National Politics

Biden's Debt

    On behalf of the Baby Boomers, I would like to issue a hearty "Thank You" to our parents' generation who saved the world from Hitler and Tojo, and to our kids and grandkids who will pay for our profligacy over the past few decades. We've been in the sweet spot.

    Democratic leadership has chosen to make huge further debt increases a hallmark of the Biden administration with the $1.9 trillion Covid bill, which has little to do with fighting the disease,  and a subsequent $2.0 trillion Infrastructure Bill. Their political gamble: independents and Democrats who claim to be "fiscal conservatives" don't mean it; voters are addicted to "free stuff". 

    How bad is it? 

        - For those who love numbers, the National Debt Clock shows a concise summary of federal, state, and local income, spending, and debt. Currently Federal debt is 129% of the value of all of the goods and services produced and sold in the United States annually (up from 104% in 2016). Official Federal spending is 193 % of revenue (up from 115% in 2016.)  For every dollar that the Federal government takes in, it spends two.  

        -  As a baseline pre-Covid, the Federal Fiscal Year 2021 budget of $4.829 trillion projected a deficit of $966 billion. Spending was 60% mandatory (Social Security; Medicare; Medicaid; food aid), 20 % military; 1 % interest on debt, and 20 % all other (Health and Human Services; Education; Housing; Transportation; Parks; whatever).  Thus far, Congress (with Pelosi, Trump, and McConnell at the controls) has passed five Covid relief bills costing a total of $3.5 trillion. 

        -  International comparisons are risky, but China reports about $8 trillion of debt, or about 55% of GDP, and the paths are diverging.  

        - Perhaps most disturbingly, Congress has given up on the budget process in place since 1974. Instead of Congress adjusting the President's proposals and negotiating trade-offs, eight of the last ten budgets have resulted from last minute Continuing Resolution Authorities, which just agree to keep on keepin' on with what the government is doing.  

     Let's try to distill the most common debt arguments from the cacaphony of special interests, doomsayers, and political panderers. 

            For the Democratic team who would layer on a few more trillion dollars: 

                1. Debt doesn't matter. Since the US dollar is the international Reserve Currency (generally used for global financial transactions) the Federal Reserve can just print more money.  In a different era the Federal Reserve saw a primary obligation to protect the value of the currency; today's chair emphasizes the "twin mandate" to  maintain full employment, and vows to keep interest rates low for years.  The premise is that the economists will foresee the inflation problem before it arises, and take timely difficult political decisions when they need to.   In essence, the financial world is full of fairies and unicorns. 

                2. We need to invest in infrastructure; it will pay for itself.  This is true in some areas - notably the interstate highway system;  perhaps the airline industry; broadly in education; perhaps in some aspects of "Green Energy".  But some rigor in calculating a Return on Investment is necessary. California's High Speed Rail "train to nowhere" provides a cautionary tale of fraudulent promises and political corruption. Most of the Corona virus spending is designed to mitigate pain rather than to build lasting infrastructure for the future. Beware the lobbyists.  

                3. This is an opportunity to address wealth inequality. Substantial taxes on the super rich would help to close the gap. True, but a couple of cautions: the addition of a tax on existing wealth is problematic, so we are probably talking about income taxes which would produce much less, and the likes of Bezos, Zuckerberg, Bloomberg, Gates, Steyer, and Benioff are not stepping up. Ditto the Wall Street donors who support the non-Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party.  The days when the rich voted Republican are long gone, so the Democrats would need to gore their own ox.  

        And for the Republican / conservative folks who are concerned for their grandchildren:

                1. Today's interest rates are about 1.3 % on the 10 year Federal bond; over the past 50 years they have been as high as 15%, averaging about 6%. When they return to "normal", there will be a brutal squeeze on funding for the "discretionary" 40 % portion of the Federal budget, particularly the 20% non-military portion.   

                2. Deficits will ultimately be solved by budget constraint with higher taxes (unlikely) or by inflation which targets people living on fixed incomes such as pensions, bonds, or Social Security.  Older citizens vote disproportionately.    

                3. China has aspirations to replace the dollar with the yuan as the global reserve currency. In terms of global influence, it is far better to be a lender than a borrower. 

    Within the next few weeks the debt question will come to a head. Nancy Pelosi wants to give no quarter, passing the next Corona virus relief bill at $1.9 trillion, with Chuck Schumer relying on the "reconciliation" process in the Senate with 50 Democratic votes.  The Democratic establishment has not allowed Biden to negotiate with 10 moderate Republicans who have a proposal which strips out the extraneous junk. The diversion of including a $15 minimum wage will apparently fall off - either because the Senate Parlimentarian does not think it qualifies for reconciliation, or because Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have vowed to vote against it. But Democratic leadership wants a fight and the $1.9 trillion boondoggle is it unless Manchin or Sinema signal otherwise. 

    A few decades ago our politicians realized that they could have both guns and butter with lower taxes if they just passed on the bill to future generations.  The virus accelerated the process, but the direction has been clear for awhile. 

 

bill bowen - 2/25/21


In Search of Truth

      George Orwell would have felt confirmed by the Twenties.  Despite all of the power of Siri and Alexi, Google, Firefox, Edge, and Bing, Fact Check and Politifact, Wikipedia, and You Tube, the engaged American citizen lives in a society where history is rewritten and the bulk of the media repeats inaccurate and misleading stories.  As more information is available from more sources, and as more of those sources carry an ideological or political bias, the less confidence the public has in the media and the government.  A sizeable portion of Donald Trump's attractiveness was his brash willingness to call out "fake news";  reporters regularly recited stories which were demonstrably false, like his failure to condemn right wing rioters in Charlottesville , or claims that he was soft on Putin when he was far tougher than President Obama.  He and many reporters had a mutually beneficial relationship, gaining followers as a result of conduct unheard of in a more genteel time.  Truth has suffered. 

    In a broader context, the woke left, inspired by the New York Times, has taken to rewriting history, erasing heroes from Columbus to Lincoln, and ignoring the struggles and victories in bringing the American reality closer to the philosophy of the Declaration of Independence, with the emancipation of slaves, the enfranchisement of women, and a thousand lesser victories. In Orwellian fashion, we are all now racist unless we favor policies based on race.  Striving for greater wokeness, women athletes must compete against biological men. Truth has suffered. 

    But the world moves forward with or without Truth, the coronavirus providing a good example, with Dr. Fauci frequently redefining science to fit what he wanted the public to do, and the Biden administration struggling to show that they are doing a better job than their predecessors.   First, masks were not necessary (at a time when there were not enough to go around, and healthcare workers needed priority); then their use became a political choice, with President Trump on the wrong side; then two masks became better than one.  As part of Operation Warp Speed, remdesivir was shown to speed recovery and reduce mortality, then dropped from discussi0n.  With no scientific data, the Center for Disease Control and Dr. Fauci determined that times between vaccine injections could be greatly expanded.  Teachers unions have frequently been able to block on-site instruction and demand vaccine prioritization, despite no evidence of significant risk. In the most political outburst, Vice President Harris claimed that the Trump administration had no plan for vaccinations, and that the Biden administration was starting from scratch - despite the fact that innoculations were occuring at about Biden's target of 1,000,000 per day, and a third vaccine was in the final stages of approval.  Truth has suffered.  

    The primary assault on Truth, the November 2020 elections and their aftermath, have shaken the foundations of our democracy. A year before the election, 72 % of Republicans, 39 % of Democrats and 55 % of independents thought that the election would be fair. Shortly after the election 30 % of Republicans and 90 % of Democrats thought it was fair.  Subsequently, fanned by Trump's challenge to the election and the the Electoral College, Republican skepticism boiled over.  There is much to understand if we are to heal - what were the impacts of of the coronavirus, mail-in voting, and extended days of in-person voting on the election; where were the points of potential irregularities; what led up to the assault on the capital; what administrative or security procedures should be changed to secure elections and the capital? How to proceed?

        - Nancy Pelosi - continuing her four year crusade against Trump - has notified her Democratic colleagues that there will be a 9/11 Commission - type review of  the January 6 riot at the capital, finding no need to include Republicans in the discussion. For perspective, the 911 Commission included: Al Queda and the organization of the 9/11 attack; US intelligence collection, analysis, and management; international counter terrorism policy; the inner workings of terrorism financing; the security of American borders; law enforcement inside the United States; commercial aviation and transportation safety; and personal interviews with Presidents Clinton and Bush. It was led by Thomas Keane and Lee H. Hamilton who were retired statesmen; it lasted two years; it resulted in thousands of recommendations, from integrating communications for first responders to restructuring the intelligernce community; it was non-partisan; it was serious. 

      - With varying motives, Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Liz Cheney, and other Republicans looking to explain their behavior after the election have suggested an interest. The scope would need to include the election, events after the election, and events of January 6. It would have to be led by senior statesment from both parties. Politicians, such as Pelosi's usual prosecutors, would be excluded. 

    -  Perhaps Jack Nicholson's Colonel Nathan Jessup in "A Few Brave Men" was right when he screamed in court at Tom Cruise's Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, "You can't handle the truth!"  But if he was, and we choose to carry on without understanding how close we came to disaster, we are screwed as a democracy.  

                                                                                                                    -----

   A special note on Rush Limbaugh is in order.  Over a 30 year career with some 20 million listeners, he preceeded Fox News, and internet sites such as the Drudge Report, Red State, Breitbart, and Townhall  in giving voice to the thoughts of a broad swath of conservatives.  He is given credit for Republican victories in the House in the 90s, and for legitimizing Donald Trump as a presidential candidate in 2016.  He identified and activated Trump's base before there was a Trump. His absence will leave a big hole in the developing battle between the Establishment and Trump's most avid supporters. 

bill bowen - 2/18/21


Engaging China: Biden-Style

    First, the good news: it appears that the Trump administration's pivot from President Obama's unsuccessful focus on the Middle East to a focus on a rivalry with China will have some legs with the Biden administration. At least there are some indicators:

        - Biden's first week in office began with a minor test by the Chinese - an unusually agressive incursion by nuclear-capable bombers into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone.  We responded with the deployment of two carrier strike groups to the South China Sea, a destroyer transit of the Taiwan Straights, and the deployment of four B-52 bombers to Guam.  Message received. 

        - Days before leaving office, Secretary Pompeo's State Department formally designated Chinese actions against the Uighurs as "genocide" - "the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group.” Biden's Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken supported the designation during his confirmation hearings. 

        -  Long-time Biden staffer Ely Ratner has been designated to lead a four month Defense Department study of strategy and operations in Asia, including techology, force posture, intelligence, and the role of allies. No major changes are anticipated, except perhaps some impacts of climate change which are popular in Biden-think, but were largely ignored by Trump. 

        -  Biden administration nominees have echoed Trump criticisms of China's trade practices, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen telling the Senate Finance Committee "China is undercutting American companies by dumping products, erecting trade barriers, and giving away subsidies to corporations."  Tariffs will be kept in place as details of the economic policy are redfined. 

        - Biden's February 9 phone call with Xi Jinping at least addressed  the Uighurs, Hong Kong, and Taiwan which are considered off limits by Xi as matters of Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity. They agreee to work together on health security, climate change, and weapons proliferation. 

    The second piece of good news is that our fate relative to China is in our hands. While the Chinese GDP could match that of the United states in a few years, and  they hold over $1 trillion of the $7 trillion of our debt held by foreign governments, we are self sufficient in agriculture and energy, and lead the world in military force and technological innovation.  This could change with continuing trillion dollar deficits, and neither the Treasury Secretary nor the Federal Reserve Chair are concerned, but a substantial majority of voters are significantly concerned about the national debt, and an optimist would believe that eventually the politicians will reflect that. (At least the Senate Republicans would like to slow down the Covid give-aways.) 

    We - with a little help from our Post-WWII friends - invented the current world order - the United Nations; the World Bank; the International Monetary Fund; the World Trade Organization; the World Health Organization; the International Civil Aviation Organization; The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN);  the International Standards Organization; and on and on. The Chinese would like to play a leading role in telecommunications standards with Huawei's 5G architecture, but Trump raised the alarm, and they face a steep hill.  

    The primary goal of Xi Jinping and his Communist Party allies - the consolidation of power - will have adverse effects.  The forced integration of Hong Kong will constrict China's largest point of interaction with global financial markets. The forced assimilation of the Uighurs will play poorly in the neighboring Muslim countries of Indonesia, Pakistan, and central Asia. Measures to bring Jack Ma's social media empire to heel through regulation, jailings, and intimidation will result in less creativity and reduced ability to compete with Western internet companies. 

    While the Belt and Road largesse is attractive to third world countries seeking infrastructure development, there is plenty of reason for China's neighbors to be wary of China's heavy hand, with border skirmishes within the memory of leaders from India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Russia.  

    So, how could a Biden administration build on what they inherited? 

    1. They should rejoin the renovated Trans Pacific Partnership with New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Peru, and Chile. (Britain, free of the European Union, applied for membership last week.)  Biden would have to negotiate domestic labor and environmental objections as well as Trump's aversion to multinational dispute adjudication procedures, but an extensive alliance of countries seeking an alternative to Chinese domination is waiting for us. China's alternative proposition - the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership -  will grow if we do not move. 

    2. Biden's team should build on the recently activated Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the navies of Japan, Australia, and India to manage ocean transit among the countries of the Indian Ocean and the southwest Pacific. This is a step out for Australia, whose largest trading partner is China, but a multi-national approach is called for as China expands their ambitions in international coastal waters. 

     3. At a minimum, Biden's team should require closer monitoring of the Chinese Communist government relationships on US campuses. During his term, Trump eliminated half of the 100  Confucius Institutes - Chinese government funded cultural centers on US college campuses. Of the FBIs 5000 active intellectual property theft cases, half involve China, including prominent professors at Harvard and MIT who were paid by China while receiving grant money from the National Institute of Health or the Defense Department.  With 300,000 Chinese students in the United States, the task may be impossible.  

    4.  Chinese pressure on North Korea is a must. There should also be pressure for Xi to join nuclear non-proliferation agreements with Russia, and to support measures to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. While the most important, this is probably the least likely. 

    5. A few bargaining chips will be used on global warming, where China accounts for 28% of global CO2 emissions compared to our 15%, and they espouse goals without plans to stop increasing in a decade and become "carbon neutral" by 2060. For the zealots who would destroy our economy, where emissions are decreasing, a bit of intellectual rigor is needed. 

    And then there is the Hunter Biden factor: appointed to the Burisma board in the Ukraine; Joe brags about getting the Burisma investigator fired; Chinese agents notice; Hunter and Joe fly off together to Beijing on Air Force 2; Hunter returns with lucrative investment banking connections and a gift of a large diamond, discussing allocation of shares to, among others, "the big guy";   Hunter publishes his memoirs to the gushing praise of the New York Times. Maybe it is best if Joe is just a figurehead. 

bill bowen - 2/11/21


Engaging China - Background

    The history, culture, and world view of China are very different from that of Europe and North America. Some background refreshment is needed before assessing current events and suggesting policy positions. 

    Important guidance is contained in Sun Tzu's Taoist classic, The Art of War. Written some 2500 years ago during a period of warfare between competing Chinese kingdoms, the short book is a staple of Chinese education and American business schools.  Two themes recur throughout the short 13 chapters: the importance of profound knowledge about yourself, your adversary, and the terrain in which you are engaged; and the goal of winning through maneuver, with conflict a last resort.  Consider the advantage of having over 300,000 Chinese students in the United States, up from 100,000 a decade ago.  Consider the advantage of broad  English language proficiency on the one hand, and the lack of Westerners' ability to read Chinese newspapers on the other.  Consider the 2014 Chinese hacking of the the US Office of Personnel Management's records of some 22 million Americans, including sensitive background check information - who can be blackmailed?; who can be recruited? Consider Chinese government-connected telecommunications manufacturer Huawei which has been banned by the US and  intelligence-sharing allies.  We start with a major disadvantage in the "profound knowledge" dimension. 

    A brief Chinese history is also enlightening: 

        - 1839-1860: The Opium Wars with England and France which resulted in ceding territory (Hong Kong), legal rights over foreign nationals, commercial concessions, freedom of navigation on Chinese waterways, and unfettered prosteletyzing by foreign missionaries. 

        - 1850-1864: The Taiping Rebellion, led by Christian millenarian Hong Xiuquan. Millions killed.  

        - 1862 - 1877:  The Dungan "Muslim Rebellion" in western China. Millions killed; survivors moved to Russia.  

        - 1911:  The collapse of the Qing Dynasty, with the eventual emergence of the Koumintang  party under Sun Yat-Sen, and the Chinese Communist Party. 

        - 1927-1949:  Civil war between the Koumintang under Chiang Kai-Shek and the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong, with an interruption for World War II. Communists win; Koumintang retreats to Taiwan. Millions killed. 

        - 1942-1945: World War II. Japanese occupation of northern and coastal China. Millions killed. 

        - 1950 - 1953:  The Korean War. 180,000 Chinese soldiers killed. 

        - 1958-1962:  The Great Leap Forward. Forced collectivization of agriculture. Some 30 million died, largely of starvation. 

        - 1962:  Brief war with India which secured Chinese position along mountainous border. Preceded Chinese support for Pakistan in the India-Pakistan War of 1965.  

        - 1966 - 1976:  The Cultural Revolution. Youthful Red Guard - led effort to exorcise remaining elements of pre-communist thought. Ended in 1976 with the death of Mao and the ascention of Deng Xiaoping. 1.5 million killed. 

        - 1969: Brief clashes with Russia in the Far East and in central Asia. 

        - 1979: China invades Vietnam in response to Vietnam's deposing the Chinese-aligned Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Small clashed continue for a decade. 

        -  2001: China joins World Trade Organization as an advantaged "developing nation", with the US and Europe hoping to spread Western trading practices, including restrictions on state-owned or sponsored enterprises. By 2020, the global Chinese trade surplus was $535 billion - $317 billion with the United States. 

        - 2009: China issues extensive sovereignty claims to the South China Sea and begins to build military facilities in the Spratley and Paracel Islands. Minor skirmishes with Philippine and Vietnamese fishermen. 

        -  2012:  Xi Jinping (age 59) assumes leadership of Chinese Communist Party. Exempted from term limits in 2018.

        - 2013:  Belt and Road Initiative adopted by Chinese Communist Party to invest some trillion dollars in infrastructure projects in Asia, Africa, and Europe to create trading network, recruit allies, and employ Chinese labor and manufacturers.  

        - 2015:  Made in China 2025 Initiative adopted by the Chinese Communist Party to move manufacturing toward high technology with mostly domestic produced components in information technology, robotics, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, rail, agricultural equipment, new energy vehicles, advanced materials, and ocean shipping. Intellectual property targeted. 

        - 2017: Forced assimilation of Muslim population in western China begins with construction of concentraion camps for some 1,000,000 Uighurs.  

        - 2020:  New Hong Kong security law, which contravenes the 50 year "One Country, Two Systems" agreement which underpinned the turnover of the former British colony in 1997. 

        - 2020:  Amid the coronavirus disruptions, China surpasses the United States as a destination for foreign direct investment from other countries.  Based on current exchange rates, the US Gross Domestic Product is 50% greater than China's, but at projected growth rates, China will catch up by 2028. On a per capita basis we remain well ahead.  

    That is a lot to absorb. A few themes can guide next week's assessment of the Trump administration approach and the early indicators of the Biden administration approach:

        1. After centuries of carnage and humiliation, it is logical for the Chinese people to accept a trade-off between stability and growing prosperity on the one hand, and restrictions on individual liberty on the other. 

        2. The Chinese have a long history of  modest-sized military border disputes.  An American military presence is appreciated by many of China's neighbors.  

        3. A centrally planned, well disciplined industrial and financial system can achieve strong results (at least in the span of decades), particularly if trading partners and competitors are fragmented and undisciplined. The contrast with the decentralized, entrepreneural, capitalist system of the United States is intellectually interesting, and of global importance. 

        4. Up until 2016, American presidents were preoccupied with the Middle East while Chinese leaders laid out clear plans to surpass the United States economically, and to dominate their neighbors militarily.  Trump brought the focus of American foreign policy to China. 

   There is much to ponder in this most important relationship ... and whether ther Biden team will have the skill, interest, and fortutude to take it where it needs to go. 

bill bowen - 2/4/21

 


Assessing the Democratic Party Agenda

    Donald Trump brought his own agenda to the White House. Much of it was not the agenda of the Establishment Republican Party. While Republicans attained majorities in the House and Senate in 2016, many were not committed to a Trump agenda. Many of his Cabinet appointments received scant Democratic support; many did not even retain his support. He had no experience in Washington. It took time - in the face of the Mueller investigation, Pelosi's impeachment mania, and a hostile press - to flesh out the policy implications of Make America Great Again.  Honest historians will marvel at how much he got done. 

    The Biden administration is the polar opposite. With no leader emerging to challenge Independent Bernie Sanders in the first few primaries, the Democratic Establishment, led by Jim Clyburn, decided that Joe would be the face of the Party. He stayed out of sight and avoided policy positions.  With plenty of veterans from the Obama administration, studies from a bevy of think tanks, and a coterie of special interest groups, the policy positions were staked out.  But in the Covid election against Donald Trump a blank slate was the winning strategy. It should come as no surprise that the Democratic Establishment was ready to present their wish list - some of which can be done by fiat, some of which require legislation, and some of which will die a quiet death. Don't look for Biden to deviate from the Democratic establishment on anything. 

    It did not take long for the guardrails to be established in the Senate. 

        - With Rand Paul's motion to table any impeachment proceedings, it was demonstrated that at least 45 Republicans will close ranks. Republican Senators Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Pat Toomey, Lisa Murkowski, and  Ben Sasse favored impeachment, but will stay loyal on most other issues, particularly if Trump is not directly engaged.  Any impeachment proceedings are simply political theater. 

        - With Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema supporting a filibuster rule (commiting to not vote for cloture), Mitch McConnell agreed to go forward with an agreement on Senate operating procedures and committee assignments for the next two years. Essentially, if Republicans object, 60 votes are required to move most legislation or appointments forward. The big exception to the 60 vote requirement is "Reconciliation" - a complicated process by which House-originated changes to taxes, spending, and debt limits (but no other matters) can be accepted by the Senate with a simple majority. That leaves plenty of room for financial danger, but policy decisions will require a measure of national consensus. 

    Elections have consequences, and the long Democratic agenda being rolled out in executive orders, expedited studies, and policy pronouncements contains much that Republicans and conservatives believe will be damaging to America. Others may differ, but this writer considers the following to be the most concerning: 

    1. Fiscal constraint. US national debt of $27 trillion sits at 130% of Gross Domestic Product, up from 35% in 1980, the administration seeks to add trillions more, and both Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen are committed to printing money to goose the economy - for years.  In the broadest sense, the Baby Boomers - in fairness, Trump included - are borrowing from our grandchildren to pay for today's pleasures while China seeks to dethrone us from global leadership.  

    2. Domestic order. There are many troubling cross-currents which invite federal government intervention: the January 6, assault on the capitol; the ongoing occupation of Seattle and Portland by lawless mobs; the "defund the police" movement; the restriction of free speech by the liberal tech billionaires who control much of the public discourse. A cooling off period is needed. Democrats will address half of the equation. 

    3. The Middle East. The "temporary" embargo on military sales to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates is a watch out that the Left does not accept the Saudi-led coalition against Iran which Trump put together, or perhaps the recognition of Israel by its neighbors without including the Palestinians.  As part of a renewed Iran nuclear deal, Biden may be willing to throw in the winning hand which Trump left him.  

    4. Energy. The Democrats are committed to eliminating the US global advantage of being the world's largest energy producer with the hundreds of thousands of jobs that represents and the low cost in transportation, manufacturing, and heating. The Paris climate agreement is symbolic; the Keystone XL Pipeline was predictable; the freezes on new leases in Alaska and  federal land could have been anticipated. Elections have consequences. 

    5. Immigration. The Democrats have moved hard to the left from the days of the Obama administration when the border detention facilities were built, and millions of illegal migrants were deported. Amid porous borders and Honduran caravans, the Congressional fight will be about the legalization of the 11 million (potentially Democratic voting) illegal immigrants currently here. 

    6. Education.  The teachers unions and liberal ideologues are set to have a field day in areas which are almost entirely regulatory rather than legislative: charter schools; common national standards; gender equity; and the rewriting of American history to ensure that our children and grandchildren understand our racist essence and the evils of capitalism. 

    Appropriate Republican responses will be topics for other days, but the common theme is to recognize that the policy agenda of Trump and Republicans was different from that of the Democratic establishment, that the 75 million people knew what they were doing when they voted for Trump, and that continued support of that agenda is essential for the country. 

                                                                                                                -----

bill bowen - 1/28/21

    


Unity: From Vision to Strategy to Action

    Good speech. Well delivered. Apparently heartfelt. America wishes President Joe Biden well in his vision of unity. We need it. 

    So, what might a strategy to achieve unity look like?  It is certainly understandable to bask in the political victory for a day or two, but Biden doesn't have a lot of time before the forces against unity across the political spectrum re-establish their footing. Some thoughts. 

    1. The biggest divide is between the Democratic majority and the Trump wing of the Republican Party.  As symbolized by the assault on the Capital, there has not been such a divide in our lifetimes. Justice and reconciliation require separating the deeds of the Capital perpetrators from the Republicans who challenged the election through legal and non-violent processes.  The perps have scant support among the vast majority who cherish our democratic process; the tens of millions who questioned the election are at issue. Two suggestions:

    - The second impeachment of President Trump by a Democratic House which has been focused on his removal for four years provides an opportunity for President Biden to demonstrate leadership, and to take a stand for unity by actively opposing Senate consideration.  He has the added rationale and benefit that the Senate should be fully occupied ratifying his nominees and addressing legislation necessary for his agends.  A decision to instead give the irate Left their pound of flesh would be an opportunity missed - and resented. 

    - A small bipartisan commission should address the major complaints about the November election. Facts are facts. His election needs be legitimized and shortcomings (which did not come close to determining the outcome of the election) need to be corrected.  Most would trust the word of someone like Chuck Grassley on the Republican side.  

   2. The Trump administration did accomplish a lot - as evidenced in the list published by the White House this month. Most of the hundreds of items reflect the political differences between the parties or are puffery, but there are many which should be supported by both parties and which can serve as the basis for Biden administration policies: rapid vaccine development; criminal justice reform; progress in reducing the opiod epidemic; lowered prescription drug costs; extension of broadband in rural America; reform of the Veterans Administration; the US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement; the obliteration of ISIS; recognition of Israel by its neighbors; engagement with China on trade abuses, Hong Kong, and the Uighurs.  It is too much to expect Biden to support  any Trump accomplishments in controlling illegal immigration, deregulation, tax policy, climate change, or  civil rights, or to acknowledge the strength of the economy pre-Covid,  but where there can be common ground a shout out to Trump's successes would be a welcome change. 

   3.  President Biden will need Republican support in Congress, particularly if he is willing to stand up to the left wing of the Democratic party.  The acknowledgements at the beginning of his inaugural speech - Chief Justice Roberts; Vice President Harris; Speaker Pelosi; Senate leaders Schumer and McConnell, and Vice President Pence, but not House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy - reflect either a snub for McCarthy's support of challenges to Electoral College votes, a deferrence to Pelosi in the House, or an oversight. Given the superb orchestration of the entire event, the latter explanation is unlikely.  Much discussion has been directed at the 50-50 Senate where 60 votes are needed for most legislation, but the House with 221  Democrats, 211 Republicans, and 3 vacancies isn't chopped liver either.  And there is a reasonable chance that in 2023 the Democratic president will be faced by a Republican House led by McCarthy. And, and... McCarthy is uniquely positioned in the Republican party to serve as a bridge. 

  4. Many conservatives are jaded, and view a unity vision as little more than a campaign slogan and a request for the Right to join in Democratic policies.  It certainly is that for many on the Left who think that the price for return to polite society for Trump voters is an admission of Original Sin, but for the moment we should give the president a chance to be better than that.   We will know within weeks whether Joe Biden intends to move from a unity vision to strategy to action.  

                                                                                                                    -----

    One final thought for this week of momentous transitions: Trump's orgy of pardons and commutations as he left office represents a salute to the swamp. Sure, some were relatively low level people who received unreasonable sentences for drug charges, but the theme is politically connected felons who were convicted after fair trials for moral turpitude offenses. It should not be enough to draw a parellel to Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich or Barack Obama's pardon of Chelsea Manning.  Trump supporters who responded to the "Drain the Swamp" applause line deserved better. 

bill bowen - 1/21/21 

    


Surveying the Battlefield

      As Nancy Pelosi, the New York Times editorial board, and the legions of anti-Trump pundits roam the battlefield looking for wounded survivors to butcher, a moment of reflection and a few forecasts are in order. 

    On the positive side: 

        - We remain a center-right country. A strong majority oppose "defunding the police".  A strong majority oppose late term abortion.  A strong majority see budget constraints  as a larger problem than climate change, racism, or terrorism, at least conceptually. A strong majority understand the success of capitalism and the failures of socialism. 

        - Despite losing the White House, the House, and the Senate, Republicans gained House seats, lost only a net 3 of the 23 Senate seats that they defended, and remain dominant in governorships and state legislatures.  Prospects look good for 2022. 

        - The federal courts have been populated with three Supreme Court justices and 226 federal  judges who see it as their job to apply the constitution and laws as written.  

    On the negative side:

    - For a time it will be fashionable to extend the guilt for Trump's behavior since the election to his supporters in government and to the 74 million who voted for him.  Liberals are circulating lists of celebrities, businesses, and politicians who have supported the president and are thus to be banned from polite society. The divide in the country has been magnified - with sanctimonious glee. 

    - The people who got us into the mess in the Middle East and thought that appeasement would bring "peace in our time" with Iran are back in a position to repeat their errors. 

    - Federal budget deficits are escalating by trillions of dollars; it will eventually take a trauma of inflation for our grandchildren to recover from the profligacy of the Baby Boomers and Generation X. 

     And the forecasts:

    1. The twin crises of the pandemic and Trump's attempts to subvert the election will be used to change the playing field for future elections. At present, Republicans have several structural advantages - a tilt in the Electoral College; two Senators from each state; the exclusion of the 600,000 permanent residents of Washington DC and the 3.8 million residents of Puerto Rico and other territories from the federal electorate - with the partial offset that the Census, which allocates House seats among the states, includes illegal immigrants, thus giving extra seats to California and others. The DC Statehood Bill ,which passed the House and died in the Senate in 2019, will be a priority for Biden's core constituency, giving the Democrats 2 Senate and 1 House seats.  Puerto Rico may follow.   

    2. Election reform will be a cause for both sides - for Pelosi, to institutionalize mail-in voting with mass mailings and vote harvesting; and for Republicans, to establish proper safeguards. Both will favor a larger federal government role in federal elections. 

    3. There will be a crisis in "law and order" within the next few years, as the "defund the police" movement plays out, shifting resources away from "community policing", and toward social services agencies. Perhaps more important, and less publicized, is the George Soros funded effort over the past five years to elect uber-liberal major city district attorneys who oppose holding poor criminals for bail, oppose capital punishment, and will not enforce drug and "quality of life" laws such as urinating in public. Los Angeles; San Francisco; Seattle; Portland; Denver; Chicago; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Houston; Fairfax County, Virginia. The approach of the Biden administration, presumably with a significant role for Vice President and former California Attorney General Kamala Harris,  will soon be evidenced as the 94 regional Federal Prosecutors, as is  custom, tender their resignations to be replaced by properly oriented and Senate approved successors. 

    4. The political context of social media will be transformed. Some disparate data points for thinking about the future - the decision by Amazon, Google, and Apple to destroy conservative competitor Parler is a stark notice that a few liberal tech billionaires control much of the national conversation; Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has called the banning of Trump's account necessary, but "a dangerous precedent"; a walkie-talkie type platform called Zello used by right wing militias was used by some for coordinating the Capitol assault; the tilt of big tech toward Biden and the Democrats will soften the pending anti-trust legislation. 

    In the meantime, for Trump voters the best advice is to keep your head down in conversations with family and friends.  We are due for a few more weeks of the media being consumed by impeachment, erasing the history of the administration's accomplishments, potential legal liabilities for the Trump family, conjecture about his future role in the Republican Party, and conjecture about him starting a competitor to Twitter.   Before baseball sesason we will be able to see how many in the media have the skills and inclination to return to objective reporting.    

 

bill bowen - 1.14.21 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

       

 


The Assault on Democracy

    Generations of students of American history - nay, of world history - will know of Donald Trump's refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election - first by a blizzard of lawsuits in the various states, then by efforts to have Congress overturn the count in the Electoral College, then by inspiring an assault on the capital.  The cornerstone of the republic, since George Washington warned of factionalism and foreign entanglements as he voluntarily left office 1797, has been the willingness of legislators, governors, and presidents to leave office when their time has come. And Donald Trump's time has come. 

    Some somber observations:

        1. History is still unfolding, and the two weeks until the January  20 innauguration of Joe Biden cannot pass fast enough.  A letter signed by the 10 living former Secretaries of Defense warned that "Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory."  Without any specific accusations, the bipartisan former military leaders were unnerved by the firing of Secretary of Defense Mike Esper on November 9, former General Mike Flynn's conjecture about declaring martial law to re-run the election in battleground states, President Trump's request that the Georgia Secretary of State "find" the 12,000 votes necessary to overturn that election, and a report of a suggestion in December to split the National Security Agency and Cyber Command (perhaps to better manage communications.) 

    2. There is some legitimacy to the underlying legal argument about the elections in several states, most particularly Pennsylvania.  The central point is that Article II of the Constitution provides to the state legislatures the authority to establish voting procedures. Driven by the difficulty of voting during the coronavirus pandemic - with an overlay of partisan advantage to Democrats - several state and federal judges, Secretaries of State, and election commissions adopted procedures which extended the receipt time for absentee ballots, and in some cases loosened requirements for signatures, photo IDs, and chain of custody for absentee ballots. In violation of the Supreme Court's Purcell principle, many of these changes were made much too close to the November 6 election. But, we have a Supreme Court, we are a nation based on laws, and it is not the place of the Congress or the Vice President to overturn the vote of the people as reflected in the Electoral College.  

    3. Of much less importance than the damage to the nations institutions and international standing, is the damage to the Trump legacy. It is likely that with record low unemployment, rising real wages, an ending of US engagement in wars in the Middle East, and a policy of finally challenging China's economic policies Trump would have cruised to reelection were it not for the pandemic. While there is room for criticism for his lack of leadership on masks and social distancing, and failures of the federal healthcare bureaucracy, the good of the first three years would have been enough to claim a dominant position in the Republican Party even if he were defeated.

    4. Individual Republican politicians will have cemented their positions in the party based on their actions over the past month, and particularly since the first of the year. The post-President Trump party was already looking toward an engagement between the working class populist wing and the upper class former Establishment wing with the hope that a reconciliation could lead to continued success at the state level and a regaining of power at the national level.  Ambitious contenders for the Trump mantle such as Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who encouraged those marching on the Capitol, will be eclipsed in favor of more thoughtful conservatives such as Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas who have called for the President to accept defeat.  Ted Cruz is down; Marco Rubio is up. 

    5. There is space for "I told you so; how could you have supported him? " from the Democrats, the liberal media, and well intended Never Trumpers. (A personal note: in 2016 I supported Marco Rubio, then John Kasich to prevent Trump from being the nominee. On ethical terms Hillary Clinton was no better, perhaps worse for having lived in the swamp. Particularly prior to the pandemic I have supported Trump as he delivered peace and prosperity,  with a focus on  the working class.)  What will be of consequence is Joe Biden's reaction. The urgency of forging reconciliation has become much greater, but with the Great American Public having looked into the abyss, he will have much broader support for policies which are targeted at the broad center over the objections of the Left or the Right.  

    6. The Center held. 

bill bowen - 1/7/21

    


An Election Post Mortem

    After Mitt Romney's loss of the 2012 presidential election, Reince Priebus' Republican National Committee  conducted  a post mortem designed to determine what worked. what did not, and to set  a way forward. With Donald Trump hovering over the Republican Party, such a post mortem is not possible. Let this suffice. 

    The big picture: As attorney general Bill Barr confirms, there is no evidence of election fraud adequate to overturn Biden's victory. Biden won the presidency by some 7 million votes which translates to a 306 to 232 electoral college win. Had Trump obtained 44,000 more votes in Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona the Electoral College would have been tied, and the presidency would have been decided by a majority of the House delegations. But if pigs could fly...,

     For a party analyzing the elections for future guidance, the down ballot results are far different. Instead of losing an expected 20 or so House seats, the Republicans flipped 9 Democratic seats while losing no incumbents to pull within four seats of a majority. Despite being hugely outspent and defending 21 Senate seats to the Democrats' 12, the Republicans had a net loss of one seat and a holding of at least 50 seats going into the January 5,  Georgia Senate elections. Republicans flipped Montana to increase governorships from 26 to 27.  Republicans gained control of the New Hampshire Assembly and Senate; increasing their control of state chambers from 59-39 to 61-37, and taking a pole position on redistricting which will follow the 2020 census. 

    And a couple of quick comments on mechanics: 

        -  President Trump was outspent in advertising by $652 million to $381 million; Democratic Senator candidates outspent Republicans $549 million to $319 million; House Democrat candidates outspent Republicans $663 million to $511 million.  Any thought of the Republicans being the party of the fat cats is belied by the facts, with billionaires and liberal super PACs spending millions in Florida, Texas, South Carolina and elsewhere.  

        -   The Democratic strategy of pushing mail voting and early in person voting frequently resulted in Republicans winning on election day, only to lose once the "early" votes were counted.  Whatever one thinks of the security of the voting system, the convenience of voting from home (during a pandemic) and on any day over a three week period is superior to to a single day at the polls. A note for 2022. 

    The big question - to be the subject of lots of conjecture, but knowable only in the 2022 elections - was the broad, strong national performance of Republicans because Trump led the ticket, or in spite of Trump leading the ticket?  This observer's premise:  the underlying philosophy and policy premises of Trumpism capture the national mood. The larger than life persona was necessary to take on the political establishment (Republican as well as Democrat) in the face of intense opposition from the beginning - Mueller; impeachment; the policical media; the tech billionairres.  The party is strong enough, the winning themes are clear enough, the constituency is broad enough, and the Democratic opposition is weak enough,  that  a period of ascendency is likely.  That may be more probable without Trump, although his performance over the next year or so will be very important. 

    The primary macro thought: the party that believes in America will prevail over the party of discontent. The New York Times and Academia may revel in the 1619 Project and the meme that America is fundamentally flawed by its history of slavery and its treatment of the Native Americans.  Over time, more voters will attach themselves to the premise that the Founding Fathers understood human nature and the nature of government, and designed a system that assured primacy of the individual; that generations of immigrants have come here seeking economic opportunity and individual liberty; and that this is the most successful, heterogeneous society in the history of the planet.   

    Several themes are in the wheelhouse of Trump Republicanism:

        1.  Socialism does not work. For those too young to have read Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm, the examples are plain to see: the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin; the China of Mao; the Cuba of Castro; the Venezuela of Chavez.  Descendents of Cuban refugees represent the core of Florida's Republican majority. Vietnam refugees represent a political opportunity in California. People want the result of their labor to redound to themselves and their families; the power of the state is inevitably self-serving.   

        2.  The first responsibility of government is to protect the American people. 

            --  A significant portion of the state and local Republican success comes from the "Defund the Police" movement of Black Lives Matter and AOC.  To state it positively, the public is smart enough to grasp that the incidence of abuse is relatively rare and correctible, while the reduction of policing in at-risk communities results in far worse outcomes. To state it cynically, Richard Nixon's call for "law and order" was a pillar of his 1968 victory over Hubert Humphrey, and Governor Michael Dukakis' release of murderer  Willie Horton  was a pivotal issue in the 1988 campaign.  

            --  We cannot protect everybody in the world. The 18 year campaign to build a western society in Afghanistan is not worth the cost in lives (Afghan and American) and treasure. There is no fundamental American interest in central Asia. 

        3.   Trump demonstrated in his first three years that it is possible to rebuild American manufacturing, create good jobs for virtually every American, and grow incomes in the bottom third of society faster than inflation and faster than the upper third - to the particular benefit of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.   

    As we enter 2021 with a Democratic president, we should understand the breadth and depth of Republican alignment with mainstream America.  This too shall pass. Keep the faith in a better 2021. 

                                                                                                                            -----

 

           And a thought from an active liberal feminist to help explain those Republicans who have been supporting Trump based on his policies: 

     "A vote is not a valentine. You aren't confessing your love for the candidate. It's a chess move for the world you want to live in."  - Rebecca Solnit 


Mail-in Voting: A Proposal

    Let's face it. Mail-in voting was growing before the pandemic; its explosion in 2020 probably cost Donald Trump his re-election; and expansion is a major strategy for Pelosi's Democratic party. While there is a litany of issues and challenges surrounding the presidential election, most are reminiscent of past alleged misdeeds; the big change, and the major challenge for future reliable elections, is the shift from in person voting (with voter identification in most states), to  mail-in voting where the validity and chain of custody of the ballots is questionable.  If the public is going to believe in the results of elections , it is essential that "best practices" be established.  Since a majority of mail in ballots are Democratic, it is essential for Republicans that only legitimate ballots be counted.  

    A brief history:

            -  From 1996 to 2016, the portion of voters using mail-in ballots in presidential elections  increased from  about 8% to about 21%,  with participation ranging from states using exclusively mail in ballots (Colorado; Oregon; Washington),  to 29 states allowing anyone who wishes to vote by mail, to 18 states requiring a reason such as travel, military service, or physical disability.  Some 70 % of the public believes that such voting should be easily allowed, so there is no going back.   

            -  In the 2020 presidential election  almost half voted by mail with the rest split evenly between voting on election day and voting in person early. Utah and Hawaii joined the exclusive mail states,  many states expanded their approval criteria, and only five (all Trump states) made no special accomodation.  Other than Utah, Biden carried the all-mail states. 

            -  According to Pew Resarch, 33% of Trump voters voted by mail, while 58% of the Biden voters did. ( 37 per cent of  Trump voters voted at the polls on election day; only 17 per cent of Biden voters did. Early on-site voting was similar.)  Some of the disparity is due to large Democratic states like California, but a substantial portion of the mail vote is Democratic across the board and correlates with age.  

            -  Upon assuming the House speakership in 2019, Nancy Pelosi's first priority was House Resolution 1, election reform, which would highlight mail voting, restrict scrubbing of voter rolls, and  expand the California system which automatically enrolls drivers license registrants, sends ballots to all registered voters, and allows "ballot harvesting".  Similar provisions were included in unsuccessful coronavirus relief packages. Her expectation: a shift of the electorate to the Left by several percentage points.  

    A proper bill to restore confidence in the American voting system should contain the following provisions:

            Definite:

                1. Bipartisan commissions to oversee state Secretary of State efforts to clean up the voter rolls, eliminating those who have moved or died, felons, and non-citizens. (At one point the California rolls held tens of thousands of illegal immigrants with drivers licenses.)   

               2. Ballots provided on request only. Reasons required - if any - to be determined by the state.  

               3. Submission by US Mail or drop-off by individual, family member, or other designated care giver. Criminal offense to gather ballots from groups of others. Partisan  ballot harvesting as sponsored by Tom Steyer in California in 2018 to be prohibited. 

              4. Signature on envelope compared to that on voter rolls prior to ballot being separated from the envolope. Machine scanning preferred.

              5.  Ballots to be received by elections office by Close of Business on election day. 

             6.  Ballot requests by mail or internet. Outbound postage government responsibility; inbound postage voter responsibility.

             7.  Sharing of voter files across locality and state lines. Prosecution for people voting in more than one jusisdiction. 

    The range of allegations following the 2020 elections - illegal extension of the allowable voting period; defective voting machines; inner city machine control of polling stations; duplicate votes - have some validity, and should be pursued, but the election post mortems should focus on the big risk factor which can and must be fixed.   

    Let's get this right before the movement for internet voting emerges from the shadows. 

bill bowen - 12/23/20


Shaking the Foundations

    Back in 1989 an earthquake hit the Bay Area just before a World Series game between the Giants and the Oakland A's. After a brief moment of shaking the foundation of Candlestick Park, a collective shout of "Play Ball" filled the damaged stadium.  After four years of shaking foundations, we are at as similar point as a country.  Pessimists and Democrats see the Trump administration as an accelerant to the decline of the country; optimists and Republicans see decades of defects exposed, and a call to action to extend America's greatness. 

    1. The national security establishment: The last few years of the Obama administration saw a deep politization of the national security establishment. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explicitly lied to Congress about the Flynn investigation and a program to gather information about US citizens;  FBI Director James Comey first exceeded his authority in deciding not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for her illegal e-mail system, then tanked her presidential campaign by surfacing new evidence just before the 2016 election.  Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe oversaw a campaign to illegally spy on the Trump campaign, and to leak damaging false evidence.  Former Director of the CIA John Brennan became a vocal member of the Trump resistance. The resultant Mueller investigation of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign came up empty. Whether the ongoing Durham investigation eventually holds offenders to account or not, the Trump administration's intelligence leaders have stayed out of partisan "dirty tricks" politics and the shaking has stopped - at least temporarily.   

    2. The impeachment: President Trump asked the president of the Ukraine for help in an investigation of  corruption involving Ukrainian energy company Burisma and former Vice President Biden's son Hunter.  Nancy Pelosi saw an opportunity for impeachment, which eventually failed on totally partisan lines.  The Chinese saw a vice president willing to intervene to protect his son's shady dealings, and an opportunity to invest a few million dollars in Hunter as a conduit to a potential future American president.  The media piled on to the effort to overturn the results of the 2016 election, and a few years later quietly accepted the corruption of the Biden family. If the Republicans hold the Senate, Ron Johnson will ensure exposure, but there is no way that Pelosi's House will find any hint of impeachable offense. The shaking has changed impeachment from a tool to remedy corruption or gross incompetence to being a totally partisan political tool to reverse elections.   

    3. The pandemic: Some 300,000 lives and counting have been lost in the United States (1,600,000 globally);  Trump's remarkable economy, which had delivered record low unemployment and growing real wages was stopped in its tracks;  the lower and middle class workers who populate the hospitality and retail industries are being particularly decimated; the stock market plunged 30% in three March weeks, only to recover to record highs before year end; and China - relatively unscathed by the virus - has accelerated its efforts to overtake the United States as the world's strongest economy. Operation Warp Speed has brought safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics to the public in record time, and the smart Wall Street money projects a solid recovery in 2021. But the shaking has taken a huge toll beyond the deaths: a generation of children have missed educational and social development; income inequality, which had been narrowing, has dramatically increased; main street retail has suffered probable long term losses to Amazon. We will recover, but we will be different.  

    4. The election: Massive expansion of mail-in ballots from 21 % in 2016  (mostly in the West)  to 46 % in 2020 , played a major role in Biden winning the election  - not so much because of  any widespread fraud, but because the extended voting period and the ease of voting from home brought out marginal voters who tend to vote Democrat.  Fortunately the election did not turn on machine politics in major cities or partisan harvesting of mail in votes; it did validate the role of the Electoral College as able to sort through all of the legal and political challenges and provide a definitive answer. Enough for Bill Barr and Mitch McConnell.  Ongoing claims of massive fraud and Trump's refusal to admit defeat shake the foundations of our democracy.  

    5. The American essence myth: Perhaps as part of an effort to delegitimize Trump and his supporters, the New York Times launched the 1619 Project which stoked the "woke" story line that the United States has been an irredemably morally flawed society since its inception - the Civil War to abolish slavery, major civil rights gains in the past century, and the election of a Black president notwithstanding.  Combined with the frustration of the coronavirus lockdowns, and with the political benefit of energizing Democratic voters,  that story line and the prominent deaths in abusive police custody of several Black men has led to a year of demonstrations, riots, and a "defund the police; Green New Deal" lurch to the Left in our educational system and our politics.  The underlying truth is, of course, that America remains the land of liberty and opportunity which attracts millions of immigrants, and that it is the most successful multi-ethnic society on the face of the planet. The woke goal is to shake and collapse the foundation. 

    The subtle promise of the Biden campaign was that the shaking of the foundation would be stopped if he were elected president.  Perhaps the administration will be more predictable and the media will be supportive, but there are many millions of people who appreciated Trump's record economy of 2019, his ending of senseless wars in the Middle East, Operation Warp Speed, his control of illegal immigration, and his taking on China. The shaking has probably stopped, and the new game will soon begin. 

    Play Ball. 

bill bowen - 12/17/20 


Georgia On My Mind

    The January 5,  Georgia Senate elections are critically important -  for the nation; for the fortunes of several politicians; and for the profits of the well oiled fundraising/advertising industry.  Polling is totally discredited and used only to inspire donors.  The early conventional wisdom that these were safe Republican seats has badly eroded along with Trump's loss of the state by some 12,000 votes out of nearly 5,000,000 cast.  Let's look for clues where we can. 

    The setting:

        David Purdue v Jon Ossoff:  This is a replay of  November when first-term Republican Purdue won 49.7 % to 47.9% with Libertarian Shane Hazel drawing 2.3% to deny Purdue the necessary 50%.           

            - David Purdue  - whose prior somewhat dodgy business career spanned a number of struggling companies  - has been a solid conservative vote and Trump supporter, but not much more. His greatest political weakness is that he remains an active stock market participant, including  a significant number of trades following a private Senate briefing about the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

             - Jon Ossoff - a 33 year old investigative journalist who ran a strong, but losing special election campaign for the House in a Republican-leaning suburban Atlanta district in 2017 - was an early Bernie Sanders supporter and is a favorite of unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.   Somewhat like Beto O'rourke in Texas,  he is a darling of the media Left, and a major beneficiary of national Democratic fundraising organizations - spending twice as much on the election as did Purdue. 

        Kelly Loeffler v Raphael Warnock: In November Democrat Warnock led with 32.9 % of the vote in the primary to fill the remaining two years of the seat of Republican Senator Johnny Isakson who resigned for health reasons. Incumbent Loeffler had 25.9 % , Republican Congressman Doug Collins had 20.0%,  and Democrat Deborah Jackson had 6.6% with the remaining  14.6 % split among 16 other candidates. (Combined, the Republicans got 49.3% and Democrats got 48.4%.) 

                Kelly Loeffler - the wife of the owner of a large financial services company and herself the co-owner of a Women's NBA franchise - was appointed in 2019 by Governor Brian Kemp against the wishes of Trump who had advocated for Representative Doug Collins. (The thought was that she would play better in the Atlanta suburbs - and is a big donor. Collins was a major player in the impeachment hearings.) She has since claimed a "100 per cent Trump" voting record, and followed the Trump line in criticizing the management of the November election by the Republican Secretary of State.   

                Raphael Wornock  - the most controversial of the candidates - has been pastor at Reverend Martin Luther King Junior's 's Ebenezer Baptist Church since 2005.  He brings quite a bit of baggage - recently acrimoniously divorced;  early work at a church in New York which welcomed Fidel Castro; sermons supporting Obama pastor Jeremiah Wright's  of "God Damn America" fame; a claim that one cannot serve God and be in the military.   

    And the clues: 

        History: Republicans have held the Georgia governorship and both legislative chambers since 2005. The last Democratic senators were Max Cleland who was defeated in 2003, and Zell Miller who retired in 2005. Activist Atlanta lawyer Stacey Abrams lost the governorship by 55,000 votes in 2018, refused to concede, and has spent much energy registering  new Democratic voters who were partly responsible for the Democrats' surprisingly good performance in November. 

        Money: Purdue and Loeffler were outspent on the November election - in line with the national $716 million to $435 million Democratic Senate campaign advantage. The runoff has the four campaigns spending over $330 million, over 90 % of it from out of state. This time it is about equally distributed, and way past the point of diminishing returns. 

        The election:  Early voting begins on December 14; over 1 million mail-in ballots have already been requested.  This will be the most closely supervised election in the nation's history. Contrary to Trump team claims, the rate of rejection of mail in ballots in the November election for bad signatures was about .15% - similar to past years.   Proving that useless idiots can sometimes find a moment in the sun,  Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood have called for a boycott unless a secure election can be guaranteed. 

        - Advocates:  Every national politician who has any following is taking their moment on the stage.  Two that may have an impact:  New Yorker Chuck Schumer whose boast that the Democrats could take Georgia and change the country was a gift in Dixie; and long time Trump friend / former Georgia running back and Heisman Trophy winner Hershell Walker,  whose emergence reminds us that this is Southeast Conference football territory where former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was just elected to the Senate in neighboring Alabama.  

        - The debates: The Atlanta Press Club hosted two debates on December 6, one between Loeffler and Wornock, and the other between Ossoff and an empty podium after Purdue declined to participate.  Loeffler dodged her position on whether the November election had been fairly run; Wornock dodged on whether he would vote to pack the Supreme Court and what his version of the Green New Deal would cost. 

    So, a supposition: 

        - Georgia will continue to be a bit like Texas - a bright shiny object for Democrats, worth spending money and efforts and for Republicans, a great instigator for campaign donations. For good reason the early presidential and senate maps did not have Georgia as a Democratic pick-up.  Without Trump on the ballot, a few hundred million campaign dollars to villify the socialist Democrats, and an army of poll watchers and lawyers, the dominant Georgia Republican machine should survive the challenge, with the Loeffler / Wornock race providing the clearer case of a Democratic candidate who is outside of the state's sensibilities.   

                                                                                                                            ----- 

     As a bonus this week we have great Georgia songs by great artists: Georgia on My Mind by Ray Charles, and Midnight Train to Georgia by Gladys Knight. Enjoy. 


Biden's Establishment Team

      When Donald Trump entered American politics he blew up the Republican Establishment. One implication was that he wound up with a lot of third rate people briefly on his team - Paul Manafort; Steve Bannon; and Anthony Scaramucci to name a few.  Rience Priebus did bring the national Republican Party to the campaign and was briefly rewarded as Chief of Straff, and there were several qualified former generals who temporarily stepped up - John Kelly; James Mattis; HR McMaster -  but by and large this was deliberately not an administratiion for the Establishment. 

    Joe Biden is the polar opposite. After 47 years in Washington, and eight near the pinnacle of the last Democratic administration which ended just four years ago (is that even possible?), he is the ultimate candidate of the Democratic Establishment, pulled out of the dust bin when it looked like Bernie Sanders might sink them all. His personnel selections go to the Establishment - for better when it means that most are qualified and experienced; for worse when it means that they may well be prisoners of past failed policies or just adept at currying bureaucratic favor. 

    First, the domestic crew, where like it or not, they will do their best to implement the policies which they believe got them (oops, him) elected: expansion of public medical coverage; phasing out carbon based energy; somehow stimulating the economy; making it easier for illegal immigrants;  restricting charter schools; protecting abortion; not being Donald Trump. For most of these things, the department head doesn't much matter. The Congress may provide a check - assuming a Republican Senate - but the executive branch will march to the Left. 

    Some thoughts on key players who might make a difference: 

        - Janet Yellen: As Treasury Secretary, perhaps a lateral transfer or demotion from her time as Federal Reserve Chair.  She is well qualified in terms of both technical knowledge, and experience working in the politics of Washington.  One concern: she has a long history of wanting low interest rates to help the economy in the short term. With 27 trillion of debt and ongoing trillion dollar deficits, we will be entering a period where fiscal prudence is demanded. Federal Reserve Chair Powell is committed to low interest rates for years. The Senate can only do so much. 

    - Prospective Chief of Staff Ron Klain has been  with Biden since the 80's, most recently as Vice President Biden's Chief of Staff, with a focus on the 2009 Recovery Act (among the slowest in history), and the administration's Ebola czar. While the Obama administration's Ebola response was not impressive, Klain knows all of the domestic and international agencies and should be helpful in the next phase of the coronavirus response. 

    - The announced candidate for head of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, whose role involves negotiating the many trade-offs that have to be made, was a Hillary confidant, helped write the Affordable Care Act, and most recently has headed the uber-liberal Center for American Progress. She tweets more than Trump and has recently gone out of her way to insult Trump, his supporters, and Lindsey Graham. (And that's the Washington Post biography.) Senate confirmation is uncertain.   

     Second, the international crew, where Biden has more latitude to act, and where he is committed to reverse Trump's emphasis on what is best for America. 

    - John Kerry is a "twofer": 

        As President Biden's Special Envoy for Climate, he will be empowered to bring the United States back into the Paris Climate Agreement which he helped to create as President Obama's Secretary of State, and which President Trump left in 2017. He will be asked to implement Biden's commitment to spend 2 trillion dollars to transform the transportation and power sectors of the economy. For what it is worth, the stark change of policy with each administration change shows the folly of making major changes by executive order rather than by treaty, which would require building national consensus, as was most recently done on the North American free trade agreement.    

    Most troubling about Kerry, Biden has placed the climate czar on the National Security Council with  the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Treasury and the Director of National Intelligence.  It is hard to believe that Kerry will stay in his lane amid discussions about the Iran nuclear deal, which he also negotiated.  That he (illegally, but openly)  had discussion with Iranian and European leaders in the early years of the Trump administration suggests Biden may not be in charge of this most important risk.  

   - The rest of the national security team  include some with experience on VP Biden's staff (Anthony Blinken as Secretary of State and Jake Sullivan as National Security Advisor); some with significant Obama Administration experience (Alejandro Mayorkas -who led DACA implementation - as Homeland Security Secretary); and some careerists (Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as UN Ambassador.)  The Secretary of Defense position remains open, with Michele Flourney the most qualified  to make the difficiult financial prioritizations which are to come - but while she would check the female box, she would continue Biden's failure to appoint Blacks to senior positions.  Like Biden, the group has a history of being wrong on Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, and ISIS, and none posesses significant experience with China, which outgoing Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe emphatically calls the greatest threat  to democracy and freedom since World War II. 

    Don't look for any carry-overs.  Searching for middle ground is a good campaign slogan.  

 

bill bowen - 12/4/20

 

   


Of Election Defeats, Transitions, and Lame Ducks

  President Trump should graciously acknowledge defeat, release funding for a Biden/Harris transition, and invite the Biden team into planning for the coronavirus response and foreign affairs. Why wouldn't he do that in the interest of American democracy?  Well, a few considerations:

    1. The transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration was among the ugliest in the nation's history. The FBI and the national security establishment, with the knowledge of the Obama White House, illegally monitored the Trump campaign, leading to two years of fruitless Mueller investigations. House Democrats gleefully boycotted the innauguration. The Washington Post called for impeachment on Day 1. Later the House pursued a sham impeachment, and the Speaker tore up Trump's 2020 State of the Union speech on the House dias. Those calling for civility have a small credibility problem. 

   2. Trump has a few agenda item to complete: reduction of prescription drug pricing; withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq; appointment of a few more federal judges; normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia; perhaps privatization of mortgage managers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; perhaps issuance of the Durham report on FBI malfeasance in the 2016 election; perhaps drilling on Alaska's north slope. The duck will be a little more lame after the President admits defeat.   

    Most importantly, Trump wants control of Operation Wharp Speed which has delivered therapeutics and at least three vaccines in breathtaking time despite mountains of skepticism from Biden's Democrats, the liberal media, and some in the federal medical bureaucracy. The basics of the distribution plan are in place, but Biden's coronavirus team wants a hand on the helm - to share the credit, and perhaps to direct scarce dosages to their political constituencies. For those who remember the Obama administration's roll out of the Obamacare web site, this does not instill confidence.  In the fullness of time, Trump's triumph of science over the disease is likely to be among his greatest legacies. 

    Biden hands are also eager to take hold of foreign relations where they seek to reverse Trump's "America First" posture. In a below the radar episode, Biden called Boris Johnson to emphasize that a post-Brexit trade deal with the United States would be conditioned upon resolving contentious negotiations between the UK, the European Union, and Ireland in a way that Biden approved. (One remembers that Michael Flynn was sentenced for talking to the Russian ambassador during the Obama-Trump transition, and that Vice President Biden claimed that he had violated the Logan Act.) 

   3. The election itself should not just be filed in the dusty archives. (Spoiler Alert: Trump lost

    Our robust and credible democracy has a set of challenge and certification steps designed to ensure that all legitimate votes are counted, that illegitimate votes are not, and that a set of responsible people are in place to resolve disagreements and make final, timely decisions.  The system is decentralized and legally defined, minimizing the risk of manipulation. Oversight is bipartisan. Certitude takes time and legal fees. (That said, the theatrics of Rudy Giuliani and others detract from the serious work that needs to be done.) 

    This presidential election highlights two "improvement opportunities", one demanding success, the other likely to fail. 

        - With the coronavirus, many states loosened their requirements for mail-in voting, and Nancy Pelosi has made legal expansion of "the California system" a central goal of her term as Speaker,  and of her proposed virus relief legislation. At the extreme, this involves mailing ballots to everybody on the (poorly maintained) voter rolls, gathering completed ballots by campaign operatives, and limited efforts to verify voter signatures on the ballots. Over 100 million of the 154 million votes cast were done early, largely by mail. A thorough understanding of the risks and "best practices" is required despite the Left's screams of "voter suppression". 

        - The big city Democratic machines - Chicago; Philadelphia; Detroit - present a major challenge in that there are few trained Republican monitors to oversee the process which frequently yields 90%+ Democratic majorities, carrying key states. Some of the lawsuits will add flavor, but solutions are not likely. 

      The Georgia recount provides a dry run for the critical runoff Senate elections on January 5. There can be no more missing vote boxes and unverified signatures. 

    4. Trump has reason to be concerned with legal retributon, with the New York Attorney General combing through his tax records, media voices on the Left  calling for retribution, and some members of Congress  threatening prosecution for illegally enriching himself, violating innumerable laws, and  endangering national security. It would be helpful for Biden and his chosen Attorney General to strike a path forward.   Biden seems to be so inclined, perhaps in exchange for  dropping any legal actions related to Comey's FBI or Hunter Biden. 

     This Thursday we can be thankful that this presidential election did not come down to a few votes in a few key states.  From a statistical perspective, this election was good enough for government work.  Done; move on. 

Bill Bowen - 11/23/20

 


The Trump Era

     In the broadest perspective, Trump represents a transition of the Republican Party from being the party of Wall Street and the Establishment, to being the party of the middle and lower middle working class, including about one-third of Latinos. He was resisted from the beginning “by all means necessary” by the Democrats and remnants of the Republican Establishment. He is a seriously flawed person, but whether anyone else could have led the change is questionable, as is his role in defining whether the realignment survives him.

The Good:

  1. Pre-Covid Trump drove a record strong economy through deregulation (energy independence; labor rules), tariffs (manufacturing growth), restricted immigration (good for low end workers), and tax cuts. The result was record low unemployment for Blacks, Latinos, and Asians, and wage growth for the low end exceeding inflation for the first time in decades.
  2. He established new parameters for the relationship with China: tariffs to reduce trade deficit; protection of intellectual property; strengthened military/political/economic alliance with Japan, India, and Australia. (Support for the broader Trans Pacific Partnership was a missed opportunity.)
  3. He managed realignment in the broad Middle East: obliterated ISIS; withdrew most US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, while avoiding entanglement in Libya and Syria; contained Iran; fostered recognition of Israel by several traditional enemies.
  4. He adjusted international relations to the benefit of the US: greater financial contribution by NATO countries, Japan, and South Korea; paused North Korean nuclear missile program; updated USMCA for trade with Mexico and Canada; reached agreements with Mexico and Central American countries to reduce illegal immigration.
  5. He remade the federal court system with judges who apply the Constitution and laws as written, and see the legislature as the appropriate branch for developing public policy.
  6. There were lots of little things: fixing the Veterans Administration; helping Blacks by driving criminal justice reform, supporting charter schools and Historically Black Colleges, and expanding Enterprise Zones; fostering strong minority home ownership gains.

The Bad:

  1. Even pre-Covid, he continued and expanded the financial irresponsibility of recent presidents (and Congresses), adding trillions to the debt of our grandchildren. The Covid-related trillions of debt will eventually weaken the country.
  2. He performed below what was needed on Covid. Some was Good - China embargo; pressure to develop therapies and vaccines; logistics on Personal Protective Equipment and ventilators; positive attitude; concern for the economy and social damage. Much was Bad – example on masks and distancing; arguments with media; inadequate testing and tracing; withdrawal from World Health Organization. Some Bad was not his fault - initially New York forced sick people into nursing homes, the CDC botched testing for three weeks; the experts advised against wearing masks.  Strategy never focused on isolating sick carriers. 
  3. He frequently ruled by Executive Order rather than legislation – a growing trend of recent administrations and legislatures. This avoids the hard work of making concessions and developing common ground and commitment which will last beyond the current administration.
  4. He was terrible at staff selection, hiring people like Bannon, Scaramucci, Manafort, and Giuliani while losing superior leaders like Generals Kelly and Mattis. This contributed to a chaotic White House and national security structure.

The Ugly:

  1. Trump has been a divisive narcissist from his criticism of POW John McCain to his potential refusal to accept the result of the 2020 election. For many, he is right on policy, very wrong on style.
  2. As the Washington Post headline said on inauguration day: “Impeachment begins”. From the saga of false Russian collusion (Mueller Report); to the FBI’s active effort to undermine the campaign and the early presidency; to impeachment for a phone call; to the House speaker tearing up the State of the Union speech on the House podium, this was not a peaceful handing off of power by President Obama and the Democrats following a legitimate election. In Trump’s defense, “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that people aren’t out to get you.”
  3. There has been no pretense of objectivity on all issues Trump by much of the press; there has been extensive bullying by the Left’s “cancel culture” against support for the President and conservatives in general; and traditional American values are under siege in the rewriting of American history to deny social progress that has been made and the nation’s greatness.

Epilogue:

  1. Republicans should take heart from the 2020 elections: despite being led by a very negatively polarizing presidential candidate, enduring a very biased press, being greatly outspent, disadvantaged by the broad use of mail-in ballots, and the coronavirus, they almost won the presidency; probably held the Senate despite defending twice as many seats; gained House seats; and expanded their leadership in governorships and state legislatures.  The country remains center right.
  2. Speaker Pelosi’s objective is to permanently change the game in the favor of Democrats: expand minority citizenship; add Senators from Puerto Rico and Washington DC; change voting procedures to the California model with extensive (unmaintained) voting rolls, mail ballots for everyone, and the practice of ballot harvesting. Much depends on maintaining a Republican Senate.