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September 2018

Of Democrats and Star Chambers

    Most of the political and legal underpinning of the United States came about as a response by the Founding Fathers to the injustices which they had seen in the British political system. The division of authority between the federal government and the states and between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches was intended to prevent the consolidation of power by which the monarch could oppress the citizens. Abuses by the British Star Chamber - a superior court originally intended to keep the aristocracy in line, but later used to arbitrarily mete out punishments for the king's enemies - led to protections for defendants such as the fifth amendment to the American constitution, guaranteeing protection against self-incrimination. The Founders were also conscious of the risk of mob rule with democracy run amok as in the French Revolution and the Salem witch trials of the 1690's. The presumption of innocense and the rules of evidence evolved as protections for the individual against both the establishment and the mob. They form the cornerstone of our individual liberty, and for centuries have been a key part of our national concept of justice. 

    Fast forward to 2018 with Trump Derangement Syndrome and the Democrats' obsession with preventing the establishment of a conservative Supreme Court. There are many downsides to the circus which Diane Feinstein unleashed by bypassing the Senate Judiciary Committee's process for investigating nominees and withholding sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Kavanaugh - the damaged reputation of an exemplary person; the emotional stress on the judge's wife and daughters; the emotional stress on Dr. Ford and her family; the further cheapening of civil discourse in the country; the heightening of animosity between men and women of good will; and the public's continuing low esteem for politicians and Congress. 

    The reality of the events described by Dr. Ford are unknowable. She says he did it; he says he didn't. The potential corroborating witnesses - including her female friend who was allegedly at the party - have no memory of the event, and she told nobody until decades later. She seems to have come forward in good faith, but fell afoul of the national political system in which the Democrats, particularly Senator Feinstein, held her story for maximum political effect, leaking it without permission at the last minute in an attempt to delay or derail Judge Kavanaugh's appointment. Seeing an opportunity to drive up their standing with women prior to the November elections, they seized it. Driven by political deadlines the Republicans refused to delay to allow further investigation which would have been marginally helpful, but which would have kept the window open for other unsubstantiated claims to come forward. Little in the handling will encourage other victims of sexual abuse to subject themselves to public inquiry.   

    The real damage to the nation is the abandonment of the presumption of innocence in the absence of credible evidence - at least in the case of conservatives. (Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and Keith Ellison are a different story.) Prior to hearing either side of the case, Senator Chris Coons proudly placed the "burden of proof" on Judge Kavanaugh, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared that there was no "presumption of innocense." In the heat of the political moment that may garner support from the women of the #MeToo movement, but it represents a repudiation of the rule of law as it has been practiced in the United States since our inception. Thoughtful Democrats - as well as Republicans and independents - should reflect on whether that is too high a price to pay for the rejection of a superbly qualified Supreme Court justice. 


  This week's bonuses are Judge Kavanaugh's lengthy opening statement and Lindsey Graham's emotional response to the Democrats' attacks. 

bill bowen - 9/28/18



Contemplating a Democratic House

    We are close enough to November 6 (or dates in mid-October when vote-by-mail ballots are distributed) to know that the Republicans will in all likelihood hold the Senate, but that there is a real chance that the Democrats will take the House. Kyle Kondik who writes for right-leaning Rasmussen, has a current rating of 208 likely or leans Democratric, 199 likely or leans Republican, and 28 toss ups with a trend toward the Democrats. While there are uncertainties about the impact of the Kavanaugh appointment or any potential Mueller announcement, that feels about right. It is worth contemplating the implications of a Democratic House with a narrowly Republican Senate.  

    Some general considerations:

        - The 2020 presidential election campaign will begin in full force on November 7. That the Republicans are not able to sail to victory on the strength of the strongest economy in generations reflects the unpopularity of President Trump. Since legislation needs to pass both houses and be signed by the president, there will be low expectations for meaningful output; rather, the Democratric goal would be anti-Trump spectacle. 

       -  There would be a battle for the speaker position. In 2016, moderates such as Tim Ryan of Ohio challenged Nancy Pelosi for party leadership on the premise that new blood was needed and that the path forward for the party was through purple and red districts where the candidates looked like the district. That dynamic has changed with extreme left candidates beating establishment types in Democratic primaries in New York and Boston, and Congressional Black Caucus leader James Clyburn making noise about his time being at hand. The most likely outcome would see Pelosi remaining leader, with the socialists looking quite a bit like the Tea Party Republicans of 2010.

    What would not change:

        - Trillion dollar deficts will continue. In her last stint as Majority Leader Pelosi presided over the 2009 Stimulus Act which launched four years of trillion dollar deficits. Much to their discredit, the Republicans who regained the House in 2010 have given up on reforming entitlements while boosting both defense and domestic spending to the point that this year's projected deficit - despite the booming economy - is some $984 billion. Pelosi would offer proposals to cut military spending to support domestic (particularly healthcare) increases and to raise taxes on the rich, but the total won't change. 

        - Obamacare was Nancy Pelosi's proudest accomplishment. There will be no retreat. 

        - The cry of the extreme left wing to "abolish ICE" will not see the light of day.    

    What may change:  

        - In January Trump sent Congress a proposal to offer up to 1.8 million illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children a path to citizenship, coupled with $25 billion to improve border security, a shift from an extended family-oriented system to a skills-based system, and the elimination of the visa lottery system for under-represented countries. With the Freedom Caucus out of the way, a compromise which would pass the Senate may be possible. 

    What will definitely change:

        - Billionaire Tom Steyer will have his day - there will be impeachment hearings. Representative Al Green's December 2017  House Resolution 646 to impeach Trump for being a schmuck garnered 58 votes. Before 2018 is over, we will all know what constitutes "high crimes and misdemeanors", the process for bringing charges and eliciting testimony, and the history of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. That there is no chance of conviction by the Senate is not the issue - the administration must be ground down. 

        -  Adam Schiff will replace Devin Nunez as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Forget anything further on the corruption in the FBI during the Clinton - Trump election. Expect a rush for the high visibility seat as Chair of the House Oversight Committee which propelled Darrell Issa and Trey Gowdy to prominence. Corruption will be sought behind every bush.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

       - As far ranging as it has been, the Mueller investigatiion has touched only minimally on Trump's business dealings. (The CFO of the Trump organization has been subpoened to testify about the bimbo payments.) Expect the House to offer hearings on local government support for any property outside of the United States, payments by lobbyists and foreign nationals at the hotel in Washington, and the underside of real estate development in New York. 

    For those who thought the media coverage of all things Trump was bad in his first two years, a Democratic House would provide a relentless two year campaign to deny the president a second term.  


    This week's video is an introduction to liberal former California Senate leader Kevin de Leon, who  received the California Democratic Party endorsement for the US Senate, helping to push Diane Feinstein off the edge of ethical behavior in the matter of Ford v Kavanaugh. Also weighing on her political calculations - the little-reported discovery of a Chinese spy on her staff for fifteen years.   

bill bowen - 9/21/18



Reflections on 9/11

     The remembrance of 9/11 has become a one day event, something like Armistice Day celebrating the end of World War I. Perhaps this is because the American psyche (and the Bush presidency) was shaken a short seven years later by the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the Great Recession. Perhaps it is because the intervening 17 years have not seen anything similar. Perhaps it is because the media is focused on getting back to everything Trump - his Supreme Court nomination; the Woodward book; the New York Times op-ed; prospects for the November elections - and he doesn't fit in the narrative. Let's reflect a bit more deeply. 

    For those interested in bi-partisan good work in Washington, the 9/11 Commission Report published in 2004, and led by Republican Thomas Keane and Democrat Lee Hamilton, provides a detailed and readable background on al Queda, the events surrounding the attack, and recomendations to prevent future attacks. Recommendations ranged from the tactical (e.g. interoperability of communication systems among first responders), to addressing the sources of Islamic radicalism, to reorganization of the United States Government. It is worth the read. 

    So much changed during the Bush and Obama presidencies - but perhaps not much really did.  

        - The Middle East became the focus of foreign policy, to the neglect of Russia, China, and Europe. As a direct result of the attack we overthrew the Taliban government in Afghanistan because they insisted on harboring Osama bin Laden, and followed the British and Russians into our own quagmire which continues to this day. While Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, we replaced him and launched a disasterous civil war between the Shia and the Sunni. We helped foster the "Arab Spring" in the belief that democracy would defeat radicalism, only to have the military dictatorship in Egypt reject the Muslim Brotherhood and  chaos engulf Libya. Our relations with nuclear Pakistan deteriorated as their support for the Taliban and harboring of bin Laden put us at cross purposes. Seventeen years later it is hard to believe that we have done much to alleviate centuries-old grievances or to elevate support for America among the Arab masses. 

        - Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's ISIS broke off from al Queda, tried to form a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, and was largely obliterated by President Trump. Bin Laden was killed, but his organization under Ayman al-Zawahiri remains committed to attacking the West for defiling the holy sites in Saudi Arabia.  

        -  Our national security structure was redirected and reorganized, away from NATO, strategic deterrence, and the dissolved Soviet Union toward the threat posed by small groups or individuals. The intelligence community - blamed for not putting the clues together before 9/11 - was restructured with a new Director of National Intelligence replacing the head of the Central Intelligence Agency as the President's "go to" source. The Department of Homeland Security brought together the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, and myriad other departments. Joint task forces became the norm. The Transportation Security Administration was created to protect against shoe bombers and smuggled bottles of chemicals. 

        - The National Security Agency was given broad latitude to monitor communications and store "metadata".  When Director of National Intellignece Clapper lied to Congress about the scope of data collection, he was reflecting a common public attitude - "Do what you have to do; just don't make it public because we would then need to reconcile ideals with realities."  Like the prison at Guantanamo, expanded surveillance reflected a trade-off of some of our innocence from an earlier day.  

    What is really striking is the success that the national security establishment has had in deterring or preventing more domestic carnage. "Lone wolf" Islamic terrorist attacks have recently numbered four to eight per year with the largest being the San Bernadino Christmas party massacre of 16 in 2015, and the Orlando night club killing of 50 in 2016. While several attacks have been applauded by Zawahiri, there has been no direct link or coordination. Despite the porous southern border and over 500,000 legal immigrants each year, the 2001 perspective that we were under seige and would remain so for decades has been largely eliminated.  Some of the credit belongs to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but much also belongs to the Jethro Gibbses and Hetty Langes who toil in anonymity. 

   The innocent victims of 9/11, and particularly the remarkable heroes who ran into collapsing buildings and thwarted the Flight 93 hijackers deserve to be remembered for their courage and their sacrifice. Hopefully theirs will remain a unique chapter in American history.  


        This week's bonus is an assessment of the November election by Karl Rove - a great political mind; not a Trump fan. 

bill bowen - 9/14/18

The Illiberal Democrats

    It is worth a moment's reflection on what people on the Left side of the political spectrum call themselves. 

    At about the time that George McGovern and Ronald Reagan gave "liberals" a bad name in politics, George Lakoff of the University of California at Berkeley published "Metaphors We Live By", in which he argued that Republican ideas are centered on a "strong father" model (inherently attractive to Hispanics) while Democratic ideas are centered on a "nurturing mother" model. The recently retired Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics argues that Democrats need to look beyond facts and issues to the voters' values; that Trump is very smart with language, using tweets to frame issues, divert attention, and float trial balloons; and that Republican politicians are better than Democratic politicians at speaking in metaphors ("right to work" for example). Back in the Reagan era he advocated using  "progressive" rather than "liberal" after McGovern lost 49 states. That change (and the current shift to "socialist") is about more than lingusitics, however. It reflects a departure from the original positive attributes of liberalism. 

    Dictionaries have slightly different definitions of "liberal" when used in a political context. The most common first definition is what the Cambridge Dictionary calls "allowing many diferent types of beliefs or behavior", or what the Oxford Dictionary calls "favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms", or what Mirriam-Webster calls  support for "ideals of individual especially economic freedom, greater individual participation in government, and constitutional, political, and administrative reforms designed to secure these objectives." Most go on to offer definition options which advocate social change, but the central element of classical liberalism is liber - Latin for free. 

    How does that stack up against today's Democratic Party?

        - Allowing many different types of beliefs: Antifa, the shock troops of the Left, are the most aggressive tool for shutting down conservative discussion, but the restrictive tactic is in much broader use - physical attacks on Trump supporters; labelling of conservative discussion as racist, homophobic, or mysogenist; bias in the management of social media to diminish conservative thought; intimidation of conservatives on many campuses.   

        - Respectful of individual rights and freedoms: The Brett Kavanaugh hearings provide a great example, open to full public view.  The principle driving the protesters (paid or not) and the Democratic senators is #Resist. Donald Trump has been elected president within the rules of how the United States selects its leader, and he has nominated an eminently qualified Supreme Court Justice, but the conservatice voters who elected Trump would be denied due process. Democracy - at least as it relates to the 2016 presidential election - is to be delegitimized and nullified.   

        - Support for economic freedom: Democratic orthodoxy is passing from "tax the rich" to calls for "socialism" (government ownership of companies). The advocates may not really know what they are talking about when they use the words, but even if it is the Scandinavian model of a high tax, egalitarian welfare state, it is hardly economic freedom to take money away from the successful (whether by talent, hard work, inheritance, or luck) to give it to the more deserving in the opinion of the government and the party in power. 

    For many who grew up in the 60's "liberal" has a positive ring, attached to the Civil Rights Movement, with a connotation of being open minded and inclusive. There is room to debate which segments of the Republican Party deserve to be identified with the better aspects of the traditional "Liberal" definition, but there should be little disagreement that, in the anti-Trump crescendo, much of the Democratic Party has moved on to less tolerance of differing beliefs, less respect for democracy, and less support for economic freedom. 


   This week's bonus is a comparison of two next generation Democratic presidential aspirants  - Kamala Harris and Corey Booker  - using the Kavanaugh hearings to demonstrate that they are more strident than anyone else in objecting to President Trump's Supreme Court nominee. Lots of material for 2020 advertisements is being created. 

bill bowen - 9/7/18