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April 2021

Policing the Police

    As a country we have a problem with police killings of Blacks. Some of the incidents represent apparent gross malfeasance - George FloydDaniel Prude;  Marvin Scott.  A few reflect appropriate behavior which has been deliberately distorted - Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri; Ma'Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio.   Some reflect plain errors - Daunte Wright; Breonna Taylor; Rayshard BrooksBotham Jean.  Most reflect officers doing their jobs in dangerous circumstances. All are tragedies. 

   Some Data:

       - From 2017 to 2020, an average of 1030 people per year were killed by police in the United States.  Of those with identified ethnicity, 50 % were White; 27% were Black; 19% were Hispanic; and 4% were Asian or Native American in a population which is about 60% White, 12% Black, 19% Hispanic, and 7% Asian/Native American.  On a per capita basis, Blacks are about three times as likely to be killed by police as are whites. 

        - The great majority of the shooting victims are armed. About 2% of police shooting victims are unarmed Black men; since 2015,  police have killed 33 more unarmed White people than unarmed Black people. 

        - Police shootings correlate much more closely with crime rates than with race.  FBI data show Blacks are arrested for 53% of murders and non-negligent homicide, 54 % of robberies, and 37% of all violent crime.  Importantly to the debate, Blacks are overwhelmingly the victims of these crimes. 

    -  Line-of-duty police officer deaths had averaged 170 per year from 2015 to 2020, before increasing to 295 in 2020.  

    Criminal justice reform has been a common objective.  The Trump administration championed the bi-partisan 2018 First Step Act which shortened some drug sentences, gave judges more sentencing discretion, emphasized training of prisoners, and improved conditions in prisons - particularly for pregnant women.  In mid-2020, the Republican Senate, led by Tim Scott got 55 votes for a bill which would have restricted use of chokeholds, prohibited no-knock warrants in drug cases, and lowered the barriers to pursue criminal and civil penalties for police misconduct. Democratic leadership rejected the bill as inadequate and threatened a filibuster.  This month Nancy Pelosi's House passed a parallel bill which also creates a national registry of police misconduct, a full elimination of "qualified immunity" for police officers, a mandate for use of body cameras, and a prohibition of defined racial profiling.  There is opportunity here if the Biden administration will disappoint the left wing of the party which really does want to "defund the police", and chooses bipartisan progress over partisan anger.  

    More broadly, there are several things to be done:     

        1. Rebuild confidence that the criminal justice system can operate racially blind.  Attorney General Merrick Garland's investigations of practices in Minneapolis and Louisville bring a judicial temperment which is needed. 

        2. Reject the idiocy of District Attorneys like LA County's George Gascon who is eliminating the death penalty, cash bail, and sentencing enhancements such as gang membership or repeat offenses, keeping DA personnel away from parole hearings, and downsizing the hardcore gang unit. (Gascon is one of several District Attorneys supported by George Soros' largely successful effort to elect far left "social justice" DAs around the country.)

        3. Address the full human resources cycle at the local police force level: development of position specification to define the role; recruitment; selection; training (including culture); reward and recognition (including promotion); and oversight.  Where the community is inflamed to look at the police as the enemy (Portland, Oregon for example), elected leaders are not aligned with the role of the police (Los Angeles County for example), promotions are not merit-based, officers are not supported, and citizen oversight boards play too large a role, attraction and retention of quality police officers falls apart.  Leaders should look like the population that is being protected - and in many major cities they do.  This is tough work. 

        4. Keep the rabble rousers out of the public dialogue - Maxine Waters who threatened Minneapolis Jurors with riots if they didn't convict George Floyd's killer; Lebron James whose "You're Next - #Accountability" tweet threatened a Cincinnati police officer who had made a split second decision to shoot a black teenage girl who was attempting to kill another Black girl; and President Biden's UN Ambassador  Linda Thomas-Greenfield who found it useful to tell the UN Human Rights Council (including China, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia) that “the original sin of slavery weaved white supremacy into our founding documents.”  We don't need Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons at a time when compromise is needed. 

    And criminal justice reform offers another unique opportunity for a former city and state District Attorney to demonstrate vision, political courage, and negotiating ability. Kamala Harris. Good luck with that. 

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     This week's bonus is Senator Tim Scott's inspirational response to President Biden's April 28, call for more government programs and higher taxes. 

bill bowen - 4/29, 2021


Plumbing Kamala Harris

    The common assumption on the Right is that Kamala Harris will be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2024, either because Joe Biden will turn over the reigns early, or because he will step down after one term. Let's plumb that premise from the perspective of an engaged observer who was Secretary of the Republican Party in San Francisco during Harris' rise. 

A brief chronology: 

    - Harris was born on October 20, 1964, the daughter of Donald Harris, a Jamaican-American professor emeritus of economics at Stanford University, and Shyamala Gopalan Harris, an American biomedical scientist born in India.  Sister Maya, an activist Democratic lawyer, is two years younger.  In 2014 Harris, who has no children of her own, married  entertainment lawyer Doug Emhof who has two from a prior marriage. 

    - She graduated from Howard University and Hastings Law School (University of California). 

    - She began her  career in the Alameda County district Attorney's office in 1990, moved across the Bay to the San Francisco DA's office in 1998, and resigned under duress in 2000. She ran successfully for DA in 2002 with the support of patron Willie Brown and Senator Diane Feinstein, for  California DA against Los Angeles Republican Steve Cooley in 2010, and for a vacant US Senate seat in 2016 before being selected by Joe Biden to be his Vice President candidate in 2020. 

A few comments on California politics are in order. 

    - California is effectively a one party state. Party registration is 46% Democrat, 24% Republican, and 24% "Decline to State". All statewide offices are held by Democrats. State primaries propel the "top two" to the general election regardless of party. All significant decisions are made within the Democratic Party - there is no need to learn the art of compromise with Republicans; the key to success is alignment within the party. 

    - From the Gold Rush to the rise of Silicon Valley, California politics has been dominated by the San Francisco Bay Area. During the period of Harris' adulthood this has included Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer; Governors Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom; Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi; state Party Chair John Burton and the "Burton Machine";  and assembly leader and subsequently San Francisco mayor Willie Brown.  

    - As tends to be the case with long term one party rule, political corruption is rife. In the case of Kamala Harris, she entered politics in the mid-90's by having an affair with state assembly leader Willie Brown who was estranged from his wife and 31 years her senior. Brown gave her two lucrative appointments to state commissions (used in California to reward political allies and term-limited politicians ), and later, as San Francisco mayor, provided major support in her 2002 campaign for San Francisco District Attorney. 

    - Like in most states the District Attorney's office offers a good platform for ambitious politicians, with many photo ops for fining polluters, tax avoiders, Medicaid providers, for profit colleges, and all varieties of miscreants. Harris' highlight was in pulling California out of nationwide negotiations over mortgage penalties following the 2008 financial crisis - and achieving a $25 billion settlement  for California homeowners. 

    - Top political consultant Ace Smith had the role of guiding San Francisco's two young stars in the 'oughts - Gavin Newsome from mayor to Lieutenant Governor, to Governor; and Kamala Harris from San Francisco District Attorney, to State Attorney General, to the Senate.  With Team Biden banning Harris loyalists, Washington may be above the pay grade for Smith and sister Maya who managed Kamala's failed presidential campaign. 

    Four years is an eternity in national politics, and Harris would face significant obstacles if she has to wait for 2024.  There are reasons that Harris dropped out of the presidential race two months before the Iowa caucuses after seeing her suppport peak at 15%, and erode to about 3%.  Some can be rectified; others perhaps not: 

        - The "suburban housewife" voters who were critical to Biden's success may be no more supportive of a woman who began her political career by sleeping with her potential sponsor than they were of Donald Trump. 

        - While the New York Times' allowed Biden to overtly base his VP selection on race and gender while decrying racism and misogyny, sanity may return to the electorate. Harris comes from a comfortable middle class background in the liberal bastion of Berkeley, California. . Her father's family owned plantations (and perhaps slaves) in Jamaica.  This is not the stuff to appeal to Black Lives Matter. 

        - In her short time in the Senate,  Harris  had the most liberal voting record  in the body with 100% scores from Americans for Democratic Action in 2017 and 2018, and a ranking of "the most politically left" by YouGov in 2019.  Left of Elizabeth Warren. Left of Ed Markey. Left of Bernie Sanders. The country doesn't need to return to its "center right" history to have her not fit. 

        -  For those seeking a return to bipartisanship and decorum (an alleged Biden theme) , Harris is the antichrist, reveling in her disrespectful  hearing room partisan attacks on Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Neil Gorsuch, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, Bret Kavanaugh, and William Barr. 

        - She may have learned from her first campaign outside of California which was beset by organization, strategy, and fundraising issues. 

       Harris has some large holes in her resume: no experience with state or federal budgets (likely a major issue in 2024); no coalition building outside of California; no international experience.  Biden has given her a chance to broaden her credentials with the immigration crisis. The resignations of Biden's acting Director of  Immigration and Customs Enforcement after two weeks in office and his "border czar" two months later confirm the wisdom of Harris' efforts to exclude the humanitarian crisis at the border from her responsibility and to delay engagement in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua until the Biden administration can figure out how to get the corrupt leaders of those countries to limit migration while at the same time creating a porous border with overcrowded detention facilities. Defending sanctuary cities in California was easy; this assignment is likely to be a fatal albatross.  

    And one more "tell" on whether the presumptive "president in waiting" can make the transition from vocal critic to responsible owner of workable solutions - police reform. Who better to oversee the national effort than the former district attorney with the vice president pulpit? But that would take vision and political courage. 

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bill bowen - 4/22/2021 

    

    

 


The Seriousness of Taiwan

    The Biden administration has a lot of priorities - some self-generated; some generated by Nancy Pelosi's House; some imposed from outside: completion of Donald Trump's withdrawal from Afghanistan; trillions of dollars of spending for "Coronavirus relief" and "Infrastructure"; the accompanying deficit and tax increase; the chaotic border with Mexico; expansion of the California voting system; climate change; the Iran nuclear deal; Russian hacking and threats to the Ukraine; Chinese global ambitions; packing the Supreme Court; statehood for the District of Columbia.  The Coronavirus - which was largely responsible for his predecessor's defeat - is a place apart in terms of human suffering, economic impact, and politics.  The status of Taiwan may well emerge as the second "Top Priority". 

    Some background:

        - Taiwan's original inhabitants have been overwhelmed by successive waves of Han Chinese immigrants beginning in about 1600, with major expansions in the mid 1700s and through the 20th Century, with over 2 million refugees accompanying the arrival of Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang in 1949. Today, Taiwan's population of 24 million is about 95% ethnically Han Chinese. That said, there is a distinctive Taiwanese identity which was reinforced in the years following 1949, during which the ruling KMT saw Taiwan as a lesser province of China and a temporary refuge.  

    - Taiwan was an important target during the colonial period: Dutch from 1624 to 1668; Qin Chinese from 1683 to 1895; and Japanese from 1895 to 1945.  Following World War II, Taiwan was returned to the control of Chiang Kai-shek's Republic of China, a decision resented by many of the Taiwanese.  Of lasting impact was the "Incident of February 28, 1947",  in which the KMT-led Republic of China killed tens thousands of Taiwanese to quell an anti-government uprising. 

    - With both the communist People's Republic of China and the KMT-led Republic of China espousing a "One China" policy, the United Nations General Assembly voted Taiwan out in 1971, giving the Security Council seat to the PRC.  In 1979, the United States under president Carter switched our recognition from Taiwan to Beijing. Since that time the American Institute in Taiwan has served as the unofficial embassy, and our attention has been focused on Beijing.  

    - During the period of estrangement, Taiwan has developed a vibrant democracy and a robust economy.  While the KMT exercised one party rule after its retreat from the mainland in 1949, a 1979 crackdown on pro-democracy advocates in the city of Kaoshing served as a watershed. A National Assembly was democratically elected in 1991; the first direct election of a president occured in 1996 with a KMT victory; the Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate defeated the KMT candidate in 2000, for the first peaceful transition of power, and was reelected in 2004; KMT candidates won in 2008, and 2012; the DPP in 2016, and 2020. The KMT remains more favorable toward reunification but the overwhelming consensus is that status should be determined democratrically by the Taiwanese, and the younger generations are aligning more with the independence-committed DPP.  

    - Along the way, there have been periodic confrontations with the PRC across the 110 mile wide Taiwan Straight - at the Yijiangshan Islands in 1950 (PRC capture); at Quemoy and Matsu Islands in 1958 (PRC repelled); and with the deployment of the USS Nimitz supercarrier by president Clinton in 1996. Over the past year the Chinese have been conducting an escalating series of flights by reconaissance aircraft, fighters, and bombers near Taiwanese air space - including a simulation of an attack on the US bomber base on Guam; presidents Trump and Biden have responded with a series of transits by US destroyers throught the straits.   

    The Trump administration took a series of steps to move in the direction of Taiwan independence: authorizing sales of drones and missiles; sending a high level delegation for talks; loosening guidelines for state department and other government contacts with the island. To some surprise, the Biden administration  has followed suit, inviting Taiwan's de facto ambassador to the inauguration, sending its own high level delegation to Taiwan, endorsing broader contacts, and advocating Taiwan's admission to  the World Health Organization.  Meanwhile, China's negation of "one country; two systems" in Hong Kong has done much to harden the attitude of many Taiwanese against eventual absorption. 

    The rhetoric on both sides has become more inflexible, from  Xi Jinping's New Year's address stressing that reunification was inevitable "by all neessary means" to the exchange in Anchorage between Secretary of State Blinken and China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi. The current visit to Taiwan by former Senator Dodd and two former deputy state department secretaries is designed to further demonstrate the Biden administration's resolve. 

    Our Pacific rim allies would be devastated if we allow Taiwan to be incorporated unwillingly into China.  Optimists would say that Xi Jinping will play the long game, that he will exhibit the Taoist philosophy of victory by maneuver without combat, and that he will not jeopardize China's global financial and political rise.  Pessimists would say that the Chinese hawks will be emboldened by the absence of any real consequences for their actions in Xinjian and Hong Kong, that the full independence advocates in Taiwan will be emboldened by their support from the US, that bipartisan anti-China sentiment in the US will keep pushing the boundary, and that miscalculations are likely.  

    Taiwan is the most high risk element in our relationship with China. There is nothing that we can do to change Hong Kong or help the Uighurs.  Fixing the trade imbalance, competing with the Belt and Road, and all of the other things in our China relationship can take place in offices or commercial settings and will play out over a long time.  (Well, there is the South China Sea.) Conflict with nuclear-armed China over Taiwan is a quantum different matter. Lets hope that the Biden administration is up to the test; the status quo is OK.  

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    One canary in the coal mine: Taiwan Semiconductor is the world's preeminent computer chip manufacturer, accounting for 22% of the world's supply. There is good reason that Biden's "infrastructure" bill contains $50 billion for the domestic semiconductor industry.  This writer also believes that a portion of the current global shortage of computer chips reflects purchasing agents increasing their safety stock requirements. 

bill bowen - 4/15/2021

 

 


Biden's Green New Deal

    This is a high risk moment for the long term economic viability of the United States.  We are exhausted and disoriented by the Coronavirus and the spending that has been undertaken to blunt the pandemic and stimulate economic activity.  In about a year Nancy Pelosi's House has generated "relief" bills for $2.2 trillion and $.9 trillion signed by President Trump, and a bill for $1.9 trillion signed by President Biden. For reference, the total value of all goods and services produced in the United States in a year is about $21 trillion, and our national debt is now about $28 trillion.  A prudent person would think that this is a good time to focus on implementing the $5 trillion in new spending, eradicating the virus, and planning how to avoid future disasters.  Not so for Ms Pelosi who takes to heart Rahm Emanual's maxim to never let a good crisis go to waste. 

    The new $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, announced by the White House on the day before April Fool's Day, contains everything that Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or Nancy Pelosi could think of - a bit of traditional infrastructure to provide cover, a large amount of spending to usher in a green utopia in which all good investments are subsidized, and a set of new or greatly expanded programs to make society more fair. Let's try to untangle the content from the marketing. 

         "Infrastructure" takes on a ridiculous meaning to include: popular basics like roads, ports, bridges, the electric grid, and water systems which are investments to sustain the economy and society over long time spans and which are generally seen as government responsibilities (28%); other discretionary "upgrades" to a wish list including AmTrack expansion, broadband expansion, retrofitting of housing and schools, 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, and building in "climate change resiliency" (37%);  a new ongoing social spending program of wage subsidies for caregivers (20%);  and greatly expanded support for manufacturing and research and development with a focus on climate change, workforce retraining, and semiconductors (15%). 

        In a normal world this agenda would be broken into dozens of components and the various Congressional committees would prioritize the most important (and politically attractive) within a broad budget framework. In the Democratic world of 2021, the first question is whether the Senate parlimentarian will allow the mess to be called a modification to the 2021 budget, and therefore appropriate for reconciliation which requires only a simple majority to pass. The second is whether Nancy Pelosi can hold together her majority of six in the House and Chuck Schumer can hold together his caucus of 50 in the Senate to pass the funding necessary to implement the Left's new vision - most likely in at least two tranches.   

        The shell game of how to pay for this transformation of America is equally disappointing. (The spending increases are positioned as a 10 year plan - on average $200 billion per year; the corporate tax increases $2.5 trillion over 15 years or $167 billion per year.)  As a starting point, in the economic boom year of 2019 we had a deficit of $984 billion - about 4.6% of GDP.  All of the current discussion of tax increases starts with the assumption that the ingoing deficit rate is OK, with the debate being about how much of new spending needs to be covered by increased taxes.  That said, there will be (and should be) increases.

            - The Trump tax cuts of 2017 reduced the top corporate rate from 35% to 21%; Biden proposes to increase it to 28%. Janet Yellen is taking on a global effort to set a minimum corporate rate of 13.5% to reduce the attractiveness of tax haven shopping among global companies. Efforts will be made to capture companies who still manage to pay no taxes with a minimum 15% tax on reported profits, . The discussion is reasonable, but in the context of ongoing deficits and vastly increased spending, it is under what is necessary. 

            - Personal taxes will also go up, but Biden has committed that increases will not impact couples earning under $400,000. Concepts under discussion for high earners include increasing the top rate from 37% to 39.6%; capping itemized deductions; extending Social Security taxes from the current limit of $142,800; taxing capital gains at 39.6% rather than 20%; lowering the estate tax exemption from the current $11.7 million and increasing the maximum rate from 40% to 45%.  There is no appetite for Elizabeth Warren's proposal to tax accumulated wealth in addition to income, and there is little appetite to change the limit of a $10,000 deduction for state and local taxes. The impact will be gentle. 

     Joe Manchin has made some noise about a 28% corporate tax rate being too high, and he and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have committed to retain the 60 vote majority for non-budgetary items like gun control, voting rights, immigration, and the minimum wage, but much of the damage will be done through reconciliation , which allows a simple majority to approve changes to the current year's budget. Thus will we get substantial federal government expansion and increased deficits with virtually all Democrats supporting and virtually all Republicans opposing.  One can only reflect how much difference one Senate seat in Georgia made.

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       bill bowen - 4/8/2021


Bringing Our "A" Game

    The issue of the day  - as clearly framed at the March 18-19 meeting of top U.S. and Chinese and officials in Anchorage - is whether China's ascendency over the past four decades is matched by an inevitable decline of the United States.  The New York Times professed  in 2012, that the centralized authority of the Chinese planning system was superior to messy Western democratic capitalism, and a quick Google of "Chinese System Superiority" provides a flood of similar sentiment today.  The tone of Chinese Foreign Affairs Commissioner in his 20 minute attack  was reminiscent of Nikita Khruschev's "we will bury you; your children will live under communism" rant in 1956.  Whereas Russia had a relatively small population and an economy based heavily on oil, gas, and wheat. China has more than four times our population and a diverse, robust manufacturing economy. The implications for American primacy are worth contemplating.

    Those of us born in the United States around the end of World War II have enjoyed an unusual period in world history, with one country representing about 5% of the world's population, setting up the management structure and writing the rules - particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 80's. We have occasionally found limits - the Vietnam War; the 2008 economic crisis - and we have relied on allies - particularly western Europe, Japan, the British Commonwealth, South Korea - but it has been our game. We have run the international banking system and enjoyed the global currency; English is the de facto international language (for civil aviation for example); when things go wrong we have deployed our overwhelming military strength.  American companies have dominated the age of the internet. Our farmers feed much of the world. At the moment this legacy remains ours, but the Chinese have overtaken us in patents issued and will soon in Gross Domestic Product (although we remain far ahead per capita.) With this competitor we will need to bring our "A Game" 

  The editors of the Wall Street Journal are fearful that, despite a hostile assessment of China  and some rhetoric matching the perspective of the Trump administration, Team Biden (with many of the same players) will revert the Obama administration's feeble response to challenges from Russia (Crimea; eastern Ukraine), China (cyber attacks; intellectual property theft), and Iran (Suleimani's local wars; the nuclear deal on which the WSJ believes that John Kerry was "fleeced".)  Beyond some specific decisions and rhetoric, there are a few things to watch to see if what results will be China achieving near parity with a still  vibrant America or whether our paths are going in the opposite directions.  

    1. Whether our politicians and our thought leaders can objectively analyze strengths, weaknesses, and recent events. The Trump administration cleaned up the mess that it inherited in the Middle East, and shifted the national attention to China with a major emphasis on trade - a  subject of central importance to the Chinese and leverage for us. The fact that trade was a Trump focus cannot be allowed to put it off limits for the Biden administration. The fact that Trump was more active than recent presidents in supporting Taiwan should not result in a retreat by Team Biden.

    2. Whether we can end our flurry of woke self-flagellation that has been driven by several high profile killings of Black males by police and the NYT-driven narrative that our society has always been racist and sexist.  Chinese propaganda draws heavily on Black Lives Matter talking points and stresses  the moral bankruptcy of the imperialist West. US advocates need to move beyond "consciousness raising" to proposing solutions. The American model is the embodiment of Enlightenment thinking; generations of legal immigrants have come here successfully seeking liberty and opportunity; we are a "Work in Progress", but far superior to the dehumanizing, centralized control model of the Han Chinese. If we are to remain the world leader, we need to have confidence in our principles. 

     3.  Whether we can get control of our mushrooming debt.  The self-absorbed Baby Boomers (ages 57 to 75) and Millenials (ages 41 to 56) have discovered that they can have guns, butter, and low taxes by passing on the bill to Generations X, Y, and Z. The Coronavirus relief bills have provided a break with the traditional American values of fiscal discipline and personal responsibility. We have crossed over from debating how low personal taxes should go to debating how high government payments should be for people who are not working - and whether there should be any work requirements at all. Now comes the Infrastructure Bill spending with some investments which will have a long term benefits, but with many which are liberal wish lists of government expansions such as child care and free community college. If we are willing to trade off a bit of growth for higher taxes on corporations, that could be a rational decision, but more unfunded spending on social programs will sink us when that day eventually comes. 

    And then there is the problem of Joe Biden whose mental health has held up better than expected in his first few months in office.  There is a reason that Xi Jinping is asking to meet with him despite Biden calling him a thug, and there is a reason that Vladimir Putin has proposed a debate with Biden despite Biden calling him a murderer.  And then there's Hunter ....  Leadership matters also. 

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   This week's subject seemed to call for an old favorite from Bob Dylan. 

 

Bill Bowen - 4/1/2021