Philosophy

Chinese Lessons for America

    The recent 100 year anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party gave Chinese President Xi Jinping an opportunity to crow about the truly impressive rise of China in recent decades, and for the rest of us to reflect on lessons for the US of A.  The highlights:

    -  1921 - 1949, chaotic civil war and occupation by Japan;

    - 1958-1962, Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward with some 20 million dying of starvation in effort to transition from agrarian society to industrialized communes;

    - 1966-1976, Mao's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, in which hundreds of thousands were killed in an effort to eliminate traces of bourgoise history and thinking;

    - 1978-1989, return to order under Deng Xiaoping, based on "socialism with Chinese characteristics", and a transformative affirmation that "to get rich is glorious";   

    - 2012-present, paramount leadership of Xi Jinping, in an era of increasing wealth and global status.  

    The violent sociopolitical purge of the Cultural Revolution contains many lessons for observers of societal change.  Launched by Chairman Mao, overseen by a shifting sub-set of the Politburo, and orchestrated by youthful Red Guard chapters throughout China, the intent was to sweep away the "four olds" - ideas, culture, habits, and customs - as anti-proletarian. Targeted were landlords, rich farmers, teachers, educated intellectuals, scientists, and resistant Communist Party officials who had survived the Great Leap Forward, but had lost their revolutionary fervor.  In the process sanctioned massacres occured in Beijing, Guangxi, Guandong, Yunnan, and Hunan. Millions of educated urban youth were sent to the countryside. Many religious and historical sites were destroyed. Following Mao's death in 1976, and a brief power struggle, Deng led a formal program of Boluan Fanzheng (translated "eliminating chaos and returning to normal"), in which millions were rehabilitated, and the primary focus of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government changed from "class struggles" to "economic construction" and "modernization". 

    It has been a turbulent century for the world's most populous nation. A century of colonial humiliation has been emphatically ended. The introduction of capitalism has propelled economic growth and lifted some 850 million people from extreme poverty in the four decades following the Maoist period in which  unfettered communist ideologues caused more death and suffering than did a century of European and Japanese conquerors. There are lessons to be learned. 

    We are different: 

        - Our Revolution and Civil War were fought to further the egalitarian goals of the Enlightenment rather than the class goals of the Chinese Communists. In our traditional ideology, the individual is paramount rather than the collective.  

        - Our system was designed with a skepticism of governmental power, institutionalizing separation between independent legislative, judicial, and executive branches and between local, state, and federal authorities. The Chinese system is centralized with the Chinese Communist Party Politburo, frequently in the hands of one individual, controlling everything. Our individual rights are constitutionally protected; not so in China.  

        - We are a nation of diverse immigrants built around common ideas; China is overwhelmingly a nation of the Han ethnic group dominating the 10% or so minorities. 

    But there are some echoes in China's story, particularly the Cultural Revolution, that should be concerning in the United States of 2021: 

        - The zealous Left sees American society in terms of racial division, and would discard Martin Luther King's admonition to judge people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Individuals are increasingly judged by the racial, gender, or class group to which they belong.  Rewarding and penalizing groups becomes easy when one group (even the majority group) is tainted. 

        - The Left in Mao's China and the Left in America would re-write history to vilify the middle and upper classes as oppressors in a flawed sociopolitical system which needs to be washed away or fundamentally changed.  Religion is to be minimized in a secular society.  Schools are to teach that racial injustice is fundamental to American institutions. 

        - Ideological purity is more important than human interaction and dialogue. People who disagree are to be shunned. Dissenting voices are to be silenced. Consumer product and service companies must conform to the policies of the Left in their marketing, personnel policies, and political contributions.  Colleges abandon merit-based admission. 

        - There is a revolutionary willingness to put society at risk -  in China's case by destroying the agricultural economy in the Great Leap Forward;  in our case by creating unmanageable debt as the role of government is expanded.  

      Despite his positioning during the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden has been unable to resist the advocates for an American Cultural Revolution - Bernie Sanders, AOC, and Nancy Pelosi with their media allies.  But the reality is that America belongs to a middle class which China did not have in 1966. Fortunately we have a Joe Manchin and a likely 2022 Republican House committed to defend a  few simple principles which are ingrained in 250 years of our history:

           1. America is a meritocracy. We all benefit if we get everybody to the same starting point, but we should not do away with differentiated results; 

          2. Each person is responsible for their own behavior, but not that of their ancestors or for others by dint of their race or gender. 
 
          3. The American story should be told (and taught) in the context of unfinished progress toward a set of ideals which elevate humankind. 
 
    The center will hold, and American common sense will prevail. 
 
                                                                                                            -----
bill bowen - 7/15/2021
 
    
 
    
 
     
 
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Reflections on the Fourth of July

    This year, more than most, it is useful to reflect on the meaning of the Fourth of July. 

    First, a brief historical timeline:

            - December 16, 1773. The Boston Tea Party led by Samuel Adams' Sons of Liberty. The first major act of defiance to British rule over the North American colonies. 

            - April 19, 1775. The battles of Lexington and Concord, and Ralph Waldo Emerson's "shot heard around the world". The "official" beginning of the Revolutionary War. 

            - July 4, 1776. Passage of the Declaration of Independence, drafted primarily by Thomas Jefferson, and signed by the 56 members of the Continental Congress representing the 13 original states. 

            - March 1, 1781. Ratification of the Articles of Confederation which left the states largely sovereign and independent. 

            - October 19, 1781. Surrender of troops under British General Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia.  The effective end of the war.  

            - September 17, 1787. Signing of the Constitution, drafted primarily by James Madison at a convention overseen by George Washington. 

    While other dates could have been chosen for the birth of the United States, July 4, 1776 was celebrated by George Washington, officially recognized by Massachusetts in 1781, and by the US Congress in 1870.  July 4 reflected more than a demonstration about taxes or a victory in a battle. The Declaration contained  a rationale for rebellion against the British king, affirmed political unity of the populations of the 13 colonies, and laid out a set of principles which drew on the Enlightenment  to guide the founding of the republic and the writing of specific governing documents. 

    The essence of the Declaration is contained in the second paragraph:

            We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

    The concepts served as an inspiration for the French Revolution, wars of independence in Latin America, and numerous battles for independence and democracy around the world. 

   There was room for improvement:

        - "All men" did not include slaves, and pragmatic compromises were made to allow the necessary unity between northern and southern states in the fight for independence and the subsequent agreement on a unifying constitution. A civil war taking some 750,000 lives out of a population of 31,000,000 was needed to align the constitution with the principle; civil rights acts of 1866, 1875, 1957. 1964, 1965, and 1991 have tried to eliminate legal inequalities with work yet to be done. 

        - "All men" did not include women as full citizens.  The 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920 extended the right to vote to women in all states. 

        - "All men" did not include Native Americans. Acts in 1924, 1934, 1940, and 1975 have attempted to guarantee voting rights while preserving tribal reservations.  

        - In all three cases it has taken succeeding generations to grapple with societal inequality and discrimination, but the "north star" of equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence has remained the American goal as legislation, court cases, and social activism have moved in the direction of the ideal. 

    July 4, 2021 finds us with a competing narrative. 

    - The New York Times would have us believe that our national birthday was in 1619, when the first 20 slaves arrived in Virginia; that the history of early America was not about the Enlightenment and liberty, but rather an effort to protect the institution of slavery; and that everything since has been irredemably corrupted.   In this age of uber-liberalism, this telling of American history was seen as worth of a Pulitzer prize, and has spawned an industry of curricula for public schools, podcasts, and law school courses.

    - The "woke" conversation expands any policy disagreement to be racist - protection of the border; taxes; global warming; the origin of the coronavirus; charter schools; federal budget deficits; election integrity; infrastructure spending - with the Orwellian premise that anyone who does not see everything in terms of racial injustice is, ipso facto, a racist. 

    - Those who resist this alternate narrative risk being cancelled by politicians, the media, and friends. 

    Holidays should not be just a day off from work and an opportunity for corporate America to sell their wares. They should be more than a chance to get together with family and friends. Holidays should engender a moment of reflection: why is this a special day?; who were the people that did something worth being remembered years or centuries later?; should I be thankful for the sacrifice of others and inspired to live a better life?   This Fourth of July we should reflect on the vision, idealism, and courage of the standard version of American history, and reject the political revisionism of the Left's telling.  

    

    

     


Crime: A Populist Perspective

     Narrowly defined, Crime is  behaviour which is against the criminal law; crime is law-breaking behaviour. To the sociologist, a closely related concept to crime is Deviance, which is rule-breaking behaviour which fails to conform to the norms and expectations of a particular society or social group.  Crime is neither upper class nor lower class; it is neither liberal nor conservative; it is neither Republican nor Democrat; it is neither Black nor White.   In a healthy society the citizens create and enforce the norms with a minimum of governmental force.  Unfortunately, at present we are off the rails in several disparate dimensions, each with its own set of political considerations.  

    Lets start with the rich. The Trump-appointed Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service recently told a Senate panel that  tax evasion in the United States could be as much as $1 trillion per year - about one fifth of the federal budget - complicated by cryptocurrencies, off shore accounts, and "pass through" entities such as partnerships and limited liability companies. A parallel study shows that the top 1 % of payers avoid reporting 20% of their income, for a loss of federal revenue of  some $175 billion annually.  The IRS’s $12 billion budget is about what it was in 2010, despite inflation, population growth and increased responsibilities such as sending out stimulus checks. Employees are down 30,000 (27%) and audits are now less than half of what they were in 2010. Downsizing of the tax collection agency has been supported by both parties, but particularly by Republicans. 

    President Biden's $1.8 trillion "American Families Plan" includes an increase of $8 billion per year for the IRS, with a promise that it would recover some $70 billion per year. Although there is much skepticism about the magnitude, the numbers are directionally correct. Not to be outdone, Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed tripling the budget, establishing a long term funding requirement,  and increasing penalties for those with incomes over $2 million.  Within the Republican Party, the populist Trump wing would have less concern about the crack-down than the traditional country club crowd. . 

    A second gross violation of the "norms and expectations" of the American middle class is the Biden administration's  attitude about non-enforcement of immigration laws.  To appreciate the extremity of the abdication, one can look back past the Trump administration to the Obama years  when the White House web site proclaimed that the immigration system was broken and that the administration would crack down on illegal immigration at the border,  focus on the deportation of people who threaten national security and public safety, and hold accountable those undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for more than five years and are parents of U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents.  Today we have 170,000 illegal immigrants per month being intercepted, the administration trying to accelerate the release of children to homes in the interior, and any thought of dealing with "sanctuary cities" far in the rear view mirror. It is small wonder that Vice President Harris has refused to accept the job that Team Biden tried to give her, coordinating an approach to this fundamental lawlessness. 

    The third leg of the lawlessness stool, and the most politically fraught for the Democrats, is the Black Lives Matter, "defund the police" movement. Building on a 33% increase in homicides in major cities in 2020, further double digit increases have occurred in 2021 in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and other hot spots. CNN posits a number of causes:  economic collapse (?), social anxiety because of a pandemic, de-policing in major cities after protests that called for abolition of police departments, shifts in police resources from neighborhoods to downtown areas because of those protests, and the release of criminal defendants pretrial or before sentences were completed to reduce risk of Covid-19 spread in jails. One could add  the successful George Soros initiative to elect uber-liberal district attorneys in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Saint Louis. Also add the logical reaction of police officers in cities such as Portland, Oregon and Minneapolis where city leadership is openly hostile.  

    Recent political history - George HW Bush's 1988 "Willie Horton" ad which tagged Michael Dukakis as soft on crime;  Bill Clinton's mass incarceration  1994 Crime Act, which was drafted by Senator Joe Biden; and Rudy Giuliani's "broken windows" approach in New York - have indicated that the pendulum swings. The fact that the government's approach to maintaining law and order  has swung so far to the left over the past few years bodes poorly for the "defund the police" and the "open borders" Democrats, and perhaps for the "defund the IRS" Republicans. The middle class, average folks, see the first responsibility of government as being to protect the people. The more the Democrats depart from this truism, the more extreme the inevitable reaction is likely to be. 

                                                                                                        -----

bill bowen - 6/17/2021 

    

    


Beyond Racial Angst

     Let's take some risk and discuss race. 

    Fueled by the New York Times 1619 Project and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolies, we have been going through the first portion of a cycle which has repeated itself periodically in American history - notably in the Civil War period and the 1960s.  In this case it has been magnified by the boredom of the Coronavirus shutdown and the strength of opposition to anything to do with Donald Trump. 

   The first portion of the cycle can be characterized as raising awareness. For the younger generation or two there is a discovery that the country has a checkered history on the subject of race: slavery itself and its aftermath; treatment of native tribes; Chinese exclusion laws; internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Inequality of wealth is striking with median household wealth and income of white Americans far outpacing Blacks and Hispanics.  (Infrequently mentioned outlier fact - household wealth and income of Asian families outpaces white families.)

    This awareness-raising part of the cycle has had at least three beneficiaries: 

        - The Democratic party.  A liberal Brookings Institution article of last November, "How Black Americans Saved Biden and American Democracy," provides representative analysis.  While Blacks tend to vote somewhat less than whites, they dominate the Democratic party in many states, and are politically overwhelming in many cities in key swing states - Atlanta, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Detroit, Phoenix. Biden successfully tied his star to James Clyburn.  Angst drives votes. 

        - Donees. Organizations experiencing record fundraising results range from the well known NAACP and Black Lives Matter to niche organizations like the LGBTQ African American Roundtable, museums for African American history, and multiple legal defense groups. It is a large industry. 

        - The media. For a time, events like the George Floyd protests, media-savy politicians like AOC, opportunists like Al Sharpton and Stacy Abrams, and the winding course of "social justice" legislation find a large audience and sympathetic journalists. But like the OJ Simpson trial, the story of the George Floyd killing can only be told so many times before the public gets bored.  

     The point has now been  reached  where awareness has been raised and it is time to find constructive options to address the problems caused by historical discriminaton, current education and employment differentials, and the breakdown of the African American family structure.  Easy answers do not work.  "Defund the police" runs into the reality that the mayhem increases rapidly in Black communities when the police presence is reduced - and a strong majority in the community want a police presence.   The guilting of white America with Critical Race Theory brings push back as people ask whether a baby is innocent at birth, or irredemably corrupted by acts of a prior society; whether Martin Luther King's “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” still reflects the attitude of  civil rights leaders; and  whether the constitutional commitment to treating all people equally still pertains. Spoiler alert - the predominant optimistic public belief in America hasn't changed.  

    So, what can people of good will do as individuals as attention turns to doing real stuff?  As a guiding principle, efforts should be directed to lifting people up - we are past the time in the cycle where raising awareness requires putting people down. We should be inclusive, not divisive. Direct personal engagement is to be encouraged. 

    Let's put individual options into a few boxes:

        1. Education: where public schools serving minorities are inferior, support charter schools. Find a local chapter of Junior Achievement which engages minority students in forming small companies to produce and sell a product or service.  Support organizations like Summer Search which provide personal enrichment experiences for minority students.  

        2. Business: buy locally from minority owned and operated businesses. If you own or manage a business, hire, develop, and promote qualified minority employees. If it is a large business, create an affinity group where minorities can discuss their problems and perspectives among themselves and with management. Get to know minority customers.  

        3. Personal engagement. Work with church organizations to engage within a family structure. If you are going to host a minority student or otherwise engage closely, get some cross cultural training.  Be human in your interactions. 

    And in political terms, what is one to make of the Federal Reserve data that between 2016 and 2019, median family wealth rose 3% for white families, 33% for Black families, and 65% for Hispanic families while employment reached record levels for Blacks and Hispanics? The corrolary - while Blacks, Hispanics, and most Asian sub-groups remain heavily Democratic, Trump made substantial headway with each group. From 2016 to 2020, the Republican presidential voting  deficit among Blacks was cut from 81 to 75%, among Hispanics from 38 to 33%, and among Asians from 38 to 27%.  Woke-ism belongs to the college educated white liberal minority. 

    The good news is that America continues to make progress as a land of opportunity. Equality remains a "work in progress", but there are millions of people doing their part to move toward the goal.  And there is no reason for conservatives to fear that Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians will somehow become woke progressives, despite the New York Times headlines and the pious outrage of MSNBC hosts.  

                                                                                                                    -----

bill bowen - 6/10/2021 

     

    


Restoring Optimism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Anti - Trumpism:

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

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

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

     Earplugs are no longer needed. 

      Racism:

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

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

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

                                                                                                            -----

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

    Bill Bowen - 5/27/2021 

    

 

    


Bringing Our "A" Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                                         -----

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

 

Bill Bowen - 4/1/2021 

   


An Alaskan Opening Gambit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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bill bowen - 3/11/2021


In Search of Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bill bowen - 2/18/21