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March 2021

Vaccine Diplomacy

    Within the next few months Operation Wharp Speed 2.0 will deliver enough doses to vaccinate all Americans, and the domestic focus will turn to encouraging the reluctant, expanding service to children and underserved communities, and developing vaccines for new virus variants. We've got enough focus, expertise, and money to handle this. Now let's poke our heads out of the foxhole, and look at the rest of the world. 

The setting:

    As of March 24, some 130 million doses had been administered in the United States, at a running rate of about 2.5 million per day, and with commitments from Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson to provide enough doses t0 vaccinate 300 million Americans (out of a population of 330 million of all ages) by the end of May. Add to that AstraZeneca which has been the global leader - approved in 100 countries, and committed to producing one billion doses for global use -  but which has run afoul of US testing bureaucrats. Also add  Novavax which has tested well in the UK and South Africa, but which has been slow in it's 30,000 person US trial. The gusher of federal money has included $22 billion for testing and vaccine distribution before President Trump left office. The faucet is full ON.  

    The rest of the world is not so lucky. Israel, Chile, and a handful of small countries exceed the US rate of 15% fully vaccinated. The UK made the apparently correct decision to delay second shots in favor of maximizing the 76 % effective AstraZeneca first shot and now have 53% with one shot.  Canada is about 2% fully vaccinated; Mexico is .6%. 

    Europe is a mess - what EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen called the "crisis of the century" - as the EU passed legislation to ban exports of vaccines.    Even the constantly "why can't we be more like Europe?" New York Times has discovered that the continental vaccination rate has lagged far behind Great Britain and the United States because the bureaucrats are more concerned about criticism for risk taking and nationalist infighting  than a mounting death toll.  It is each country for itself, with regulations preventing exports.

    The international vaccination response for 92 low and middle income countries is coordinated by COVAX (Covid 19 Vaccines Global Access), begun by the World Health Organization, the European Commission, and the government of France in April 2020, and promptly joined by 165 countries.  WHO's role includes sharing statistics and best practices, and providing Emergency Use Authorizations for candidate vaccines. While COVAX claimed to "have access to" 2 billion doses in December, actual deliveries from Pfizer and AstraZeneca will be under 5 million doses in the first half of 2021. Funding comes from 30 countries, plus philanthropies: the European Union promised about $1.1 billion; China $20 million over five years. President Trump opted out due to his conflict withe the World Health Organization, whose investigation of the disease's origin is still blocked by China. In January President Biden committed the lion's share of the group's funding, at $4 billion. 

    India which produces 60% of the world's vaccines in normal times,  is perhaps second in importance to the United States in terms of defeating Covid.  Bharat Biotech intends to produce 700 million doses of their traditionally produced vaccine by the end of the year, having begun their innoculation program in January while testing was still in progress. The Serum Institute of India is producing about 50 million doses per month of AstraZeneca's vaccine, also skating on the edge of technical approvals. India has exported both versions with a total of 58 million doses going to 71 countries - some commercially, some as diplomatic "gifts", and some under the COVAX umbrella - but has recently cut back to concentrate on the  needs of their 1.4 billion people. 

    In February the Chinese began exporting vaccines produced by Sinovac and Sinopharm - without publishing clinical trial data or gaining WHO approval - to 22 countries with a goal of reaching 53, including Pakistan, Mexico,  and many of the Belt and Road development partners. This month the United States, Australia, India, and Japan (the evolving Quad alliance) committed 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine to other Asian countries. Game on. 

    The next phase of Covid will be ugly, with countries representing the top 19% in wealth having purchased 54% of the committed vaccines, and projections that global supply will not meet demand until 2023. A dialogue is needed about increasing supply and balancing distribution for humanitarian reasons and because we are all at risk of mutations while the disease is rampant anywhere on the globe. 

    Some suggested American priorities:

        - Mexico and Central America. Disease stifles economies; immigrants carry disease; the Chinese would love to make inroads in our back yard.  (An easy opening gambit for VP Harris' new task as immigration czar.) 

        - Support for Israeli exports to Middle Eastern countries. (Start with those who have recognized her.) 

        - Technical and logistics support for Indian exports to South and Southeast Asia. (Particularly Taiwan and South China Sea countries threatened by China.) 

        - South Korea - with an understanding that North Korea will receive all that they will acccept.  (An ice breaker for nuclear negotiations, preferably with South Korea in the lead.) 

        - Allies like Japan and Canada who need help. (An apology for the assault on Canada's oil and gas industry.) 

        - Production; production; production. 


bill bowen - 3/25/21



Setting Republican Party Priorities

    With the transition from a Republican president who sucked all of the air out of the room to a Democratic president who gets propped up and wheeled out by his handlers, it is worth looking beyond the putative party leaders to examine the party establishments on both sides.  Let's do this the way that McKinsey would. 

    First, who is the client?  Each party has a few hundred national movers and shakers who determine the direction and make things happen.  They are politicians, celebrities, donors, thought leaders, and bureaucrats. Some like to be in the public glare; many do not. There is an undercurrent of ideology, and a lot of occasional hoopla, but success comes from effective organizing and managing the people  and institutions  competing for power.  

    1. Party leadership. For at least a decade, Nancy Pelosi has been the most impactful politician in America.  She owned President Obama's signature achievement of Obamacare.  She long outlasted John Boehner and Paul Ryan. Faced with a revolt from the left, she was able to explain to AOC that running primary candidates against sitting House Democrats was not acceptable, and that Pelosi would deliver most of AOC's agenda.  She controlled the impeachment process - twice.  She drafted the Coronavirus responses, even when the Senate and presidency were Republican. 

        The Republicans have no counterpart, except perhaps Donald Trump who brings a strong personal following, but no demonstrated success or apparent interest in managing a legislative agenda or protecting vulnerable members of his party.  Mitch McConnell is a master of Senate procedures, but his success has been largely limited to getting federal judges approved; he has had less success enforcing party discipline than has Chuck Schumer who is getting much of Pelosi's agenda through the 50/50 Senate. 

       Among the professional party staff, Trump loyalist Ronna McDaniel was reelected party chair without opposition at the January convention, avoiding conflict while the former president assesses his future, and negating breathless media calls for a party fracture.  As a thank-you to Congressman James Clyburn who brought his presidential campaign back from near death in March, President Biden tapped failed Senate candidate from South Carolina Jaime Harrison  to lead the Democratic party structure.  

    Advantage Democrats. 

    2. Fundraising.  According to Open Secrets, Democrats raised and spent $8.4 billion in 2020, compared to the Republicans' $5.3 billion, with the total more than doubling 2016.   Part of the advantage is due to Act Blue, a web site which allows small donors to contribute to candidates nationally raising $1.5 billion, more than twice the Republican counterpart, Win Red.  Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer led the Democratic billionaires; the leading Republican contributor, Sheldon Adelson, died in January. 

   Modest advantage Democrats. 

    3. Key staff maintenance.  The number of key Biden administration officials returning from the Obama administration highlights the fact that these folks get sequestered somewhere when their party loses the White House. The Right has the Heritage Foundation, the Koch Brothers' Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institute and many others; the Left has the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, the Council on Foreign Relations,  George Soros' Open Society Foundations, the Earth Institute, J Street, and an extended list similar to the Right's.  The Trump administration relied on outsiders, particularly generals, but both parties have plenty of interested talent available.


    4. Media relations. Republicans are in decline with the deaths of Fox News' Roger Ailes and talk radio king Rush Limbaugh, and the emergence of liberal social media moguls - Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook;  Jack Dorsey of Twitter - as the arbiters of  what is acceptable for private citizens to discuss, to the extent of censoring the president.  Add Jeff Bezos' Washington Post which will fabricate stories of illegal phone calls by President Trump and the New York Times which fired an editor for printing an oped by a sitting United States senator,  and there is a growing Democratic advantage. 

    Advantage Democrats. 

    5. Data management. Barack Obama's 2008 campaign pulled ahead in harnessing "big data" for political purposes, but Reince Priebus' GOP made this a priority, and had superior donor and voter information to hand off to candidate Trump in 2016.  Now both know from GPS phone tracking whether a voter goes to a mosque on Friday, a synagugue on Saturday, or a Christian church on Sunday and from grocery bills whether they like dogs or cats.   


    6. Candidate recruitment.  Unlike AOC, Nancy Pelosi and Republican management understand that the candidate must fit the district.  Despite President Trump's loss and defending 35 open seats,  the House Republicans gained 15  seats in 2020, with 15 first-time women winners in what Nate Silver projects to be a prelude to capture of the House in 2022.   In the Senate, the Republicans who must defend 20 seats to the Democrats 14, have had five announced retirements to none for the Democrats, but favorable geography to challenge for the necessary gain of a single seat. With a majority of state houses and legislatures, the Republican pool is deep. 

  Advantage Republicans. 

    7. Campaign management.  Success at the state level demonstrates that there are plenty of good campaign managers in the Republican Party; albeit Trump had difficulty in 2016 and again in 2020 maintaining the necessary relationship. Team Biden's decisions to reach for a lifeline from James Clyburn and subsequently to hide in the basement were apparently correct.  


    So, with that list of relative strengths and weaknesses, what should be the priorities for Ms McDaniel,  Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Charles Koch, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, and the other Republican Party leaders? 

    1. Coach Donald Trump into retirement. Perhaps give him a task of developing a conservative replacement for Twitter and Facebook. 

    2. Maintain election integrity. 

    3. Tweak fundraising - increase awareness of WinRed; cultivate replacements for Sheldon Adelson; make sure that Charles Koch carries on without his brother David who died in 2019.

    4. Smooth the path for strong candidates in a dozen Senate races and two dozen House races. Coach secondary candidates out; provide money. 

   5. Trust that post-Covid and post-Trump the American people will get tired of the cancel culture and the drumbeat of victimization, and turn to the party which sees America as the land of opportunity, and the people as basically fair.  


bill bowen - 3/18/21


An Alaskan Opening Gambit

    Next Thursday and Friday Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will meet in Anchorage with their Communist Chinese counterparts, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Politburo member Jang Jiechi, to lay out an agenda for engagement between the ascendent Chinese and the Biden administration. The meeting was initially requested by the Chinese in December, and follows several preparatory discussions: a two hour February 10, phone call between  Premier Xi Jinping and President Biden; meetings of Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin with counterparts in South Korea and Japan; and  a March 12 meeting between Biden and the leaders of Australia, Japan, and India.  The Biden administration is emphasizing that the first meeting will be on American soil, that it will be preceeded by dialogue with allies, and that the posture will be resolute. Good positioning. 

    The two day agenda is extensive: Hong Kong; the Uighurs; Taiwan; the South China Sea; calibration on Trump-administration trade agreements; climate change;  China's trade embargo of Australia; cybersecurity; intellectual property theft; perhaps American debt.  There will be no significant agreements. Specific commitments on our ongoing $300 billion trade deficit (down 25% from pre-Trump),  China's goal of reaching peak CO2 emissions by 2030 (we are decreasing), or cessation of excalating massive hacking are unlikely. Much will be declared "off limits" internal Chinese matters. Our real leverage rests with trade - but that is so Trump. 

    The China internal media - and much in the West - will position this as a meeting between an America which has lost its footing, and the rising superpower who will soon boast the world's largest economy, enjoys the stragtegic advantage of a strong central government, is consolidating the periphery of former Chinese empires, and is gaining influence internationally through its Belt and Road Initiative, leadership in traditional international organizations, and investment agreements such as that recently signed with the European Union.  There is good reason for concern, but this is not a zero sum game, and our recent decades of unchallenged supriority have made the rise of a rival seem more threatening than it need be. 

    A premise: Despite the constant drumbeat of anti-Trump pessimism over the past four years, the United States remains the overwhelming world leader in terms of the global financial system (the global reserve currency; the primary destination for investment capital), military power (roughly half of the world's military budget; 11 Aircraft carrier groups), and technical innovation (the Chinese targets of Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, semiconductors, space, and biotech are all American strengths).  The institutions which we put in place after World War II continue to serve the interests of  the great majority of countries. Most of the world looks to us to maintain freedom of nautical travel, and to deter or mediate conflict on Europe's or Asia's periphery. China's neighbors are looking for a counter-weight, and offer a resuscitated version of the Trans Pacific Partnership. China is becoming a worthwhile rival, but our fate (and the world's) is in our hands. 

    That said, Three large currents have been running against us, and are getting significantly worse in the early days of the Biden administration:

        1. Our belief in ourselves as a united, morally worthy nation. Led by the New York Times, and punctuated by several police killings of Black men, the narrative that we are irredemably flawed has been pounded by Democratic politicians and the media.  Schools teach a history which has been re-written to the extent of condemning George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Dissenting voices are cancelled. Childrens books are banned. Social media - the preponderant majority of whose political contributions go to Democrats - control much of the national conversation, and ban Republicans. Liberals are encouraged to shun family and friends who voted for a presidential candidate who received 75 million votes. If a foreign propagandist wanted to undermine the United States, this is what it would look like.  Common sense, respect for alternative opinions, and balanced news coverage need to return if we are to remain the leader of the free world. 

        2. Our debt. We have become numb to the implications of having federal government expenditures more than double federal government income, and represent about a third of the economic activity in the country - from every factory producing railroad cars, to every farmer growing wheat, to every doctor treating cancer, to every government worker processing your tax return.  On the heels of a fourth Coronavirus Recovery Bill (7% of which went to vaccines, testing, and tracing), Team Biden will be back for another totally partisan trillion dollar "Infrastructure" bill.  This will not end well. 

        3. More subtly, but most importantly, reliance on government rather than personal responsibility. When Press Secretary Psaki called the $1,9 trillion Coronavirus bill "the most progressive piece of legislation in history", she meant it. When presidential candidate Andrew Yang first introduced the concept of a universal basic income of $1000 per month in 2019, it seemed revolutionary (and to most people crazy)  - detaching labor from reward, and elevating the state to the role of benificent patriarch of the people. We now have it, if just for a year or two at this point: $1400 checks for almost everybody (on top of past $1200 and $600 checks); child credits of up to $3600 per kid.  The idea that individuals reap the benefits of their work is so bourgeoisie;  Equality demands that the government print money for everybody. 

    This observer has confidence in the wisdom of the American people.  We are the most successful large, racially, ethnically and religiously diverse nation in human history. We have been successful because we have been governed by the ideas of the Enlightenment and the Constitution.  The First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly will survive the Cancel Culture because the people will demand it.  Unlike today's Democratic leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. looked forward to the day when "people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."  We will return to a place where it is not racist to have  "race blind" policies. If we don't return to traditional American common sense, in time the immutable laws of economics will prevail over those who would claim that we can indefinitely consume more than we produce.  If  not, we had best hope that future meetings with our Chinese overlords go well.  It is up to us. 


bill bowen - 3/11/2021

Team Biden's Effective Start

        By this time in Donald Trump's presidency Michael Flynn had resigned as National Security Advisor,  Sean Spicer was struggling to control messaging as a short-lived Press Secretary, and a dozen insiders such as Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Senior Advisor Steve Bannon were within a few months of being ousted. The Biden administration is the polar opposite, run by a cadre of generally boring veterans who would have formed the core of a Hillary presidency four years ago. How are they doing? 

        First the easy stuff: 

            1. Press Secretary Jen Psaki has perhaps the easiest job. The audience is friendly, and the president doesn't take questions when he does speak. The highlight of the first weeks was the kibuki impeachment of Citizen Trump.  Fortunately for Team Biden, Governor Cuomo provides a distraction for reporters and news consumers seeking a scandal.  When the Director of National Intelligence determined that the Saudi Crown Prince was directly responsible for the murder of  US resident Jamal Khashoggi,  presidential candidate  Biden's earlier promise of accountability was forgotten, and the press largely didn't notice.  

            2. The Biden administration inherited a rapidly accelerating vaccination program - one of the greatest accomplishments of the Trump administration - and Biden understandably takes the credit. Merck gave up on their vaccine development in January and went looking for ways to participate in combating Covid 19 in the United States or globally.  Team Biden took money available from a 2020 appropriation and supported Merck (the world's second largest vaccine manufacturer) in their efforts to partner with Johnson and Johnson, adding about a quarter to the monthly vaccine supply. Operation Warp Speed could have done this, but, to their credit, Team Biden did. 

            3. Unlike Democratic senators during the Trump administration, Republican senators give broad deference to administration appointees (who require 50 affirmative votes), uniformly rejecting only a divisive nominee for Budget Director, and likely forcing the Vice President to cast the deciding vote in favor of  the unqualified California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for Health and Human Services Secretary.  

            4. As long promised to liberal supporters, there have been executive actions to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline, rejoin the World Health Organization, extend student loan payment deferrals and eviction/foreclosure bans, increase bargaining power of federal workers, expand legal immigration, and to expand protections for the LGBTQ community.  The order to pause drilling on federal land serves as a major bargaining chip with Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski who is up for election in 2022, whose state is highly dependent upon revenue from federal oil and gas leases, and whose vote may be needed in an evenly divided Senate were Joe Manchin to defect.   

        Some a bit more difficult:

            1.  Team Biden has parried military testing probes from China in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits, and from Iranian proxies in Iraq.  Almost Trumpian. 

            2.  Strategies are being developed relative to China, Russian hacking, and the Iranian nuclear program. Each deserves its own discussion. 

            3.  Parents want their kids to be in school; teachers want to be at the head of the vaccine line. Biden tried to thread the needle by waffling on the definition of having a school open, and by recommending that teachers be given priority by the states.  In political terms, there are more parents looking to follow the science than teachers who prefer the status quo.  

        And there have been a few fumbles:

            1. By stopping construction of the wall on the southern border, halting deportations, and reinstituting the Obama-era "catch and release" program for asylum seekers, Biden has doubled the number of illegal crossings in January, and amped up the number of unaccompanied children to a projected 117,000 for 2021 - well beyond current holding capacity.  Even some of the Democrat friendly press has taken to call it a crisis. 

            2. Kamalla Harris has been largely kept out of sight, but two appearances have shown her to be less astute than her peers: first she did television interviews in West Virginia and Arizona intended to put pressure on Democratic senators who will provide critical votes on the next round of stimulus legislation, drawing White House apologies when they complained; then she stepped on Biden's virus credit line by making the embarassingly false claim that the Biden administration was "starting from scratch" with a vaccine distribution plan when nearly 1,000,000 doses per day were being administered. 

            3. Biden's call for bipartisan cooperation was shown to be empty rhetoric as 10 moderate Republicans made the trek to the White House to discuss amendments to the Democrats' looming $1.9 trillion "virus relief bill" monstrosity, and were given a nice cup of tea, but no consideration.  Biden was lucky that the Senate parlimentarian divined that the $15 minimum wage provision could not be included under Senate procedures, thus preventing Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema from fulfilling their promises to vote against it. As to the moderate Republicans, fool me once .... With the Democratic establishment uninterested in finding middle ground, Team Biden will be totally dependent upon their slimmest of majorities. 

    How much of a better world this would be for our kids and our grandkids if just one of those Georgia Senate seats had stayed Republican.


    As a special bonus this week we have a brief compilation of Sean Spicer's artistically challenged  post-White House career on Dancing with the Stars

bill bowen - 3/4/2021