Srebrenica as a safe haven, but some Dutch peacekeepers were held hostage and courts later ruled  the Netherlands liable for their failure to protect those in a safe haven.
News of the massacre resulted in the following month with  NATO retaliatory air strikes against Bosnian Serbs  The Dayton Accord three months later   ended the Bosnia conflict, thanks mostly to the belated leadership of the US.  Joined in a federation with a Croatian/Muslim entity, Bosnia Serbs gained autonomy.   War crimes trials of Bosnian Serbs accused of responsibility for Srebrenica are still taking place in The Hague.
 The US last week introduced a resolution in the UN to commemorate the Srebrenica genocide,  but Russia, to its shame, yet  historically allied with Serbia,   vetoed it.  Showing more grace, the prime minister of Serbia attended the commemoration ceremonies and endured rocks   thrown at him by impassioned activists.
Felicia Muftic is a columnist with the Sky Hi News, Grand County, Colorado
 Highly recommended: and listen to the audio version.