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January 2019

Reflections Upon Leaving California

    This will be the last blog at Right in San Francisco for a time, as I am consumed by the efforts of selling a home in San Francisco, moving, and buying a home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The move will leave behind a political understanding of California derived from 20 years of engagement with the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, the San Francisco GOP, the California GOP, the Sacramento Seminar (a weekly bi-partisan discussion group with knowledgeable members and insightful speakers), the Lincoln Club of Northern California (an impactful Silicon Valley-based Republican support group), the Oakland Military Institute (which has involved many discussions about education with its founder, Mayor and Governor Jerry Brown, as well as an introduction to Oakland politics), the Log Cabin Republicans, the Republican Women of San Francisco Federated, and many others. These are organizations - it is the people who have made it fun. 

    On the plus side:

        - California is welcoming to outsiders. The Bay Area retains something of a Gold Rush mentality, with people coming from all over the world to find riches. Hollywood is similar for Southern California. I have been welcomed to leadership positions with the Civil Grand Jury, the Presidio Golf Club, and OMI - something much less likely to happen in New England. 

        - California is multi-cultural. Neither idealists nor xenophobes can understand the reality of living with others - what works and what doesn't - unless they have swum in the waters. Asia and Latin America are as real to Californians as is Europe to New Englanders. 

        - San Francisco has a Goldilocks climate - never too hot; never too cold; a bit of moisture in the winter, but generally dry. People spend time outdoors and respect the environment. 

        - The University of San Francisco men's basketball team is finally succeeding. After 20 years as disappointed ticket holders, the Dons are now the highest rated Division I team in California at 17-3 on the season and likely on their way to their first NCAA tournament berth in ages.  

    On the minus side - and this is different than it was in 1998, at least in our perception as we have aged: 

        - There are too many people. In an arid climate California is home to 40 million people, and there is not enough water to go around; the politicians rank residents, fish, and agriculture in that order; and the environmentalists can prevent the addition of reservoir capacity. Housing construction is  constrained by environmental laws, building code requirements, and neighborhood opposition. Companies are adding jobs at a multiple of the pace of housing growth - in Bay Area cities, and in the state at large. Commutes lengthen, roads clog, and civility wanes. 

        - No elected politician advocates for people like us. The unchallenged Democratic Party is driven by advocates of aggrieved "minorities", who actually make up the majority. As one in the fray, I have to admire the political skills of San Francisco politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, Gavin Newsom, and Kamila Harris, and the Democratic Party which controls the local and state executive and legislative branches, as well as the rules by which the game is played.  

        - Selling a house in San Francisco serves as a good metaphor for the relation between middle class citizens and the government. There are four separate inspectors (pest, conformance to water conservation requirements, construction, and Underground Storage Tanks) who inspect and offer to repair problems which they have found. There is a $20,000 real estate transfer tax. Any capital gain is taxed at ordinary income rates, which are the highest in the nation. One is compelled to admit to any non-permitted property improvements. Lawyers lurk. 

        - The middle class is leaving at a net rate of over 100,000 per year.  The Boy Scout oath and Norman Rockwell are so last century. California is increasingly becoming a state of haves and have nots, with the highest poverty rate in the nation along with the largest number of new billionaires.  

        - The attraction of libertarian ideals becomes overwhelming in a nanny state where plastic bags and straws are outlawed, a charge for paper bags is mandated, trash is examined to ensure conformance to recycling mandates, and arbitrary goals are set for the elimination of fossil fuels.  Unlike the successful "personal responsibility" credo of the Salvation Army or Alcoholics Anonymous, California's approach to drug addiction and homelessness is based on compassion, societal guilt, and and atonement with unlimited services.  

    It's been a good run, but John Galt left on the last flight to the "Live Free or Die" state. 


  And for a finale, a Beach Boys tribute to the California that was in a diffrent era. 

bill bowen - 1/25/19 


Context for Presidential Candidates

    The next 18 months will be filled with discussion about the horse race: which Democrat is visiting Iowa or New Hampshire; who has opened an exploratory committee; who was at Michelle Obama's birthday party; who had lunch with a billionaire. There are several alternative frameworks for considering the probability of a candidate catching the golden ring - gender; ethnicity; geographic "home"; experience in politics or other pursuits; place on the ideological spectrum; "likeability" - but, as Donald Trump demonstrated in 2016, it helps to understand the changes that have transformed the American electrorate over the past few decades. 

    The central premise: For most of our history Republicans were the party of capital and management while Democrats were the party of labor. No longer. The Republicans are now the party of the working class, while the Democrats are the party of an intellectual elite and aggrieved sub-groups - African Americans; Hispanics; the LGBTQ community; what were once known as women's libbers. 

        - The transformation has been ongoing for a half-century - Nixon's "silent majority"; Ross Perot's "great sucking sound" with jobs moving to Mexico; Ronald Reagan's "Reagan Democrats". There has been a growing realization among the working class that they were no longer the target audience for Democratic Party policies. 

        - The transformation was solidified by the election of Barack Obama. Democrats contend that the response was racist, but it is much deeper than that. Obama had no relationship with the white working class base of the Democratic party - a Kenyan father; an expatriate mother; an Indonesian step father; soaring rhetoric which appealed to the coastal liberal elites and the European glitterati. 

        - The eight years of Obama were a disaster for the traditional Democratic Party. Republicans gained 69 House seats, 14 Senate seats, 9 governorships, and control of some two-thirds of the state legislative bodies. The political energy in the country was in the Tea Party, middle class workers who aligned with the Republicans. 

        - Of the 17 Republican candidates on the stage in 2016, only Donald Trump understood what had happened and was willing to be the voice of the World Wrestling Federation crowd. The decorum of a 1930's union hall was OK for the working class then, and it was OK when they moved over to the Republican party. 

        - The presence of Never-Trumpers within the Republican Party partly reflects a revulsion against the person and his style, but it is also a reaction to the elites having lost control of the party to the middle class. His MAGA agenda is not their agenda - curbing of the global institutions through which the United States had dominated world trade and politics for 75 years; restricting immigration which deflated wages; ending the policy of endless war in the Middle East. 

        - The 2018 elections reflected the fact that both parties are not who they were. The MAGA agenda and style of Trump's working class Republican Party has pried loose a swath of the previous coalition - particularly college educated suburban women - who are now free agents. Meanwhile the Democrats have lurched to the left with much youthful energy aligned with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and democratic socialism, advocating for marginalized people rather than the workers.  

   The implications: Trump is the Republican candidate unless he unexpectedly implodes. (John Kasich and Mitt Romney are positioning themselves to be Plan B.)  Democratic options are more interesting. 

        - Elections are won by solidifying the base, and reaching out to the margins. Trump's working class base is solid; the key will be to drive turnout and keep a solid majority of the old GOP Establishment party. 

        - The Democratic calculus is more complicated.

                -- Each aggrieved constituency wants its presidential candidate - and all seems possible after Barack Obama's election. An African-American; an Hispanic; a woman. 

                -- It is not obvious that the average Democrat understands that they are no longer the party of labor.  It does take a bit of critical thinking to acknowledge that Trump's labor-friendly policies on regulations, tariffs, and taxes have led to an acceleration of the economy in the face of "normalization" by the Federal Reserve. And Democrats find it very difficult to support anything Trump supports. 

                -- The socialist left has nowhere else to go. Their energy is needed, but not their candidates. 

                -- The opportunity lies in finding a candidate who appeals to voters who would traditionally vote for an Establishment Republican, but who reject

Trump and labor. Whether or not "the system" allows the Democrats to put forward such a candidate is the quest of the next 18 months. 


    This week's video is a brief recap of the plan to withdraw from Syria which resulted in the resignation of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. In an embarrasing backtrack, National Security Advisor John Bolton announced from Jerusalem that Turkey needed to commit that they would not attack our Syrian Kurdish allies. The Turkish President refused, leaving American policy in shambles. IMHO, the selection of the undiplomatic uber-hawk John Bolton for the primary national security position ranks up there with the appointments of Paul Manafort and Steve Bannon. And then using him to negotiate sensitive agreements with prickly allies .... 

bill bowen - 1/10/2019  



Re-Thinking California

    It doesn't feel any better two months after the November 6, California elections. In fact it is worse. Let's recap. 

    How bad is it? 

       - California is number one in poverty (when considering housing costs), number 41 of 50 in K-12 education, near the bottom in business climate, and near the top in income, sales, and gas taxes. 

        - Democrats hold all of the statewide offices. They have supermajorities in the Assembly and the Senate, allowing tax increases and constitutional changes without any Republican influence. The one Republican state legislator from the Bay area was defeated. Democrats took half of the 14 Republican House seats, making the split 46 to 7

        - The attitude of the political public is reflected in the legal positions being taken by Attorney General Javier Becerra who has filed some 45 lawsuits against the Trump administration, largely in the areas of immigration, the environment, and healthcare. For flavor, he has threatened to prosecute business owners who allow federal immigration agents onto their property. He won reelection in November with two-thirds of the vote. 

        - The hope that the "top two" primary system would propel moderate Democrats in heavily Democratic districts proved false. Ditto state-wide where a machine hack beat Marshall Tuck, an eminently qualified (and endorsed by Obama Education Secretary Arne Dencan) registered Democrat, for Director of Public Instruction.

    Is it likely to get better? 

        - At the moment the state's finances are in good shape, due largely to the tech boom and recent tax increases - $8 billion annually from income and sales tax increases in 2012 (Proposotopon 30), and $5 billion from the recent gas tax increase. Risks lie in the $1,000,000,000 unfunded pension liabilities and reliance on a state income tax structure which is heavily impacted by bonuses and stock options of high rate payers.  

        - The Democratic agenda is broadly expected to swing to the left after eight years of adult supervision by the parsimonious Jesuit, Jerry Brown. Gavin Newsom's priorities include building 3.5 million homes in 7 years (an audacious goal with no real plan), universal health care (rejected by the prior assembly because it would cost $400 billion per year; twice the current state budget); free pre-school for all; a carbon tax; and continuation of the "sanctuary state" policy for immigrants.  

        - The electorate is changing for the worse. While the population of the state is increasing due to foreign immigration and birth rates, the net annual out-migration of domestic residents has reached 140,000, with most leaving for financial reasons. The state is gentrifying, with working class Californians moving out in droves, to be partially replaced by upper income earners who can afford California housing costs. 

        - The electoral system has been structured by the Democrats to maximize turnout and minimize controls. The state Democratic Party is world-class in funding, organization, and Get Out The Vote procedures. The Republican Party is not. 

    So, what is a principled conservative to do?  

        Option 1. The California GOP will elect new leadership at its February convention. There are a few new faces with new ideas, but the traditional division remains between those who favor a smaller, purer party and those who believe that Republican principles can be applied to the real-world electorate. This delegate likes David Hadley for Party Chair.

        Option 2. Take up a different vocation. 

        Option. 3. Move to a state where people still believe in liberty, opportunity, and personal responsibility. Fortunately, there are many east of the Sierras. 


   This week's bonus is a familiar and pertinent tune by the Eagles. Apparently this dilemna existed a half-century ago. 

bill bowen - 1/4/19