Thursday, May 19, 2022


                             ABORTION:  PROTESTS, CHOICES, AND COMPROMISE                                

The decades old abortion controversy is irreconcilable. It is, and has been, a battle between an ideology, feminism, and religion, conservative Christianity, thus leaving no room for compromise between the "true believers" on both sides. Statistics show the importance of the symbolic status to the debate. Reliable sources report that between  2015 and 2019 an average of 890 thousand abortions were performed annually in the U.S.  That computes to only  @ 1.2% of the 74.6 million females according to census data, between the ages of 15-49; a large absolute number but a low participation rate considering the millions of advocates on both sides who are concerned about others than themselves obtaining abortions. 

The issue seemed to be settled by the 1973 Supreme Court Roe vs. Wade decision which found the right to abortion to have implied Constitutional protection. This decision was upheld in the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision.  Now however, changes in the ideological composition of the Court and in the political makeup of various states legislatures, have brought forth several challenges to the Roe decision.  The Court has heard a case from Mississippi which restricts abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy and directly challenges the constitutional protections of Roe. 

In a despicable violation of the Court's deliberation confidentiality, a draft opinion of the case was released to internet opinion journal "Politico".  The draft opinion, which may not be the final opinion due in June, has stimulated a chaotic protest movement and media blitz  by supporters of Roe.  In what seems to be an unfortunate replay of the protest culture of the past two years, chants have become personal vilification and threats, and graffiti has morphed into violence as churches are targeted, a building housing a pro-life advocacy group was fire bombed and the homes and families of Supreme Court Justices have been the targets of intimidation.

In every dispute resolved by the judiciary there are winners and losers. In most cases the losers accept the judgement of the court. The current response to the draft opinion suggests that even before the final judgement is rendered, this is not the case. But there are wider issues that must be considered.  There are several basic pillars to the foundation of the U.S. democratic system. This collective response of pro-choice lobbying groups which is being exploited by Democrats for political advantage in the face of their popularity challenged policies and economic conditions, has negative implications for one of the most important, the existence of an independent judiciary.  

The founders of our republic prioritized the need to avoid concentrations of power in any executive branch of government which left unrestricted, could lead to autocracy. The concept of ""separation of powers", of which an independent judiciary was a component, resulted.  To create balance in the judiciary, federal courts have been created with a graduated appeals process, to afford thorough review but with ultimate final decisions, if so ordered, by the Supreme Court. Notwithstanding the possibility of public disapproval of the Court's decisions, the independence of the courts must be maintained as intimidation and  political pressure if allowed, could destroy the integrity, effectiveness and credibility of the system. 

The independence of the judiciary must be combined with a second foundational principal, the acceptance of the "rule of law".  The Supreme Court is not, and has never been, a quasi-representative  legislative body. The Court's nine members are charged with interpreting the Constitution and its applicability to the laws created by the only representative governmental bodies, the U.S. Congress and the legislatures of the various states. The Court simply cannot base its decisions on the vagaries of public opinion which may not comport with constitutional standards. The alternative to a commitment to the rule of law is anarchy. 

This history of the nation is replete with important cases, often characterized by moral, religious, or ideological issues. These include the advocacy and availability of birth control methods, pornography as "free speech", legal gambling, and gay marriage and numerous civil rights related decisions. The imposition and reversal of prohibitions on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages even required two amendments to the Constitution. In all these cases despite protests prior to their passage, the results have largely been accepted. The current level of extremist advocacy over the constitutional protection of abortion could set a dangerous precedent.  

Despite the arguments in the draft opinion, a substantial case for the constitutional protection of abortion has been made based on the "right to privacy" found in the Constitution's First, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments and as well in the "liberty" provisions of the Forthteenth Amendment. Privacy rights have been subsequently applied in numerous cases before the Court in which these provisions were reasoned as "implied" rights for those not expressly stated in the Constitution. The released draft opinion does not expressly deny the theory or use of "implied privacy rights". It simply seems to find that the right to abortion is not one of them.  Future courts may disagree and rule differently but if the draft opinion accurately reflects the final opinion the decision will be the law and must be respected.  

The Supreme Ct. is not moving towards outlawing abortion. In denying constitutional protection it is leaving the process up to the individual states in the context of our federal system. Several states have already passed laws protecting abortion rights. Protestors are free to move their energies to those state's legislatures that pass laws restricting abortion, a venue where public opinion is properly a factor in the legislative process.  

It is also possible for the U.S. Congress, with the approval of the President, to legislate federal protections for abortion which would be superior to state laws restricting it.  A bill has already been presented to do just that but fell short of approval in the Senate. A Democrat victory in the 2022 congressional elections giving them control of the Senate and continued control of the House, although looking unlikely, would present such an opportunity.  This would be the proper strategy as it would accomplish the same goal as a Supreme Ct. ruling and would preserve the foundational concept of "separation of powers" that an independent judiciary is a vital part.

Still, Democrats are trying to politicize the impending court decision as one of a very few "straws to grasp" in the face of a dramatic failure in the November, 2022 congressional elections.  Desperate opinion journalist have claimed that over turning Roe will lead to similar efforts and decisions by the courts to overturn gay marriage or transgender protections. One such journalist at the Left wing internet journal VOX proclaimed that the Supreme Court's coming decision was illegitimate because the Court itself was illegitimate. Carrying this illogical assertion one step further, she said the Court was illegitimate because five of the sitting Justices were appointed by Presidents who won office without a majority of the popular vote. She was referring to George W. Bush who nominated Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justice Samuel Alito to the Court after his Electoral College victory in 2000, and then to Donald Trump who won in 2016 and subsequently nominated three Supreme Ct. justices. This is just a recurring attack by Democrats on the Electoral College system. Found in Article 1 Clause 2 of the Constitution, the Electoral College has performed satisfactorily for the entire history of the Republic. Only three times in that history has the Electoral College outcome been different than the popular vote.  Democrats don't like it because it takes away the advantage of large Democrat majorities in California and in the coastal states and has resulted in Republican Presidents in the two elections just mentioned. The Constitution contains its own method for revision but Democrats don't have the votes for that either.  But the claim that the Presidents so elected are illegitimate is absurd and irrelevant to the decisions of the Supreme Court. One other over excitable abortion activist went so far as to claim that even if the Constitution allowed states to restrict abortion rights the Constitution itself was illegitimate because it was written by "old white men" who had no allegiance to equality. 

Even if one believes the upcoming decision based on rejection of the applicability of a right to privacy is wrong, the level of hysteria and ridiculous "end of equality" and "end of democracy"  hyperbole that is being deployed ignores the truth which is abortion, while made more difficult for some will still be available. An estimated 21 states will ban abortion or pass restrictions on its use.  But of those 21, 9 will share a border with a state where it available, leaving only12 states, mostly in the South, where it is banned and geographically difficult for poor women to gain access.  

Of course, alternatives to unwanted pregnancies are available.  Birth control pills and accessories are a less severe and safer choice and are available everywhere. Perhaps pro-choice advocates should now become anti-unwanted pregnancy advocates and promote these alternatives.  In addition "morning after" abortion pills offer an earlier and thus less traumatic solution.

Constant organized protests in states where the legislatures and governorships are safely dominated by one party or the other are pointless and divisive. Such protests, in front of the Supreme Ct. are also pointless and  ineffectual and an affront to the "rule of law" and an "independent judiciary", as well as attracting counter protests that create dangerous situations and over tax law enforcement assets.

Protests in general, now organized on any and every subject,  have morphed from being  primarily about  policies to being about the protestors as an expression of personal theater, a form of entertainment, self promotion and "virtue signaling". If protestors were serious they would direct their energies to the ballot box which has the ultimate power over public policies; but of course that requires patience, organization and hard work. In the current environment of economic inflation, supply chain shortages, environmental extremes, open borders and rising crime, the nation should be spared the continuing public display of divisiveness, potential violence, and social instability that seems to be coming.  


    


   

Saturday, April 23, 2022

PUTIN'S INTERNATIONAL REACH: UKRAINE AND BEYOND

The U.S. has the world's largest economy and broadest level of international security interests and responsibilities. As such it has taken the lead in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine with military aid and punitive economic sanctions against Russia. 

While economic sanctions have been used frequently, the conventional wisdom in international relations has been that they are ineffective in changing the behavior of target nations. The major weakness in the application of sanctions is lack of complete participation by significant governments which provide a "back door" for financial and trade transactions for the target. In the case of Russia these are significant.  The non-participants include China and India, the world's two most populace nations. China has the second largest of the world's economies (GDP) and India is number six. Russia's economy is number eleven.  Thus the current sanctions program, while being more comprehensive and severe than most in the past, has major loopholes which mitigate the effectiveness and can be expected to delay positive outcomes.

 Another complicating factor in prosecuting the response to Russia's invasion is international context. The conflict is not occurring in a vacuum.  Prior to the February, 2022 invasion, the world was neither at peace nor free from threats of higher levels of conflict and those issues remain. Several have ties to Russia which have to be taken into account as the Ukrainian situation plays out both militarily and diplomatically, including the post-conflict realities.

Syria:

In Syria, the multi-party civil war which began in 2014 as part of the "Arab Spring" movement, is still going on.  In the early years, a combination of mostly independent Sunni Muslim militias including the terrorist Islamic State and affiliates of Al Qaida, as well as allegedly more politically moderate forces fighting under the name "Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), had the regime of dictator Bashar al Assad in a precarious situation.

Then Russian President Putin decided to intervene with aviation and special forces ground units.  These groups coordinated with a similar intervention to support Assad's military by the Iranian client, the Shi'ite Hezbollah militia and quasi-political party which operates out of Lebanon.  Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps forces also showed up. Together these extra-national intervening elements along with the Syrian national army, turned the tide against the collection of anti-Assad forces.  Over the next several months, the battle became increasing violent with large numbers of civilian deaths and millions of Syrians leaving the country to avoid the conflict. U.S. Special Forces and air elements also intervened against  the Islamic State, and with bombing missions against Syrian air fields in response to Assad's air attacks on civilian populations;  in effect fighting on both sides.  

The Russian, Iranian client Hezbollah, and Iranian forces have complicated an already complex international problem in the volatile Middle East which because of Russian involvement, can be more complicated because of the Ukraine war and the requirements of any settlement of that conflict Russia may try to leverage it's negotiating positions to pursue its interests in both/ 

Iran:

Iran represents a major security threat across the Middle East. It shares borders with Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, a nuclear power, Turkey, a NATO member, and Saudi Arabia, owner of 17% of the world's oil reserves with recent production levels of 2.5 million barrels per day.  Its theocratic Shi'ite government is openly hostile to the Sunni monarchy in Saudi Arabia and it seeks regional influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, and is a sworn enemy of Israel, America's historic ally in the Middle East region.

Currently, President Biden has committed to renew the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action commonly known as the "Iran nuclear deal", which was fostered by President Obama and then shut down by President Trump.  The original agreement which was intended to restrict Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons, was widely criticized for being to narrow, too weak to enforce adequately, as well as being time limited. 

The agreement's members known as The Five + 1, include the U.S., UK, France, China, and Russia, all permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Germany as well as  representatives of the European Union and Iran.  Iran was brought to the negotiating table by the imposition of harsh economic sanctions and the blocking of Iran's international reserve currencies which were held outside of Iran.  

The renewal negotiations are reportedly making progress and some say they are close to completion. There is a basic irony with respect to the negotiations because Russia is currently participating in the discussions in meetings with Iranian officials in Vienna, Austria. Two things make this situation problematic.  One is the fact that Russia is an ally of Iran's military client Hezbollah in Syia, and thus an indirect ally of Iran. Another, is the fact that the failure of the agreement so far to include restrictions on Iran's ICBM development which would be the delivery system for nuclear weapons as well as a tool for significant conventional weapons aggression. Iran's sponsorship of international terrorism is also absent from the agreement.

 Russia as a de facto ally of Iran, has a significant missile arsenal which it has demonstrated in its conflict with Ukraine and would be an attractive supplier of the technology or weapons if their restrictions were not included in the final agreement.

In fact the Russian emissary to the negotiations in March declared that as a member of the P5+1 negotiating team, when the sanctions against Iran are removed Iran would be free to engage in bilateral trade with Russia and not be in violation of the economic sanctions imposed on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine. If Iran chose to do so, especially in the areas of nuclear technology and military equipment, there is little that Biden could do about it.  After promising to renew the agreement that Trump canceled and spending months in negotiation, he needs a foreign policy "victory' to help his struggling approval polls in advance of the November, 2022 mid-term elections and he is unlikely to upend the new  agreement if and when the other members of the 5+1 see it as completed.

Yemen:

One of the most intractable and enduring conflicts currently underway is the civil war in Yemen.  Yemen is a large but narrow country stretching along the southern border of the Arabian peninsula abutting the Arabian Sea on the south and the Red Sea on the east.  It is a poor nation of @30.4 million people which finds itself in 7 year internal conflict enabled by outside nations because of its location and regional geopolitics.

What began as an ethno-religious uprising against an authoritarian leader impacted the interests of Saudi Arabia which shares a southern border with Yemen and Iran which shares a maritime border with Saudi Arabia between the narrow 210 mile width of the Persian Gulf.

This is important because of Iran's regional efforts of political and military interference cited above and in most instances based on its Shi'a Muslim identity which it uses as wedge to gain influence into politically unstable states with Shi'a populations.  Iran thus became a logistic and political supporter of the Shi'a Houthi forces attempting to over throw the Sunni government of Yemen. Iran has long been a hostile rival of Saudi Arabia, both because of its oil wealth and political importance, its moderate stance to the West and its harsh treatment of its own Shi'a minority. 

Saudi Arabia, fearing Yemen would become a hostile client state of Iran's if the Houthis prevailed, put together a coalition of Sunni Arab states to launch a military intervention in Yemen against the Houthis in 2015 which continues to this day.

Russia has a clear relationship with Iran which reflects both a desire to be a power player in the Middle East and a mutual supporting anti-West attitude. To this end Russia has tried to play the role of mediator in the Yemen conflict including outreach to Saudi Arabia. 

Saudi Arabia has leaned towards the West, especially the U.S. where it buys most of its military equipment. In most recent administrations the U.S. has recognized that the Kingdom is a theocratic and authoritarian state but its importance in the region as both a major supplier of oil and as a barrier to Iran's expansion of influence has resulted in give and take moderation in their relationship.  However, President Biden's recent public accusation of de facto head of government Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a "murderer" for his alleged role in the assassination of anti-monarchy Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi, has soured the relationship, as has his  plans to restart the "Iran nuclear deal" which includes lifting the economic sanctions on Iran, but so far does not include prohibitions on international terrorism and ballistic missile production.  The new hostilities on the part of bin Salman were obvious recently by the Saudi's refusal to talk to Biden about increasing oil production in the face of shortages in relation to the economic sanctions on Russia.  

Russian diplomats appear to believe this offers an opportunity to increase influence with Saudi Arabia which means a bigger role to play in the Middle East region, all at the expense of the  U.S.

China:

China's support for Russia in the UN and its non-participation in the economic sanctions policies imposed on Russia is just part of a post-Soviet relationship which was emphasized in Putin's February, 2022 visit to Bejing just prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

United Nations:

The United Nations is a mirror that reflects the international, political/economic alignments of it's 193 members and gives a voice to the majority who lack individual influence with the few world "powers". It's Charter outlines the hopeful promise of peaceful settlement of dispute   

"... to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained. . ."

Despite its' noble goals and the hopes of many that the UN would play a role in defense of Ukraine and punishment of Russia,  the realities of human nature, tribal like national animosities, ethnic, religious and dramatic resource differences, and the quest for power among national leaders, have produced continuous wars since the UN's founding in 1945.  That is the context in which the world now faces the Russian/Ukraine war.  

Unlike all previous wars since 1945 the conflict in Ukraine includes one of the world's "super powers" as an aggressor. Hopes for a united front by the world body's members which could influence the situation isolate or even intervene are thus not a possibility.  Russia is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council which have veto power over any Security Council resolution which are required for security related interventions i.e. "peace keepers"; "peace makers", sanctions etc. The most punishing action the UN has been able to carry out against Russia is the General Assembly's decision to expel Russian from the 47 member UN Human Rights Council. 

Russia's seat on the Security Council and indeed, it's membership in the UN is a Charter protected fact. Only a vote by the Security Council can change these facts and Russia, as a permanent member can use its' veto to protect it's status. An amendment to the Charter changing the procedures would also require a Security Council vote. 

The General Assembly did approve a resolution in March condemning the invasion of Ukraine and demanding a full withdrawal of Russian forces. General Assembly resolutions however are just opinions without legal standing.

Even so, the difficulty of imposing resistance on Russia by the international community can be seen in this non-enforceable vote. While it passed with a huge majority, the shadow of Russia's power was felt by four members who voted against it; Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, and Syria as well as Russia itself. But even more to the point, 35 nations chose not to condemn the invasion by abstaining. Most of these were African nations, many of whom have authoritarian leaders themselves but the key abstainers included China, India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Viet Nam and in Latin America, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Thus the reality is:  the conflict in Ukraine will not be carried out in isolation of world wide international security issues and will endure for months; Putin seems confident that the people of Russia can  endure the pain of cultural isolation and economic sanctions; Russia's influence in world affairs under Putin will remain a threat to Western interests no matter what the terms of the final resolution of the Ukraine conflict are. 


 


Thursday, March 10, 2022

UKRAINE, NUCLEAR WEAPONS, AND THE FUTURE OF COLLECTIVE SECURITY

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is still in its early stages as Russian President Putin escalates the violence and expands his territorial control.  While the Ukrainian military has put up unexpected levels of resistance, the medium and long term outcomes in the face of superior Russian numbers and equipment realistically predict a Russian military victory but a prolonged insurgency.  But the story of the war doesn’t end there. Once organized military resistance is subdued, Putin, unless he has limited objectives, will be faced with the problem of occupying and controlling the nation. Ukraine is larger in size than both France and Germany. It’s population of approximately 42 million people has shown a defiance that will likely remain.  Putin’s invasion force of 150,000-165,000 is not nearly large enough to carry out the requirements for widespread occupation and control. Even if he decides on a strategy of occupying just the larger population centers he would need a much larger force.  This would be a long term commitment with enormous economic and political costs that he may not have fully contemplated. It may even be beyond his economic reach, especially if the current program of economic sanctions and isolation are continued after the armed conflict subsides.

However, Putin’s war on Ukraine will have lasting impacts on the post WWII and post Cold War European security order neither of which properly addressed the possibility of an attack on the  liberal democratic system that seemed to have permanently replaced the centuries old European  conflicts between or involving, nationalist authoritarian regimes. The trends toward international cooperation, diminution of military readiness, and economic and political integration now must be rethought to include the reality of renewed resistance to these models.  

On a more specific level the political/military process which led to the Ukraine invasion should have set off early alarms in 2014 when Putin invaded and occupied the Crimea which was part of Ukraine This act of aggression was a specific violation of the 1994 Budapest Agreement signed by Russia, Great Britain and the United States which was in response to the 1991 dissolution of the former U.S.S.R. which transformed Ukraine and other former Soviet republics into independent, sovereign states. The Budapest Memorandum committed the parties “to “respect  independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against the country. In return the Ukrainian government in Kyiv agreed too give up its large inventory of nuclear weapons which were part of the former Soviet Union’s arsenal.

While the international response to Russia’s invasion of the Crimea included significant economic sanctions which remain in place today as part of the new sanctions policies in response to the February, 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine proper, it had no effect on the Russian occupation which in effect annexed the Crimea into Russia.

But the implications for the future of a new international security order stimulated by Russia go beyond Europe.  The world has few “super powers” but many authoritarian regimes who routinely reject international laws and norms.  Putin has now elevated the issue of the use of nuclear weapons from the unthinkable to the conceivable; from deterrence to tactical, with the implied acceptance of associated risks of escalation and their strategic use.  

To be sure, his statements had the ring of bluster to deter any  possibility of NATO intervention in the conflict. But his language regarding the possibility of a NATO imposed “no fly zone” over Ukraine, which would put Ukrainian pilots flying NATO aircraft in direct combat with Russian aircraft. Putin warned of “colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also the whole world.” Along with his increased readiness status of his nuclear forces, his words were an unambiguous nuclear threat which he correctly assumed to be an effective end of discussion of even indirect NATO involvement. 

One could easily argue, as Biden and Secretary General of NATO, Jens Staltenberg have, that the risk of “escalation” is too great for direct or indirect military action against Russian troops, a position given even more substance in light of Putin’s nuclear remarks.  But it raises an important question about NATO’s credibility.  What would  Biden’s and Staltenberg’s position be if a similar situation arose in which Putin threatened the territory of a NATO member?  

Biden has stated that “Every square inch of a NATO member’s territory would be defended.” Certainly major European states such as Germany or France would be, but Putin’s goals seem to be to rebuild the former U.S.S.R, not by formal absorption of the now independent republics but by creating demilitarized client states on Russia’s borders by force.  Three such states are Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.  These are tiny nations and they are also NATO members.  Would an invasion of any one or all of them plus an implied threat of a nuclear response if NATO sent troops or aircraft to defend them, make such a response impossible?  Citizens of NATO countries would ask; “Do we want to start a global nuclear war over these “insignificant and unimportant countries”?  It would be taking a risk on principle vs. national interests; a gamble that Putin was bluffing and  would also not take the risk of destroying his own country in a nuclear conflict. But it would be a risk nonetheless if Putin believed that the U.S. led NATO would back down but they didn’t.

Now the possibility of other nuclear armed, authoritarian governments, wishing to carry out aggressive acts with conventional weapons and then use a similar threat, specific or implied, to deter outside intervention, could be the “new normal”. 

China of course comes to mind first, given its huge military, greatly enhanced development of high tech modern weapons systems like aircraft carriers, hypersonic missiles and digital warfare capabilities. China is of course a nuclear weapons state and has a long term geographical claim to the island nation of Taiwan, lying just 100 miles off its southern coast. China as well is engaged in a process of claiming, and building, islands in the South China sea in violation of international law and the territorial claims of other Asian states. 

Recent penetrations of Taiwan’s airspace by Chinese military aircraft are a intimidation strategy and warning sign to convey the message that Taiwan’s drift towards independent status or close political/economic or defense integration with other nation’s will bring a serious Chinese response. Speculation is that China will indeed at some point in time initiate an actual take over of the island. Taiwan has no formal defense commitments from other nations but President Biden has expressed a commitment to “assist” in its defense if threatened. This would seem to invite a Putin like response from Chinese leadership.  

But nuclear weapons provide non-super powers with the similar leverage that Putin used in his territorial aggression. North Korea has a large military and has developed a small nuclear capability.  It seems unlikely that its dictator Kim Jong-un has genuine interests in invading the Republic of South Korea but he uses the threats implied by multiple tests of ballistic missiles and specific threats of nuclear attacks on U.S. territory to intimidate and make demands of his neighbor on the peninsula and its security partner the U.S.  Regional aggression with conventional forces by Kim or a successor is not entirely out of the question. What would be the response if such an event were to occur and Kim renewed his nuclear threats to the U.S.?  South Korean officials must be asking themselves that question.  U.S., South Korean and Japanese efforts to negotiate a nuclear free Korean peninsula with North Korea have failed for decades.

Thus the issue of nuclear proliferation also comes in to play in the context of a different level than the possibility of terrorist acquisition.  The Biden administration is now “close” to reestablishing the Iran nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) first signed in 2015 by Barack Obama and France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany and the EU and Iran.  The intent was to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons development program.  Such an effort and the ensuing Agreement would not have been necessary if Iran was not actually on a path to acquire nuclear weapons which it claimed but which Israeli intelligence has produced abundant evidence in support of.  

Parties outside the Obama administration found the Agreement, which did not have the status of a treaty which would have required approval of a non-existent 2/3 majority in the U.S. Senate for ratification, to be fundamentally flawed and the Iranians untrustworthy.  President Trump withdrew from the Agreement and imposed punishing economic sanctions on Iran to persuade them to renegotiate a stronger agreement. The Iranian government under the autocratic rule of the Grand Ayatollah reacted by increasing the enrichment of uranium toward weapons grade levels.   

If Iran achieves nuclear weapons status in spite of the proposed restrictions in the revised agreement, the already politically unstable and conflict ridden Middle East becomes several orders of magnitude more dangerous.  Iran has pursued regional dominance for several decades by supporting terrorism and intervention in conflicts across a swath of the Middle East, especially using its Shia Muslim identity as leverage to influence other nations with similar religious affiliations. This is true in Iraq where it supports that nation’s Shi’ite majority population and government. Iran has also engaged in military intervention in the civil war in Syria in support of the Alawite (an off shoot of Shi’ism) minority government of Bashar al-Assad. It has done this with its insertion of its client Hezbollah, a Shi-ite militia based in Lebanon. 

Iran also supports and supplies weapons to the Shi’ite Houthi insurgency in Yemen which has launched drone and rocket attacks on Saudi oil facilities and airports. Saudi Arabia  and a coalition of Gulf States supports the government of Yemen. 

But the focus of Iran’s hostilities has been directed at the state of Israel since Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979 and the accession to leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Since then Iran’s political and theocratic leadership has seen Israel as an anti-Muslim, westernized client state of the U.S. which should be “wiped from the map”.  Israel is a nuclear weapons state engaged in a decades long conflict with the PLO and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza of the Palestinian territories.  Iran supports both of these Palestinian groups. Israel has had political support and military aid from U.S. presidents and Congress since becoming an independent state in 1948 but no specific mutual defense arrangement.

Iran’s proxy aggression in the region could become first party military aggression over time and if backed up by possession of nuclear weapons and delivery systems a fraught game of a nuclear threats similar to Russia’s in it’s current invasion of Ukraine could become a reality. What this creates is a high level of uncertainty in the willingness of the U.S. and its collective security partners to actually live up to their stated commitments.  A new era of political instability and violence could be the result. Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons and the U.S. and its Western security partners must reaffirm their commitments against aggression of all sorts.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

TRUMP: 2022 AND 2024

 

It may be too early to start the media consuming speculation about the 2024 presidential election.  Just thinking about it can be exhausting in the context of the current crises.  Inflation, Covid, Ukraine, open borders, climate change, are enough to dominate the feeling of unease underlying polls indicating that “America is on the wrong tack”. However, it is not too early to contemplate the outcomes of the 2022 elections and these contests will have a significant impact on the 2024 process.

The current political predictions, bolstered by historical trends,  all indicate that the control of the House of Representatives will flip to the Republican Party in 2022. Democrats, under the reign of Speaker Nancy Pelosi now control the House by a mere ten seats, a 222 to 212 majority with one seat vacant.  Thus Republicans just need to gain six seats to win to gain a 218 to 217 majority in the 435 seat body. Since all House members are up for reelection, that outcome seems to be an unrealistically low estimate of what can actually occur. In the Senate elections, Republicans need only flip one seat and hold on to their other twenty that are being contended to gain control.  

The dismal outlook for the Democrats is based on several polls over the last few months. President Biden's job approval stands at 40.1% with 54.1 % disapproval.  Sixty-five percent of poll responders say that the country is on the “wrong track”. The Gallup Poll found that while the Democrats still had a  party registration advantage over Republicans of 28% to 24%, Independents far out numbered both party’s self identification at 46%.  Independents however tend to “lean” towards one party or the other and when combined with the Republicans and Democrats as a group, the results were Republicans 47%, Democrats 42%.

 However, despite the political advantage that the Republicans currently hold, the November elections are almost nine months away and the political environment is likely to change.  The  Omicron Covid-19 variant which now dominates new cases reported, is rapidly declining and is likely to become much less of a threat by next November. Barring another variant, this decline will have a positive effect on employment, supply chain issues, inflation and a general lessening of stress on the voting public. Federal Reserve monetary policy is predicted to result in periodic interest rate increases which will also reduce demand in key sectors of the economy and have a beneficial impact on inflation. A diplomatic settlement of the Russian threat of invasion to Ukraine could also have a positive effect on Biden’s approval ratings with a positive “coat tail” benefit to Democratic congressional candidates. 

The message is clear; Republicans cannot assume that favorable results in November while likely,  are  inevitable. The election could be further complicated for Republicans by the continuing attempts by former President Trump to influence the Republican primaries through endorsements,  including against some Republican incumbents, as well as his “off the rails” personal vilification of prominent members of the Republican House and Senate caucuses. These public positions and rants include his support for the Republican National Committee’s recent vote to “censure”Republican Representatives Cheney (R-WY) and Kinzinger (R-IL) for their participation on the House committee investigating the January 6, 2022 riot and invasion of the U.S. Capitol.  

While there is little doubt that the Democrat controlled committee has cast a very wide and politically motivated  net, finding out the truth of the motivating and participating individuals who may have been involved in such an egregious act is important in itself. The RNC censure describes the riot and insurrection as “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate discourse.”; an absurd characterization of the well documented violence and destruction carried out by an out of control mob.  Numerous former Republican  former government officials and several current Republican Senators have “condemned” this act by the RNC which  has Trump’s personal anger at the two Representatives, both of whom voted to impeach him the second time, for his role in the insurrection, all over it.  The issue is now dividing the party at the congressional level and risks dividing it at the primary voter level this year. 

Trump’s adolescent name calling of those who have rejected his demands for complete sycophancy has reached absurd levels and make him look foolish to some and unstable to others. Trump continues to attack current and former senior Republican officials who were his  supporters during his administration.  He has labeled  Senate Minority Leader, and possible 2023 Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, as “Old broken Down Crow” and a “Loser” and called on Senate Republicans to depose him. McConnell’s “crime”?; assigning partial responsibility to Trump for the Jan.6, riot. Trump has called Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), a key swing vote in the 50-50 partisan Senate, a “Wacko” for supporting a review and modernization of the vague 1887 Electoral Count Act. He has turned on his own former Vice President Mike Pence who was presiding at the time, for saying he had no constitutional authority under the Act, to overturn the 2020 Electoral College vote during the certification process being held at the time of the riot as Trump demanded. 

One of the most important qualities of the U.S. constitutional system since it came  in to effect in 1789, has been the peaceful transition of power characterized by the two term limit on the office of the President and the respect for our democratic election process.  Trump has disgraced this tradition and process with his unfounded claims of the election being “stolen”, his refusal to attend the inauguration of his successor and his incentivizing of the January 6 insurrection of the capitol. 

As he continues to try and make himself the face of the Republican Party, influence the outcomes of the November, 2022 Republican congressional primary elections while dangling the prospect of another presidential run in 2024, he forces the Party and its candidates to carry the weight of this personal and political baggage. While some candidates seem happy to openly support him and seek his endorsements, his continued intervention is a dangerous game at best.  Many voters in his 2016 victory obviously did support his “American First” philosophy and the policies that followed from it. Border security, lower federal taxes, protection of U.S. energy independence, negotiations to improve international trade relations, low inflation an unemployment and resistence to the movement of the Democrat party towards the radical Left.  However many of these same supporters made it clear that they disapproved of Trump’s volatile, ego centered, personality and unstable administration. In his  single four year term Trump had four different Chiefs of Staff and three different Secretaries of Defense; two of the key posts in any administration. These character and personality flaws have even gotten worse since his loss in 2020.  The outcome, and the shifting of attitudes away from Trump in both the electorate and Republican political establishment since then are worth noting.

In his 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton, Trump identified a profound populist feeling of anger and alienation from the Washington establishment which he characterized as “the swamp”. He combined policies of border security and immigration reform, trade improvement, low taxes and reduced government regulatory power under a banner of unabashed patriotism and national identification.His pugnacious personality was overlooked by some and celebrated as a “fighting spirit” by others.  

Hillary Clinton, a former “First Lady”, Senator from a liberal state, and Secretary of State under a liberal President, was the very personification of an entitled member of the Washington elite. 

Trump broke down the Democrat’s fragile “Blue Wall” of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania  and won the Electoral College vote 304 to 227. But Trump lost the national popular vote by 2,865,000 votes.

After four years of hyper partisan conflict and savage pe rsonal attacks on Trump, by Democrats at all levels, including the majority of the national media, Trump responded with obsessive Tweets targeting anyone who criticized him. Political exhaustion in the electorate had set in and “Trump fatigue” became a factor in 2020.

Voting participation was up dramatically from 2016 and Trump lost the national popular vote to Joe Biden by 6,552,000 votes and the Electoral College vote 306 to 232.  But more telling, Trump lost his populist appeal in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and Biden flipped Arizona and Georgia as well. Perhaps the most significant trend shown in 2020 was that Trump’s support in all three categories measured of younger voters (18-49)  lost ground from 2016.  Also, among the large group of self identified “Independent” voters, Trump’s support declined from 47% to 41%. 

Polls now indicate that “Trump fatigue” has held over from the 2020 election. A January, 2022 poll of  self described GOP primary voters agreed with the opinion that “a new Republican candidate was needed to defeat Biden in the next election” (Nov.2024).  Sixty-seven percent of this same cohort agreed with the statement that “Joe Biden is legally the President”; thus refuting the only issue that Trump is currently identifying himself with and one that will play a role in the 2022 congressional election for those who have won Trump’s endorsement and those who haven’t.

But the problem for the Trump endorsed candidates is serious.  Another recent poll found that only 16% of Republican voters would “definitely” vote for a Trump endorsed candidate.” They might anyway, but the value of Trump’s endorsements and his credibility have all but disappeared. In an incredible attempt to finish it off he recently said that if he were reelected President he would pardon the insurrectionists who might be convicted in federal courts.  This political version of putting on a suicide vest in a lightning storm may do the job.

Thus, the big picture currently for both the 2022 elections and looking ahead to the 2024 presidential elections supports the view that Trump’s time as come and gone. Republican voters cite Trump’s personality as a “major issue”.  That’s a serious understatement and one that is certain not to change as his rants, lies, exaggerations  and charges continue to grow. The 2024 Republican presidential primary contest will certainly be as crowded on as it was in 2016.  In an admittedly early, hypothetical nine candidate contest of likely Republican candidates, Trump won only 36 percent against a field that for the most part lacked national voter identification or existing groups of “core supporters” like Trump. Put another way, these GOP primary voters preferred 64% of the other listed candidates or hadn’t made up their minds. 

There are many unknowns with respect to the future 2024 Democratic presidential candidate which will effect voter’s choice including Biden’s age and health; Vice President Harris’s unpopularity and any number of external factors that might stimulate one or more Democrat challengers.  But there are few unknowns about Trump.  He is what he is and what you see is what you will get.  Republican candidates in the upcoming 2022 elections should begin, or continue, the process of, divorcing themselves from Trump’s hold on the Party. They need not attack him as he will them but they should follow the change in attitudes which started in November, 2020 and have continued over the last year, and make him irrelevant to their campaigns, as the recently elected GOP Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin did. It is not necessary to be a Trump supporter to be a conservative and having Trump on the ticket in 2024 would dramatically change the focus away from the issues that the polls show are alienating voters from the Democrat’s far Left agenda and make Trump and his single issue “Big Lie” about the “stolen” 2020 election, plus his role in the January 6th insurrection and his inflammatory and irresponsible personality the main issues. A losing proposition.

Friday, January 14, 2022

THE STATE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

 You can tell it’s an election year.  Democrats, divided among themselves and in near panic over the likely loss of control of both houses of Congress in the upcoming November elections are searching for an issue to counter both the historic trends of mid-term presidential election s and the collapse of President Biden’s approval ratings across a wide range of issues. Vice President Kamala Harris’s poll numbers are even lower than Biden’s.

Their struggle is complicated by reality.  The chaos of the Afghan withdrawal; the millions of illegal aliens who have crossed Biden’s open southern border; the year long contradictions in messaging and the unpopular Covid 19 vaccination mandates; high levels of consumer price inflation especially in food and energy, are all real.  They have happened and can’t be denied.  In one recent week the Supreme Ct. has found Biden’s vaccination mandate for private businesses with over 100 employees to be an executive branch overreach and Biden’s attempt to make “voting rights” legislation into a viable campaign victory has hit a wall with Democrat senators Sinema and Manchin refusing to provide the 51 vote (including VP Harris’s tie breaking vote) majority to remove the Senate filibuster rule that requires a 60 vote majority to pass legislation in that body. What to do?

At the presidential level Biden is still campaigning against former President Donald Trump.  Of course Trump isn’t running for anything at the present time but Biden apparently thinks that the 2022 mid-term voters are still thinking about Trump and can be convinced that he’s the root of all the current problems.  But Biden’s poll numbers indicate that voters are focused on Biden, not Trump.  So Democrats in Congress and the media have adopted a different  two pronged strategy.  Why not spend trillions of dollars in an attempt to buy votes and at the same time add a level of fear with a hypothetical systemic threat that they can lay at the feet of the Republican opposition.

The first effort has failed to gain much political traction.  Over the objections but eventual acquiescence of the Progressive, far Left wing of the Democratic party congressional caucus, a 1.2 trillion dollar infrastructure bill was passed.  But it was passed with bipartisan support and the basic “roads and bridges” out in the future theme didn’t generate much excitement and hasn’t overcome the angst and anger of many voters which are driving Biden’s low job approval.

The second half of the “see how much of your money we can spend to help you” vote buy, was the 2.6 trillion dollar “Build Back Better” social welfare legislation that hit a monstrous speed bump also with the defection of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) in the evenly divided 50-50 Senate. 

Ignoring the fact that all 50 of the Republican senators also opposed the bill on sound economic reasoning, the Democrats have demonized their own Senator Manchin with the 

nonsensical claim of “the injustice and undemocratic position of one Senator defying the will of the Democratic Party and the people’.  Of course the Republican Senator’s votes count just as much as Manchin’s  and they believe that they represent the preferences of their constituents who are also “the people”.  While the size of the bill has been trimmed to around 1.75 trillion dollars it still lacks the necessary support to pass intact. Portions of the bill will probably eventually pass in pieces of separate legislation or in a further much reduced collective version but it may be “too little, too late” to have much effect on the November elections.

This leaves the Democrat election strategists with the “change the subject” option. The primary focus of this charge being made by Democrat politicians, “cherry picked “ liberal college professors, and the ususal far Left opinion writers, is the January 6, 2021 riot and assault on the U.S. capitol by President Trump supporters responding to his claim that Biden and his supporters in various states, “stole the 2020 presidential election’. While the now labeled “Big Lie” has indeed found no credible supporting evidence it remains a mixed dynamic for Trump’s credibility and that of his supporters in the Congress and a convenient target of attack for Democrats.  Engaging in common political hyperbole and activating the new election strategy,  Biden characterized the riot as Trump personally holding “a dagger at the throat of democracy.” 

While the nearly year long Democratic House committee investigating the events of January 6th, has not yet found any specific ties of Trump to the actual assault,  the Department of Justice has recently announced that a charge of “seditious conspiracy” has been filed against eleven members of the Oath Keepers, a far right extremist group with a few members present at the insurrection.  The leader of this group had outlined a plan for the use of armed force and military like tactics to attack the capitol.  He went on to talk about the necessity of “civil war” in opposition to federal government policies.   This is serious language and should not be taken lightly.  However, the proposed military tactics did not materialize and while force was used armed force was not.  This is not entirely surprising since the rhetoric employed by small extremist groups typically exaggerates their capabilities.  

Even before the revelation announced by the Dept. of Justice, Biden’s theatrical “dagger” meme had been seized on by numerous media types to explore the “possible ‘end’ of democracy” in America. Giving the threat a somewhat broader base, the Democrats have incorporated a claim that Republicans in control of state legislatures are rigging election laws to deprive voters access to the ballot box. In a recent interview a Harvard professor portrayed these revised election regulations as Republicans “legally stealing” upcoming elections. The obvious contradiction of the terms “legally” and “stealing” aside, the solution for Democrats would seem simple; win more elections in these states but they seem to be focused on winning more elections in “toss up states” by stereotyping all Republican candidates as “undemocratic”.

Republicans claim that voting regulation changes are intended to support voting integrity. This claim is not without justification.  The “handwriting is on the wall”. There are two separate “voting rights” bills in the Democrat controlled Congress which would give a “one size fits all” federal control of elections in the 50 states. Included in these bills are a variety of loose standards for voter registration and identification and procedure and reinstatement of the provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Bill that required federal approval of an changes to voting procedures in specific states mostly in the South, with a history, no matter how distant, of discriminatory voting procedures.  The Supreme Ct. struck down this provision in 2013 as unconstitutional and outdated. 

In the critical 2020 senate elections in Georgia, some Democrats urged voters in safe “blue states” to take advantage of Georgia’s permissive registration residency requirements and travel to Georgia temporarily for the sole purpose of voting in this election and then move back home.  New York City has recently approved voting for non-citizens in their municipal elections. The only requirement being residency for at least 30 days.  This new “voting right” applies  to approximately eight hundred thousand immigrants.  

Democrats have long opposed such basic voter identity requirements as a photo ID even in states that issue such special voting versions for free. 

However, even if the Democrats voting rights legislation fails in the Senate it does not mean “the end of democracy”. Once again all evidence in support or opposed to the changes in the various Republican controlled states will be the subject of judicial review if Democrats feel their claims have legal merit.  Of course, the legislation passed in these states itself is “legal” according to the Harvard professor as well as the product of a healthy democratic process in both the election of the legislators and in the enactment of policies by majority vote in their legislative bodies.  Democrats are defining democracy not by process but by outcomes which only fit their ideological conformity and partisan advantage. 

This process is an obvious election tactic to try and diminish the focus on, and importance of the aforementioned policy and economic issues that loom over the Democrat’s probable failures in the November, 2022 mid-term elections. To evaluate the actual “threat to democracy” in the U.S.  a broad view and contextual approach is required.  First however, it is a simple fact that the January 6th, 2021 riot and invasion of on the U.S. capitol was in itself an egregious assault  on the institutions and democratic political processes of America. The peaceful transitions of U.S. governance at the highest level has been a fundamental principle of the American political experience and vital source of stability for our entire constitutional history. There is simply no way to legitimately diminish the seriousness and unacceptability of the assault. Those responsible, either as participants or provocateurs should face the full application of the law. Over 700 individuals have already been charged.  

But does this single irrational act of rejection of our democratic system represent a continuing process of diminution  of that system through violence and intimidation? Does it presage a nation wide acceptance of a general anti-democratic system based on a lessening of support for the core concepts of rule of law, separation of powers, and representative democracy? 

There are indeed,  polls that show a disturbing level of acceptance of violence in pursuit of policy goals.  In a December, 2021 poll, 34% agreed that violence against the government is some times justified.  While 40% of Republicans polled agreed, 41% of Independents and 23% of Democrats also agreed.  The bipartisan nature of this orientation is further demonstrated by the 25% in a second poll that agreed that “force might be justified to achieve” the mostly liberal goals of “civil rights”, “gun control”, “election results” and “labor” policies.  But polls are not “movements” which require dedication, organization and participation.  Also, solid majorities of Americans remain opposed to violence or the use of force against the government.  Despite rampant speculation and political posturing  the fact remains that in the face of the riot and invasion of the capitol and the fantasies of the eleven Oath Keepers, the democratic process actually worked.

The motive of the attack on the capitol was originally described as an attempt to stop the constitutionally required certification of the Electoral College results from the November 2020 presidential election.  While the motivation of the mob seemed to quickly change into one of general occupation and an orgy of vandalism and violence against authority, it failed in it’s original purpose.  It’s failure was inevitable.  The invasion was bound to fail as reserves of law enforcement were brought in.  The certification of the Electoral College results while disrupted, was only delayed a matter of hours as the Congress reconvened in the early hours of January 7 and carried out its duty. In other words, both the rule of law and the democratic process prevailed even in the face of profound and senseless hostility.  

Once again, law suits claiming that the election was corrupt have all failed and  do not represent broad based anti-democratic reality.  Judicial findings based on facts have represented the health of the democratic principal of the “rule of law”.

“The end of democracy” might sell books and stimulate opinion shows and journal articles but our democratic system is not defined by individual events in Washington or anywhere else.  Our democracy operates as a centuries old, extremely broad pyramid whose base is occupied by thousands of “free and fair” elections starting at the local level of school board membership and city councils, and growing through county commissions, state legislatures and governors, judges elected or appointed by elected officials, and finally reaching the top with elections of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate and the President. The American public overwhelmingly supports this system, the Constitution which protects it, and the Bill of Rights that guarantees our basic individual freedoms. 

Virtually all public elected public officials, members of the military, members of the judiciary at all levels and law enforcement personnel take and oath of office in which they swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and of the United States”.  

Unfortunately politically inspired violence hiding behind the protection of the claim of “peaceful protests” has become the “new normal” after a year of excess allegedly in response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020.  This will probably continue until police forces are rebuilt and allowed to contain it.  The perpetrators have been small extremists groups on both the Left (Antifa) and the Right (Proud Boys) as well as some members of, or adherents to, the Black Lives Matter groups.  The violence was mostly carried out against businesses, empty government buildings and police forces responding to the ensuing riots. With the exception of a few enabling local politicians and district attorneys this violence has been widely condemned by the public and political figures. 

The major political crisis in the U.S. today is the uncompromising polarization of the Congress and the electorate. There is a profound sense of hopelessness, frustration and cynicism that citizens face with the apparent inability of government to deal with the challenges of the continuing pandemic, punishing inflation, spikes in crime and the constant drumbeat of racial hostility and environmental doom sayers.  Democracy doesn’t seem to be working well but the targets for American’s frustrations are the members of the political class not the democratic system.

Monday, February 1, 2021

BIDEN: UNITY VS. POLITICAL ADVANTAGE



As the nation comes out of what can only be described as an historically terrible year, the public and political focus remains on the pandemic, its economic and social affects, and the new presidential administrations plans to deal with these enormous issues.

Unfortunately, the political and social context existing at the time the pandemic first appeared in the U.S. in January, 2020 was already in a state of chaos as the Trump Administration entered it’s final year. The previous three years had been ones of extreme political conflict including rabid personal attacks by both sides and their allies in the media as Democrats and the Left turned their shock at Trump’s upset defeat of Hillary Clinton into a program of hate and “resistance”. This of course was exacerbated by Trump’s reliance on daily hyperbolic Tweets and his thin skinned public hostility to any criticism. Democrats initially staked their hopes of an early demise of his Administration on a twenty-two month long investigation of allegations of Russian interference and possible collusion with the Trump 2016 election campaign.  While the investigation finally found no evidence of “collusion”, the political divisions and hostility it engendered remained. 

Since then the nation has endured  a “dead on arrival” politically motivated impeachment and trial attempt by the Democrat controlled House of Representatives in December, 2019; the full onslaught of the Covid19 pandemic and angry debates over school and business closings and mask wearing.  Months of race based protests, violence, destruction, looting and attacks on police and demands to eliminate or “de-fund” police departments were followed by the outrageous and disgusting mob attack on the halls of Congress, and now a second futile, politically based process to impeach and convict  a former, none serving  President despite the unambiguous language of the Constitution’s Article 2, Section 4 which says “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States” shall be removed from office if convicted in an impeachment trial of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” 

The political divide has become a chasm.  Emotions have conquered reason,  tolerance for opposing viewpoints on public policy is non-existent.

Now comes President Joe Biden whose first words as President conveyed a sense of conciliation and a goal of “uniting” the nation”; not to overcome deep seated political differences but to supposedly to seek compromise on some of the less polarizing legislative issues, and a return to some measure of civility.  Unfortunately the warm glow of his words lasted about one day as they were exposed as mere platitudes.  The Trump presidential era is over but his 74 million supporters remain.  The Congress is almost evenly divided although the Democrats have a narrow majority in the House and a Vice Presidential tie breaker in the 50/50 Senate.  

Even with strong and persistent presidential leadership, reducing the intense level of partisan based mutual contempt would be a long and difficult process.  But when the new President, like Trump, becomes and agent of division there is little hope for any measure of reconciliation.

Biden’s first working day of “unifying” the nation was taken up by signing a pre-prepared stack of Executive Orders.  Even though he and the Democrats control all three branches of government and can, with party discipline, pass any legislation they wish, Biden felt it necessary to send a theatrical “on day one” message to the “progressive” far Left while sticking a political finger in the eye of conservatives who supported Trump’s positions.  Out went border control and deportation of millions of illegal immigrants; construction of the border wall; energy leasing on government lands and sea beds; travel bans from Muslim nations identified as sources of terrorism; restrictions on the military’s ability to exclude costly and dysfunctional enlistment of trans-genders; the completion of the Keystone pipeline with Canada on which over a billion dollars has already been spent and which would provide huge economic benefits to workers, state governments and  oil storage and refining centers in Illinois, Texas and Oklahoma.  Gone is  the order excluding illegal immigrants from the census based on the assumption that they won’t now be deported.  He also restored the ability for collective bargaining (unions) for federal workers and ended federal contracts with private prisons (without specifying what will be done with the thousands of federal prisoners confined there.)

Biden’s message was clear; revoke the four year Republican-Trump policy agenda and steam roll the progressive agenda over night.  

But even with presidential leadership if it was to be a political priority, there is much more to the problem of “unifying”, or even modifying the divisions in both the Congress and state legislatures and in the wider culture. 

The nation’s education systems from K-12 to it’s colleges and universities are busy teaching revisionist American history and a curriculum of divisive “multiculturalism”, “victimization” and “oppression”.  Of course the “victims” are all racial and ethnic minorities and genders.  The “oppressors” are heterosexual, politically conservative, white males. Even white females can’t escape the viral nonsense and unscientific condemnation of Critical Race Theory which is spreading through the education system as well as the corporate world.

Mandatory “sensitivity and inclusiveness” “re-education” training i.e. guilt and thought control, and enforcement by government and education administrators, is demanded as the only solution to evidence challenged claims of “white privilege”, “white supremacy” and “systemic racism”, all of which are racist stereotypes themselves. Such broad based condemnation will perpetuate ideological, racial and partisan hostility. Resistance is inevitable as the racialized economic and social agenda and Biden’s own commitment to  “identity politics” become legislation. 

Social media.   Beyond education, each ideological bloc and over lapping political party, contains it’s extremist fringe groups.  While these polarizing groups are equally radical, they, and minority political parties, represent tiny percentages of the population. Unfortunately  they have a disproportionate public voice enabled by social media and even “main stream” cable and internet “opinion sites”.  First Amendment rights protect them but the establishment news and opinion sites feel little responsibility to offer objective analysis or exclude the hysterical or fraudulent content they derive from the fringes as controversy creates readers, viewers and revenues, which overcome social and journalistic responsibility.

The influence of this spectrum of extremism of both the far Left and far Right is thus enhanced beyond their real importance by the political figures and opinion leaders who through simple political malice and ambition or intellectual laziness, insist on stereotyping the broader political parties as reflecting the values and viciousness of the fringes.  Thus to many on the Left, Republicans are “racists, “sexists”, “homophobes”, “Fascists”, and “xenophobic” “chauvinists”. Democrats are all labeled as “socialists”, “Marxists”, “communists”, “globalists” and “America haters”.  

As members of Congress and state legislatures adopt this inflammatory rhetoric and media figures and celebrities join them, civility and cooperation ends and legislation becomes conflict.  Here is former Clinton Administration Secretary of Labor and current professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, Robert Reich, in a recent commentary in the Left wing Guardian journal entitled “Why Biden Must Be Bold & Ignore Republicans”.

    “If Biden is successful, Americans’ faith in democracy might begin to rebound – marking the end of the nation’s flirtation with ‘fascism’

    “The worry is Biden wants to demonstrate “bipartisan cooperation” and may try so hard to get some Republican votes that his plans get diluted to the point where Republicans get what they want: failure.”

“Biden should forget bipartisanship.”

So what is to be done?  Do the nation’s divided voters really want some level of “unity”, cooperation and civility across society and especially in legislatures tasked with the creation of important public policy that supposedly makes individual lives better?  Certainly some do not and for them conflict becomes and end in itself. But polls seem to indicate that nation-wide, people are unhappy and frustrated by the hate and the “victory and defeat” character of the political process. 

A 2020 poll by the Hoover Institute at Stanford University shows distinct differences in terms of trust and policies at the party identification level but it also found   a more general positive result:   “Overall, the results of our poll show that there are major differences between the political parties that will make it difficult for the newly elected president to bring about unity. On the other hand, majorities of both parties say they prefer representatives who compromise on politics and would prefer to be American rather than citizens of any other country.”

The nation will never be “united” on specific public policies. Social policies especially have taken on the character of civil religions in which moral certitude makes compromise impossible. This attitude then spreads like it’s own virus to just about all other issues i.e. the economy and issues of political procedure, environmental and national security. Progress, if at all possible, would seem to be limited in scope to fundamental agreement on the virtues of constitutional government; rule of law, individual liberty, and equality of opportunity.  Within that context and with enhanced interaction between individuals not encumbered by demagogues or “group think”, perhaps progress can be made on civility and objectivity.

 There is no question that Donald Trump was an instigator and provocateur for whom aggression was a political tactic, albeit a successful one in his upset victory of 2016.  But Trump’s election defeat seemed to have a component of “Trump, or conflict fatigue”, especially among “independent voters”.  Although President Biden has a different, more traditional political personality, if he continues to define “unity” as exclusionary defeat of non-“progressive” far Left agendas and he quietly supports hate speech by proxy, he will, as the leader of his party and as the public focus of national government, defy his own message of national reconciliation and the chaos will continue. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

THE RACE-RADICALISM NEXUS

With the nation still trying to cope with the corona virus and just as the devastation to the economy seems to be on the way to improvement, America is steeped in new turmoil initiated by the death of “another unarmed black man” at the hands of police officers, three white, one Asian.  The original focus of the ensuing social protests was police violence against blacks and an alleged general  lack of equal justice for blacks by the country’s law enforcement and judicial agencies. These are the claims  which produced  the name of the most prominent organizing group in the protests, “Black Lives Matter”. Now the original focus  has quickly been expanded to include numerous groups and governmental bodies, into a broad radical agenda of societal upheaval.

The physical circumstances of the death of George Floyd at the hands of the four Minneapolis police officers is not in doubt.  The video of the event speaks for itself.  What occurred before the video started, what possibly motivated the officers to do what they did, must be investigated to achieve a full understanding of the “why?”  But causing the death of a man restrained by handcuffs can’t be justified.

The demands of “Justice for George Floyd” will be met by the criminal justice system itself.  The four officers involved have all been criminally charged and the legal process will be completed through the normal and accepted rules and procedures; but that is not the goal of the nation’s racial activists and the radical Left. The death of George Floyd has now been transformed from a personal tragedy into a tool to be exploited by these ideological and racial extremists.  

The leading organization in that movement, Black Lives Matter, itself is not simply focused only on criminal justice reform,  although that was the  issue stated as the original ,basis for it’s creation, as its web site explains.
“BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. ”

The facts are that there was no police involvement in the death of Trayvon Martin.  He was shot by George Zimmerman a mixed race Hispanic, who was acquitted of murder charges in Florida while defending himself after being attacked by Martin.  There was no evidence submitted at trial that race was a motivating factor in the incident. An investigation by Obama’s Department of Justice found no violations of Martin’s civil rights.

But since then BLM has adopted a much broader,  more militant, public ideological orientation.  Again, from their web site:

“Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy.”
“We foster a queer affirming network.  We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege”

“We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement”

However, using the public perception of Black Lives Matter as simply i.e. a racial justice organization, fringe ideologues on the radical Left are defending looting and destruction of buildings. Even more extreme are their claims that police departments should be defunded or even abolished, as the recent vote by the Minneapolis City Council intends.  Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti wants to cut funding to the L.A. police department by $150 million and give the money to the “black community”. Left wing school superintendents are removing police “school resource officers” to show their displeasure with police in general and are supporting anti-police activists.  Of course the presence of police officers at schools is intended to protect the children and faculty, a policy widely supported after the rash of school mass shootings in recent years. 

What is obvious are the race based and anti-police tactics of collective guilt and thus collective punishment. “Systemic racism” has become a popular charge even among white Democratic politicians, which is an easy way to claim universality without identifying “ the system” or providing any data to substantiate the claim.  Of course there are racists in the world, they come in all colors and exist in all societies. It’s an unfortunate remnant of tribal mentality. Fortunately, in the U.S. racial extremists are a tiny minority and awareness of racial differences in the general population is mostly cultural and doesn’t substantiate  racial bias in “the system”.  

The individual acts of a very few police officers does not prove racial hostility among all of the nation’s 800,000   officers. In some of the largest urban cities police department  demographics  would indicate otherwise (2013 figures: “Govern.com”): New York City Police Dept.: minorities  48%; black: 16%:   Los Angeles.: 65% minority; black 12% : Chicago: 48% minority; black 25%: : Detroit: 67% minority; 63% black.  

Claims of “white supremacy” and “white privilege” nation wide are vague concepts and essentially themselves racist slogans which too few are willing to challenge and which are distortions of outcomes in social and political status largely based on demographics.  Blacks make up only 13% of the U.S. population; the white population is 68%. Disparities in wealth and income have many causes including cultural factors that black intellectuals have identified. Shelby Steele , Fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford, University cited the “75%” figure for black children born out of wedlock; “no fathers” (6/9/20), as just one important factor, and government dependency as another. He points out that confrontation and violence won’t solve either of these problems. Oft cited imbalances in incarceration rates are  based on imbalances in criminality which improvement in the factors described by Steele would have help ameliorate. 

The protests and marches have quickly become politicized and offer opportunities for politicians at all levels of government for exploitation for their personal benefit. The fact that the country is in the final five months of an election year is a stimulative for these kind of behaviors and has had a serious negative impact.  Since politics is adversarial by nature, the political exploitation adds to the hostility and societal divisiveness that already plague the nation.
 
Democrat House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrat Senate Minority Leader Charles Shumer  made sure to wear their printed version of Kente cloth African attire when  recently announcing a hurried, “knee jerk”, Democrat sponsored federal  “law enforcement reform bill” in an “us against them” theatrical news conference.  The “them” of course is President Trump and the  Republicans in the U.S. Senate.  Protests, rallies and marches also stimulate demagoguery among those who seek status and profit by being self appointed “leaders” among aggrieved groups. Al Sharpton for whom racial conflict is a career, is planning yet another “march on Washington” in which he will be the “drum major” at the head of the mob.  He is no doubt hoping for prime time coverage of conflict with local and federal police which he and sycophantic CNN commentators will brand as evidence of “systemic racism”. Thus the underlying need for clear thinking and conflict resolution is pushed aside and the conflict is perpetuated. 

What is to be done?  A single bill passed by Congress won’t be enough. Inane overreach like attacks on the nation’s police forces will make things worse.  This conflict has been accurately described as a “culture war”.  It is not new and has little to do with the death of George Floyd except as the flash point in a new Leftist offensive in the “war”.  Radical educators in the nation’s public schools and in its universities, have been indoctrinating young adults for generations with anti-social, divisive class warfare, and hostility, towards their government, culture and history. Products of this “education’ in anger, victimization, and divisiveness, inhabit the media in all its forms where “news” has become opinion, and discord and ideological hostility have become the currency of the information market place.  

Honest, realistic, issue oriented leadership is needed from top to bottom in the political establishment and in the nation’s minority communities. Ideological extremism must be opposed and replaced by measured compromise on all sides.  This process might seem to be impossible given the role of the mainstream media and social media  and the access they provide to all angry voices. The radical Left, both in the streets and in politics, riding the heady wave of support by the media and market fearful corporations, are expanding their demands and claims to ever more extreme levels.  Still there is hope. The popular rejection even among the political Left Democrat Party, of Bernie Sander’s social and economic “revolution” indicates a still healthy respect for moderation and stability among a majority of Americans. The majority of American blacks who were gainfully employed and enjoying increased wages in the economic boom prior to the corona virus, and who value the social aspects of traditional family values, might find new leadership and speak up.  Once the excesses of the 2020 election are over, and the inevitable bitterness that will ensue subsides,  perhaps a combination of common purpose and crisis fatigue will lead to some level of conflict resolution.  It will still take enlightened leadership on many sides; academia, media, business and of course politics.  A tall order but the alternatives serve no one.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

MODERATES AND REVOLUTIONARIES: STARK REALITIES

The early election 2020 primaries are finally underway and the operative description so far is “confusion”.   After months of leading in the polls, former Vice President Joe Biden has apparently tripped over his tongue and fallen off the edge of the Progressive’s far Left platform.

After completion of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, the Left’s media pundits are promoting the claim of a Bernie Sanders “surge”based on Sander’s victories in both early states.  To be sure, some are casting wary eyes at the rising popularity of another candidate. It’s not the runner up in both contests, junior achiever, former mayor Pete Buttigieg, it’s one of the three billionaires currently in play in the national election;  not Donald Trump, the “evil greedy” billionaire on the Republican ticket; not Tom Steyer, the “good greedy” but quixotic and largely irrelevant  billionaire still in the Democratic race, but the newcomer, the used to be “bad but now trying to be good”, billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg  wasn’t even on the ballots of either Iowa or New Hampshire but campaigned from the outside, spending millions of his billions on television aids.  Although Bloomberg didn’t enter the race until November 21, 2019 long after his Democratic competitors had begun their campaigns, he in three short months, has risen to third in the national polls average with 16.1%
preference,  topping long time candidates Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.

Bloomberg has been anointed as the best “moderate” alternative to Bernie, a title formerly bequeathed by the media on Biden, then Buttigieg, and sometimes Klobuchar.  But of course compared to Bernie, anyone to the “right” of, and including, Fidel Castro, who Bernie once praised for his “progressive” social policies, is in relative terms a “moderate”.

Still, Bloomberg has a steep hill to climb to put a dent into the commitment of Sanders’ far Left activist popularity.  His campaign website lists many “plans” but few details and no mention of costs or financing.  But to the Progressive Left, especially the young, he is another “old white male billionaire” who won’t receive the socialist exception for these “oppressive flaws” that the 78 year old Sanders has.  Bernie has always been a political radical while Bloomberg was a Democrat until 2001 when he switched parties to become a Republican.  Then in 2007 he switched again to become a registered Independent, only becoming a “born again” Democrat shortly before declaring his candidacy for the presidency in 2019.   

This checkered past is giving a clearly concerned Sanders an abundance of raw material for attacks on Bloomberg who served three terms as mayor of New York City.  Campaigning in Nevada prior to their caucuses on February 22nd Bernie who has previously attacked Bloomberg’s wealth, added Bloomberg’s pre-Democrat "racism", opposition to a minimum wage increase, opposition to increased taxes on the wealthy and advocating cuts in Medicare and Social Security to Bloomberg’s “moderate”“ heresy.  

Early polls show Bernie likely to win the Nevada caucuses, not surprising given the huge number of service employee union members who work in the state’s hotels and casinos. 
That would give Sanders another boost in his goal of portraying the inevitability of his nomination ahead of the Super Tuesday primaries held in fourteen states on March 3rd.

But Democrats themselves are concerned with how broad Sanders support really is, given his self identification as a “Democratic socialist” and his plans for a “revolutionary change” in the nation’s free market capitalist system which is currently booming.  Bernie’s victories have so far been close calls in small states with a significant lack of diversity.  He won in Iowa with  26.5% of the vote over Buttigieg’s 25.1%.  Thus 73.5% of Iowa’s voters were unenthusiastic about his proposed “revolution” and it’s most prominent feature, government controlled Medicare for all and the end of private health insurance. It also worth noting that since 1972, while the Iowa caucuses winner has gone on to win the Democratic nomination for President 7 of 10 times in “contested races” (no incumbent president in the race), only two, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama went on to win the presidency.

In New Hampshire, where Sander’s was supposed to have a huge advantage based on his residence in neighboring state Vermont, the results were similar.  Sanders won with 25.7% of the vote to Buttigieg’s 24.4%.  Thus the combined votes of the “moderates”, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Biden, even with the exception of the “queen of plans”, Elizabeth Warren, was still 52.6%, more than double the “revolutionary” vote.

How can this be?  In more normal times with more “normal” i.e. establishment candidates, three victories in a row would definitely be seen as a significant momentum advantage which brings more money, more enthusiasm and a media boost.  But these are not “normal” times and Sander’s is the most far Left major contender in modern history.  

So in the context of uncertainty, important questions remain:

1.  If Sanders goes on to win the nomination by just squeaking by in the remaining primaries, will the revolutionary doubters, the supporters of the so called “moderates”, lose their interest for the national election and stay home; or will the “anyone but Trump” meme overcome their fears and give Sanders their votes?

2.  If Joe Biden somehow achieves a “Phoenix” like resurrection on Super Tuesday and beyond and regains a lead sufficient to win the nomination, will irate and disheartened Sanders believe the nomination was once again “rigged” against their man like in 2016 and stay home on election day in November?

3. If Biden’s Phoenix bird fails to get airborne and Buttigieg stays close to Bernie, will the likely withdrawal of Klobuchar, the only candidate deserving of the title “moderate”, move her supporters to Buttigieg allowing him to edge out Sanders for the nomination?

4. Is the “anyone but Trump” incentive strong enough to overcome Bernie’s or Buttigieg’s basic disadvantages?  Buttigieg is young (38 yrs.) and would be the youngest U.S. President to ever serve. His political resume’ is thinner than Elizabeth Warren’s tomahawk collection.  He was defeated in his 2010 State Treasurer of Indiana run,before wining two terms as Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, population 101,000. That’s it.  Despite his relative success among the Progressive Left dominated Democratic primaries, being openly gay is still a problem on a national level. Only 50% of registered voters declared that they were “ready” for a gay president. Thirty-two percent of Independents and twenty-two percent of Democrats said they “weren’t ready”.

Bernie’s “socialist” problem:

Sanders says he’s not a socialist; he’s a “democratic socialist”.  What is a “democratic socialist”? 
Apparently it’s whatever Bernie and his thirty year old sock puppet and campaign participant Ocasio-Cortez says it is. The short academic definition of socialism has always been the “public” (gov’t) ownership of the means of production.”
Sanders was a member of the Liberty Union Party, a socialist party founded in Vermont in 1970.
He was the party’s Senate candidate in 1972 and the party’s candidate for Vermont Governor in 1976.  He went on to become the party’s Chairman until 1977 when he resigned reportedly because of the party’s lack of activity between elections.

While a member in 1971 Sanders advocated for the nationalization of major industries, specifically energy, banking, and manufacturing, as well as state control of Vermont’s public utilities, all of which fit neatly into the definition of “means of production”.  In 1976 he proposed a marginal federal tax rate of 100% for “millionaires and again called for the government of Vermont to seize all public utilities without compensation.  In 1976 he called for the conversion of privately owned manufacturing industries into “worker controlled enterprises”.

In the years since Bernie’s youthful radicalism, he hasn’t changed much. Although he’s tried to soften his approach in the 2020 campaign by emphasizing “free stuff” he remains true to his assault on free market capitalism and the promotion of big government to fulfill most of society’s needs.

In 1981 he expressed opposition to private charities claiming that “Government should take over responsibility for social programs.” In 1987 he defined “democracy” as “ public ownership and worker self management in the workplace.”
As recently as February, 2016 on the far Left website Daily Kos, he declared that “Democracy means public ownership of the major ‘means of production’.  And in December of that year in a quote published in the New York Times, he advocated for politicizing the Federal Reserve, an independent regulatory agency, by creating a Federal Reserve Board made up of “representatives of labor, consumers, homeowners , urban residents, farmers, and small business owners.”

It only gets worse, if one actually takes the time to read Sander’s campaign web site which is a blue print for social and economic disaster.
Here’s just a few items from that site:

Immigration:   “Break up Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and stop deportations of illegal immigrants, essentially an “open borders policy”.

Green New Deal: This is Bernie’s rendition of Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic Socialist of America’s plan to bankrupt the federal government. Unlike that plan he leaves out the danger of methane producing “farting cows” but includes actual dollar amounts he would spend to  save the world while destroying the U.S. economy.
Support the Green Climate Fund, an aid program for developing countries to “mitigate” the effects of global climate change.
Cost: $200 billion

“Guarantee health care, housing, and a good paying job to every American.”
Cost: $ unknown

 “100 percent renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and complete decarbonization of the economy by 2050 by expanding the existing federal Power Marketing Administration to build new solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources.”
Cost: $16.3 trillion

A “Climate Justice Resiliency Fund”to provide grants to racial minorities, elderly, children and other special “victims” deal with the impact of, and prepare for climate impacts”.
Cost: $40 billion

Free electricity for all by 2035 requiring a new national renewable energy power grid.
Cost: $526 billion

Grants to change heating and cooling systems in homes and businesses from fossil fuels to electricity.
Cost: $964 billion

Grants to “low and moderate income families and businesses” to trade in their gasoline powered automobiles for electric vehicles.
Cost: $2.09 trillion

National network of automobile electric charging stations.
Cost: $85.6 billion

Grants for electric school buses.
Cost: $407 billion

Grants to replace diesel commercial trucks.
Cost: $216 billion

Research to “decarbonize industry”.
Cost: $500 billion

Fund public transportation.
Cost: $300 billion

Fund high speed rail.
Cost: 607 billion

Research to “decarbonize” aviation and maritime shipping and transportation.
Cost: $150 billion


While doing this Sanders would shut down the already “decarbonized” electric power generation  nuclear power industry which currently provides 19.4% of the nation’s electricity.

Add to this Sanders’ most prominent policy of free Medicare for all which is estimated to cost $34 trillion over ten years and his free college tuition which is estimated to cost $79 billion per year, his plan to cancel all $1.6 trillion in existing student college loan debt and grant $1.3 billion per year to historically black colleges, and the sheer fantasy of this “democratic socialist’s” remake of the entire U.S. economy should be a stark political reality for 2020 voters.