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May 2021

Restoring Optimism

   Americans are optimists - for good reason. Our ancestors came here looking for a better life, most found one.  We have long led the world economically and militarily, fueled by innovation and a culture and legal system which  place high value on the rights of the individual.  We are forward looking, recognizing our systemic shortcomings and wanting better for our children.  We remain a preferred international destination for legal and illegal migrants. The last few years have been tough. 

    We have gone through a very difficult time: nearly 600,000 deaths from Covid 19; four years of intense political opposition and unceasing media criticism of the president; and two years of racist mania promoted by the New York Times 1619 Project and the murder of George Floyd.  Depression seems reasonable, particularly with an elderly Democratic president controlled by leftist handlers who would greatly expand the role of government at the cost of crippling debt. 

    But, let's reach back for some of that "Happy Days Are Here Again" optimism which fueled FDR during the Great Depression.  Some clouds are beginning to part.   

    Covid 19 - which derailed President Trump's record economy and cost him re-election:

        - 50 % of the adult US population has been fully vaccinated. We have had 592,000 deaths, but the daily number of infections has declined 90% from its January peak, and most of us can safely go about normal lives.  We are entering a mopping up phase with a rapidly opening economy and attention turning to kids, anti-vaxxers, and the outside world.   

        - A balanced assessment would say that Donald Trump should have supported mask wearing, that he destroyed the potential value of daily press conferences by arguing with petty reporters, and that he should have stayed out of the hydroxychloroquine debate. More importantly, his Project Warp Speed delivered break-through vaccines in months when the normal procedures would have taken 5 to 10 years, and he blasting through the bureaucracy to deliver therapeutics in startlingly rapid times. Biden inherited a winning hand, with nearly 1,000,000 vaccine doses being administered daily and equipment in good supply when he took office.  He hasn't screwed it up. 

        - There will be much further analysis, but the New York Times has joined Trump and Republican governors in challenging the efficacy of wearing masks outdoors in the absence of prolonged contact, and credence is growing for the claim that the virus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan (which was partially indirectly funded by Dr. Fauci's National Institute of Allergy and Infectuous Diseases.)  The country was not well served by Fauci's "no masks necessary" / "masks necessary" / "double mask" political messaging.   

    Anti - Trumpism:

        - Donald Trump's four years as president were the most divisive since the Civil War. Much he brought on himself with his New York real estate developer bombast, but forcefulness was needed to transform the Republican Party from an agent of the Chamber of Commerce to an advocate for working Americans.  From before he became president, Trump's removal from office became the central focus of Nancy Pelosi's Democratic leadership - particularly Adam Schiff's Intelligence Committee and Jerrold Nadler's Judiciary Committee.  The vitriol behind the two impeachment attempts spilled over to Supreme Court nomination hearings which were managed to maliciously destroy the reputations of totally qualified jurists. 

        - Democrats want a third bite at the apple with their call for a "bipartisan investigation" of the horrendous January 6 melee at the capitol.  Republican leadership sees only downside, and can apparently block the effort with a Senate filibuster. Better to let the fires of Pelosi's hatred die down.  

        - For now, Trump is on the sidelines, where he will likely remain at least through the 2022 elections - banned by the social media on the Left, and apparently unable to organize his own version of Twitter or Facebook. (Click here to sample and sign up for the "From the Desk of Donald J Trump" blog.) Republicans have rightly taken anti-Trumper Liz Cheney out of the GOP's messaging leadership role, and replaced her with Elise Stefanik, the young, Harvard -educated  candidate recruitment and fundraising heroine of the 2020 Congressional election cycle.

     Earplugs are no longer needed. 

      Racism:

        - After a civil war to end slavery, Reconstruction, the 1954 Brown v the Topeka Board of Education decision, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964  and 1968, the Voting Rights Act of 1965,  and the two-time election of an African American president, the New York Times has convinced many that we are irredeemably racist, and that we need to teach our children "critical race theory" -  that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies and society in general.  Martin Luther King was so "yesterday" when his "I Have a Dream" speech  talked of a day when "people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Forget individual responsibility and actions, the color of a person's skin is all that matters.    

        - In time - probably before the 2022 Congressional elections - we will get to the point of "OK, so what should good hearted citizens do about the remaining inequalities in our society?" Skyrocketing violent crime in "woke" cities with George Soros-supported District Attorneys will drive ordinary folks - Black and white - to politicians who understand that the first job of government is to protect the people.  Education (including charter schools) and the Black family structure are central elements of any answer. 

   Back to the optimism theme:  What is interesting is that the Democrats are on the negative side of each of these subjects, in some cases as a knee-jerk reaction to anything that Trump was for.  Add the gloomy overhang of "global warming" where we are supposed to give away our energy independence without any clear plan as to what this will accomplish in the absence of Chinese, Indian, or Russian participation - or, actually, even with it.  It is rapidly becoming easier to be on the positive side. 

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    This week's bonus - a powerful five minute video from Dennis Prager of Prager U, highlighting the differences beteween traditional Liberals and the Left. If you are not familiar with Prager U, you might spend some time exploring the site. 

    Bill Bowen - 5/27/2021 

    

 

    


Jimmy Carter 2.0

    One has to wonder what Joe Biden was thinking on May 19, when he waived sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline company and it's CEO, Putin crony and former East German intelligence officer Matthias Warnig, at a time when a State Department spokesman was saying "the Biden administration has been clear that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a Russian geopolitical project that threatens European energy security and that of Ukraine and eastern flank NATO allies and partners."  As the pipeline under the Baltic from near St Petersburg to Germany is completed, Ukraine will lose the income and leverage it currently enjoys as the primary conduit of natural gas from Russia to western Europe. Was Biden erasing another vestige of Donald Trump?  Was he trying to curry favor with Putin? Was he trying to help his preferred candidate to succeed Angela Merkel in as Chancellor of Germany? 

    The timing of the decision is particularly strange, coming less than two weeks after a cyber attack, probably eminating from Russia, shut down the Colonial Pipeline which supplies 45% of the gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel for the East Coast. (And  five months after a Russian-government infiltration of Solar Winds software which infects hundreds of sensitive US government and private sector systems.)   The administration spent much press time talking about all that they were doing to alleviate shortages as images of Jimmy Carter's 1979 gas lines danced in the heads of those old enough to remember that we have not always enjoyed the benefits of energy independence, and that the laws of economics can deliver interest rates 15 to 18 % along with double digit unemployment.  As for the president, he accepted the FBI's conclusion that Putin himself was not involved, but was determined that in time he would talk with Putin about the need for governments to "get to the place where we have an international standard that governments knowing that criminal activities are happening in their territory, and that we all move on those criminal enterprises."  One would hope that there would also be some discussion of the Moscow power grid's vulnerability. 

    It may be too soon to think of Team Biden in terms of Jimmy Carter - a smart and good man whose foreign policy emphasized human rights, particularly in Latin America, rather than realpolitik.  Among other things, he returned the Panama Canal to Panama, switched our recognition from Taiwan to Communist China, brokered a pioneering peace deal between Israel and Egypt, and endured the 444 - day embassy hostage crisis in Iran with the abortive rescue attempt in which 8 service members were killed.  For the economy and the hostage crisis he was ushered out after one term by Ronald Reagan by a 9.7% vote margin. 

    Beyond the surprising gift to Putin, the first few months of global Biden recall former Obama Defense Secretrary Robert Gates' assertion that Biden has "been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades." That included stopping aid for South Vietnam (which caused the collapse as our military was leaving); calling the overthrow of the Shah of Iran as being a good thing; supporting expansion of the war in Afghanistan; opposing President Reagan's military build-up; and opposing the first Gulf War to take Kuwait back from Saddam Hussein.   He was also at least "in the room" for the lowlights of the Obama foreign policy decisions which the liberal Foreign Policy web site calls mostly a record of failure:  the abandonment of the diplomatic compound at Benghazi; the decisions which allowed the "Junior Varsity" Islamic State to take over much of Syria and Iraq;  failure to anticipate or react to Russia's seizure of the Crimea; the Syrian Civil War with its "red line"; and the "surge" in Afghanistan.   You could add his opposition to the mission to capture or kill bin Laden. Expectations for a President Biden in the national security arena should be low. 

    So, what else do we have thus far?  The crisis at the Mexican border which reflects a combination of a desire to erase everything Trump, an inferior relationship to what Trump enjoyed with the leftist Mexican president, a failure to understand the motivations of the immigrants, and a lack of concern for the impacted Americans.  A climate conference in which he made major commitments without exacting any concessions from the Chinese, the Indians, the Russians, or other CO2 emitters. A gratuitous insult to the only Muslim country in NATO. And now a desultory response to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians which threatens to undo much of the progress which Trump and Jared Kushner had engineered. 

    Back to the beginning: What to make of the waived Nordstream 2 sanctions, and the Russian cyber crimes? Maybe there is just too much going on for Biden to grasp. Maybe his chief lieutenants - who could not manage an initial engagement with their Chinese counterparts - are just not up to the job. Maybe the administration was lulled to sleep by years of being fawned over by the anti-Trump media. Maybe these are just initial stumbles by a new team. Or maybe Joe really is losing it and we are without a competent captain in a complicated world populated by the likes of Xi Jingping and Vladimir Putin. 

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bill bowen - 5/20/2021

    

    

    


A Biden Presidency Scorecard

   There are lots of "First 100 Days" assessments of the Biden presidency - most are puff pieces about not being Trump, a change in style, or a more humane approach.  Let's try for a bit more rigor, organized around the bigger ideas. In most cases it is too early to expect results, but policy direction and executive competence (or lack thereof)  are clear. 

    1. The coronavirus. (B) Biden inherited President Trump's Operation Warp Speed with several therapeutics, ample equipment and PPE supplies,  approved vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson's vaccine in the pipeline, and didn't screw it up. A 10 day delay by the experts on J&J's vaccine  perhaps represented reasonable caution; vaccination rates continued upward on December's trend line to a peak of over 3 million per day in April when they started to decline to about 2 million as willing participants dwindled and messaging from the administration and the CDC were garbled. Millions of AstraZeneca doses went unused as many nations beg for help. The administration rejoined the World Health Organization which still has not had full access to Wuhan laboratory. Biden continued Trump's policies of letting governors determine their approaches, but prioritized teachers unions over students and parents on school openings. 

    2. Engagement with China. (B) The administration has largely continued President Trump's policies - tariffs; shows of force in the South China Sea and near Taiwan; condemnation of the treatment of the Uighurs and Hong Kong; emphasis on slowing technology transfers; slow steps toward Asian alliances such as the Quad with Japan, India, and Australia which encircle China. The initial engagement in Alaska between senior officials on both sides was a diplomatic disaster.

   3. Climate change. (B if you are a believer; F if you think this is economic suicide) Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Accords; moved aggressively against pipelines; hosted a summit at which he committed to significantly increase US reduciton targets without any concessions from China, Russia, India, Brazil, or others. John Kerry's assurance that "No one is being asked for a sacrifice. This is an opportunity." was starkly in contrast with predictions from the International Renewable Energy Agency that $131 trillion in spending would be required to meet 2050 target.  

   4. The Middle East. (C) Biden continued President Trump's commitment to take troops out of Afghanistan (follow-on posture to be determined); he is unable to engage positively with Israel's conflict with Hamas - either because his Left wing won't allow it, or because he doesn't understand that Trump and Netanyahu healed relations with Israel's Arab neighbors. For no particular geopolitical reason, he chose to alienate Turkey by highlighting the mass killing and deportation of Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman empire as "genocide". 

    5. Nuclear proliferation. (B) Biden offered to re-join talks with Iran, but at least for now is holding to Trump's requirements that the scope be expanded to include support for destabilizing activities in Middle East and Iran's missile program.  He was criticized by North Korea for standard ranting reasons, leaving  small likelihood of any initiative from either side. 

    5. Healing a divided country. (F) Biden ran as committed to seeking common ground with Republicans, but has offered no concessions at all on major spending bills which raise taxes and expand the scope of government, or legislation to impose a California-style voting system on the country.  He is willing to abandon the filibuster and rely on "reconciliation" to get left wing legislation through a 218-212 House and a 50-50 Senate. He has  no relationship with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy - and little with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.  In line with the 1619 Project, his UN Ambassador gratuitously categorized the United States as having institutional racism woven into our founding documents.  Attorney General Garland has taken an oversight role for Minneapolis and Loisville police departments - a potentially calming posture. 

    6. Budgets and finance. (F) Biden signed a party-line $1.9 trillion "Recovery" bill (on top of the $3.5 trillion signed by Trump); now wants a massive $2.0 trillion "infrastructure" bill and $1.8 trillion to remake the role of the family. The administration and its media allies - along with the Treasury Secretary and the Federal Reserve chair - have been surprised to find that millions of people would prefer unemployment compensation to work, particularly if they have kids at home or a job with potential virus exposure. They are also in denial that that inflation follows trillions of dollars of give-aways. He backs tax increases which will slow the economy, using the proceeds to create new programs rather than move toward reducing the current unsustainable deficit. 

    7. Expanded social programs (D) Some of the "greatest expansion of the federal government since FDR" came buried in coronavirus recovery bills; some is called "infrastructure"; some comes with the "American Families Plan": affordable housing; electric cars; expanded child tax credits; tuition-free community college; free pre-kindergarten for 3 and 4 year-olds; subsidies for child care; paid family medical leave; student loan foregiveness; a raised minimum wage. All to be paid for by taxing the rich - at no expense to the middle class, without any trade-offs in the existing budget, and without hurting the economy.   

    8. Immigration (F) In his most commonly-acknowledged failure, Biden discarded Trump policies which had brought illegal immigration under control - stay in Mexico while awaiting asylum hearings; "build the wall"; deny welfare payments to illegal immigrants; limit immigration from high risk countries.  The Biden administration adopted messaging which triggered record movement of unaccompanied youth, families, and others - which  overwhelmed facilities - and released large numbers internally awaiting hearings.  Restrictions on legal immigrants have also been eased. Reflective of the magnitude of the border crisis, Democratic politicians from border areas have joined the criticism and Vice President Harris has refused to be attached to the "tar baby" she was given.   

    9. Dealing with the unexpected. (D) The president responded to the shutdown of a critical East Coast oil pipeline by calling for various agencies to do all that they can to relieve temporary shortages.  The real questions: how does the federal government identify cyber criminals (private sector or government); how do we capture and punish them; how do we engage foreign governments who support or harbor such criminals? (For example, the Taliban were overthrown because they harbored Al Queda.) The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency,  established in 2018 by President Trump within the Department of Homeland Security, is certainly on the case, but it would be nice to hear someone in the White House indicate that they understand the real questions.   

    But the polls show good favorability ratings, the mainstream media crows.  And a lot of people like having money shoveled out of helicopters over their heads. The sugar high will pass long before the 2022 elections when voters will assess whether they favor a vastly expanded federal government and an administration focused on the ideology and programs of its left wing. Pray for Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. 

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bill bowen - 5/13/2021  

     


(Domestic) Prime Minister Pelosi

   Much of the democratic world employs a parliamentary system in which the majority party legislative leaders also act as the leaders of the executive branch. Our founders thought it wiser to separate the legislative and executive branches as a restraint on government overreach, and an effort to ensure individual liberty against Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan.  Perhaps more than ever, we now have a House Speaker who dominates both the legislative and executive branches on domestic matters. 

    Nancy Pelosi grew up in politics, with a father who was a member of the US House of Representatives before becoming mayor of Baltimore.  She moved to San Francisco with her financier husband Paul in 1968, became a member of the powerful Burton Machine which later spawned Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom, was first elected to Congress in 1987, became Democratic leader in 2003, and has served as Speaker when the Democrats were in the majority from 2007 to 2011, and since 2019. She has excelled as a fundraiser, sprinkling the sugar around to needy colleagues campaigns, and as a machine politician, dispensing favors and retribution with a long memory. 

    Pelosi's most relevant rehearsal for the current avalanche of spending and government expansion policy bills was her central role in passing Obamacare in 2010 over the tactical objections of President Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who would have settled for a more incremental approach to healthcare expansion. At the time the Democrats did not want to challenge the filibuster and needed 60 votes in the Senate, used reconciliation to repurpose an unrelated revenue bill, and let Harry Reid design the final bill in the Senate. Pelosi threaded the needle with a final  219 to 212 vote in the House.  

    Pelosi's greatest challenge in keeping her caucus in line came in 2018 with the arrival of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who had defeated James Crowley, the number four ranking House Democrat in a "safe" Bronx primary.  More worrisome to Pelosi was that AOC had been recruited to run by Saikat Chakrabarti who had the vision that secure inner city House districts should be represented by left wing activists rather than aging machine politicians who make up a significant portion of Pelosi's caucus.  While tension remains, an accomodation was reached in which Chakrabarti was fired as AOC's chief of staff, and Pelosi adopted large swaths of AOC's Green New Deal which was more about transforming the country than about environmental issues. 

    The coronavirus relief legislation was largely outsourced to Pelosi by Trump (who wasn't much concerned about deficits, but understood the political threat threat the virus posed), and by Biden. Starting in March 2020, Trump signed five coronavirus bills totalling over $3.5 trillion. originated by Pelosi's House with very little discussion. With Biden she added another $1.9 trillion.

    Other Pelosi bills designed to permanently tilt the country Democratic -  expansion of voting rights and District of Columbia statehood - which have been symbolically introduced every two years are now seriously in the queue.  Next $2 trillion for "infrastructure". Next $1.8 for "families".  Everything on her wish list, and the list which she adopted from AOC.  With financial bills originating in the House, and Chuck Schumer unable to originate anything in the Senate, nothing dealing with the great transformation of the nation gets to the President except by the will of the leader of the House. And all that stands in her way are the filibuster, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema. 

    Trying to understand who controls foreign policy (or the border) is a different matter. But Pelosi can pop up when she sees political benefit.  

    Joe Biden's decision to diverge from the posture of all presidents since Ronald Reagan  by calling the Ottoman Turk treatment of the Armeinans in the waning days of World War I "genocide" represents an "Aha! moment". Did Biden see some geopolitical strategy relative to Iran or Russia?  Nope. Is this part of some complex negotiation with Erdogan, the Kurds, the European Union, and Israel.  Hardly. It is about domestic politics, and more particularly politics in California where the killing and displacement of over 1,000,000 Armenians in 1915-17 has been a rallying cry for the  vibrant, politically active California  Armenian community of over 200,000  for a century. A long time Angelino, Reagan understood. One can bet that Californian Pelosi helped President Joe understand that there were donors and votes to be had at no political cost by stating a truth. 

    Whatever happens in the Senate, and whenever the presidential reigns get turned over, the next elections most likely to stop this madness are for the House in 2022.  Team Pelosi currently has a 218 - 212 majority; Nate Silver's Democrat leaning 538 web site claimed in November  that "Republicans Are On Track To Take Back The House In 2022";  the decennial census has moved a handful of seats to the Republicans; and Republicans control the resistricting process in a majority of states.  The Domestic Prime Minister has clearly decided to strike while she can, giving Republicans a long list of target districts and Democrats a growing list of retirements.  

    Pray for Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. 

 

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bill bowen - 5/6/2021