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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

BLACK LIVES MATTER: CONTEXT AND CREDIBILITY

It is difficult for white Americans or perhaps even many black Americans in upper socio-economic classes to fully evaluate the claims of “systemic racism” in the U.S. or more specifically, racist motivations on the part of the nation’s police forces.  Within the context of the thousands of police officers in the country there are undoubtedly individuals with racial prejudice.  The case that this is wide spread enough to be described as “systemic racism” still has to be proven beyond the anecdotal evidence on which the Black Lives Matter movement relies. Also the nature of the Black Lives Matter movement itself raises some doubts in this regard.

 Black Lives Matter is indeed a movement, not an organization.  It is made up of disconnected sub-groups without any central leadership.  It is essentially an internet/social media based movement which allows a variety of self-appointed “leaders” to organize protests on the local level.  The common thread that connects the localized groups is the claim that blacks are the victims of race based police brutality often leading to deadly confrontations  in which the offending officers face no accountability. 

However, in spite of Hillary Clinton’s pandering use of the term in heavily black South Carolina, the lack of attention to context on a national scale weakens the argument that the incidents most often cited are evidence of a “systemic” and racist lack of justice for blacks.

The Black Lives Matter movement was started in 2013 by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, all of Los Angeles, CA,  who cited the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, as the source of their personal outrage.  This incident was followed in 2014 by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City.  Both died at the hands of police officers who were attempting to make arrests.  Individuals in the movement then began monitoring police interactions with blacks across the nation and making assumptions about these incidents that supported their narrative that is based on the belief that police departments everywhere are inherently racist and motivated to kill blacks. 

Through 2016 the list most often cited is up to twelve and  these few individual cases offer the only specifics relevant to the broader claims. Some context relating to the national situation is informative.
In 2013, the FBI reported that there were approximately 764,000 commissioned full time and part time law enforcement officers serving in 11,951 agencies in the nation. A Justice Department survey based on 2013 data showed that 12.2 %  of these officers were black, close to the total percentage of blacks in the U.S. population (13.2%). The percentage of all racial minorities in the national police survey was 27.3 %.   In 2014 the FBI reported that these officers made 10,291,896 arrests.   Of the 8,730,665 non-drug arrests, 69.4% of the arrestees were white and 27.8% were black.  109,891 arrests were made for on illegal weapons charges.  Of these 57.3% were white suspects and 40.7% were black.  Arrests for murder and non-negligent manslaughter comprised 46.3 % white suspects and 51.3% black. 

With respect to the individual cases cited by Cullors and subsequently by Black Lives Matter proponents, Trayvon Martin was not killed by a police officer.  He was shot while sitting on the chest of an armed civilian, George Zimmerman and pounding Zimmerman’s head into the pavement.  Zimmerman was indicted and tried for second degree murder by a state’s attorney. 

Noted liberal and former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said that the charges should never have been brought, that the trial was a political exercise and the state’s attorney should be fired for bringing them. Under Florida law, Zimmerman was legally armed and justified in using deadly force in self- defense and he was acquitted of all charges.  Thus the foundational case for the Black Lives Matter movement did not involve a police department, did not involve a white vs. black scenario since Zimmerman is of mixed ethnicity, and was fully, if inappropriately, according to Dershoweitz, adjudicated.

The case of Michael Brown is well documented and the circumstances do not fit the “murder by police” narrative.  Brown was contacted by a police officer shortly after shop lifting at a convenience store and roughing up the clerk.  The six foot-four and  @240 lb. Brown assaulted the police officer in his patrol car and attempted to steal the officer’s weapon.  After walking away and being followed by the officer he turned and approached the officer in a threatening manner and was shot.  Witnesses verified the officers description of the facts and after an extensive investigation, a grand jury declined to indict the officer.  

The Obama Administration’s Justice Department led by black Attorney General Eric Holder, conducted an extensive civil rights violation investigation and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to bring federal charges against the officer.  Brown’s race had nothing to do with his being stopped regarding the shop lifting event and nothing to do with the officer’s need to defend himself. 
The case of Eric Garner in New York City was a case of tragic circumstances involving Garner’s decision to resist arrest and his serious health problems.  He was not shot, nor intentionally killed. He had been arrested without incident for the same minor offense several times before. 

In this case he did resist arrest and because of his large size, 350 lbs., was subjected to a “choke hold”, which was identified as against police department policy.  The coroner’s report cited complicating health issues related to  “acute and chronic bronchial asthma, obesity, and heart disease” which contributed to his death. No evidence was presented that indicated that Garner’s race in any way caused the confrontation or the deadly result.  One of two department supervisors who was present at the scene, Sergeant Kizzy Adonis, is a black woman.  A federal civil rights investigation has stalled for the last two years as some officials in the Justice Department feel that there is insufficient evidence to gain an indictment of the primary officer involved.

  Regarding “white supremacy” it should be noted that the New York City’s NBC affiliate reported in 2010 that 52.5 percent of the New York City police department officers were racial minorities.
With regard to accountability, of the nine cases which are the underlying substance of the Black Lives Matter movement, an officer was indicted and tried for 2nd degree murder in the death of Jonathan Ferrell which occurred in North Carolina and which resulted in a hung jury.  In the case of Laquan McDonald who was shot in Chicago, an officer was indicted for 1st degree murder. In the Tulsa, OK case of Eric Harris, an officer was convicted of 2nd degree manslaughter.  In the death of Walter Scott in South Carolina, an officer was indicted for murder and a federal charge of civil right s violations.  Samuel Debose was killed in Cincinnati, Ohio.  An officer was indicted for murder and voluntary manslaughter.  The case of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA is currently the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.
 
In the widely reported case of the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD, six officers were charged with various offenses, none of which involved the use of firearms.  Three of these officers were black including the one subject to the most serious charge.  The first three trials of the officers were “bench trials” i.e. no juries.  In each of the three, the judge who is  black, acquitted each officer. The prosecution subsequently dropped the charges against the remaining three.  Professor Dershowitz described the young black prosecutor’s criminal charges as “crowd control”, not justice.

Black Lives Matter relies on several dynamics.  One is the underlying anger of black citizens, mostly in lower socio-economic classes, with the police departments charged with enforcing the law in their communities.  These communities have disproportionately high rates of crime and the police departments dealing with them are disproportionately non-black.  Additionally, a broad based social movement which requires nothing more than a click of a mouse or tab on an I-phone and asserts the hot button topic of racial victimization, attracts support from well meaning, if ill informed individuals willing to accept the claims at face value. The ever racially sensitized and controversy seeking media, and of course the political class who see political advantage in joining a movement claiming social justice, are also active participants.

The protests themselves, like their counterparts on college campuses, offer an outlet for anger, and an opportunity to reject authority and gain a feeling of self-importance from the relative safety afforded by the anonymity of the mob.  While “freedom of assembly”, the right to “petition the government” and “freedom of speech” are constitutionally protected, protests by themselves offer little once they have achieved the basic goal of “raising awareness”. The media and politicians fearing charges of “racism” are reluctant to criticize these protests based on this common sense reality.
 
To his credit, President Obama wandered briefly from his view that racism in police departments is a “national issue” and made this case:
            “The goal of protest isn’t just to protest for the sake of protesting.  The goal of protest is to then get the attention of decision-makers and sit down and say, ‘Here’s what we would like to see,’ and have a negotiation, which over time can actually lead to improvements in the system.”

            But so far, the various ad hoc “leaders” of the protests seem to be more interested in the manifestation of anger, and the media status that goes with it.  Comments from media and public officials have been careful to describe these protests as “peaceful”.  But the events in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland have been serious exceptions.
 
Essentially, few large social protests are “peaceful”.  They are almost always confrontational with respect to the police presence deployed to keep order, frequently block the free movement of pedestrians and vehicular traffic, and present the danger of encouraging actual violence as was the case in Dallas, Texas.  The ubiquitous signs carried which threaten “No justice; no peace” offer a strong counter point to these descriptions by sympathetic observers.

Thus, overall, the Black Lives Movement, is based on a premise that lacks credibility.  Using 2013 FBI statistics  as a benchmark, 
@ 556,000 blacks are arrested each year.  The "twelve" cases occurred in  the 3.5 year period of 2013-2016.  Of these, four of the suspects were armed or thought to be armed (Tamir Rice was holding a fake look-a-like semi-automatic pistol).  Seven of the suspects were resisting arrest prior to being shot.  In five of the cases, police officers involved were charged with murder or manslaughter. Two others are still under investigation. Sandra Bland, who was arrested for assaulting a police officer after a traffic stop in Texas, committed suicide in her jail cell.

The research on fatal police shootings has significant reporting weaknesses.  However, most research agrees that many more white individuals than blacks are killed by police.  It is also agreed that a higher percentage of black men are killed than whites based on respective population percentages. This figure is related to the higher percentage of black men engaged in violent crimes as cited in the FBI statistics.   However, in spite of the notoriety generated by deadly outcomes of black men, the existing reporting also shows that the real numbers and the percentage of anyone, of any race, being killed by police is extremely small as can easily be seen by the arrest statistics cited above.

It’s time for Black Lives Matter to take President Obama’s advice and use better fact based analysis as a basis for political solutions to their grievances. It would also help if, as President Obama suggested, they   said “. . .this  is what we would like to see”, and gave up their list of  provocative “demands”.   Such solutions will require an improvement in overall race relations which continued protests and hostile (and racist)  hyperbole  such as “white superiority” and “genocide” diminish.  Patrisse Cullor’s threat to get what they want or "Until then we're gonna shut shit down". is an arrogant path to chaos.





Friday, July 8, 2016

BREXIT: THE CATASTROPHE THAT ISN'T, WASN'T AND WON'T BE

The June 23, 2016 British referendum which rejected continued membership in the European Union has predictably caused much hyperventilation, despair as well as doomsday predictions among an assortment of supporters of what is still and international experiment even after sixty years.  The “exit” and “remain” sides in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe and in the pundit and investor classes in the U.S., generally broke down along lines that resembled the broad political divisions of “liberal” and “conservative”,  the major exception being the “remain” position of the head of the Conservative Party, Prime Minister David Cameron. The loss of his position on the issue was essentially a “no confidence vote” by referendum and the result was his decision to step down as Prime Minister in October of the current year.  

A less politically centered analysis would find the division characterized as “internationalist” and “nationalist”.  Financial interests, international businesses, banking and investors, who derived specific economic benefits from the EU single market structure obviously supported the “remain” position for less ideological reasons.

The immediate reaction was one of “over reaction” as British, European and American stock markets suffered large sell offs.  This of course made little actual sense and simply reflected the reaction of speculators and fund managers who were anticipating what other speculators and fund managers would do in a kind of emotional feed-back loop.  The conventional wisdom among EU and British officials is that the process of withdrawal will take up to two years so any actual non-speculative economic impact either in Britain or abroad, including the U.S,. certainly did not justify a mini-panic the day after the vote.  This obvious conclusion has since sunk in to the faint of heart as the markets have bounced back from their stunning declines the day after the Brexit result.

CNN Money reported July 4, 2016 that “Stock markets are extending their post-Brexit recovery as the pound steadies and government bond yields hold near record lows. After a firm Asia-Pacific performance, the pan-European Stoxx 600 is up 0.3 per cent with London’s FTSE 100 climbing 0.4 percent to a 10 month high.”
“New York’s S&P 500, the equity gauge that tends to set the global tone, closed . . .just 30 points shy of its record level, 5.6 per cent above the intraday low hit a week ago in the wake of the UKs decision to leave the EU.”

Of course there will be a period of economic adjustment for Britain and those who do business with British firms and banks but the nature of the new relationship with the EU institutions and  EU members states is still unknown as well as is the long term economic impact that will result. 
The new relationship between Britain and the EU will also depend on willingness of the political leadership of the member states, organized as the European Council, to create one that is mutually beneficial.  Once emotions level off the current attitude of anger exhibited by German Chancellor, Angela Merkel should diminish and she and French President Hollande who are the dominant players in the EU should accept the reality of the political situation and work to save the benefits of the integrated economies while reforming and accommodating the push back of large portions of the various member states populations to the loss of national sovereignty imposed by remote Eurocrats in Brussels.

Merkel’s petulance was exhibited by her statement that Britain cannot expect to enjoy the benefits of the EU without accepting the responsibilities. Thus she was announcing a policy of retribution designed to discourage other member states from following Britain’s path.  But it is exactly the “responsibilities”, not the trade relationship which led to the British withdrawal and which have encouraged similar movements in several other member states.
The “responsibilities” include and onerous immigration policy which is flooding the healthy economies of Western Europe with migrants from the poorer Eastern nations and is exacerbated by the Merkel led acceptance of millions of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa. When these immigrants, mostly from North Africa and Syria, are granted citizen ship in EU nations, they will join the influx from previous years. 
In 2014 out of the 889,139 citizenships granted by EU states, 89 per cent went to non-EU citizens.  In round numbers, 92,700 Moroccans, 41,000 Albanians and 37,500 Turks were granted citizenship by EU nations. Others included large numbers of Indians and Pakistanis.  Under the EU’s “free movement of people” with EU passports, all of these migrants were eligible to travel to Britain, which is more attractive than many of the other EU states because of its economy and the liberal benefits currently awarded to migrants.
Even before the current migration problems however, the responsibilities defined by Merkel were acquiescence to thousands of EU regulations on every aspect of governance from environmental rules to civil rights; banking and trade; taxation and transportation, agriculture and more.  It will not be enough to simply punish Britain through isolation and move on. The structural issues and lack of accountability of EU bureaucrats and politicians to ordinary citizens in the member states has generated political reactions in Austria, Sweden, Netherlands and France itself where the conservative National Front Party is gaining seats in regional bodies and whose leader Marine Le Pen will be a candidate for the Presidency in 2017.  

It is highly unlikely that populist political movements could bring about exits in most nations where they exist because the economies of most are more dependent on the benefits of EU membership than Britain, and unlike Britain, many are using the common currency of the Eurozone. However, their continued existence creates dangerous political instability in the member states and in the EU. 

Essentially, the integrative process of the nations of Western Europe and through inclusion in more recent years, of Eastern European states, has been too ambitious and too ideologically driven.  The process started in 1951 with the European Coal and Steel Community which sought to bind the war making capabilities of the major states to an international common market to control these essential military resources.  It was a response to the centuries of European conflict which culminated in World War II.  This six nation organization then led to the European Economic Community which was a customs union and free trade area established in 1958.   

But the leaders of the larger economies, France and Germany,  then pursued a model of political and economic integration that went far beyond the customs union/free market concept and through a series of treaties and expansion of membership culminated in the establishment of the European Union in 1993 by the Maastricht Treaty. The Treaty of Lisbon in 2002 updated and reformed the legislative procedures of the Union and furthered the political integration which exists today.

In view of the current concerns with a loss of national sovereignty it could be said that essentially, European political leaders over time outran the general populations of the member states who accepted their leadership without fully understanding the intrusive nature of the EU’s organizations. These are the European Council made up of the heads of government of the member states; the executive branch, the European Commission; the European Court of Auditors; the legislative branches, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament; and the judicial branches, the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. In addition the European Central Bank has attempted to dictate monetary policy for the eighteen economically diverse nations in the single currency Eurozone. 

The European Union will not dissolve and will not go back to the less intrusive, less integrative, simple free market and customs union status of its earlier history.  But the political elites now in office will have to address the issues, of complexity, lack of accountability, and overreach which are threatening the foundations of the organization or those elites will change after national elections in response to the populist unrest in their home countries and the threat to the organization will become more severe.
 
With respect to Britain’s withdrawal, a policy and attitude of accommodation should be the choice versus one of isolation. The British economy is the fifth largest in the current EU.  Britain’s trade with the EU is an important component  in both imports and exports.  Britain’s position as a world financial center is of utmost importance to the EU and the wider world.

A procedure to avoid unnecessary negative outcomes for both the EU and Britain is readily available and already in place with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, none of which are EU members.  Instead all have association agreements through the European Free Trade Association which give them access to the EU market and vice versa.  Under these specific arrangements they have agreed to the single market requirement of “free movement of workers” holding EU passports to cross national borders.  However, since this is one of the reasons why British voters opted for independence from the EU it would not be unreasonable for EU leaders to negotiate a similar deal that fits the needs of the British electorate and avoids major disruption of trade which benefits no one. There is also no reason that Britain cannot negotiate bilateral trade agreements with individual EU states, and of course Britain and the EU are both members of the World Trade Organization which works to facilitate low trade barriers between its 164 members.

As mentioned above, leaders of some EU members, apparently with Germany and France in the forefront, will argue that such an accommodation would encourage other populist groups in other member states to seek similar withdrawals.  But most EU members receive more economic benefits from the EU than does Britain.  The EU derives significant income from the value added taxes on the sale of goods and services assessed by each EU member.  Britain’s value added tax is 20%.  These funds are redistributed as development and subsidy funds to the neediest regions in the member states under programs called Structural Funds and Cohesion Funds.  The stated goal of these funds is “to reduce regional disparities in income, wealth and opportunities”.  Thus, unlike Britain, member states that receive more from the EU than they contribute would not have a strong incentive for withdrawal. In 2015 Britain paid the EU $8.5 billion British Pounds more than it received or 23 million Pounds a day.
Of course there will be consequences, especially in the short to medium term.  Financial markets don’t like instability, or the unknown. British industries with significant export markets will suffer a loss of confidence and drag the broader markets down during the period of reorganization.  While some are predicting recession in the British economy due to cutbacks in these enterprises, the British market for EU exports should eventually stimulate some sober thinking among the currently angry EU leaders to work with the new British leaders to bring about a productive alternate relationship.
Still, currency markets are already affected and may continue to be until longer term trends in the British and EU economies are apparent.  In the shorter term the British pound will lose value against the U.S. dollar as will the EURO. This will make U.S. exports to these areas more expensive but will make British and EU exports less expensive which will help offset the loss of duty free markets for Britain.

Essentially what British voters were saying was they were not ready to give up their British national identity, national sovereignty (self rule) or British culture to a growing federal system run by unaccountable foreign bureaucrats.  They are not alone in these thoughts and the fact that French president Hollande and German Chancellor Merkel know this is demonstrated by their initial reaction to punish Britain as a deterrent to populist movements in other EU states.     

Thursday, April 28, 2016

HILLARY'S LEFT TURN: MORE GRIDLOCK

It’s difficult to speculate  with complete confidence about what President Hillary’s public policy agenda will look like because her decades long  pursuit  of personal status has been a process of changing positions depending on her reading of the political moods of her party.  In her 2008 campaign for  the  Democratic  nomination the then overconfident and “fiscally responsible” Hillary  supported the creation of a balanced budget by  passing  budget rules that would require new spending to be funded with cuts in existing spending or new revenues.

Even in September of 2010  as Secretary of State, she said this about the national debt:

            “it is a question of how we decide to deal with this debt and deficit . . .There is no free lunch and we cannot pretend that there is without doing grave harm to our country and our future generations.”

 But the unexpected populist appeal of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 nomination battle has caused Hillary’s preferred fiscal policies to “evolve” to match Sander’s “spend our way to happiness and equality” campaign and Bernie’s unexpected popularity among younger voters required a “ me too” response to his “free” college tuition offer.

Bernie’s plan is flawed.  He would send money to public colleges and universities and “pay for it” by imposing a series of taxes on stock market transactions.  This appeals to young voters based on the mistaken belief that only the “greedy rich” would be impacted.  But the resulting losses of market value as well as the taxes themselves would impact the retirement accounts of the middle class, private and public employee pension funds, and the endowment funds of universities as well.

No problem for Hillary.  Her plan as reported “would have the federal government send large grants to states, which would then ensure students can pay tuition without taking out loans. States would be required to increase their allocations to higher education, and schools would face new constraints on spending. Families would have to contribute ‘what they can afford’ based on an individual financial analysis, and students would be required to work 10 hours per week.

Thus the typical liberal solution to a problem is to create a huge new bureaucracy to monitor state “allocations to higher education”, monitor and “evaluate” on a continuing basis “what families can afford”, and ensure that students are doing the required 10 hours per week of some kind of meaningful employment.  Besides being a bureaucratic nightmare which would eat up a large percentage of the money allocated for tuition relief of four year colleges, the plan also includes Bernie’s free tuition for community college attendance.  The total cost of her plan is conservatively estimated at $350 billion  over  ten years.  But how to pay for it without impacting annual federal deficits and keeping in mind her earlier admonition  that “There’s no free lunch”?   Simple; impose the “Bernise” solution once again; “increase taxes on ‘wealthy taxpayers’.

But there’s much more to Clinton’s “economic vision”.  She would create an “infrastructure bank” at a cost of $27.5 billion annually; an Expanded Childcare Plan and an Early Education Plan  which would cost an additional $27.5 annually.  An Energy Plan to “reduce carbon emissions and repair oil pipelines and pay for health care and retirement for coal miners” who were put out of work by Obama’s EPA regulations, would cost $9 billion annually. The plan no longer includes her 2008 commitment to the “creation of a balanced budget by passing “budget rules that would require new spending to be funded with cuts in existing spending.” All of her new spending proposals depend on “new revenues” which are new or higher taxes.

Hillary has a proposed and array of anti-business and investor policies. She would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.  She would approximately double the short term capital gains tax for high income earners. She would impose a 4% “fair share” tax surcharge also on high income earners; and also impose a “Bernie style” transaction tax on frequent stock trades.

Clinton doesn’t always “evolve”, she sometimes revolves. 

On Trade:
            As Secretary of State she enthusiastically supported Obama’s TransPacificTrade  treaty before she opposed it as candidate Hillary, an obvious response to Sander’s opposition which was well received by organized labor.

On immigration:
            As a Senator from New York, in 2008, she proposed a two-step process which called for securing the borders “before legalizing” the 11 million illegals then currently residing in the U.S. She also supported stricter enforcement of federal law against employers hiring illegal immigrants even making a “Trump-like” assertion that, “"A country that cannot control its borders is failing at one of its fundamental obligations."

            But, after reading the political tea leaves in Bernie Sander’s cup which all pointed to the Left, her 2016 position was;  "I will do everything I can to protect the president's executive actions and ‘go further’ to bring more people relief and keep families together."

In her 2008 campaign  she said: "As president, I will not support driver's licenses for undocumented people."  In her 2016 campaign a Clinton spokesman said that she had changed her mind: "Hillary supports state policies to provide driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants."

On terrorism:
            In March, 2016 Hillary announced her “three part plan” to defeat the Islamic State.

            1. “Take out ISIS’s stronghold in Iraq and Syria.”
            2. “Dismantle the global terror  network.”
            3. “Harden our defenses at home and prevent attacks”

Of course there’s major difference between a set of goals and a “plan” to accomplish them. Apparently voters will have to wait until she moves into the Oval Office to find out what as Commander-in-Chief, she will actually do to meet these goals since decisions with regard to the use of military force could offend the Democratic Left and give Bernie’s struggling campaign new life.

However, a glimpse of “Hillary’s toughness” can be seen in her December, 2015 outline of her terrorism strategy.
Clinton would combat terrorism with improved intelligence instead of troops. For example, agencies would use social media posts to identify terrorists. Visa applications would require full screenings for those who had traveled to terrorist countries. Operations officers and linguists would be added to U.S. intelligence agencies. (Source: "Clinton Lays Out Policies to Curb Terrorism," WSJ, December 15, 2015.)”

            How exactly “using social media” to “take out ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria” would work is yet to be explained but for now the “progressive” Left of the Democratic Party is unoffended.

            Thus while Hillary’s long history of “adjustments”, “evolutions”, and self-contradictions make a shift on any policy positions once she is in office only a theoretical possibility, she has moved so far to the Left that she will have great difficulty “revolving” back towards the political center to work with the Congress. She will gain some leverage if the Democrats are able to regain control of the Senate in the November, 2016 elections but regaining control of the House of Representatives still seems well out of reach.

One way or the other, her new “progressive” identity seems to predict a high level of continued public policy gridlock over the next four years.

            First, a look at the Senate, which retention of control by the Republicans would ensure such an outcome.
            The current Senate has 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats (Sanders I-VT & King I-ME) The Democrats need to gain 4 seats to create a 50-50 tie which could be broken in their favor by a Democrat Vice President, or gain 5 seats for an absolute majority. The Democrats have an advantage in the November, 2016 election because of the 34 Senate seats up for election, 24 are currently held by Republicans and only 10 by Democrats.  Credible (non-partisan) analysts currently see the Republicans likely to control 48 seats after the election and the Democrats likely to control 47 with 5 of the 34 contested seats as “toss ups”. So a Democratic majority is within reach but would require a near sweep of the toss up contests.

Control of the Senate is important not only because all legislation requires its concurrence but because it is the Senate that approves the appointments of all federal officers including senior military officers, cabinet secretaries and federal judges. This last power will be critical for the replacement of former Supreme Ct. Justice Antonin Scalia, which the Republican leadership in the current Senate has vowed to put off until the new Senate and President are elected. A Republican minority would still be able to filibuster a Supreme Ct. nominee but not nominees to other federal appointments including other federal judgeships which was disallowed by former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when he employed the so called “nuclear option” to change Senate rules to facilitate Democratic nominations to the federal bench.

The election scenario for the House of Representatives looks more secure for the Republicans.  House members represent much smaller districts than the state-wide constituencies of the Senate and historically have a very high rate of reelection.  Most change in the make-up of the house involves retirements.  In 2016, 42 House members are retiring; 26 Republicans and 16 Democrats, although all 435 members are up for reelection every two years.  Since the Republicans currently hold a 247/188 advantage the Democrats need to pick up 30 seats to gain a majority of 218.  Again, credible analysts predict a Democratic gain of 5-10 seats which indicates continued Republican control for the next two years.

Thus, even if the Democrats gain control of the Senate, Hillary’s “progressive” plans, most of which include higher taxes, will run into a road block in the House. The Constitution specifically requires that all “revenue bills” (taxes) originate in the House of Representatives (Article 1 Sec. 7).

Indeed, unless Hillary abandons her new far Left public policy orientation in those areas beyond the exclusive powers of the President, she will not even have the leverage of broad public support for new public policy initiatives to bring political pressure on a recalcitrant House.  On the major issues, the general public still seems to be closer to center-right positions than to those of the Left.

A 2015 Gallup Poll found that 37% of poll responders identified as Conservative, 35% as Moderates and 24% as Liberals.  Even less  than half (45%) of Democrats identified as Liberals, unlike the Democratic membership of the Congress.  Seventy-three percent of Independents described themselves as Moderates or Conservatives.

This continuing trend is reflected in responses to specific issues.

ISIS:  On dealing with the Islamic State, few Americans would accept Hillary’s “strategy” of using a “social media” offense and increased “intelligence” gathering to bring down the terrorists. A poll taken two days after the Islamic State attacks in Paris found that 65% of Americans “strongly supported” or “somewhat supported” sending additional ground troops to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria compared to 31% who wouldn’t. The same poll found 58% believe “using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism.

TAXES:  An April, 2016 poll found that more than 53% of Americans said their taxes are too high including 44% of Democrats.  Of course Hillary says she wants to lower taxes on the “middle class” but she wants to finance her new spending programs by taxing the “rich”.  However the April poll found those making  just $75,000 per year or more, rejecting the idea of heavy taxes on the rich by a 59% to 40% margin.

CRIME:  Hillary has said that she wants to reform the judicial system because it’s unfair to minorities. But the Gallup Poll found that Americans' level of concern about crime and violence is at its “highest point in 15 years. Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults say they personally worry ‘a great deal’ about crime and violence, an increase of 14 percentage points since 2014. This figure is the highest Gallup has measured since March 2001.”

IMMIGRATION:  As mentioned above Hillary’s position on immigration has veered widely to the Left since 2008. Now she wants to expand Obama’s executive amnesty program for illegals and include a pathway to citizenship, but a Rasmussen Poll conducted in early 2016 found that 52% of Americans believe that a “pathway to citizenship” for illegals will encourage more illegal immigration and most oppose Obama’s program.  Even 51% support Donald Trump’s call to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Sixty-one percent believe the U.S. government is not aggressive enough in deporting illegals.

Thus congressional-executive gridlock seems all but inevitable. Breaking gridlock requires presidential leadership and the willingness to compromise.  Getting two diverse legislative bodies made up of 535 individuals to initiate compromise is much more difficult.  But unless “flip flopping” for political advantage becomes the new definition of leadership, there is little in Hillary Clinton’s political career that would indicate that she possesses this quality. 


Gridlock will be defined as “Republican obstructionism” by the Democrats and liberal media, no doubt enhanced by adding “sexist” to the charge.  But the polarization of the Congress and the last eight years of Obama’s dismissive and at times insulting response to any rejection of the “progressive” policy agenda by the Republican majorities in Congress and Hillary’s Left turn has paved the way for a largely ineffective third Clinton administration.

Monday, April 4, 2016

OBAMA'S LEGACY LIST: ISIS WON'T MAKE IT

The capitals of Europe are under attack.  There’s nothing new about this, major terrorist attacks have occurred over the last several years and have included Spain, England, France, Germany and now Belgium.  Although the contagion spread to the U.S. long before the recent San Bernardino massacre with the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and then the second World Trade Center disaster on 9/11/01, the last seven plus years under the Obama administration have been characterized by a distressing level of passivity bordering on indifference.
  
Although the problem of Islamic terrorism in Europe is complicated by domestic issues of immigration, non-assimilation, and economic and social dysfunction, the threats of Islamic violence in both Europe and the United States share a basic cause. This is the leadership of the Islamic State and its absurd fantasy of creating a medieval styled “caliphate” across international borders in the Middle East and beyond.
Despite the various contributing domestic issues which offer a supply of willing volunteers in Europe, the role of Islamic State leadership in Syria is primary.  It recruits, encourages, supplies and trains the individual terrorists who do their bidding.  This is an extension of their military expansion within the nations of Syria and Iraq which could ultimately spread to Jordan, Lebanon, and Libya.

Thus, the undeniably necessary response from the nations  most directly affected, including the U.S, is the destruction of the Islamic State at its core.  To date, no serious international response has been forthcoming.  The U.S. led anti-ISIS coalition has never been effective as it has lacked coordination, commitment and has been limited to military aid and training for rebel forces mostly engaged with Syria’s government forces and since 2014 to tactical air strikes encumbered by highly restrictive rules of engagement. 

The regional members, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, have withdrawn their air support, as has the new Liberal government of Canada.  This leaves only the U.S., Britain, and France as the major participants.  Drone strikes on ISIS leaders have had some success but a “strategy” of trying to kill off the leaders of this forty thousand plus terrorist organization one by one is not a strategy at all. Obama is locked into a political philosophy of passivity and seems to have had a long term lack of understanding of the implications and seriousness of the problem.  He is unwilling to make a major commitment as a starting point to negotiations with regional states and affected European nations to commence serious operations against this major source of international terrorism. 

Obama’s dismissive attitude towards domestic terrorist attacks is astounding.  He has said that more people in the U.S. are killed in bath tub accidents and automobile deer strikes than in terrorist attacks and that the Islamic State is not an “existential threat” to the U.S.  Thus horrific slaughters of individuals as occurred in San Bernardino, California are just risks we must accept like slipping in your tub. 

Of course ISIS is not an “existential threat” to the United States.  That is a na├»ve “straw man” argument to justify largely ignoring the problem.  The Islamic terrorist’s attacks and numerous attempted plots are attacks on the sovereignty of the nation and the lives of its citizens.  These are not to be discounted or minimized as an inconvenience or domestic criminal matter.  The ISIS inspired terrorism in San Bernardino was an “existential threat” to the American citizens who were killed and wounded.  Their deaths and others yet to occur should not be simply accepted as “collateral damage” to Obama’s unwillingness to eliminate the threat.

As Obama entered the final year of his presidency, he has turned away even more than before from the hard decisions that go with the office and has let his concern with his “legacy” guide his policy priorities.  Thus he had Secretary of State Kerry “negotiate” a flawed nuclear weapons agreement with Iran.  Desperate to conclude some kind of agreement, he avoided the tough negotiations that would have been necessary to give the agreement the longevity of a formal treaty, opting instead on an executive agreement that is vulnerable to modification or termination by his successors.
 
The result of his urgency is an agreement which lifted the economic sanctions on Iran which brought them to the negotiating table and which provided the strongest card in the U.S. hand to make the outcome a genuine and long term denial of a nuclear weapons program.  He then returned approximately 1.5 billion dollars in sequestered funds which gave up the next most powerful negotiating position.  The final result included only a ten year limit on Iran’s nuclear weapons development plan and an agreement that Iran would “self-inspect” its primary nuclear weapons facility.

The opening of relations with Cuba is another “legacy” policy.  It was time to establish more normal relations with the island nation just ninety miles from Florida.  But again, Obama gave, but did not receive.  The new relationship will be much more valuable to Cuba than to the United States as tourism and investments flow in.  This reality could have provided negotiating incentives for Cuba’s aging leadership to make concessions on human rights and market based economic policies, but since Obama’s goal was simply to put “opening Cuba” on his legacy list, those opportunities were ignored. Cuba’s founding autocrat, Fidel Castro publicly disparaged the entire process.

Obama’s belief that global warming is a bigger security threat than international terrorism led to another legacy chapter.  This was the much promoted idea that the emissions agreement with China and the subsequent international agreement on the same and finalized in Paris were Obama led “break throughs”.  But the Paris agreement, while including a more comprehensive list of nations than the previous Kyoto Agreement, is long on style and short on substance.  It is a voluntary agreement. The parties  decide on their own what level of reduction of greenhouse gases they will set as a “goal”.  The agreement contains neither mandatory reporting requirements nor accountability if violated. Climate experts agree that the expected individual national “goals” will be inadequate to reduce global warming by the scientifically agreed critical target of 2 degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile the unwillingness to lead an international effort to destroy the ISIS army and its occupation of large areas of Syria and Iraq, is a similar “legacy” driven policy of non-involvement in ground operations in the Middle East, a political campaign promise related to his pledge to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq. But ISIS has evolved, both from that pledge, and from the reluctance of regional states to act without the support of the United States with its superior military capabilities. 

The medium term future is not promising.  Intelligence agencies in Belgium and France have reported that hundreds of Islamic terrorists are in their midst to carry out future domestic attacks.  ISIS has also openly put the U.S. on its latest target list. 

Although the American public would likely not support a major invasion of Syria on the scale of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Such a mission would not be required.  The U.S. led coalition in 2003 defeated the large, highly organized and well equipped army of Saddam Hussein in just seven weeks.  The ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria are essentially civilian recruits with light weapons, a few captured tanks and no air capabilities. Their strength against the currently weak opposition of the Iraqi army and the Syrian government’s forces, has been in urban fighting, and that has shown recent signs of weakening.

Obama has chosen to pursue a policy that looks as if he is committed to doing something but without taking any risks.  The result  is a U.S. led coalition effort involving tactical air strikes against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. The air campaign coalition (Operation Inherent Resolve) is a smaller part of the larger anti-ISIS coalition (Operation Enduring Freedom) which is focused on providing aid and training to Iraqi and Kurdish troops and to rebel forces fighting the Syrian government. 

While Inherent Resolve has the participation of several regional nations plus several more European nations and Australia, their contributions are small in number.  Australia’s six fighter aircraft and three support aircraft is the second largest foreign contingent after the U.S.  Saudi Arabia has withdrawn its planes as has Canada. But in spite of flying thousands of sorties (one plane on a single mission) since beginning in 2014, the territory controlled by ISIS is essentially the same as it was when the operation began. Obama has said the Islamic State is “contained” but estimated that the air operations would need to continue for three years.  Retiring Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno who was more pessimistic, and not at all worried about his legacy, estimated a period of “10 to20 years.”

The basic problem with the air operation is that it is so seriously encumbered by restrictive rules of engagement which have been imposed by political authorities over a fear of killing even  “one civilian” that most valuable targets are off limits and when pilots report targets of opportunity they must get radio clearance before making an attack.  They report that this process can take up to an hour or more rendering the request useless.  The result as reported to Senator John McCain, himself a former Navy attack pilot, in the first year of the mission, is that pilots were returning to base without dropping  their bombs 75% of the time.  The commander of the air mission, Lt. General John Hesterman, confirmed this figure.

The rules have been somewhat loosened in recent months as ISIS controlled oil facilities have been bombed and the ridiculous rule prohibiting the attacking of ISIS oil delivery trucks because the drivers might be civilians, has been revoked.  Still, the majority of targets are empty building, vehicles, storage facilities and “fighting positions” outside of populated areas. The “capital” of the Islamic State is the city of Raqqa in Syria, but Isis leaders and combatants, fully aware of the restrictive rules of engagement intermingle with the civilian population and avoid attack.

Military experts say that victory over ISIS will never be accomplished with air power alone.  A determined effort by a coalition of professional ground forces from Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and led by a contingent of American forces with American battlefield intelligence and air power seems to be the only answer to the eradication of this otherwise permanent terrorist threat to the civilian populations of Europe and America and the direct military threat to regional states.

This is a complicated situation and requires tough decision making and leadership. Jordan, with a border on Syria, has said it will not participate in a ground operation without a mandate from the UN and the forces are “led by the Americans and the British.”  Saudi Arabia has discussed participation in such an operation in cooperation with Turkey.  But Turkey’s participation is complicated by their hostilities with the Kurds whose territory lies along the northeast border of Syria with Turkey.
The civil war between the Assad government in Syria and rebel forces is also a complicating factor as a foreign ground invasion directed at ISIS in the northeast of Syria would help Assad. But a cease fire between Assad’s government forces and the rebel forces which is under negotiation could open the door for a separate ground operation against ISIS.

Thus it can be done if the planning starts now, and it is the only alternative to a generational conflict in the region and a permanent terrorist threat to Europe and the U.S.

Obama’s concern about his place in history is myopic and his “legacy” list is flawed. His primary responsibility is to protect the security and interests of the citizens of the United States at home and abroad. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

2016: FLAWED PROCESS; FLAWED CANDIDATES


 How long has it been since the 2016 presidential formal primary season began?  Only since August when the first GOP “debate” was held?  Why does it seem that we have been enduring the chaotic food fight and the new indoor world record for platitudes, sophistry, pandering, and demagogic bluster for at least a year or more? The dismal process has exposed this election’s stable of candidates as one steeped in mediocrity.  The Democratic version (October) came with the not uncommon media exercise of tossing around the phrase “coronation”.  But then a strange combination of reality and unforeseen anger at “the way it's has always been” forced the “front runner” to adjust her message.   Her challenger, whose promised “revolution” is so described  by virtue of his 1960’s protest mentality that it has excited young voters who thought it was something new. This unexpected  momentum  began to give the Democratic establishment stomach pains but Hillary was up to the challenge.  Not being encumbered by an integrity compass, she simply changed her message to a kind of Sanders “socialism lite”.  “You want to give young voters free college and tax the “greedy rich” to pay for it?  Well then so do I.”

 A virtual tie in the Iowa Caucuses brought on unfamiliar feelings of desperation in New Hampshire. So Hillary brought out the “big guns” like ageing feminist Gloria Steinhem.  Whoops! Telling young women that their enthusiasm for the Bern was just driven by hormones because that’s where the young men were, was only exceeded in utter dumbness by another wrinkled version of feminism, Madeline Albright’s threat that those failing to support a “woman candidate” would find themselves in hell.  Now that’s an inspirational message that’s hard to beat as an election slogan.  But Hillary had an even “better” one up her sleeve after a sound defeat in New Hampshire and going into the South Carolina primary.  Counting on South Carolina’s large black population, Hillary brought racial politics and group pandering to a new level, even for her.

“The whole nation is infected with systemic racism!” she declared.  The evidence of course was irrefutable to the liberal mind and those who have been fed a steady diet of victimization: “black criminals are being sent to jail!”  “Black men who have dropped out of high school can’t find jobs!” 

But you can’t knock success, even in the world of pandering.  Sander’s message of class warfare delivered by an “old white man”, didn’t appeal as much to South Carolina’s black voters as Hillary’s racism meme and she won big.

So the dismal promise marathon between an old radical with an old message and the ever self-entitled legacy presidential candidate goes on.  Super Tuesday’s and subsequent primaries and caucuses has Hillary sitting on a substantial lead but still short of “inevitability”.

On the other side, we are witnessing a cringe inducing meltdown of the traditional electoral process in which candidates offered a mix of policy preferences with a feel good optimism that the perceived ills of society would be fixed by their leadership. Despite differences in political philosophy and programmatic emphasis, these past contests have been characterized by a level of personal respect for both the opposing candidates and the dignity of the institution for which they were all candidates.  Terms like “gravitas”, “statesmanlike”, and “presidential bearing” were frequently mentioned in media discussions of the participants.

Those days are apparently gone.  The 2012 “circular firing squad” that destroyed Mitt Romney’s chances in the general election was not heeded and the current display resembles something just short of a bar fight and reflects badly on all the candidates but especially on the front runner, Donald Trump.  It seems highly unlikely that Trump’s advisers are behind his school yard behavior and overt and ugly hostility to individuals, groups, and policies, as a “tactic”.  Surely defiance in the face of massive opprobrium on the part of the media and members of both parties, would be seen as potential political suicidal by seasoned political advisors.  So the inescapable conclusion is that Donald Trump as an individual is deeply flawed in terms of building human relationships, intellectual inquiry and analysis, and respect for traditions, institutions and people with whom he is unfamiliar. This is the very antithesis of leadership. 

By steering the debates, both on and off the stage, into these obnoxious depths, Trump has dragged the other candidates down into his disgusting realm, thus poisoning the entire process.  How then is he able to maintain his level of support across regions and demographics?

Some say they like what he says even while disapproving of his demeanor.  Others simply enjoy his cage fight hostility to the “establishment”. 

So the pro-Trump narrative has two different threads.  One is that Trump is the answer to what they perceive as the disassociation of the Republican Party from its true conservative roots and its slide towards the neo-liberalism of the Democratic Party.  These critics make a credible argument with respect to the abandonment, acquiescence or compromise to ever increasing federal spending, intrusion of the government into the lives of individual citizen, over regulation of private businesses, and a level of internationalism that seems to some as overreach based on its indirect impact on U.S. national interests.

Conservative political philosophy with its emphasis on individual liberty and small government, they point, out has nothing to do with the prevailing emphasis on “social conservatism” and the religious based issues of abortion and gay rights which are playing such a large role in the contest.  Concentration on these socially divisive and irreconcilable issues is indeed a distraction from fundamental conservatism and weakens the appeal of conservatism as a broad based political philosophy. 
However ideological purism from any point of view is undesirable since it becomes too restrictive in an ever more complex political and economic environment and must therefore reject reality to maintain itself.  Thus 21st Century conservatism must grow and adapt while preserving its foundational premise of individual liberty and limited government.

The other pro-Trump narrative is simply that government, aided by the political class of both parties, is corrupt, self-serving and out of touch with ordinary citizens.  Trump, it is felt will “go into the ring” with these forces and break down the barriers to input by the citizenry.  This is the “anger” explanation which is real.  Trump voters are angry with economic redistribution policies, the accelerating destruction of an identifiable American culture by the failed logic and process of multi-culturalism and its handmaidens, a failed immigration and border policy and, the absurd proliferation of political correctness, all promoted by the political power of narrow interest groups.  

These Trump voters are not concerned with saving or remaking the Republican Party but both of these pro-Trump arguments are flawed in some important respects.

Those who believe Trump can be the leader who will guide the Republican Party back to its conservative roots are wrong.  Nothing Trump has said in the campaign, an indeed much of his political past, indicates an ideological commitment to such a path. Trump is a tactician, who has adopted populism as an election strategy. He is playing on the feelings of voters that they are merely pawns in the contest for power between political elites, which includes the other “establishment” candidates in the Republican primary contest. 

These more analytical Trump adherents are willing to minimize the enormous gap between what Trump says he will do, the specifics of how he will do it, and what he is actually capable of doing as President. They are also willing to forgive his extraordinary personality defects which make him incapable of leadership in any context other than public forums of disaffected groups.  A President Trump would find himself in a very lonely White House with few friends or political allies in the Congress who are necessary to rebuild the Party or pass any conservative or Trump policy agenda.

The “angry” bloc of Trump supporters, if he is successful, will see their anger satisfied in the debates between Trump and Hillary but even if he is somehow elected President, further satisfaction will disappear quickly as he is rendered ineffective by the political isolation that will surely follow.

The danger for both sets of “believers” is of course the likelihood that his “over the top” hostility to any but the cheering crowds before him will hand the presidency to Hillary as moderate Republicans simply opt out and the “anyone but Hillary” voters hold their noses and move into the “anyone but Trump” camp.

The instinctive desire one feels to see their political opponents pummeled has limits of propriety and tradition which Trump has far exceeded.  The election is largely in the hands of self -described “independent” voters. Such voters, although made up of “leaners” towards one party or the other, have, by definition, open minds, but it would take a extraordinary degree of “openness” for these uncommitted voters to accept the excesses of Trumps behavior to consider him fit for the world’s and nation’s most important office.

Thus voters are seeing the sad spectacle of a failure of the electoral system.  After eight years of passive incompetence and the absence of leadership in the White House, the choices are likely to be “the lesser of evils”. We have a legacy candidate without personal accomplishments whose celebrity candidacy is built upon her marriage to a former president and the political value of her chromosomes.   Her vision for the nation is essentially a vision of her own status and power which she disguises as “progressive” policies   depending on which group she is talking to and what her opponent is saying that seems energize the voters which she can then emulate.

Her opponent may well be the most offensive, least qualified presidential candidate in history. Even if all the present and former candidates in both parties are considered, only one has the experience, demeanor and accomplishments that would normally be seen as required for the office of the President. That would be former Congressman and current Ohio governor, John Kasich.  But the electoral process has been taken over by the media and the result is a absurd hybrid of a reality show and a political version of “Judge Judy” in which Kasich lacks the “excitement factor”.  So called “debates” are a combination of standard stump speeches, and accusations proffered by the other “debaters’ and the self-important moderators who wish to enter the debate to demonstrate how “tough” they are as ‘journalists”. These questioners seem to relish their role as instigators by encouraging the personal attacks with their he said, she said, questions.

This “info-tainment” process elevates the entertainment component over the policy component, encourages the participation of under qualified candidates, and produces repetitive results largely based on style over substance.


A flawed system needs to be changed if flawed candidates are to be avoided. The chances are not encouraging.