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. 

Reflections Upon Leaving California

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

    On the plus side:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                    -----

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

bill bowen - 1/25/19 

          


Context for Presidential Candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        - The Democratic calculus is more complicated.

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                            ----- 

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

bill bowen - 1/10/2019  

     

    


Re-Thinking California

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

    How bad is it? 

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

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

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

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

    Is it likely to get better? 

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

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

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

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

    So, what is a principled conservative to do?  

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

        Option 2. Take up a different vocation. 

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

                                                                                                    -----

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

bill bowen - 1/4/19

 

 


Trump's Half Term: An Assessment

    'Tis the season for looking back and looking forward; for assessing accomplishments and opportunities unfulfilled; for thinking what was, what might have been, and what might yet be. In Trump-world this exercise is best done in two year increments - since the last election and to the next. 

The easy part: What was and what might have been. 

    - Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the presidency - all was possible, but never in recent history has a president faced such constant, vitriolic opposition from the opposing party, most of the media, and a significant slice of his own party. In the House, the Freedom Caucus prevented compromise; in the Senate the 60 vote threshold for most matters and the few Never Trumpers among the 51 seat Republican majority proved too liberal for the more conservative House. And that's before Robert Mueller's relentless probes to find anything to bring the president down. 

    - With that setting, Donald Trump delivered peace and prosperity, with the working class and minorities sharing the bounty for the first time in decades. 

        -- Despite the Fed returning monetary policy toward normalcy after 8 years of stimulus, the Obama era "new normal" of 2% GDP growth was bettered by 1 to 2 %, and unemployment of 4.5 % was reduced below the 4% often considered "full employment". Deregulation (deleting two old for every new regulation; freeing smaller banks from Dodd-Frank), tax cuts (benefitting 85% of payers), energy expansion (offshore; Alaska; fracking; pipelines) , and tariffs (particularly on steel and aluminum) all contributed. The results are undeniable, and they belong to Trump.   

         -- The ISIS caliphate was defeated in short order, and the promise to cut back on being the world's policeman is being fulfilled despite a messy world full of fanatics and despots. 

        --  First important steps were taken to force China to conform to World Trade Organization norms - reducing state support for favored exporters, and stopping industrial espionage - and to engage North Korea in denuclearization talks. Leaders with long term contracts in both countries will try to wait out the Americans. 

        --  The Republicans whiffed on "Repeal and Replace" of Obamacare, but the individual mandate was repealed, it was made easier for small businesses to group together to buy health insurance, and stripped down short term plans were made more available. 

        --  An early offer to Democratic Congressional leaders to trade DACA for a wall was rejected and remains an elusive goal as the Democrats prefer to stoke their voter base.   

        --  The more partisan accomplishments were also myraid: cancellation of President Obama's Iranian nuclear giveaway; withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement; moving our embassy to Jerusalem; appointment of two Supreme court justices and 83 lower court judges.   

And the hard part: what the next two years might hold. With Trump's high energy, unconventional style, and broad agenda in the wake of President Obama's globalist, liberal, ineffective legacy, it has been possible to make progress across a broad front. With a Democratic House (and an effective leader), it will be necessary to significantly advance a few key initiatives.   

    - Strategic confrontation of China's trade practices is broadly popular, but will take time and a coalition. When Trump withdrew from the Transpacific Partnership in January 2017, most of the other participants went ahead with a set of trade agreements which do not include China. Whether a formal participant or an interested partner, this coalition is ready-made for a more favorable realignment of East Asia trade relationships. 

    -  North Korea's nuclear program must be dismantled.  Mike Pompeo's performance review in 2020 should be heavily weighted on how well he works with South Korea and Japan to accomplish this goal.

    - We cannot go on with porous borders, millions of largely assimilated young illegal immigrants in the shadows, and a demographic which shows an aging native population in need of young workers to support Social Security, Medicare, and the general economy. Real border secutrity in exchange for DACA is so obvious that only cynical politicians can refuse to find the equation.  Unfortunately we have plenty of them. 

    -  Personality flaws aside, the biggest risk of a President Trump working with a Democratic House is the ballooning budget deficit.  With interest rates rising and current deficits coming out of Paul Ryan's House exceeding $1 trillion, one shudders to think of what Pelosi and Trump might concoct. Someone somewhere in the federal government needs to take notice. 

        One can hope that Mueller will get out of the way, and that the next two years are as productive as the last two. 

                                                                                                        -----

    This week's video is a shocker -  Van Jones on CNN praising Donald Trump and Jared Kushner for their role in assembling a coalition to pass major prison reform which will greatly reduce incarceration for nonviolent offenses, and should be a big plus in the African American community.  

bill bowen - 12/28/18 

 

     

    

 

 

 

 

 


Brexit: An American Perspective

    What Trump and Mueller are to American political discourse, Brexit is to the British. Both provide arcane lessons in the technical structure and operation of government; both provide the generally disinterested public with reason to pick up a newspaper or watch a pundit; both reveal the ugliness of politicians who place personal ambition above the national good; both will still be discussed mid-century.  

    The setting

        - The muddled result of Conservative leader David Cameron's bungling in 2016 is that the British and European Union negotiators have until March 29 to define the terms by which Britain will leave, and the nature of their subsequent relationship. The date could be delayed by mutual agreement, but all parties want the pressure of a deadline to force negotiations. 

        - There are three potential outcomes:

            -- The British Parliament could accept (perhaps with minor modifications or "clarifications") the 528 page withdrawal agreement and the 26 page political declaration of future relationships which Theresa May has negotiated, envisioning a transition period through 2020 in which Britain would remain in a "customs union" (accepting EU rules, specifications, and court judgments), without the ability to independently negotiate trade agreements until both parties agree on how to solve the Ireland problem. (The issue: how to  be totally independent on trade without re-establishing a hard border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland.) May would defer this problem for later solution; the EU insists that the UK would be prohibited from agreeing to trade deals with other countries until it is solved by mutual agreement - perhaps forever.          

           -- Lacking agreement with the European Union, there could be a "Hard Brexit", with major disruptions of commerce and personal movement. Free movement of people and goods would end; British payments to the EU would end; trade agreements with Britain's largest trading partner would end without immediate replacement British agreements; Britain's critical financial services sector would suffer a major shock. Prudent government and business officials on both sides of the channel are making contingency plans, but are fearful of making this seem a viable option. 

    -- There could be a second vote on leaving. Prime Minister Theresa May (who originally opposed exit) takes the view that Parliament once asked the voters what they wanted, and she is committed to serving their will. Others among the former "Remainers" claim that the downside of Brexit was not understood, but now is, and that some two million new voters, who will be mostly affected, have come of age in the interim. This seems the least likely outcome - in part because it is hard to determine whether the question would be "remain", leave under the provisions that Theresa May and the EU have negotiated, leave under renegotiated terms, or leave without a negotiated agreement. There is no majority opinion. 

    An American's observations

        - It was naively irresponsible of former Prime Minister David Cameron to call for a snap election to be won by a simple majority to define the status of the country as fully independent or part of a larger polity. Our founders did not so much trust direct democracy, making constitutional amendment difficult, and inserting the Electoral College between the voters and the presidency. On the other hand, the EU procedures which call for agreement among all 27 member countries cry for reform.    

         - For at least a few years a "Hard Brexit" would be bad for the United States as it would disrupt the economies and politics of major trading partners and allies. With Angela Merkel losing power in Germany, Emmanuel Macron's popularity in France approaching 20% , Italy defying Eurozone requirements for budget constraint, and Russia pushing back against decades of eastward encroachment, Europe is in no position to absorb a chaotic, adversarial withdrawal by its second largest member. A united West is needed to engage China. 

        -  Raw political self interest will carry the day, and Theresa May understands nose counting. The 317 Conservative MPs and their 10 allied Democratic Unionist Party MPs from Northern Ireland have as a first objective retaining their thin majority in the 650 member Parliament. Jeremy Corbyn's Labor Party (257 MPs) would try to defeat any Conservative proposal if that would lead to a successful vote of no confidence in the government and new Parliamentary elections which Labor may win. That cannot be allowed to play out. Many Hard Brexit Conservatives (such as Boris Johnson) would be happy for the government to fall to be replaced by one of their own, but do not have a majority within their party and cannot risk new elections. The Democratic Unionist Party cannot allow a Labor victory which would put them out of power or a Hard Brexit which would re-create a hard border within Ireland. Politically, for the decision makers, May's deal is the least bad option. 

    - Theresa May has been heroic in her effort to identify the small sweet spot which meets the initial Brexit objectives of controlling immigration to Britain, limiting regulations from Brussels, and preserving a unified England / Scotland / Northern Ireland / Channel Islands. By putting off the parliamentary vote until mid-January while continuing talks with the EU leaders, she is taking away the space for any alternative. 

                                                                            -----

  This week's bonus video is a compelling Tucker Carlson/Praeger U commentary on illegal immigration.

bill bowen - 12/21/2018 


Made in China 2025

    Tariffs are only a weapon. China's "Made in China 2025" policy is the target. This week's announcement from Beijing that they will be revising the policy indicates that the weapon is hitting the target. Let's recap. 

    Chinese Premier Li Kequiang introduced the "Made in China 2025" policy in 2015 as a focused plan to move China up the value chain as a manufacturer, to increase local manufacture of critical technical components of items like cars and cell phones to 70% by 2025, and to challenge American leadership in key future technology areas:

    1) New advanced information technology and artificial intelligence (think Google and Intel);

    2) Automated machine tools & robotics (think Allen Bradley  and Epson);

   3) Aerospace and aeronautical equipment (think Boeing);

   4) Maritime equipment and high-tech shipping (think Korean or German);

   5) Modern rail transport equipment (think General Electric or European);

   6) New-energy vehicles and equipment (think Tesla);

  7) Power equipment (think General Electric and Tesla);

  8) Agricultural equipment (think John Deere or Catepillar);

  9) New materials (think 3M); and

10) Biopharma and advanced medical products (think J&J or Bristol Myers). 

    In prior Five Year Plans China had emphasized domestic innovation in targeted industries. Made in China 2025 changes the dynamic relative to foreign companies wishing to do business in China by seeking to capture and surpass global technologies.  The core reality is that the Chinese economy is comprised of state owned enterprises (often run by the military), domestic privately owned companies, and foreign owned private companies. Despite the incorporation of elements of capitalism, it remains a top-down, state-controlled economy, where nobody prospers without the approval of the Communist Party central authorities, and target industries and companies are subsidized by the government.  Despite Chinese assertions, the level of government subsidies and coercions violates the rules of the World Trade Organization which it was allowed to join in 2001.

     Until Donald Trump took on the growing behemoth with tariffs and the threat to leave the WTO, China was allowed to force companies with targeted technologies to give them up in order to participate in the Chinese market, while China stepped up a global effort to acquire technology through open source and clandestine means. Europe - with Brexit, and lesser problems afflicting France Germany, and Italy - is in no position to lead. With a century-long stigma, Japan is in no position to lead.  The TransPacific Partnership was an effort to assemble an alliance of smaller countries in the effort to reign in China, but at least for now the essential American participation is off the table.

    For clarity, global telecommunications equipment giant Huawei provides a good example. The Trump administration has asked many of our allies to buoycot their equipment because of the intelligence gathering nad potential strategic sabotage capabilities of its network. (The arrest of the company's CFO in Canada for violation of sanctions on trade with Iran is a flashpoint, but not really the driving issue.)  This week's identification of Chinese intelligence services as being behind the hack of Marriott's and several other data bases also provides a public example of Chinese government capabilities and attitudes toward the use of Information Technology to further their development goals. And then there are the 340,000 Chinese students at American colleges and universities. 

    As a very big first step in the agreement between Trump and Xi Jinping to delay the imposition of  increased tariffs, China has announced a change to the China 2025 policy to exclude smaller local companies from its mandates, and perhaps reduce the amount of "local content" required in finished products. More will be needed - doing away with joint venture requirements; a reduction in state-sponsored technical espionage; acceleration of approval of imported products without coopting the technology.

    With apologies to the farmers and oil companies, the trade problem with China will not be solved by increasing their soybean and natural gas imports.  It will require fundamental change to Chinese industrial policies and Trump has gotten their attention. China's leaders think strategically. So does Trump, even if Wall Street runs on quarterly profits. 

                                                                                                    -----

    This week's bonus video covers the highlights of the acrimoneous Trump/Schumer/Pelosi meeting on funding the wall. One cynical perspective - Trump staged this televised meeting to help Pelosi with her base as she was trying to win over the Democratic caucus to again become Speaker of the House. They can count votes and do deals. 

bill bowen - 12/13/2018

     

 


Vote Harvesting, California Style

    Californians like to think that we are "early adopters", the first to create and utilize technology and social norms which an eager country will eventually embrace. Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Airbnb, and Paypal; gay marriage, sanctuary cities, and marijuana. Thus it is with politics. California Republicans are lost for at least a few election cycles due to several factors - public attitudes on immigration and the environment; a great party disparity in financial resources; media and popular opposition to Donald Trump; and a huge gap in the effectiveness of party leadership - but the California political concept of which national Republicans should be the most concerned is the Democrats mastering of Get Out the Vote (GOTV) operations.  

    The eventual loss by Young Kim, an attractive, well qualified Asian-American woman Congressional candidate in formerly staunchly conservative Orange County, who led by 14% after the close of polls on election day but eventually lost by a few thousand votes, provides a good benchmark of how effective the Democrats' GOTV operation was. This is not about fraud or illegality. It is not about a process that is inherently open to one party or the other. (It does raise the philosophical question of what happens to democracy when the productive portion of society comprises a smaller portion of the electorate, but that is a subject for another day.) It should serve as a warning to Republicans across the country about underlying election laws, the effective use of money from large donors, and a bit on the effective use of technology. Let's recap. 

    California's Election Laws 

        Democrats have controlled California's legislature and governorship since 2011, with near two-thirds majorities. They also claim the Secretary of State who interprets election laws and writes the ballot titles for public initiatives. They have aggressively used this dominance to pass every possible law to advantage Democratic candidates. 

        --  Since 2016, Motor Voter registration, by which voting registration is automatic for people acquiring or renewing their license. 

        -- Registration at age 16 or 17, so that young people are prepared to vote when they become 18. 

        -- Same day registration, allowing people to register and file provisional ballots at the same time. 

        -- No identification requirement. 

        -- Voting rights for inmates in county jails and felons on probation.  

        -- Permanent mail-in ballots for all voters requesting that status. (With ten to twenty ballot initiatives and fifteen to twenty candidate choices to make, this becomes a popular option.) 

        -- New automatic mailing of ballots to all registered voters three weeks in advance of the election - by county option in 2018; required for all counties except Los Angeles County by 2020. 

        -- Acceptance of mail in ballots postmarked or turned in by close of the polls on election day. 

        -- New for 2018, authorization of third parties to gather vote-by-mail ballots for turn-in at the department of elections or polling places. (Previously the voter had to mail in, turn in themself, or have a close relative or roommate deliver the ballot.) 

    The 2018 Election

    This was the perfect storm. Anger against President Trump was strong; billionaires such as Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg donated tens of millions of dollars to political action committees to register voters and turn out the vote; public employee unions contributed millions; the Democratic National Committee targeted seven of the 14 Republican Congressional seats in Orange County and the Central Valley. 

            -- Political Data Inc. sells registered voter data to either party, and provides training on its use. This includes voter name, address, history in which elections the voter participated (allowing identification of high and low propensity voters), and status as a property owner or a renter. This can be cross referenced with social media data such as group affiliations (National Rifle Association; Planned Parenthood), and political activities such as volunteering and donating. In California, Republicans do not have the financial resources and volunteer base to make significant use of these tools. Democrats do.

        -- The California Republican Party has not conducted an organized voter registration drive since 2013, largely for financial reasons.  Democrats have made minority and young voter registration a priority. State-wide voter registration is now about 44% Democratic, 24% Republican, and 28% "Decline to State".

        -- Voter turnout was over 64% statewide as compared to an average of 52% in the last three non-presidential elections; Orange County was 70%. For all 2018 California elections (state offices; initiatives; Congress; local) spending exceeded $1 billion  with over two-thirds of the outside spending going to support Democrats and "outside" dollars tracked in targeted Congressional races favoring Democrats by five to one. Much went to negative ads, but much also went to the GOTV effort which is estimated to have cost some $125,000 per day in Orange County districts.   

        -- During the 2018 election the Democrats had over 1000 people on the ground in Orange County, and turned in over 250,000 vote-by-mail ballotss on election day. Voting rallies were held at college campuses and in union halls. Using the PDI data they were able to visit homes of Democratic and Decline to State voters for the three weeks after the ballots were mailed out and help them with their complicated ballots. Baskets of ballots were delivered late on election day, and  took weeks to count. One apparent Republican victor after another fell as the counting stretched on.  

      In what should be taken as a confession, National Committeeman Shawn Steele has reflected on the surprising scope of the Democratic operation, which Republicans neither expected nor made any effort to match.  The lessons for national Republicans are two: continue to pay close attention to election laws, and devote significant resources to data-enabled Get Out The Vote efforts. While imitation is the greatest form of flattery, it is sometimes appropriate. 

                                                                                                        -----  

    This week's bonus video is an interview with former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, explaining  the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Chinese telecommunications infrastructure company Huawei,  as part of the Trump administration's broad confrontation of China. Combined with the assignment of hardline Trade Negotiator Robert Lighthizer to lead the current three month round of negotiations, Wall Street is nervous. Here's one vote for the administration's approach. 

bill bowen - 12/7/18  

    


Thanksgiving: A Reprise

    Well, that was hard. Like most sentient beings, this student of life knew enough to avoid political discussions at a relative's Thanksgiving weekend get together. No upside - no minds to change; no interested people who hadn't thought about the big issues; little understanding of relatives and guests leanings and hot buttons. As long as everybody understood the groundrules there were enough ballgames to carry the day.

    But there is always one, fortunately not a relative, and fortunately a short conversation with a limited audience. California Democrats approach political discussions knowing that they are right and assuming that everyone that they would be associating with agrees with them. We San Francisco Republicans are inured against the misplaced confidence, and recognize the futility of real engagement. Trump makes any potential discussion even more fraught - support his policies, and you share his real and imagined personality defects.  Thus, the battle was not joined. 

    Question 1: Were you disappointed with the election? 

        - The polite response: Yes. 

        - The real answer: In San Francisco, where compassion always trumps prudent management, the Board of Supervisors moved to a progressive majority and we voted to double the $300 million budget for homeless services. California was a disaster, well beyond expectations. The moderating hopes for the "top two" primary system - quality women Republican candidates; qualified "decline to state" candidates like Steve Poizner for Insurance Commissioner; and qualified non-machine Democrats like Marshall Tuck for the Department of Education - all lost to the Democratic machine. Nationally it was a somewhat negative mixed bag, given the norms for the mid-term elections after a president's first election. Progressive members of the House will try to create all nature of problems for the President; likely speaker Pelosi might try to legislate by finding common ground on a few items like prison reform and infrastructure spending, but mostly it will be a tune up of people and themes for the 2020 presidential election. The expanded Senate majority will facilitate judicial appointments and block any real stupid stuff coming from the House. 

    Question/Assertion 2: How could anyone support Trump, given that he is morally reprehensible, devoid of empathy, and mentally ill? 

        - The polite response: I supported Romney, Rubio, and Kasich, and did not like Trump.  But I have grown in my understanding that the political establishment of both parties has not governed in the interests of the working class. (Pause for the interruption that it is "the white working class", as if that makes Hillary's "deplorables" morally inferior or politically irrevelant.) 

        - The real answer: This is like the school playground where the "cool" kids have been bullying the kids from the other side of the tracks forever. Suddenly a bigger, tougher kid takes the side of those who have been the victim of the bullying - by the media, by Hollywood, by the universities, by the Democratic party. The "flyover states" realize that they should have more Senators than the cool coastal states. Norman Rockwell and the Boy Scout Oath are OK again. We have a president who unapologetically puts the interests of American citizens above the globalists who have governed for decades while the American manufacturing base has eroded, our borders have been badly compromised, our trade policies have helped China and others at our expense, and we have been engaged in foreign wars without end or strategic purpose. Trump's attraction really isn't about any specific policy; the globalist direction has gone too far and the pendulum has swung back. As for analyzing Trump - mammoth books will be written about Trump Derangement Syndrome and the total inability of his enemies to understand or accept what has happened. 

    Question/Assertion 3: You have to agree that Barack Obama was a great president.  

    - The polite response: He was a gentleman and a great orator. He represented American progress, being the first African-American president.  

    - The real answer:

        - From a partisan Republican perspective he was great. During his time in office the Republicans captured two-thirds of the state legislatures, three quarters of the governorships, a majority in the House, a majority in the Senate, and ultimately the presidency and a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Seeing Obama's vision and ineffective leadership, the country turned to the right. 

        - There are two policy perspectives:

            -- He was a globalist, noting that American exceptionalism was no different than the perspectives of other countries. The son of a Kenyan father, an Indonesian stepfather, an expatriate mother, and a communist tutor in Hawaii, he grew up with little understanding of or appreciation for Americana.  To understand who he is, one need only read his autobiography, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." 

           -- With the skills and experience of a community organizer, he was unprepared for the role of president. Domestically, he inherited a financial mess, threw $1 trillion "Stimulus Plan" at it, continued President Bush's budget deficits, oversaw an unusually slow recovery, and allowed the FBI to get involved in the politics of the 2016 presidential election. His healthcare reform - for better or worse - actually belongs to Nancy Pelosi.  Internationally, he was a pushover, empowering ISIS, allowing Putin to seize the Crimean peninsula, dithering over Syria while a humanitarian crisis unfolded, and doing nothing about North Korea or the global trade deficit. 

    Silence is golden. The healing process has begun. The easy answers were provided.  It is unlikely that the longer answers would change any California Democratic minds,  but they encapsulate a lot of thought for a centrist Republican.   

                                                                                                    -----   

    This week's bonus is the real highlight of the Thanksgiving weekend - highlights of #3 Gonzaga's victory over #1 Duke. 

bill bowen - 11/30/18 

      


Contemplating the California Republican Party

    The thousands of Republican Party activists in California have a dilemna. When the party convenes in February, the delegates will replace Chairman Jim Brulte who has long planned to retire. After years of declining fortunes and last week's blowout all manner of opinions are being bandied about, but there are no good answers. (See national committeeman Shawn Steel's assessment if you need to be depressed by the results.)  Let's take a look at the key questions.

    1. Should there be a new party to get away from the problematic brand? 

    Prominent moderates who have largely left the party - former Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger; former Congressman Tom Campbell; former Assembly leader Kristin Olsen - favor a fresh start, perhaps focusing at first on a Congressional district or two where they could advance in a primary election under California's unique "Top Two" system. The premise is that there are now more registered "Decline to State" voters than registered Republicans, and they will ultimately be repelled by a Democratic Party which promises to lurch further to the left with presidential aspirant Gavin Newsom and supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly. 

    The problems are obvious: much money is needed from a state and national fundraising network; the party provides a stucture for mobilizing activists as volunteers; election laws favor the established parties; it would be confusing to individuals to be part of one party nationally and another locally. Besides, the party does help to elect about half of the local candidates in the state running in nominally nonpartisan elections. 

    The problem is partly the weakness of the Republican party as demographics have changed, business interests have shifted to supporting the dominant party in power, and hundreds of thousands of Republican-leaning voters have left the state.  But the bigger problem is the overwhelming strength of the Democratic Party which enjoys a tailwind from demographics, finances fueled by Hollywood and tech industry billionaires, and public employee unions (teachers; nurses; the SEIU). Process factors are equally troubling - California has the the nation's most relaxed voting standards - no voter ID; same day registration; heavy vote by mail; automatic DMV voter registration - all of which contributed to the tsunami of late Democratic votes. It is hard to see how a nascent new party could compete at all. 

    2. Should the party leadership concentrate on mechanics or ideology? 

    Brulte has taken the "safe" position that it is the job of the party to manage the mechanics - fundraising; recruiting candidates; training; supporting the county comittees; ensuring proper treatment by state and local agencies - and the role of the candidates themselves to to stake out policy positions. This has avoided major confrontations between the (largely Bay area) liberals, and the conservatives, but it has prevented a consistent strong statement about what the party does stand for. In that absence, and without strong charismatic state-wide candidates, the Democrats have been able to paint all Republicans as being out of step with the central beliefs of Californians. By default, the party leader must provide that bullhorn. 

    3. What policy positions should a Republican leader support or oppose? 

    Some are easy and appeal to all shades of Republicans as well as a majority of Californians: fiscal constraint as Governor Newsom and the state legislature spend billions on new initiatives; a focus on common sense policies for water, housing, and roads. Some policy positions appeal to strong Republican groups, but alienate a majority of voters if allowed dominate the conversation: gun control; right to life. Some require the development of a strong, but nuanced position: immigration; healthcare; the environment. 

    The elephant in the room is President Trump whose 39% approval rating in California doesn't adequately capture the energy behind the disapproval number, and who inspired national Democrats like Michael Bloomberg to spend millions against Republican congressional candidates. The trick for a California Republican leader is to establish an independent identity without offending the base, focusing on state issues and occasionally highlighting the benefit of having a president in your party.   

    4. Who should the Chairman be? 

    Above all, the California Republican Party cannot succeed if seen as the party of the "Rich Old White Guys". In a way that should be easy - the rich white guys are mostly Democrats in 2018 California. But in politics perception is reality, and the selection of the new party leader should take this existing perception into account - along with the role of the party chair as a visable spokesperson. That said, support by a billionaire or two willing to fund party operations would be a game changer. This delegate will favor youth, gender, and ethnicity. 

    At least three credible candidates have stepped forward to date: David Hadley, a "NeverTrumper" who was anointed in July by the CRP board as the heir apparent; Travis Allen, the youngish, conservative, energetic former Orange County assembly member who failed in his bid for the party's governor endorsement and lost in the primary; Steve Frank, who writes for the California Political Review and advocates for a "back to basics" approach with a focus on the County organizations. Others will surface in the next month or two - perhaps a displaced Congressperson. (At this point there is at lst one vote for Allen.)  

    From the perspective of the California party activists, the challenge is to retain the "political ebb and flow" mantra rather than accepting the "long arc of history" claim. If the latter prevails, one can leave the field, find a specific person or cause to champion, or join the exodus from the tarnished Golden State. 

                                                                                                        -----

   This week's video is President Trump's pardon of two Thanksgiving turkeys, containing only a few political shots and somehow accomplished without the help of CNN's Jim Acosta. 

bill bowen - 11/22/2018

    


Republican Bomb Damage Assessment

    Let's be honest, the mid-term elections were worse than expected - perhaps a "pink wave" as women activists and voters came out in force in response to President Trump.  Prospects zigged and zagged in the last month: general revulsion of the Democrats for their treatment of Brett Kavanaugh; general revulsion about the pipe bomber who targeted Democratic leaders; concern about the caravans of illegal immigrants making their way through Mexico; targeted enthusiasm from Trump's mass rallies; perhaps just too much Trump fatigue; and a drip-drip counting process that results in another Republican loss or two each day a week after the election. How to think about this as a Republican who was not a Trump supporter three years ago? 

    Reince Priebus was a little acknowledged, and subsequently mistreated, hero of the Republican renaissance in Wisconsin a decade ago, and in the fortification of the national Republican Party following the defeat of Mitt Romney in 2012. He understood that electoral success is a result of a complicated set of factors. He was able to lead a successful autopsy in 2013 to identify strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats and devise an action plan which included candidate recruitment, establishment of a database (later used by the Trump campaign) to rival that previously assembled by the Obama campaign, and coordination of major donors. It is probably not possible to do that now, with Donald Trump in charge of the party, Rona Romney McDaniel as the party chair, and the political landscape so dramatically changed from 2016. But it should be done. 

    Did the Democrats win on the merits of policy? Republicans had a robust economy which positively impacted any number of political polling indicators. The Democrats had health care - and particularly "preexisting conditions" - for which the Republicans inexplicably had no coherent message. Credit to Nancy Pelosi and shame on the Republican party leadership. While there was a move to the left, the public was not rallying around Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  

    Did the Democrats win on the merits of better candidates? They did a good job of matching candidates to their districts - Ocasio-Cortez in New York; Connor Lamb in suburban Pittsburg; no requirement to pledge fealty to Nancy Pelosi - in fact dozens pledged not to.  But the Republicans had qualified incumbents who fit their districts and had the advantage of years of familiarity with their issues and influence leaders. Somehow a Krysten Sinema could beat a female fighter pilot in Arizona, and an unabashed Irish liberal could give Ted Cruz a race in Texas. The Democrats did recruit a slew of women in a year of #MeToo, bringing the total number of women in Congress to over 100, predominantly Democrats. This message that gender matters is obvious, even once the #MeToo furor recedes. 

    Did the Democrats win on the basis of fundraising? According to Open Secrets, 89% of the House elections and 84% of the Senate elections were won by the larger spender, and overall, and total Democrat spending by candidates, political parties, Political Action Committees, and outside groups was about $2.5 billion to Republican $2.2 billion. This is some 20% over prior records, and the first time in a decade that Democrats outspent Republicans in total. The success of Trump's relatively cheap campaign in 2016 may have obscured the fact that coastal elites and energized suburbanites can outraise a working class Republican base. 

    Did the Democrats win on the basis of better campaign mechanics?  First, they got more money to the individual campaigns - where it can be spent on professional managers, training of volunteers, phone banks, precinct walkers, media, and literature - through Act Blue, a web site which enabled small contributors nationally to direct contributions to where they would do the most good.  Technology was equally available to both parties to support precinct walkers with phone apps which identify key factors (party registration; voting propensity; interests) for each address; remote phone banks were available to allow Democrats in San Francisco to make calls for Beto O'Rourke in Texas, or for Republicans in Ohio to make calls on behalf of Scott Walker in Wisconsin.  What was needed was the enthusiasm of volunteers and the money for training. In many cases the Democrats had more of both. 

    Specific to California, Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steele lays out a clear case that the wipeout (including at least six of the 14 Republican House seats and all state-wide offices) had little to do with ideology or candidates, but rather was the result of over $1 billion in campaign spending, supporting youth voter registration, voter analytics, social media, and opposition research as well as traditional media. While Trump didn't help, the outmigration of over 1,000,000 citizens since 2007 was a larger factor. The next few months will witness a battle to replace retiring California GOP Chair Jim Brulte with the typical moderate / conservative division, and an effort to establish a third party to compete without the taint of the Republican brand. The fact that the highly qualified independent Democrat Marshall Tuck (with the endorsement of President Obama's Secretary of Education) lost the Superintendent of Education race to political hack Tony Thurmond suggests that the problem lies not in the candidates, the ideology, the money, or even the Republican brand, but in the overwhelming strength of the Democratic machine.  

    In the age of Trump it is unlikely that the Republican Party will engage in a meaningful autopsy like that in 2013, but if it does not, the last decade's gains in the the states and in the Congress will quickly erode. Trump can bring focused enthusiasm, but much more is needed. 

                                                                                                        -----

   This week's bonus is an early report on Palm Beach's voting problems. The report that they found an extra 5,000 Al Gore votes is apparently false. 

bill bowen - 11/16/18 


The Election: Turning the Page

       In this year of the angry woman - Elizabeth Warren; Maxine Waters; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Stacey Abrams; suburban housewives - one has to be impressed with the strength and breadth of American democracy. The macro election result has been "about normal" for the first midterms with a new president, with the Democrats picking up some 35 seats in the House, and recovering a bit from the wipe out that they suffered at the state level during the Obama years. Nancy Pelosi is about right in noting the energy of women beginning with the Women's March in Washington after the 2016 election, the recruitment and election of 30 new Congresswomen, and the resonance of healthcare as a successful issue. But the sun came up on Wednesday, college basketball has begun, Veterans Day is Sunday, and the mailman can switch from political flyers to Christmas catalogues. 

     The Bad:

        - The Democrats will have a narrow majority of 30 or so seats in the House. The Republicans had largely exhausted their agenda; the Freedom Caucus had thwarted efforts to replace Obamacare or fix immigration. Former Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan oversaw the institutionalization of trillon dollar deficits, even in the best of times. Maybe (see below) this doesn't belong in the Bad category. 

        - Scott Walker lost in Wisconsin. A decade ago Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan built the Republican Party in Wisconsin, taking the state Assembly and Senate; electing Senator Ron Johnson to replace Russ Feingold; gaining a majority of the state's Congressional delegaton; and winning three gubanatorial elections. Republican victories followed in Iowa, Illinois and Michigan. One hopes that the wave hasn't crested. 

        - Gavin Newsom was elected governor of California. Much will be written about his ambitions and anti-Trump agenda; of major importance is the fact that the Democrats won over two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly and Senate, allowing tax increases and state constitutional amendments without going to referenda. With the state's environmental agenda already in place, some form of Newsom's promised state-run universal healthcare is the major threat.  

        - San Francisco lurched further to the left. The voters agreed to tax large companies domiciled in the City to double the $300 million budget of the homeless-industrial complex, without a plan or any necessary policy changes. The Board of Supervisors moved from a balance between liberal Democrats and crazy left Democrats to a 7-4 or 8-3 crazy left dominance. (Eight could override any veto by the liberal Democratic mayor.)  

        -  The process contained several non-Trump embarassments. When Fox's Sean Hannity and Judge Jeanine Pirro got on the stage with Donald Trump in Cape Girardeau, they totally obliterated the line between reporting, entertainment, and political advocacy. When Georgia's Brian Kemp refused to recuse himself as Secretary of State during his contentious run for governor against Stacy Abrams, he provided a bullhorn for the Democrats to complain about voter fraud and suppression. 

       - The Democrats enjoyed a massive fundrasing advantage - twice the Republicans in the third quarter - with the Act Blue website which facilitates national small donations, billionaire Tom Steyer's $10 million effort to register young liberal voters, and Nancy Pelosi's usual prodigious impact with the Democratic House Campaign Committee. The better funded House candidate won 91% of the time. With 40 Republican House retirements clearing the field, incumbents in either party won 93% of their races. Some of this is one time, but Republican reliance on poorer voters in poorer states does not bode well. (Wonks or masochists can visit OpenSecrets.org.)  

    The Good:

        - With 53 or 54 Republican senators - several of whom owe their election to Donald Trump - Mitch McConnell doesn't need to worry about a Rand Paul, Barbara Murkowski, or Susan Collins defection as he proceeds to approve the replacement for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the 70 pending federal judge appointments, and another anticipated 50.  (He has already appointed 84 of the 870 total federal judges.) With most of the 22 Republican senators up for election in 2020 coming from safe states, the likelihood of enjoying a majority until at least 2022 is good. 

        - Assuming that obligatory recounts stand up, the governorship of the perennial critical swing state of Florida stays in Republican hands, and the Senate seat moves to the Republicans despite the infusion of 150,000 Puerto Ricans following Hurricane Maria in September 2017. For many, a loss by Governor Rick Scott in his Senate campaign would have been demoralizing after he gained 2 million jobs in his eight years, handled several hurricanes masterfully, and reached out to support the incoming Puerto Ricans.  

        - In the half full/half empty world of politics, there were plenty of other feel goods - Mimi Walters, David Valadeo, Young Kim, Devin Nunes and Jeff Denham holding contested seats in California; Charlie Baker winning reelection as governor in Massachusetts with 67% of the vote; Beto O'Rourke losing in Texas despite spending $70,000,000.   

      The Future:

        - The ball is in the Democrats' court. Trump is willing to deal with Kim Jong Un or Xi Jinping; Nancy Pelosi is no worse. (There will be a little huffing and puffing by Red State Democrats who promised not to vote for her, but there is no alternative, and that was then.) There are subjects where the changed dynamic in the House could lead to compromise - Pelosi will want healthcare; Trump will want immigration; both will want a large infrastructure bill; neither will want significant fiscal constraint. 

        - Plan B is equally likely. Jeff Sessions was not fired because of the Mueller probe. Trump does not play defense. The White House counsel is defense; the Department of Justice and the FBI can be offense with the right leader. Pelosi and her committee chairs can investigate Trump's taxes and business dealings, but if they do, they can expect investigations of Hillary's e-mails and Uranium One, the illegal involvement of Comey's FBI surrounding the 2016 election, and the circumstances by which politicians such as Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, and Maxine Waters have amassed personal wealth while in public office.

        - As to the Democrats in the Senate - it's all preening for 2020 presidential runs.    

                                                                                                         -----

    This week's video is a Veterans Day testiment by President Reagan - appropriate as this Sunday is the 100th anniversary of the holiday. 

bill bowen - 10/9/18


The Nationalist President - Season Two

    Season One of The Nationalist President is about to end. The allusion is less to Trump's Apprentice than to dramas such as House of Cards, The Goodwife, or Game of Thrones where the central characters grow more powerful from season to season amidst an evolving cast of supporting characters and crises. The degree of cynicism can be left to the reader, but the merger of politics and entertainment is clear, as is Trump's desire to shape his supporting cast. 

    Season One was electifying, playing to exceptional ratings if not universal acclaim. The protagonist burst on the stage defying all odds. The Mueller investigation has served as a backstory, itself having innumerable twists and turns - including the irony that the only proven collaboration with the Russians was in the form of the Clinton campaign's financing of the Steele dossier. Trump quickly dispatched his predecesor's Junior Varsity ISIS opposition which had terrorized the Middle East and flooded Europe with refugees. He confronted friend and foe alike in an effort to rebalance the kingdom's financial in's and out's, finding common ground with our closest partners in the USMCA (nee NAFTA), leaving others to Season Two.  He inflicted a severe wound on the fearful dragon of Obamacare, removing the individual mandate and making cheaper, less extensive plans available. He slew regulations left and right - environmental, financial, and labor. He turned the federal courts away from acting like a legislative body. And despite prosperity returning to the fair chosen land, his enemies remained steadfast. 

    Several sub-plots carry over to Season Two. Chief Investigator Mueller promises to continue his work, extending in whatever direction suggests an opportunity to damage the protagonist. We will see whether the cunning North Korean dictator has changed his ways, and chooses peace and prosperity over isolation and military confrontation. Early in the season we will find whether the evil Saudi prince survives, and whether he is forced to end the humanitarian disaster in Yemen and the isolation of Qatar. Latino caravans will dissipate shortly after the beginning of Season Two, but supporters of our hero and his antagonists will find ways to keep the broader sub-plot alive. Several episodes will relate to wrangling with China which, it becomes clear, is the major threat to Trump's nation; expect more on trade, intellectual property, territorial claims, and growing awareness that one million Muslims in western China are being held in forced indoctrination camps. 

    No good series is sustainable if there is not something new in each season, and The Nationalist President has experienced, creative writers. We are nine years into economic expansion, and a recession is likely before the end of Season Two; that will bring a whole new line of discussion as the auditions begin for Season Three. After a decade of worrying about the Middle East, China, and Central America, Europe will emerge with episodes featuring Brexit and political instability in Germany as Chancellor Merkel leaves the stage, built around the general theme of the shape of the continent and what it means for us. There will be an episode or two on privacy in the age of the Internet, optical surveillance, artificial intelligence, and big data - perhaps with a libertarian hero. 

    Keeping the series fresh also requires some drama around the supporting cast. Mainstays will remain - Mueller; Sean Hannity and CNN; Mitch McConnell; the protagonist's family. Some close supporters will be replaced - Nikki Haley at the United Nations; perhaps Jeff Sessions at Justice; undoubtedly a few unexpected surprises. While there are many domestic sycophants, our protagonist is still looking for a personal foreign ally. 

    The big surprise at the beginning of Season Two will be whether Nancy Pelosi or Kevin McCarthy replaces Paul Ryan. On the one hand Ryan hasn't been able to do much - constrained by the Freedom Caucus, he has not been able to advance legislation on healthcare or immigration, and he is leaving a legacy of trillion dollar budget deficits. With an enlarged Freedom Caucus, it looks as if McCarthy would do no better. On the other hand, Pelosi promises a season of investigations, obstruction, and socialist legislation which will go nowhere. But maybe, just maybe, the Nationalist President writers would be able to provide a plot twist with some common ground on immigration. The next few episodes will tell. 

    In this great drama the audience has an opportunity to participate. Vote. 

                                                                                                        ----- 

    This week's video with Andrew Klavan provides a much-needed moment of levity in the waning moments of Season One. 

bill bowen - 11/2/18

     


Of Congress and Inside Straights

    Ages ago my sainted mother taught me to never draw to an inside straight. Since the odds of success in a game of five card draw poker are 8.5% (4/47), I've long used that as the dividing line beyond which I dare not hope.  Based on that criteria, the Senate is secure, and there is a very real chance that the Republicans can hold the House.  

    The Senate is easy: Democrats are defending 26 of the 35 seats up for election; 10 incumbent Democrats are in states carried by Trump in 2016; Trump is campaigning non-stop in places where he is popular. (This is the polar opposite of President Obama who did nothing to build his party or gain favor with Congressional Democrats.)  The strong likelihood is that Republicans will increase their 51-49 lead by two or three seats.  Beyond being able to approve federal judges, the majority will provide a bulwark against any silliness coming from a potential Democratic House. And, it will set up a 2020 election where Republicans must defend 22 largely-safe seats to 12 for the Democrats, making a Republican senate likely through at least 2022.  

    The discussion is about the House where the Democrats need to gain 23 seats to take control. While there may be last-minute disruptions - pipe bombs; Honduran caravans; stock market volatility - there are a few key items driving momentum away from the purported "blue wave": 

        - Democrats had a strong run-up to the election season, with some 40 Republican members retiring, success in recruiting good candidates, and record-setting fundraising with the majority of small donor contributions coming through Act Blue, a web site designed to facilitate giving to competitive campaigns outside of the donor's district.  Hundreds of millions have come into the field on both sides in the past month, ensuring that every voter will know that every candidate is a scoundrel. 

        - The Kavanaugh hearings on September 26, are generally regarded as a turning point, with their presumption of guilt with no corroboration, abuse of the nominee's character, and Democratic-encouraged mob action in the Senate chamber and at the Supreme Court; 

        -  Both parties have predictable agendas: Nancy Pelosi with expanded health care, legal status for Dreamers, infrastructure spending, and gun control; Republicans with more tax cuts and support for the Trump agenda. Those liberal Democrats who cannot be muzzled promise open borders, investigations, and impeachment. Nobody promises fiscal integrity. 

        - The president's popularity is on the rise - to 44% in the latest Gallup polling, about equal to Barack Obama and Bill Clinton at this point in their presidencies, and above Ronald Reagan. Pessimists should note that Obama's Democrats lost 63 House seats in the 2010 election. 

        - Much as the media would like attention directed elsewhere, the economy is booming with clear credit belonging to deregulation and tax cuts.  Tariffs get the most discussion, but there are a thousand small victories - like this week's successful confrontation with the International Postal Union which sanctions concessionary "developing country" rates for shipment of small packages from China.  

    Data can be overwhelming - particularly polling which is of varying accuracy and is useless in the aggregate where huge Democratic majorities in coastal Democratic enclaves distort the political reality. A better source of insight is the digested district-by-district predictions of "experts".  The following are offered in approximate descending order of objectivity. 

        - Based on the polls which they view as credible, Real Clear Politics has 205 seats "likely or lean" Democratic, 199 "likely or lean" Republican, and 31 "tossups". Of the tossups, 29 are currently Republican. Essentially, Republicans have to take 19 of these 31 seats to get to 218. 

        - The Cook Political Report  has 192 Solid, Likely, or Lean Democrat, 194 Solid, Likely, or Lean Republican, and 49 "Tossup or Worse". They project a majority of the leaners and tossups as going Democratic, with an overall result that they project the Democrats gaining 25 to 35 seats (with 23 needed.) That is down about 10 from the "most likely" scenario of two weeks ago. 

        - The University of Virginia's Sabado's Chrystal Ball has 213 Safe, Likely, or Lean Democrat, 201 Safe, Likely, or Lean Republican and 21 Tossups with many paths for the Democrats to get the five needed. 

        - Rasmussen Reports' polling indicates that American "likely voters" expect by a 56 to 37 percent majority that the Democrats will win the House, and that on a generic ballot 47% prefer a Democratic House to 44% who prefer Republican control. Both are national numbers, and do not reflect the 30 or so districts which will determine he outcome. 

        - Nate Silver, whose Democratic- leaning  538 web site gained prominence for correctly predicting the first Obama election but has been mediocre since, has 215 Democrats, 199 Republicans, and 21 tossups with an 84% chance of getting the three extra seats that they need. 

    Some personal leavening can be added. For example, these national experts predict that the Democrats will gain three to five of their target seats in California where Republicans face a wipe out on state-wide races. Nevertheless,the Public Policy Institute of California, the premier California pollster, gives Republicans a 49 to 44 percent lead in 11 competitive districts, including those which the experts call toss-up or leans Democratic. Trump doesn't campaign out west, but last week he did order the Department of the Interior to adopt policies which would reallocate water from fish to farmers who make up the backbone of Republican strength in the Central Valley. As the Democratic path to 218 narrows nationally, a Califrornia surprise is likely. 

    My mother wouldn't object to me calling a Republican threading of the needle. . 

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   This week's bonus video is an update on the anonymous $1.6 billion lottery winner in South Carolina. Since there is a cluster of RightinSanFrancisco.com readers in South Carolina, I would like to announce that we can keep any contribution to RISF quiet, and apply it to a lifetime subscription. 

bill bowen - 10/26/18

    


Democratic Incivility

    A friend from Florida recently asked for an explanation as to why California politicians (Diane Feinstein; Nancy Pelosi; Kamala Harris; Gavin Newsom; Maxine Waters; Attorney General Xavier Becerra; and a hundred lesser lights) do not feel an obligation to follow the direction of the federal government. The same answer extends to the rash of offensive behavior by Leftist agitators over the past few months. 

    The rationale for Resist.

        - The American democratic system does not work. The president should be elected by national popular vote - unlike the electoral college victories of George W Bush over Al Gore in 2000 and Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016. It is unfair for each state to have two Senators when California has 39 million people, and Wyoming has 600,000. House district boundaries should be redrawn to compensate for the fact that inner cities are overwhelmingly Democratic while suburban and rural districts tend to be more evenly balanced. The compromises of 1789 should be revisited.

        - A "just" society requires that the benefits of our prosperity be more equally distributed - including to immigrants. That requires satisfying the grievances of women, African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, the LGBTQ community, Palestinians, victims of gun violence, the homeless - all of whom suffer from wrong-headed Republican policies.  

        - Donald Trump is a schmuck. And everybody who supports his government is complicit in his boorish behavior and misguided policies. 

        - It is fun to rail against the establishment, particularly when it can be done without penalty, and with the encouragement of academia, the media, and the liberal political establishment.    

    The call to incivility. 

        - Maxine Waters, dubbed one of the most corrupt people in Washington a few years ago for banking and campaign finance misdeeds, has become a champion of the Left, calling for liberals to confront Trump administration officials wherever they are found, and vowing impeachment if the Democrats win the House.  

        - Hillary Clinton , reprising her "irredeemable deplorables" comments, declares “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.” She added that if Democrats retake a house of Congress, well, then, “that’s when civility can start again.”

        - Eric Holder claims that "When they go low we kick them. That is what this new Democratic Party is about.

        - Corey Booker seeks favor on the Left by willfully disclosing confidential Senate documents - which had, perchance, been declassified the day before.  

    The Academy Awards of the Democratic Leadership-encouraged Mob Acting Out. 

        - The most serious: Much of this is childish; the 2017 shooting of Republican House Whip Steve Scalise and four others by a left-wing activist provides a warning of what lurks in the shadows.  

        - The most concerning: The left-leaning semi-organized thugs of Antifa, who make it their mission to suppress conservative speakers and demonstrators in the name of battling authoritarianism. 

        - The most gouche: Michelle Wolf's attack on Sarah Huckaby's appearance and integrity at the Washington correspondents dinner. 

        - Runners up
            -- The physical attack by a staffer for the Soros-funded American Bridge 21st Century on the female campaign manager for Nevada GOP gubernatiorial candidate Adam Laxalt. 

            -- The mobs that have chased Ted Cruz, Sarah Huckabee, Florida Governor Rick Scott, and Kellyanne Conway out of restaurants. 

            -- Liberals who physically attacked two candidate for the Minnesota state legislature. 

            -- The seven Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee who insist that they will further investigage Justice Kavanaugh if they take control. 

            -- The chorus to impeach Trump. 

    National polling has been trending Republican since the Kavanaugh hearings to the point that Republican retention of the Senate is highly likely, and the likelihood of the Democrats capturing the House is narrowing as Republican enthusiasm catches up to Democratic enthusiasm. Leaders like Pelosi understand that swing voters don't like open borders, impeachment, and violence against political opponents, but they are having a hard time keeping the lesser lights under control. In 2016, establishment prognosticators did not understand the extent to which average voters were tired of being bullied by political correctness advocates; in 2018 they may be surprised by the extent to which those voters are put off by the incivility of the Resistance. 

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    This week's bonus video is the Secretary of State of the Cherokee Nation's criticism of Elizabeth Warren's claim to Indian heritage based on a 1/1024  DNA test.  By re-raising the "Pocahontas" subject in a slick video, she showed that she has not learned the lesson so painfully demonstrated in the 2016 Republican primaries - and provided a humorous diversion from the grind of the mid-term elections.  

bill bowen - 10/19/18

    

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    One would think that recent highly visible government failures in San Francisco would lead to a period of self-reflection and a political opening for Republicans. Let's recap the sad truth. 

    During the past decade no city in North America has presented such stark failures of basic government functions as has San Francisco. 

        - The Bay bridge.

        - The millenium tower.

        - The Transbay terminal. 

        - Homelessness. 

        - Property crime. 

         - Roads. 

        - Hunters Point. 

      And there may be more to come:

         - Water supply. 

        - Lowell

    What are the common threads? It's all about politics, and San Francisco politicians play it very well. In a state of 38 million, the San Francisco political machine dominates. Pelosi; Feinstein; Harris; Newsom. Chronicle. Burtons; Willie Brown. 

    Wealth - $11 billion; free healthcare; free city college. 

    Transient working population without ties to the community. 

    So, what is on the ballot in the November election?

        - Board of Supervisors - one Republican; acknowledge well qualified, but dismissed for his party. 

        - Prop C

        - Pushing for state initiative on rent control

 


Nikki Haley: A Warm Good-bye

     Good-bye Nikki, we hardly had time to know ye. Truth be told, I first met Governor Haley at a Red State Gathering in Austin in 2011, and she spoke at a couple of Bay Area Republican events as a guest of now Republican National Committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon a year or two later. She was smart, soft-spoken, full of accomplishments, and politely ambitious. That was before she burnished her national reputation by taking down the Confederate flag at the capital in Columbia, and by appointing Congressman Tim Scott to replace Jim Demint in the US Senate. And long before she joined the tumultous Trump administration as Ambassador to the United Nations. 

    Haley had a very difficult job at the UN, representing a president who is highly unpopular with the domestic and international foreign policy establishment. She worked with a Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who had no government experience and who had a mission of dismantling the State Department. She worked with a difficult series of National Security Advisors - Lt General Michael Flynn; Lt General HR McMaster; John Bolton. She was required to defend policies which were internationally unpopular - withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords; scrapping of the Iranian nuclear agreement;  withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership. International trade policy is largely managed elsewhere, but the background of conflict with friends and foes alike has made the United Nations job more difficult.  She had to deal with an antagonistic liberal press eager to criticize her for issues as large as supporting the president, and as small as installing expensive curtains in her office - which were ordered during the Obama administration. 

    Haley elevated the stature of the office. Despite her opposition to Donald Trump during the Republican primaries, she had direct access to the president and helped to formulate as well as to implement foreign policy. She demanded and received a seat in the cabinet - a stature generally granted, but not by either of the Bush presidents, and opposed by John Bolton.  She played a key role in convincing Russia and China to institute sanctions which drove Kim Jong Un to negotiations.  While leading efforts to maintain sanctions on Russia for their behavior in Ukraine, she was a consistant advocate for a Syria policy which would protect anti-Assad elements, and highlight Russian misbehavior. She has calmed the waters following the decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, enhancing a relationship with Jarred Kushner and Ivanka in the bargain. 

    The theatrics of the resignation were well orchestrated - plaudits all around; defusing thoughts of any incident by disclosing that the decision was discussed months ago; disavowing any intention to run for office in 2020; displaying apparent sincerity of a wish to spend more time with her teenage children. With voters approving her job as UN ambassador by 63 to 17 percent (55% among Democrats), her ability to remain in Trump's good graces while occasionally challenging him, and the Republican need for a young, accomplished, conservative woman, she will not be on the bench for long. Governor? - been there; Senate? - two seats filled by capable youngish conservatives; vice president? - now that's something that candidate Trump will need in 2020. (Sorry Mike.)  

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This week's bonus is a compelling advertisement of Fresno California Republican House candidate Elizabeth Heng -  the daughter of Cambodian immigrants - which was originally banned on Facebook. 

bill bowen - 10.12.18


Engaging China

    First, some very macro thoughts:

        - It is a good thing that some 400 million Chinese peasants have risen from poverty in the last couple of decades. There are several reasons for this progress - political stability following centuries of foreign control, civil wars, and Mao's Cultural Revolution; successful centralized planning for infrastructure and industrialization; tight internal by the Communist Party; and an outside world eager to buy cheap Chinese-manufactured goods. 

      - American global hegemony since World War II, and particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union, is a rare phenomenon in modern history. The United States represents some four percent of the world's population and about 20% of the world's economy. Economic ascendency has allowed military, political, and cultural ascendency. China, with 19 % of the world's population, also represents about 20% of the world economy - having grown at about 10% per year for four decades. 

        - The United States' trade deficit with China of some $375 billion annually represents about half our overall trade imbalance. Primary imports from China include consumer electronics, machinery, and clothing. Primary exports include agricultural products, aircraft, and electrical machinery.  America's advantage in intellectual property is being greatly eroded by requirements for American companies doing business in China to share their technology, by the education of some 350,000 Chinese students in American universities and thousands of others employed by American companies, by hacking of American data bases, and by installing spyware in Chinese-manufactured electronics.  Republicans and Democrats have both let the problem grow. 

        - The American and Chinese economies and societies operate under fundamentally different systems.  Many core industries in China are dominated by state-owned companies (often run by the military); the Chinese government is centralized, without our checks and balances; the current president, Xi Jinping, recently had his term limits removed so that he can be "president for life"; China operates on Five Year Plans with strategic allocation of resources; dissenting opinions and minority populations are suppressed. (The desirability and long term viability of decentralized capitalist democracies versus centralized socialist dictatorships is a subject for another day.)  

        While the United States slept, China has openly advanced several initiatives designed to surpass the United States as the world's most powerful country by the middle of the century. While far ranging, the total effort is predicated upon ongoing substantial trade surpluses. 

        - The Belt and Road Initiative. Beginning in 2013, the $4 to 6 trillion dollar program to build roads, railroads, and ports supporting economic, cultural and political  connections between China, Eastern Europe, the Persian Gulf, Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia has been the centerpiece of Chinese foreign policy.  Underpinned by the China Investment Corporation which manages some $5 trillion of foreign exchange reserves, China shares development costs with the 60 participating countries, but is able to play a dominant role - as have the United States and Europe through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund which were established after World War II.   

        - The "Made in China 2025" initiative which was announced in 2015 intends to surpass the United States in the key technical fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, and biotech within a decade. Elements include the education of engineers (some 350,000 studying in the United States), and national R & D spending of 2% of GDP (greater than Europe.)  

        - Traditionally a "continental" country, China has expanded its navy to the point where its ships outnumber the United States Pacific fleet. The current flashpoint is the Chinese-constructed island military base in the South China Sea between the Philippines and Vietnam, designed to extend claims to mineral rights and control of passage. The larger threat is to Japan whose economy is dependent upon an exposed supply of oil via tanker routes around Southeast Asia and up the Chinese coast.  

        - As much as the French would like for the euro to replace the American dollar as the world's reserve currency, the Chinese would like to see the yuan become the global standard. With our federal government debt surpassing $20 trillion, annual budget deficits of some $1 trillion, and trade deficits of $800 billion that is not an unreasonable goal.  

      Enter Donald Trump. Lost in all of the daily crises and breathless reporting is a strategy. First he withdrew from President Obama's Trans Pacific Partnership which would have joined together a dozen countries in a trade agreement which excluded China, believing that the United States can do better with bilateral agreements where our dominant position is maximized. (The others have gone on without the United States.) Then he negotiated a beneficial trade agreement with South Korea - finalized in September. Then he negotiated a revised NAFTA - finalized last week. Then he got President Abe to agree to open trade negotiations which will impact our $69 billion deficit with Japan. In time he will bring in the Southeast Asians who are fearful of Chinese domination and who benefit as increasing Chinese manufacturing costs drive production to lower-cost havens - Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia. 

    In the spirit of Lenin's alleged quote about capitalists selling the rope with which the communists would hang them, many "Free Trader Republicans" see China as a huge potential market rather than a fierce competitor. Trump gets it; Boeing doesn't.  The outward battle is about tariffs and trade deficits, but the implications for the world order in the 21st century are much greater. 

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    This week's bonus is the memo which sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell wrote after cross examining Dr. Blasey Ford. With hindsight, her questioning and this memo were not aimed at the media or the general public; they politely explain to Senators Murkowski, Collins, and Flake why Dr. Ford's allegations are not credible.  

bill bowen - 10/5/18

     

    


Of Democrats and Star Chambers

    Most of the political and legal underpinning of the United States came about as a response by the Founding Fathers to the injustices which they had seen in the British political system. The division of authority between the federal government and the states and between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches was intended to prevent the consolidation of power by which the monarch could oppress the citizens. Abuses by the British Star Chamber - a superior court originally intended to keep the aristocracy in line, but later used to arbitrarily mete out punishments for the king's enemies - led to protections for defendants such as the fifth amendment to the American constitution, guaranteeing protection against self-incrimination. The Founders were also conscious of the risk of mob rule with democracy run amok as in the French Revolution and the Salem witch trials of the 1690's. The presumption of innocense and the rules of evidence evolved as protections for the individual against both the establishment and the mob. They form the cornerstone of our individual liberty, and for centuries have been a key part of our national concept of justice. 

    Fast forward to 2018 with Trump Derangement Syndrome and the Democrats' obsession with preventing the establishment of a conservative Supreme Court. There are many downsides to the circus which Diane Feinstein unleashed by bypassing the Senate Judiciary Committee's process for investigating nominees and withholding sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Kavanaugh - the damaged reputation of an exemplary person; the emotional stress on the judge's wife and daughters; the emotional stress on Dr. Ford and her family; the further cheapening of civil discourse in the country; the heightening of animosity between men and women of good will; and the public's continuing low esteem for politicians and Congress. 

    The reality of the events described by Dr. Ford are unknowable. She says he did it; he says he didn't. The potential corroborating witnesses - including her female friend who was allegedly at the party - have no memory of the event, and she told nobody until decades later. She seems to have come forward in good faith, but fell afoul of the national political system in which the Democrats, particularly Senator Feinstein, held her story for maximum political effect, leaking it without permission at the last minute in an attempt to delay or derail Judge Kavanaugh's appointment. Seeing an opportunity to drive up their standing with women prior to the November elections, they seized it. Driven by political deadlines the Republicans refused to delay to allow further investigation which would have been marginally helpful, but which would have kept the window open for other unsubstantiated claims to come forward. Little in the handling will encourage other victims of sexual abuse to subject themselves to public inquiry.   

    The real damage to the nation is the abandonment of the presumption of innocence in the absence of credible evidence - at least in the case of conservatives. (Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and Keith Ellison are a different story.) Prior to hearing either side of the case, Senator Chris Coons proudly placed the "burden of proof" on Judge Kavanaugh, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared that there was no "presumption of innocense." In the heat of the political moment that may garner support from the women of the #MeToo movement, but it represents a repudiation of the rule of law as it has been practiced in the United States since our inception. Thoughtful Democrats - as well as Republicans and independents - should reflect on whether that is too high a price to pay for the rejection of a superbly qualified Supreme Court justice. 

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  This week's bonuses are Judge Kavanaugh's lengthy opening statement and Lindsey Graham's emotional response to the Democrats' attacks. 

bill bowen - 9/28/18