Analysis 10-12-2020

ANALYSIS

Vice Presidential Debates take on more Importance this Year

 

The Vice-Presidential debate took place on Wednesday.  And, although it did not attract the attention that the presidential debates do, it had some important features.  Obviously, given Biden’s declining mental health and Trump’s recent Corona virus infection, one of these two Vice Presidential candidates could very well become president within the next four years.

The second feature is that it is quite possible that one or even both participants could be in the presidential debate in four years.

So, who won?  Although the responses covered the spectrum, the complaints about sexism and racism by many meant that Vice President Pence was perceived to carry the flag for Trump and act as good soldier for him.  While Harris managed to defend Biden and promote his case to be president without and project confidence and merit for being his choice VP.

The debate was much more restrained than last week’s presidential debate.  Interruptions were fewer and the moderator kept control.

Pence was a former congressman, state governor, and radio talk show host.  He came clearly prepared for the debate, He did use a few verbal “zingers,” but he was calm, showed a performance from Trump’s last week.

On the other hand, it was clear that Biden had picked Harris for only two qualities – she was a woman and Black.

Some thought that Harris, a former prosecutor, would do well in the debate – forgetting her poor performance during the Democratic primary debates, where her only outstanding moment was to call Biden a racist.  She started out strong with attacks on Trump’s handling of the Corona virus pandemic.  However, as she was pressed by Pence and the moderator, her deflecting response that Trump had packed the court system with Whites, might play well with her base of social justice supporters.

The final proof that the debate did not matter much of changing the status of the  campaign substantially was the post-debate stories that focused on the fact that a fly was seated on Pence’s head for about two minutes.

Did the debate cause any dramatic changes in the race?  No.  People vote for the top of the ticket.  However, for a few Republicans who are concerned about Trump’s “over the top” style, the thought that a calm, Vice President Pence is in the background may make them more willing to vote for Trump. And Harris was able to maintain the momentum for Biden campaign over Trump nationally and some key battleground states.

The future of the 2020 debates is unclear.  The Presidential debate committee has announced, without consulting the campaigns, that they would hold a virtual debate next week, where the candidates and moderator would not be in the same room for health reasons.  Trump has already turned down this format and has announced that he intends to hold a rally instead.  That leaves the debate’s future up in the air.  Trump does well in a rally format – much better than in a debate.

 

Gearing up for the Post Election Fight

Elections, campaign rallies, and vice-presidential debates are the “bright shiny” side of the picking of a new government.  Unfortunately, there are many potential outcomes (some promising civil unrest) that could come from a close vote on November 3rd.

Although there has been quite a bit of focus on the 20th and 25th Amendments as they pertain to the transfer of power from one president to another, it’s easy to forget that there are other laws and parts of the US Constitution that will impact the next three months.  And, no doubt, lawyers from both the Democrat and Republican sides are studying the laws and precedents.

Here are some of the issues that could delay proceedings or even change the course of the election and the picking of a president.

Congress can refuse to certify the results of the Electoral College.  This was an outside possibility in the 2000 election, where Bush barely won Florida.  However, Vice President Gore squashed any attempt to do this – possibly stopping civil unrest because of a contested election.

Although the state electors vote for the president, it is not an automatic process because the US Congress (both House and Senate) must certify the results in a joint session.  Unfortunately, the details are in US law and are much more complicated than the process briefly covered in the Constitution.

The president of the Senate (Vice President Pence) presides over the meeting and calls for any objections to the validity of the electors of any given state.  The objections must be signed by a member of the House and the Senate.  The two houses then caucus separately and if both houses agree that the electoral votes were not properly certified, they can be thrown out.

If there are two competing sets of electors, the Senate and House will also vote to determine the properly certified group of electors.

If the Senate and House cannot agree, one interpretation of the law is that the state’s governor makes the final determination.  Another interpretation is that the choice is up to the state legislature.

Here is an example of how that may play out in Michigan, a normally Democratic state that went narrowly for Trump in 2016.  If the Democratic Governor Whitmer declares the vote illegitimate and the four person board of Canvassers (evenly split between Republicans and Democrats) fail to agree, Governor Whitmer may block the vote of the Republican electors or even declare the Biden electors to be Michigan’s electors.

However, Michigan’s legislature is Republican, and they could vote to endorse the Trump slate of electors.  This would lead to two slates of electors from Michigan and force the Congress to decide which one is the valid one or if Michigan loses their electoral votes entirely.

If the Congress remains divided as it is now, the process of picking the valid electors can be delayed for a long time, which will cause voters to question the results.  This could lead to more civil unrest.

There is also the possibility, if the Congress tries to disqualify electors, that there could be a tie in the Electoral College, which would give the final choice to the Congress (with each state getting one vote based on the vote by the newly elected House and Senate delegation.  This would probably give the election to Trump since more state delegations are controlled by Republicans.

If one party takes control of both the Senate and House, they can refuse to certify any result that helps the other party win the White House – which could lead to civil unrest.

No matter what, the results would likely end up going to the Supreme Court, which is why Trump nomination of a SCOTUS justice is so critical and why Democrats are rabidly opposed to a vote before the election.

The potential for a tied SCOTUS vote is troubling if Trump’s nomination of Barrett is delayed.  A tied ruling by SCOTUS means the lower court ruling stands.  However, there is a good chance that there could be more than one court case going up to the Supreme Court and rulings by lower courts could be contradictory.  Again, civil unrest could be the result.

But what if there is no decision by January 20th?  Trump cannot continue in office and the Constitution’s 20th Amendment takes over.  That leaves the Speaker of the House – as next in the line of succession – as acting president until a president is chosen.

Since the Speaker of the House is chosen at the beginning of the session that choice will depend on which party has control of the House.  As it stands now, if the Democrats retain the House and reelect Pelosi, she will then become the acting president.  However, the Republicans could have the majority, or the Democrats could pick another Speaker of the House than Pelosi.

This does not solve the problem.  If Pelosi becomes acting president and the SCOTUS ruling gives the election to Trump, Pelosi could use her short time in office to sabotage a second Trump Administration by making political appointments and cancelling Trump executive orders.  A Pelosi Department of Justice might even try to indict Trump in the interim.  Again, civil unrest could be the result.

In the end, barring a clear win by either Trump or Biden, there could be considerable unrest.  It all depends on how hard either side wants to push.  Hillary Clinton has already told Biden he should not concede no matter what.  And there is question of what Trump would do with a questionable outcome.

There have also been reports that the Democratic Party may encourage the secession of California, Oregon, and Washington if Trump wins the electoral vote, but loses the popular vote.  This virtually guarantees a second American civil war.

What would Americans do if faced with a potential secession?  A YouGov poll says most Americans (56%) fear a Post-Election Civil War.

A more troubling poll released a week ago showed that 61% agree that the US is one the verge of another Civil War.  Additionally, most Americans are stockpiling food and other necessities for such civil unrest.

This poll was not the usual political poll, but a marketing poll that was trying to determine consumer attitudes.  “This latest finding, while not anticipated, is yet another example of an extremely bifurcated population,” said Jon Last, President of the Sports and Leisure Research Group.

“This is the single most frightening poll result I’ve ever been associated with,” said Rich Thau, President of Engagious, one of the three firms that did the survey.

“The current data shows an alarming trend that extreme political polarization of our country could be a powder keg ready to explode into a Civil War,” said Ron Bonjean, Partner at ROKK Solutions.

The same evidence is seen at the retail level.  Gun stores report that the demand for guns is so large that firearms and ammunition are flying of the shelves and widespread shortages are now common.  Groups that monitor firearms sales are reporting that 40% of these new gun sales are to people who never owned a firearm before.  This includes traditionally non-gun owning groups like Blacks, Women, and those under 30.

The FBI, which monitors firearms sales, reported that last month saw more firearms sales than any September in history.  That implies that Americans are readying for civil unrest and a possible civil war.

It seems that as the election grows near, the number of peaceful options seems to shrink.

Analysis 10-05-2020

ANALYSIS

The First 2020 Presidential DebateThe Rumble in Cleveland

The whole concept of presidential debates was to give the voter a chance to hear the candidates provide thoughtful answers to important issues.  That worked for the first debates between Kennedy and Nixon.  However, thoughtful answers to important issues have been lacking in the following 60 years.

Of course, the America of 1960 was far different.  Democrats and Republicans were much closer in political beliefs, could debate the issues civilly at home and at the office, and had the same concerns – the fear of Communism, the alleged gap in the US military and the Soviet military, and the amount of tax cuts.  And generally, most people except for marginal white supremacists like the KKK. favored equal rights for minorities.  Meanwhile Dr. Martian Luther King spoke about advancement though merit, not the color of one’s skin.

That divide is much greater today.  The Democratic Party now espouses many left oriented principles.  Families do not even talk – especially at family gatherings – because of major political differences.  Nearly everything can be viewed with racist tendency.  And the idea that equality is being colorblind is out of fashion.

These major differences in American beliefs came through in Tuesday’s debates.

In many ways, the first 2020 presidential debate was much like a boxing bout or one of the wrestling matches President Trump likes – full of sound/insults and fury.  There was the old veteran who had been winning bouts since the 1970s but was perceived as a week and losing a step to the challenger.  Then, there was the challenger, with a few wins, but an ego and a lot of flash.

Then, there is the umpire, who has had repeatedly attempting to control the constant interruptions from Trump.  Would he be unbiased?  Or would he be merely ignored by the players?

The debate followed the same plot.  Biden, the campaign veteran, who has declined mentally, had to prove that he could “mix it up” with Trump and not make any major gaffs.  Trump needed to push Biden to force mistakes on the former Vice President’s part.  Meanwhile, the umpire, Chris Wallace, managed to lose control of the debate like an umpire in a professional wrestling event.

In their basic strategy, both Biden and Trump succeeded.  And it appears that the backers of both candidates thought their candidate won.

However, how the debate descended into chaos disturbed the organizers of the presidential debates and they have announced that there will be changes (possibly turning off the candidate’s mikes if they interrupt the other candidate) in order to make the debates more civil and prevent the candidates from interrupting each other.

The question remains, “how did the debate impact undecided voters and how many were in the television audience?”  And did the raucous nature of the debate make any difference, or did viewers expect it?

Probably, few minds were changed.  A CBS poll taken before the debate showed that only 6% were watching because they had not made up their mind.  The rest were watching either to see their candidate or for entertainment.

Biden tried to provide a reason why he should be president.  However, Trump, although clearly on the offensive, did not manage to force Biden into a campaign damaging mistake.  However, the bully style of Trump did get to Biden as he was forced to tell Trump to “shut up,” and calling him a clown and liar.

Although Trump was unable to land a clear hit on Biden, he managed to put him on the defensive.  When Biden tried to compare his son’s military record to Trump’s failure to join the military, Trump jabbed back with Biden’s son claiming he was dishonorably discharged from the military for drug use and then selling political influence in Russia and the Ukraine – charges that left Biden .

Biden failed to reach the middle-class voters who are concerned about the growing violence in America’s cities.

Biden’s strength was in the economy and the Corona virus, which his debate advisors focused on.  Biden pushed Trump on the amount of deaths caused by the Corona virus and how Trump’s handling of the epidemic had ruined the economy – a strong issue as the economy is always a major factor in elections.  Biden reminded listeners that much of the current economic gains are being made by the rich, not the average American.  This was Biden’s biggest win in the debate.

In addition to being a raucous debate, neither candidate managed to land a telling blow.  Biden remained in the debate the whole time, even though he was visibly tired by the end and many of his answers were obviously memorized.  Trump came out on the offensive but failed to “Put Biden away.”

So, who won?  The polling that came out afterwards showed more that Biden was the winner.

The low ratings for the first debate also tell us something.  The number of viewers declined 36% from the record setting viewership of four years ago.

The most telling view of the debate outcome was the opinion of some media people and Democratic operatives saying that Biden should not go to any more debates.

 

 

Do Debates Help or Hinder?However, there has always been a question about the impact of debates on presidential elections.  Some experts say that Nixon’s appearance, appearing nervous and having a visible “5 o’clock shadow on his chin was what gave Kennedy the win, although radio listeners thought Nixon was the winner.

Other experts note that President Ford’s misstatement that Poland was free, when under Soviet control, caused him to lose the election.

But is that true?

Statistics show that debates rarely sway voters.  A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that 70% of voters said the debate would not change their vote.  And many of those would choose to not watch the debate.

A study by CitiFX (part of the Citi Bank Group) showed that in four of the past five “first debates” the trailing candidate closed the gap at least temporarily.  Mitt Romney decisively “won” the first debate, only to lose to Obama.  Trump lost all three debates against Hillary Clinton in 2016.  And John Kerry won all three debates against George W. Bush in 2004.  Only two first debate winners, Obama (2008) and Clinton (1996) would “win” the first debate and go on the win the election.

The study by Citi shows that the relation between debate success in the first debate and winning is random.

Clearly, what determines victory goes far beyond winning debates, especially in a year where there is a vast philosophical difference between candidates.  Someone who thinks Biden is a tool of the socialists of the Democratic Party is unlikely to switch from Trump to Biden.  Conversely, someone who is concerned about the autocratic nature of Trump will not suddenly join the Trump bandwagon.

As sides grow further apart in America, there is a growing desire to “slam” the other side and their views.  In many ways, it is similar to the desire for the fans of one sports team like football to see the opposition quarterback to be hit so hard by the opposing team that he has to be carried off the field.

The 2020 presidential debates were geared by strategists on both sides to cater to that desire.  Trump backers wanted to see Trump leave Biden a speechless, demented old man on the stage.  Biden’s supporters wanted to see Trump unveiled as the bully loudmouth authoritarian.

Although the remaining debates are still in the future, and even still up in the air, we can be sure that the tactics will not change that much.

Analysis 09-30-2020

ANALYSIS

Battle for the Soul of the US Supreme Court

 

The death of the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, last week is more than another fight over nominating and approving a new Supreme Court (SCOTUS) justice.  In many ways, it marks the culmination of a war over the Supreme Court that began over 60 years ago.  No wonder that Democrats are upset that President Trump will be able to name Ginsberg’s replacement are promising wholesale electoral rebellion.

Although the SCOTUS is a co-equal branch of the US government, it has been the least important one for most of its history.  Its job was to provide a non-prejudicial branch to try court cases.  And that has been its major task.

However, over two hundred years, the SCOTUS gave itself the right to decide what laws were unconstitutional (Marbury Vs. Madison, 1803).  This decision, which is now considered the most important decision in US Constitutional Law allows the federal courts to rule any action by the government unconstitutional and non-binding.

Although the courts had this power, it was only used sparingly during the next 150 years – until President Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as Chief of the Supreme Court.  Warren and the other 8 justices (appointed by Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman) became the most liberal, activist court and redefined America with landmark rulings on desegregation, the rights of defendants, the power of the Federal Government, and even religious expression.

Most Americans were generally unaware of the overall impact of these rulings until 1962, when the Court ruled that prayer in public schools and at government events was unconstitutional (Engle v. Vitale).  A year later they declared that reading the Bible or the Prayer was also unconstitutional at public schools.

This had a dramatic impact.  These rulings were unpopular with the conservative Americans and suddenly the political leanings of the SCOTUS justices were of concern to the average voter.  Starting in 1964 with Republican Presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater, every Republican presidential candidate has made it part of his agenda to appoint more conservative justices that would turn back such decisions.

Although President Nixon tried to turn back the Court with the appointment of Warren Burger as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the number of liberal justices on the court kept the court making rulings that were more favorable to liberals, including the abortion case of Roe v. Wade.

The tide began to turn during the Reagan presidency with his appointments of four justices.  While female Justice O’Conner was moderate, Justice Kennedy became a crucial swing vote in many cases like the Heller Case.  Chief Justice Rehnquist became the first conservative chief justice in modern history.  And Justice Scalia provided the intellectual foundation of the conservative wing of the Court – writing many landmark rulings like the Heller case that upheld the ownership of firearms by Americans.

In 1991, conservative Clarence Thomas replaced liberal Thurgood Marshall, which brought the conservative and liberal sides of the court into a near balance.

The next few decades saw a closely divided court with Justices O’Conner and Kennedy becoming the “swing” votes.

The most senior Associate Justice on the liberal side was Justice Ginsberg, who was appointed by Clinton.  One of her traditional powers was to assign the Associate Justice who would write court rulings if she were the most senior justice voting in the majority.  This gave her wide powers to define the scope of the ruling – making it limited in scope or making it a piece of landmark legal precedence.

With seniority, came age and by the time Obama was in the White House, many liberals felt that with her age in the 80s, she should step down to allow Obama to name her successor.  Although she had several bouts with cancer, she felt that she could still do the job.

Until last week.

Now a closely divided SCOTUS (four conservative, four liberal, and the Chief Justice as “swing” vote) is on the verge of the conservative dream that began with the ruling against prayer in schools – a majority on the Court.  The death of Ginsberg (with the Trump nomination getting approved) means a split of 5 conservatives, 3 liberals, and one swing vote.

No wonder Democrats are so concerned.

There is also another factor.  As Republicans have gained more control in the Congress, more conservative laws have been written, which the Democrats could not defeat in Congress.  As a result, the Democrats have been forced to rely upon the courts to rule such laws or actions as unconstitutional.  Many of these cases are heard in the Ninth district, which is traditionally more liberal and willing to decide in the Democrats’ favor due to the large influence of liberal California and its liberal senators who had to approve the nominations in previous years.

With the historic number of conservative judges being appointed by Trump to the Federal court system – including the 9th District – liberals are less able to counter Republican legislation.  This, in turn, has Democrats considering enlarging the number of seats in the federal courts next time a Democratic president is in charge.  This would counter the current balance in the judiciary.

So, what is going to happen now?  The US Senate has a Republican majority, which gives Trump an edge in pushing through a conservative choice for Associate Justice.

Democratic senators are arguing that the choice of a new justice should be left to the new president (an argument that Republicans used to stop Obama’s last SCOTUS nomination in 2016).

Democrats had hoped that they could persuade some moderate Republican senators to pledge not to vote for a justice before the election to give the newly elected president the choice.  In fact, two senators, Murkowski and Collins had made such a pledge.

However, as we noted earlier, a conservative Supreme Court has become such an issue for conservatives and Republicans in the last 60 years that to not take advantage of this opportunity would be considered political suicide.  Many Senators like Senator McCain, who criticized Trump over many things supported his court nominations.  That is why Murkowski reversed her position a few days after saying she would not vote for a justice.  And it is probably why Romney, a frequent Trump critic, said he will support a conservative justice.

At this point in time, it looks like the Republican Senate leadership has the votes.  And a vote is being planned for before the election.

Getting a conservative justice on the court before Election Day is considered essential.  Many think this election will be more confused by numerous legal challenges than the election in 2000, when about 300 votes in Florida decided the election in Bush’s favor after a ruling by the Supreme Court.  Republicans want to make sure the court is fully manned for any court case concerning the election.  They also realize that any 4 – 4 split ruling would only create more controversy.

This whole incident may also have an impact on voting for the Senate.  The Republicans only have a 3-seat edge and many Democrats felt that they could take the Senate and stop Trump’s nomination of so many conservative judges.  The Ginsberg death highlights Trump’s success in changing the judiciary – something that all Republicans support, even if they do not approve of Trump.  This could very well give the edge to Republicans in some close races like Arizona, where McSally has virtually tied with Democrat Kelly in the days since the Ginsberg death.

True, the Ginsberg death could bring out more Democrats, especially those who do not want a pull back on Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion.  This could favor Democrat candidates in more liberal states.

However, elections aside, the question remains, “After pursuing a conservative Supreme Court for 60 years, will conservatives get what they want?”  Judges are loath to overturn precedence and many cases from the Warren Court Era are now popular and will not be reversed.  Judges may “nibble” at the edges of case law, to give people more rights in exercising their religious beliefs in public.  But that may take decades since it takes years for cases to reach the Supreme Court (if they ever do).

There is also the international impact of the SCOTUS – something rarely considered.  For instance, there have been several immigration related cases that have gone to the Supreme Court that can impact people who have never been in the US.

One such case involved banning immigration from majority Muslim nations.  SCOTUS found in June 2018 that the president had the power to make such decisions based on his constitutional power to regulate immigration.

The court also handles cases involving commercial law that impacts international companies either based or doing business in the US.

Although there have been complaints that the SCOTUS doesn’t consider foreign law in its decisions (Ginsberg was an advocate of using foreign law in SCOTUS decisions), the mandate set forth by the court over two centuries ago is clear.  The Marbury v. Madison case of 1803 makes it clear that the foundation of US law is the US Constitution.  Foreign law that is not in agreement with the US Constitution cannot be considered since the Constitution is the basic operating document of the US.

It is also important to remember that what the Court believes can be reversed.  Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas is now the most senior justice on the Supreme Court.  He is 72, and if Trump wins reelection, he will be 76.  If the Democrats win the White House after Trump and they stay in power for 8 years, he will be 84, just three years short of Ginsberg’s age when she died.  It is  conceivable that an untimely death could give Democrats the same advantage that the Republicans have now.  It also means that if Trump wins reelection, some conservatives may encourage Thomas to resign while Trump can name his replacement (providing the GOP still controls the Senate).

Analysis 09-25-2020

ANALYSIS

Is America’s Global Prestige Growing, Shrinking,
or about the Same?

 

On Wednesday, the Washington Post printed an article titled, “The US Global Standing Plummets, while Americans yearn for a Restoration.”  The article was backed by a survey of citizens in democracies (mostly European) by the Pew Research Center.

According to the Washington Post, “Under President Trump, global opinion of the United States keeps falling.  That is the conclusion of a new survey by the Pew Research Center, which polled attitudes in 13 wealthy democracies, including numerous staunch American allies.”

“In at least seven nations, including key allies like Britain and Japan, approval ratings for the United States plunged to record lows.”

Sudha David-Wilp a fellow at the German Marshall Fund said, “I think there is still admiration for the United States, but it may be waning very quickly – especially if Trump gets reelected.”

The article by the Washington Post, which is known for its strident opposition to Trump, came out the day after the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel signed an agreement recognizing each other. To Trump supporters, the Pew Survey gave the Post a chance to dim what they considered the glow of success surrounding the new “Middle Eastern agreement in over a quarter century” and a major opening between Israel and the GCC nations.

However, in support of the survey results, there is the reality that Americans have had foreign relations problems for decades.  There is a reason for the phrase “Ugly American.”  Americans can be egocentric and think they know what is best for the world.  The citizens of Libya, Syria, and Iraq know that firsthand.

However, the fact is that the Pew survey has many problems with it – problems that lead one to believe that the survey was designed to be a political tool rather than a reflection of US international prestige.

The first discrepancy is the timing of the survey.  This annual survey by the Pew group has been done in the spring for the past 20 years.  Why did the Pew group suddenly decide to forgo the survey in Spring 2020 in the same way it was done in the past?  For the first time, the survey was done in the summer.

There were also new nations added that were not included in past surveys.  Belgium and Denmark were new countries.  Other countries like Canada and Australia were only recently added.

The Corona virus threat is not the answer to the different polling schedule because the report noted that they made this year’s survey a phone survey to preclude any spread of the virus.  Therefore, the delay was not epidemic related.

It appears that the survey was delayed bringing the results out closer to the US presidential election to impact them.

Pew poll reports are usually reported just days after the survey.  For instance, a survey about attitudes towards the Black Lives Matter movement was taken between September 8th – 13th and reported three days later September 16th.

The survey on attitudes towards the US took place in July and August but was only released the day after President Trump had garnered what his supporters consider a major Middle Eastern diplomatic coup.  Therefore, the report was apparently delayed maximizing the negative impact on Trump.  Much of the negatives came from attitudes about the US handling of the Corona virus.

The survey noted that Trump had more support amongst more conservative parties- although the Pew definition of a “Right Wing Party” was vague and not backed up by data.

Note that it is really very difficult to categorize US and European “right wing” voters.  For instance, while the Brexit was the major issue in British elections, critical American issues like gun ownership are less important (or non-existent) in Europe.

If there is a commonality between conservative American and European political parties, it is the issue of immigration and the growing power of the unelected bureaucrats of the European Union in Europe and unelected bureaucrats in Washington.

The responses of these conservative European parties in this survey are where some of the results can be legitimately questioned.  For instance, the survey said that only 19% of British voters thought Trump would do the right thing regarding world affairs.

Despite the difference in critical political issues in Britain, Trump is popular with those who supported the Brexit.  Non-Brexit voters also have a higher opinion of Trump than those of the other nations.  How is it then that the survey says Trump only has the confidence of 19% of Brits?  This is especially strange since Brexit voters are mostly British – both in the Brexit vote and the general elections held last year.

The same can be seen in other countries where “right wing parties” that did well in recent elections and who are more likely to approve of President Trump seemed to be underrepresented in the final results of the Pew survey.

However, we will never know.  The Pew report does not provide the internals to its surveys.  Except for the gross number of those surveyed, there is nothing on gender, age, political affiliation, etc.

There are also some interesting facts that did not make it to the headlines.  The UK (America’s closest ally) gave America (under Trump) the same sort of “very favorable” ranking that they did under Obama.

There is a saying in the polling business.  “If you can’t look at the internals of the poll, then it doesn’t count.”  This is true in the Pew poll.  There are too many unanswered questions.

This sloppiness in the internal assumptions of polls was an obvious polling mistake in the 2016 presidential election.  Polls showed Clinton winning easily because the internals were manipulated to favor Clinton.  The election results, however, had Trump winning the Electoral College easily.

In America, polling has become less of a touchstone of reality and more of a tool to push opinion in a certain direction.  It appears that the Pew Research Center survey has fallen into that category.

Admittedly, Trump is unpopular amongst many Europeans, especially those who are more liberal, just as he is unpopular with American liberals.  However, it appears that he had a solid backing of a growing group of populist voters who are upset with the “business as usual” of many political parties.

Which brings us back to the state of American prestige internationally.

Trump ran in 2016 on an “America first” platform.  Logically, America first means other nations come in last.  And that is reflected in the Pew poll results.  Naturally, Germans want Germany first and French want French first.

Last year’s general election in Great Britain showed that the British want Britain first (and the EU last).

The sense of American prestige does fluctuate, and actual results may be best seen in the long term.  It seemed low at the beginning of the Reagan presidency, but it ended the Cold War.

So, has American prestige grown or declined?  It seems that those who do not like Trump see American prestige as having declined.  However, amongst the rapidly growing populist “right wing” parties it remains strong.

And, for those Americans who voted for Trump to “Make America Great Again,” American prestige has grown in the last 3 ½ years.

The actual state of American prestige internationally will depend on who wins elections (in America and abroad) in the future.

Analysis 09-08-2020

ANALYSIS

US Pentagon:   China has Outpaced US in some Defense Areas.
Truth or Hype?

 

Just as Congress is considering a $700 billion Defense authorization bill, a DoD report has come out that claims the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has already surpassed the US in missile development, in number of warships, and air defense systems.  China’s goal, the report says, is to develop a military by 2049 that is one of a great world power.

It seems Pentagon leaders are bent on trying to convince the congress to continue providing  enormous defense budget, and the US military industrial complex is the main beneficiary.

To that end, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) has “marshaled the resources, technology, and political will over the past two decades to strengthen and modernize the PLA in nearly every respect.”

The result is that “China is already ahead of the United States in certain areas” essential to its goal of global power projection.

The report to Congress is one that is made, by Congressional request, every year since 2000.  The first one said that China’s military was geared for a large land war along its borders.  Its ground, air, and naval forces were obsolete.

The report now says China is ahead of the US in shipbuilding, land based ballistic and cruise missiles, and air defense systems.  The report also said that China had restructured the PLA “into a force better suited for joint operations, improving the PLA’s overall combat readiness, encouraging the PLA to embrace new operational concepts, and expanding the PRC’s overseas military footprint.”

These were the “scare” headlines that were published.  However, when one digs into the report, it is obvious that China and the PLA have a long way to go to reach a global power status.

The telling statement that few reported said, “Despite the PLA’s progress over the past 20 years, major gaps and shortcomings remain.  The PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) leaders are aware of the problems and their strategy envisions the PLA undergoing almost 30 more years of modernization and reform.”

Since weapons systems rarely have a life of over 30 years, that means all the naval ships, air force aircraft, and armored vehicles being considered in this report will not even be active (or will be considered obsolete) when the Chinese goal of being a world power in 2049 occurs.

In other words, despite the reports, China is not even close to being a global military power at this time. In fact, much of China’s leadership may be engaged in wishful thinking.

One way to look at this report is to compare it to the annual reports made by the US Department of Defense from 1981 to the end of the Cold War on Soviet Military Power.  These reports were filled with tables comparing numbers and quality of Soviet equipment.  Although there was a tendency to exaggerate Soviet weapons systems capabilities (their aircraft carriers are an excellent example) they clearly showed a quantitative and qualitative threat.

This report on Chinese capabilities had few tables and none compared Chinese weapons and capabilities to American weapons and capabilities.  Rather, there was more of a focus on vague wording.

An example was the statement frequently made that, “The PRC has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines including over 130 major surface combatants.  In comparison, the US Navy’s battle force is approximately 293 ships as of early 2020.”

Those figures are misleading.  The US Navy has fewer ships, but they have much more capability.  Many Chinese naval ships are light warships designed for littoral operations.

The US Navy has more displaced tonnage in its battle fleet than the next 13 navies (including China’s) combined, 11 nuclear aircraft carriers (only one other navy, France has one), and 3,700 operational naval aircraft (that doesn’t include the massive number of aircraft that the US Air Force has).  The number of US navy aircraft exceeds the total number of Chinese fighter bombers and attack aircraft by about 1,000.

In order to merely gain equality in nuclear powered aircraft carriers by 2049, the Chinese would have to design an operational, large deck, nuclear aircraft carrier that can carry a multitude of aircraft types, and then build a new carrier at a rate of more than one every three years.  The Chinese are still trying to build a small conventional powered aircraft carrier.

That does not even include the effort and cost of building the aircraft and training the crews and naval personnel.

The same is true in the other fields where China has a lead over the US. True, it has a lead in nuclear capable land based ballistic and cruise missiles, however, that is only because the US had a treaty with the USSR/Russia that eliminated these missiles.  Since the treaty has been nullified, the US is already working on fielding new systems in the coming years – systems that are as advanced as current Chinese systems.

China’s lead in air defense is also illusionary.  It depends on Russian S-400 and S-300 radar and missile systems that the Israeli’s regularly defeat when they carry out raids in Syria.

The Chinese military also faces problems in several other areas.

One of the glaring differences between the Soviet and Chinese military is the political nature of the military.  While the Soviet military had political officers, it was considerably more pragmatic than the Chinese military – as evidenced by the dozens of pages dedicated to political leadership and theory in the DoD produced Chinese report that came out this week.

According to the report, “the PLA is the principal armed wing of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) and, as a party-army, does not directly serve the state.”

This means that PLA doctrine is more closely tied to Chinese Communist doctrine and does not have the pragmatic aspect that most militaries have.  While a Soviet general, a Russian general, and even an American general follow the same principles of military doctrine, the Chinese PLA leadership does not.  They are a critical part of Chinese foreign policy and their goals are directed towards advancement of Chinese Communist goals rather than military reality.

This is one reason why the Chinese leadership has set a goal of world class military by 2049 (the centennial of Communist China).  The question is not one of what it takes to acquire a world class military status as much as it is a political desire by the Chinese leadership to achieve it by 2049.

Traditionally, when political goals take precedence over military realities, shortcuts take place.  This is seen in the development of the Chinese FFL – a light frigate that gives the Chinese navy larger numbers of warships, but little in survivability or combat effectiveness in wartime.

The Chinese military leadership is also burdened with the problems of an overbearing party leadership.  Recently PLA media outlets have complained that commanders cannot understand higher authorities intentions, how to make operational decisions, how to deploy forces, and how to manage unexpected situations – all problems when the military leadership is forced to consider political issues first.

The PLA is also failing to meet its own goals on modernization.  It’s 2019 Defense White Paper noted that the PLA had “yet to complete the task of mechanization.”  Other references indicate that the PLA is at least a couple of years behind schedule.

If China wants a world class military, it must be able to project power across the world.  But most of its capability is focused on several territorial conflicts like those with India, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

The report admits that China would be hard pressed to launch an invasion against Taiwan.  The current strategy to defeat Taiwan is to use a missile barrage to force the nation to surrender (that type of strategy did not work against Britain or Germany in WWII).

China can carry out limited amphibious landings against some small islands but would be unable to launch an invasion capable of conquering Taiwan.  Nor would it be able to logistically sustain its forces once they land.

The only hope to defeat Taiwan would be to find a way to keep the US out of the conflict.

If China is unable to project its power across the narrow strait that separates China and Taiwan, it is less likely to project its power further.  Its coast is closed by a chain of islands controlled by Japan, the US, Taiwan, and the Philippines.  Sustaining military operations while these islands cut off its rear would be difficult.  Although China may want a deep-water navy, geography practically limits it to littoral operations just as Germany’s large WWI fleet was limited to littoral operations because it could not break out of the British blockade in the North Sea.

A worldwide reach also depends on overseas military bases.  Currently they only have one in Djibouti.  Other agreements may be forthcoming in the future, but Chinese behavior in terms of conditional loans may cause potential allies to reconsider any long term Chinese military base on their territory.

In the end, although many have called this report a warning about the threat China poses, it also contains information about the nation’s limitations.

Although China has advanced considerably in technology and has developed an economic and manufacturing infrastructure, the Chinese military is hampered by the tight control of the Chinese Communist Party leadership.  Generals that are afraid to lead because of political leaders back in Beijing, are likely to face difficulties in any conflict due to an overabundance of caution.

Although China is modernizing, they seem to fail to realize that the modern weapons systems of 2020 will be old and obsolete by 2049.

While China’s leadership wants to present an image of a powerful dragon spouting fire, the reality is that allocating huge funds for defense spending and improvements during the next 30 years might be a difficult task in an uncertain economic environment.

It seems Pentagon leaders are bent on trying to convince the congress to continue providing an enormous defense budget, and the US military industrial complex is the main beneficiary.

Analysis 09-03-2020

ANALYSIS

Concerns Abound About a Vague Presidential
Election Results in November

 

The question of who takes over a position of power has always been a major cause of civil war.  In England, it was the War of the Roses, which saw several nobles lay claim to the English Crown.  That is why the current line of succession to the British Crown names over 200 people and their place in the line.

The US does not have monarchy or such a clear line as both Republicans and Democrats vie for power.  Both sides have intimated that they may not recognize the election results if there is a question of its validity.  Last week we mentioned that Democrats had “gamed” a scenario where Biden would not concede the election and try to manipulate results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where the governors are Democrats, although the state’s voters may prefer Trump.. Trump himself declared:”

‘The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged”.

Meanwhile, the Democrats accused Trump of trying to manipulate the outcome by limiting the use of mail-in ballots.

It would help if there were clear rules outlining all the possibilities that may occur in November.  However, there is only the 20th Amendment of the US Constitution and various laws from the states and federal government concerning elections.

The problem is that the 20th Amendment had been rushed onto the books in the early 1930s.  Previously, the Constitution had the election in November and the inauguration in March – an ideal system when the US was a vast wilderness without good roads or trains.  The 20th Amendment had changed the inauguration to January 20th and had set forth rules for picking the president if there were any problems in the election.  But they had not considered every possibility, especially if the contestants were more concerned with acquiring power, not following the rules of fair play.

As it stands, the 2020 US Presidential Election stands on the edge of disaster.  One of the key problems is mail-in ballots, which are ripe for fraud and can take weeks to open and count. But instead of working in advance to fix any potential problem with mail-in Trump is making it difficult to put procedures in place to prevent such occurrence, despite having himself voted by mail-in in the past, and despite the practice of using absent ballots or voting that way by many states.

The US Constitution and law are firm on presidential elections.  The election must take place across the nation on November 3rd.  That date cannot be postponed nor can mail-in ballots postmarked on November 4th or later be considered.  Ballots without valid postmarks are also illegal.

The states have one week to declare a winner.  One week after the election, the states must appoint the electors for the president and vice president.  The electors must then meet and vote in their states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.  Failure to follow this federal law could lead to disqualified electoral votes by that state.

Of course, Congress has a say if there is a question of who is to be president.  They meet on January 3rd (each state getting one vote if there is a question of who should be president).  However, if there is an uncertain election result for president, then there is a good chance that there will also be unfilled seats in the House of Representatives.  That then leaves it up to the US Senate, which has 2/3 of its members not up for election in November.  They can then pick a Vice President.  When the House manages to acquire a quorum, they can then pick an acting president.

The problem is not the rules.  The problem is that there are numerous holes in the law and both sides have powerful incentives to work the rules and law to their own benefit.

Here are some possibilities:

The State without qualified electors.  Let us say that it is a close election with Biden winning the popular vote nationally but losing the electoral vote by a small margin – a margin so small that the votes of a single state could change the outcome.  If Wisconsin, goes for Trump (who is leading there in the latest poll), would the Democratic governor slow up the counting of mail-in votes to make it impossible to name electors one week after the election?

In a case like that, the law says that without named electors, the state does not get a vote in the Electoral College.  Undoubtedly the case would go to the courts and finally the Supreme Court – whose ruling would upset the losing side.

And, what if the sickly Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Ginsberg dies before a decision?  A 4 to 4 tie would complicate the results more than a clear majority ruling.

A State Refuses to Send Electors.  The Democratic team that gamed outcomes to the election also supposed that some states like California and New York might refuse to send their electors and would support secession from the US instead.  In that case, Trump would be reelected as president, but the absence of some states would cast a shadow on his presidency.

Picking an Acting President.  If there is no president on January 20th, the House of Representatives can pick an acting president.  Some have suggested calling upon a former president to fill the role, since they have the experience.  The problem is that the party that the acting president belongs to would be unwilling to move the process along to pick the new president.

Shifting Allegiances in the House.  If January 3rd rolls around and several House seats have not been declared, one side or another might have an interest in delaying the vote in hopes of giving their presidential choice a better chance of winning.  Some unsavory deals may be made to shift critical votes.  There may also be pressure placed on state election boards to declare a winner (or not declare a winner) to determine the outcome of the vote.

Switching Electors.  If there is some question about the vote, some legislatures can appoint the electors.  This gives the legislature the ability to ignore the voters of the state and pick another presidential candidate if they wish.

Although faithless legislators would probably be defeated in the next election, they would surely be up for a nice job in the new administration in Washington.

President Pelosi.  If there is no President or Vice President on January 20, Speaker of the House Pelosi could become President if the Democrats continue to hold the House and she is reelected.  United States Code Sec. 19, Titled “Vacancy in the Offices of Both President and Vice President; Officers eligible to Act, says, “If by reason of…failure to qualify,, there is neither a President or vice President to discharge the powers and duties of the office of President, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, upon his resignation as Speaker and as Representative in Congress, act as President.”

Subsection C of that statute provides that the individual would continue as president until the end of the term.

This could encourage Democrats, who are less than eager to have a mentally unfit Biden as President to slow up vote counts.  It may also be the reason why Democratic planners have looked at Biden not conceding.  The strategy may not be to put him in office, but to guarantee that the Democrats would control the White House with Pelosi

Although any of these strategies may change the outcome of an election, they will also have a negative impact on the future.

The key to elections that are accepted by all the citizens are transparency, fairness, and speedy results.  If the 2020 election is determined by gamesmanship instead of the will of the voters, the results could be dangerous.  America is in a state of civil unrest where the death of one black man by police can lead to riots across the country and the injury and deaths of many.

Although “gaming” the system in order to win the 2020 presidential election may put one candidate in the White House, there will be millions of voters who will be dissatisfied and unwilling to accept the results as should be done in democracies.  As we have seen, it only takes one incident to inflame a sector of the population.

Those who have been following the riots and protests have noticed a growing level of violence against the establishment.  In May, violence against the police was limited to rocks and firecrackers.  Today, its firearms and Molotov firebombs.  Police are even being ambushed when responding to calls.

There could even be violence during the counting of votes.

In the 2000 presidential election, crowds of people stormed offices where votes were being counted in Broward County, Florida.  Imagine what could happen in today’s overheated political climate.  Vote counters could be injured or killed, ballots could be lost, or illegal ballots would be added.  Offices could be burnt, thus disfranchising large groups of voters.

The US election system is on a precipice.  Two political parties are determined to remain in power no matter the long-term consequences. Trump is signaling to his base including armed supporters not to accept a defeat in the presidential election.  What happens will start to unfold on November 4th and the country will be standing on the edge of civil unrest if no decisive win is clear enough and fast enough to be in place.

Analysis 08-26-2020

ANALYSIS

Will the US Military Intervene in the 2020 Election?

 

As the November presidential election grows nearer, the number of theories about what will happen continue to grow.  Charges about fraudulent ballots and denying citizens the opportunity to vote are heard on a nearly continuous basis.

One of the more interesting theories is that in the election confusion, President Trump will refuse to leave office.  This led two retired Army officers (Col. Paul Yingling and Lt. Col. John Nagl) to pen a story in Defense One calling on the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, to order to military to remove the president should he refuse to accept defeat and leave the White House.

The authors wrote, “As the senior military officer of the United States, the choice between these two options lies with you…In the Constitutional crisis described above, your duty is to give unambiguous orders directing US military forces to support the Constitutional transfer of power.  Should you remain silent, you will be complicit in a coup d’état.”  They went on to mention that the chainman was already complicit in the use of military force against protestors in front of the White House.

Although the article was perceived as a trial balloon set up by pro-Biden people, it raised some interesting observations by those who served in the US Military Officer Corps.

This article was written by two very junior members of the retired officer corps.

In over 244 years, there has never been a threat of a military involvement in a presidential election.  And nearly everyone seems in agreement in that.  Giving the military any role would only open the door to more intrusive actions in the future.

In the US, the dividing line between civilian control of government and the military is noticeably clear.  In 1952, General Dwight Eisenhower even had to resign his position as a retired general to become president.  It was only after he left office that President Kennedy reappointed him to the rank of General of the Army – thus reinstating his military pension.

Although there has been much made about the ambiguity that this election may create, the rules that govern a contested result are clearly outlined in the 20th Amendment of the Constitution.  Trump’s term as president ends at noon on January 20th, 2021 – period.  He must have clearly won reelection to be re-inaugurated.

Without going into all the details (this case may be even more complicated as Biden may be incapacitated after winning, but before taking office), the House of Representative has the authority to choose an acting president if the Electoral College is unable to pick a president and vice president in time.  That person will remain acting president until the mess is cleared up.  If necessary, the Senate picks the vice president.

Therefore, there is little room for the type of ambiguity that would allow Trump to remain in office and force a military operation.  It is very doubtful that the military would rally around an illegal Trump or Biden presidency in the clear outcome of an election or vote by the House of Representatives for an acting president.

Condemnation of the article was from both sides of the political spectrum.

Kori Schake of the American Enterprise Institute, who authored a book with General Mattis on the Civilian-Military divide, said “the Constitution is clear on it. The law is clear on it.  The Congress is in the driver’s seat.”

Retired Army General Raymond Thomas, former head of the US Special Operations Command tweeted that the article was “really irresponsible.”

 

Succession?

Although the law and the Constitution clearly leave the military out of the 2020 presidential election, the New York Times did raise a situation that might involve the military in a post-election fracas.

NYT reporter Ben Smith reported on August 2, that a group of former government officials called the Transition Integrity Project had gamed several scenarios for the election.  One was where Trump wins the electoral vote but loses the popular vote to Biden.  The narrow lose by Biden comes from a close vote in Pennsylvania, which takes weeks of recounting the votes.

Rather than concede, the person who was acting as Biden in the game (John Podesta, former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman) claimed voter suppression and persuaded the Democratic governors of Wisconsin and Michigan to appoint pro-Biden electors.

According to the NYT, “In that scenario, California, Oregon, and Washington then threatened to secede from the United States if Trump took office as planned.  The House named Mr. Biden as president; the Senate and White House stuck with Mr. Trump.  At that point in the scenario, the nation stopped looking to the media for clues and waited to see what the military would do.”

Again, this could be a trial balloon.  And, as in the earlier scenario, state laws are clear that the winner of that state’s presidential vote have their electors vote for the state’s winner.

This leaves the threat of California, Oregon, and Washington seceding.  All three states threatened it after the 2016 election and California even went so far as to circulate a petition to put it on the 2018 ballot (the petition failed to get enough signatures from California voters).

The secession of these three states would have dramatic strategic consequences.  The Navy’s largest Pacific port is in San Diego.  If Hawaii were to secede (likely if states start to leave the US), that will take the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor out too – leaving the US with no major naval facilities in the Pacific.   This would be disastrous at a time when the US and China are clearly positioning themselves for a potential war.

In such a situation, Trump may be willing to let some of the states secede but would insist that the naval ports along the Pacific Coast and other Army, Air Force, and Marine bases remain in US hands.  This would undoubtedly include reinforcing these facilities from the encroachment by any of the state forces.

It is quite possible that the states and the federal government would come to an agreement giving the federal government long term leases on the facilities.

Or the states may prefer to occupy these military bases themselves.

It is interesting to note that the US Civil War begun in the same way, when the US federal government reinforced the fort in Charleston, South Carolina’s harbor in the days leading up to hostilities.  It was when Confederate forces began bombarding the fort (Fort Sumter) that the Civil War began.

Although threats made in the days leading up to a presidential election are common, these issues must be considered.

America is in the middle of growing civil unrest.  Several cities like Portland, Chicago, New York City, and Seattle have become nearly ungovernable due to constant protests and some riots.  When Trump called on federal police to go to Portland to protect the federal courthouse, many agencies in the government did not want to become involved.

There are many unresolved issues in this election.  While past presidential elections have been resolved on Election Night, this one may take weeks before a winner is declared.  Democrats are pushing for more clarity and guarantees in the election process, while the Republicans are fighting widespread use of mail in ballots.

And there is the ongoing Covid virus issue that overshadows everything.

The longer that it takes to declare a clear winner (if possible) the greater the risk of more unrest.

It is quite possible that gunfire will punctuate this election season.  However, the gunfire is unlikely to be coming from the military.

Analysis 08-19-2020

ANALYSIS

Biden Picks a Running Mate

 

The last piece for the 2020 presidential election has been put in place – the choice of Biden’s vice-presidential running mate.  The choice is junior California Senator Kamala Harris, who had run for the presidential nomination, but had pulled out due to low polling numbers.

The comments from the different parts of the political spectrum were to be expected.  Democrats and the most media outlets were excited and saw Harris as the ideal choice.  Republicans and the conservative media saw her as a potential drag on the Biden ticket.

Harris is 55 years old and a lawyer from California.  Both of her parents are immigrants – the mother from India and the father from Jamaica.  She was California Attorney General from 2010 to 2017, when she was elected to the US Senate.

One of the first demands of a vice presidential running mate is to balance the ticket.  And, she has done that in many ways.  She is 22 years younger than Biden.  She comes from the West, while Biden is from the Eastern United States.  While Biden is considered moderate, she is well known for her many liberal and progressive stands but not considered as part of the growing left-wing progressive wing of the party.

She also brings several things to the race that it is hoped will excite the electorate.  She has an Indian background, which will probably excite the Indian community in the US.  India is a major source of professional immigrants into the US.

Harris is the daughter of two immigrants, which will allow the Biden-Harris ticket to draw a clear line between their open borders policy and Trump’s policy of limiting immigration.

As California’s Attorney General, she can claim to be a “law and order” candidate at a time when violent crime in America is on the rise.

Finally, the Harris candidacy can be shown as a “look towards the future with a new generation ready to take the reins of leadership.”

Although Biden was praised for this choice, it is well known that she wasn’t his first choice.  During the campaign, Biden had promised to pick a woman as a running mate.  Soon, elements in the Democratic Party had demanded that the woman should be a “person of color.”

This seriously limited Biden’s choice.  He needed to have a running mate of national stature, who could take over if necessary.  He was left with several black congresswomen who had far left leaning ideologies and a woman who had lost the race for governor in Georgia.

Biden clicked well with Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, according to Obama senior advisor David Axelrod.  She also would be able to bring her state, Michigan, back into the Democratic fold after voting for Trump in 2016.  Winning Michigan is critical to Biden’s electoral strategy.

The problem was that Whitmer is white and her policies are more moderate.  And, Biden needed someone with more progressive policies to provide an ideological balance to the ticket.  Without that, the left wing of the Democratic Party would not have been energized enough to vote.

In the end, Harris was seen as the candidate that would do the least harm.

Although Harris will be portrayed as an African-American child of immigrants who had to struggle to get to where she is, the truth is a bit different.  She has nothing in common with the African-American experience of poverty and segregation since her parents aren’t from the US.

She is from an affluent, educated family.  Her mother is a high-caste East Indian breast cancer scientist.  Her father was a Jamaican born economist who is a professor emeritus at Stanford University.  She spent years growing up out of the US in countries like Canada.

Despite the media calling Harris a moderate, her record is quite progressive.  Her voting record in the 116th Senate was more liberal than 97% of Democratic senators.  Only Senators Sanders and Warren (both presidential candidates in this cycle) were more liberal.

In terms of immigration, she says undocumented immigrants aren’t criminals.  She wants government controlled medical care for Americans.  She wants to ban all offshore drilling and fracking for oil.  She wants American energy to be “carbon neutral by 2030.

One stance that may spell trouble for the Biden/Harris ticket is her stand on the Second Amendment, which guarantees Americans right to own firearms.  She is anti-gun and has stated that if she were president, she would sign an executive order banning “assault weapons” and high capacity magazines.  She also supported other anti-gun legislation while Attorney General of California.

Her attitude on advancing gun laws was evident in the August 2019 Democratic debate when Biden pointed out that the president doesn’t have the constitutional authority to rewrite gun laws by executive order without Congress.  Kamala Harris laughed and said, “Oh, Joe, yes we can.”

Given that in the past 8 months 10 million Americans have become first time gun owners and many of the guns that were purchased were “assault weapons,” this will not go down well with a large block of voters.  A Rasmussen poll conducted this week showed that likely voter support for gun control has dropped 12 points in the last year.  Forty-seven percent of likely voters said they or someone in their household owns a firearm.  In gun owning households, 27% said they or someone in the household had purchased a firearm within the last 6 months.

In addition, the threat to use executive orders rather than the legislative process will also be a concern since she could very well become president within four years..

While the political positions of a vice president may not be a major concern, given Biden’s age and mental state, it is quite possible that she could be president in the next four years through the 25thAmendment.

The 25th Amendment sets the rules for declaring the president unable to fulfill the office.  And it is the vice president who determines what happens.  If the VP determines that the president can’t fulfill the office of president, he or she, with the approval of the majority of the Cabinet, can step in as acting president.

There are some roadblocks to the process.  The president can oppose the action, which sends it to Congress, which must vote by a 2/3 majority that the president can’t fulfill the office.

Here’s where the actions behind the scenes are important.  Has Harris had discussions on this subject and is there an informal agreement in place?

Obviously, those who are determining Biden policy now are likely to be unwilling to see a Harris acting presidency where they would be “out of power.”  Would they give Harris a say in national policy in return for not declaring Biden unfit for office?  Would they make sure the Cabinet is so loyal to Biden that Harris would be unable to muster a majority?  Would Harris keep them in the White House?

There’s also the question of obtaining the 2/3 majority in the House and Senate.  Would Republicans, aware of her left leaning agenda, vote to make her acting president, if Biden and his closest advisors oppose it?  An incapacitated Biden would be preferable to a competent Harris.

Republicans might agree to her acting presidency in return for some agreements.  This occurred when Democrats voted to confirm Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President under President Gerald Ford in return for an agreement that Rockefeller would not run for president later.

On the other hand, some (including CNN News) have hinted that Biden will only be in office a small time before resigning, leaving the presidency to Harris.  This would allow a very progressive president to take office without having to run for the presidency or answer questions or undergo scrutiny about her agenda.

Of course, the political composition of the House and Senate may have an impact.  If the Republicans retake the House, a Biden resignation would leave a Republican Speaker of the House next in line for the Presidency.  And, a Republican Senate (if the GOP retains the Senate) would have to vote on a Harris choice of vice president.

There is also a question of what may happen between now and Inauguration Day 2021.  The Democratic Party leadership might have to pull Biden if his condition gets worse before Election Day.  The alternate could be Harris or another person.

If it becomes necessary to pull Biden after he wins the election, the decision would be up to the electors, who have the final say of who becomes president.

The fact that Biden is old and his declining mental condition is becoming common knowledge means that voters will be more likely to look at Harris and her policies before they vote.  If that is the case, her political stances will have much more importance than in normal presidential elections.

But we will not know how important they were until after November 3rd.

Analysis 08-03-2020

ANALYSIS

US Redeploys its Forces in Europe

 

This week, the American Secretary of Defense Mark Esper outlined the new US European Command Force Posture Policy.  Given the fact that this is a presidential election year and the election is only about 3 months away, it immediately became controversial. Democrats were quick to accuse Trump of appeasing Russia and abandoning Germany as a NATO reliable partner and ally.

The basics of the policy is that about one third of the American forces in Germany will redeploy to forward NATO nations or bases on American soil.

This is not a uniquely Trump Administration move.  These policies were outlined and agreed upon by the Obama Administration many times from 2009 to 2016.  The Readiness Initiative launched in 2014, which was agreed upon by the Heads of State of NATO significantly reinforced NATO’s collective defense.

In 2016, NATO leaders approved a strengthened deterrence and defense posture which led to the forward deployment of NATO units to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.  An outgrowth of the NATO Heads of State meeting in Warsaw in July 2016 was setting up a regional NATO hub in Naples, Italy to strengthen NATO’s southern flank as unrest started to roil the Mediterranean region.

Consequently, the Trump initiatives must be seen in this historical setting.  It moves assets closer to the NATO border with Russia, and, per the 2018 Brussels Summit, allows for a rapid deployment into the NATO Theater within 30 days (the “four thirties” plan).  US military exercises (Defender Europe 2020) earlier this year showed that the US could deploy US based forces into Europe within 30 days.

 

Strategic Needs

One of the reasons for the new National Defense Strategy is the realization that defense goals change as foreign threats evolve, technology improves, and national politics change.  This was seen in the US European Command Review that the SecDef outlined this week.

Obviously one factor is the ongoing NATO relationship with Russia.  While the US and Russia work out a new nuclear treaty, which will impact NATO, some NATO nations like Germany increase their economic ties with Russia, especially regarding energy and natural gas purchases.

Unlike the Cold War era, when NATO focused primarily on European defense, NATO has become an international force.  They were active in the former Yugoslavia, which was part of Europe, but not part of the NATO region.  Their air forces were also active in Libya.

With the growing tensions surrounding Libya and Turkish expansionism, NATO must look south.

There is also the growing Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean.  Now that Russian ships have a warm water port in Syria, Russian ships can deploy longer to the Mediterranean, resupply, and receive needed repairs without returning to their home port.  What was once considered an American lake, is now part of the growing chessboard of the NATO/Russia “Great Game.”

There is also a growing Russian presence near NATO borders.  Russian reconnaissance aircraft, which were rarely seen in the last 30 years are now aggressively testing NATO responses from Great Britain east to Alaska and Canada’s far northern territories.

This aggressiveness by the Russian military has worried some of the newer NATO nations, who still remember being unwilling members of the Soviet bloc.  Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania especially remember that before World War Two, the Western powers allowed them to be occupied by the Soviet Union with no active response.  By moving NATO assets closer to Russia, it not only makes more strategic sense, it also provides strong proof of the NATO guarantee that these nations will not fall under Russian influence again.

 

The Evolving Strategy – the SecDef Speech

Although it can be seen purely in a NATO/European manner, the SecDef speech made it clear that this new strategy fits into the worldwide scope.  He said, “As we’ve entered a new era of Great Power Competition, we are now at another one of those inflection points in NATO’s evolution.”

Although that includes deterring Russia, the SecDef made it clear that it would “improve US strategic flexibility and EUROCOM operational flexibility.”

The plan will reposition about 11,900 military personnel from Germany – from roughly 36,000 down to 24,000.  Of the 11,900, nearly 5,600 service members will be repositioned within NATO countries and approximately 6,400 will return to the US, with many rotating through Europe from time to time.

Some of the rotations are due to equipment not designed for a European battlefield.  Nearly 4,500 members of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment will return to the US.  Similar units will start rotating in countries further east, close to the Black Sea, and closer to the Russian border.

This makes tactical sense.  These units employ the Stryker armored vehicle, which was designed during the Clinton presidency for the transition from a Cold War military to one that would operate in the Third World.  It was designed to be lighter and easier to deploy by aircraft and to be more practical on the unimproved roads and bridges of lesser developed nations.

Although faster than a main battle tank, the Stryker was controversial.  It is lightly armored and without additional armor can only protect its occupants from the 14.5 mm Russian heavy machinegun ammunition – and then, only from the front.  The same bullet will penetrate the armor from the side.  However, to be airmobile, the vehicle could not carry more armor, unless it was flown in separately and attached in the combat theater.

The Stryker was considered a temporary measure until Future Combat Systems Manned Ground Vehicles came online.  However, that program was cancelled

The Stryker was a good idea for an era where the US would only be fighting insurgents.  However, it would be of marginal use (outside of reconnaissance or engaging light infantry) in a European theater where main battle tanks would be controlling the battleground.

The strength of the Stryker is its ability to be air lifted into a theater of operations.  By moving the 2nd Cavalry Regiment back to the US, it can still be quickly redeployed to Europe.  However, by remaining in the US, it allows it to be moved quickly to the Western Pacific, which is seeing increased tensions between the US and China.

The plan also will move more military personnel to Italy, which was once the headquarters of NATO southern operations and still has the infrastructure.  This will mean the movement of about 2,000 soldiers from Germany to Belgium and Naples

A fighter squadron and elements of a fighter wing will be repositioned to Italy, which will provide more coverage in the Mediterranean and bring the aircraft closer to the Black Sea area of operations.

While forces are being moved from Germany, which Trump has accused of not fulfilling their NATO obligations, some units are remaining in nations with better relations with President Trump.  The Air Force command in Mildenhall, Britain, will remain there rather than moving to Germany, as was once planned. Britain has a closer working relationship with the US than Germany.

Another part of the European strategy is the activation of V Corps (Fifth Corps).  According to the agreement between President Trump and Polish President Duda last year, the V Corps forward headquarters will be in Poland.  The V Corps had been stationed in Germany until its deactivation in 2013.

Now that President Duda has been reelected, we can expect to see the signing of the necessary Defense Cooperation Agreement that will be the legal basis of the US deployment to Poland.

Although it is uncertain what assets will be assigned to V Corps, it is interesting that in the Defender Europe 2020 exercises earlier this year, the famed First Cavalry Division went to Poland to set up a temporary headquarters.  The 1st Cav, as it is called, is one of America’s most powerful mechanized units and although it will remain stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, it is expected to frequently rotate some of its units through Eastern Europe as part of V Corps.

 

Conclusion

What does this US European Command Force Posture Policy accomplish?

By shifting some units away from Germany and closer to the border of Russia, it has improved deterrence.  If something happens in Europe, the units that will be asked to fight will be close to the expected area of operations.

By stationing the V Corps in Poland, the US is rewarding Poland, who is one of the few NATO countries to meet its commitments.  And, since Poland has the largest tank force of any European NATO nation, it creates a potentially powerful counterforce to the Russian Army.

Shifting forces to Italy recognizes that the southern flank of NATO is much more unstable than it once was.  With unrest in Libya, Syria, Turkey, and the Eastern Mediterranean, the additional air power will help offset the lack of American naval assets in the region and provide more of a counter to the Russian Fleet.

Shifting US military units to Italy also allows them to be better positioned to assist the US African Command.

Admittedly, there is some politics involved.  Germany, whose relations with Trump are not that good, loses more about 12,000 American soldiers who help boost the local economy.  However, it must be admitted that Germany isn’t the “front line” nation that it was during the Cold War.  A conflict with Russia will start hundreds of miles east of Germany, not on the German border.

Britain will be rewarded by keeping the major American Air Force Base in Mildenhall.  Britain has kept its NATO commitments and by helping Britain in Europe, it allows Britain to keep more assets in and around the South China Sea.

And the close relationship between the US President Trump and the British Prime Minister Johnson also helps.

The US European Command Force Posture Policy also gives the US more worldwide flexibility.  As tensions grow between the US and China, there is a need to be able to quickly move American military units into the Western Pacific.  However, there is still the need to keep the units within quick reach of Europe.

By stationing more units in the US, Trump can keep his promise of bringing more American soldiers back home.

However, there is a strategic advantage.  US military units stationed in the US lie halfway between the NATO Theater and the Western Pacific Theater.  They are better able to respond to the situation in either Europe or The Western Pacific.

Positioning within the US also allows the units to play to their strength.  Light mechanized units like those who use the Stryker vehicle can deploy faster from the US than units that are stronger but use main battle tanks like the M-1 Abrams that require shipment by sealift.  The more powerful units can deploy in a rotating manner, often using redeployed tanks that are permanently stored in Europe.

Although the new US European Command Force Posture Policy will be politically controversial in this election year, To Trump supporters, it makes sense for a nation that has major obligations in Europe and the Pacific.  Repositioning the military assets must eventually be based on sound military thinking, not short-term politics.

Analysis 07-29-2020

ANALYSIS

Trump Strategy on Use of Federal Law Enforcement

 

The US is currently debating President Trump’s decision to use federal law enforcement police, claiming that it is necessary to protect Federal property in cities where the current political leadership is unwilling to provide that protection.  It has led to charges by his opponents that he is trying to federalize law enforcement and will use these forces to stay in the White House if he loses in November.

As is the case in many of these situations, there is no clear answer.  There are a lot of political considerations in the charges.  Some of it has been settled in landmark legal cases over the last two hundred plus years.  And some have been settled on the battlefield during the American Civil War.

When the American colonies won their independence from England, England recognized each of the 13 colonies as an independent, sovereign nation.  The signing of the US Constitution, which formalized the current United States, recognized the individual sovereignty of each state in addition to the sovereignty of the federal government.

Sovereignty was clearly split.  The 10th Amendment of the US Constitution clearly gave all powers not enumerated by the constitution to the states and the people.  However, the Supremacy Clause in Article 6, Clause 2 says federal laws take priority over state laws, providing they do not contravene the Constitution.

Several states signed the Constitution, while making it clear that they reserved the right to leave the United States, if they found this document to be too burdensome.  This was the legal rationale for the succession of the states before the Civil War.  In fact, this same issue was the legal justification for the opening shots of the Civil War on Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay – that the federal government had illegally reinforced the fort without state approval.

The Union victory over the Confederacy settled the issue and courts recognized the reality of that victory in several cases.

However, the concept of where federal law and state law conflicted remains an issue.  After the federal siege of Ruby Ridge in Idaho in 1992, the issue came up, when an Idaho prosecutor indicted an FBI agent for manslaughter for killing the wife of Randy Weaver.  The federal court assumed jurisdiction in the case and dismissed the case because the FBI agent was a federal agent.  However, later the Federal Court of Appeals held that he could be charged under state laws.

The Supreme Court also ruled in the 1990s that state and local law enforcement were not required to spend money or effort to enforce federal law.  This gave local police the rationale to ignore the defense of federal property.

The result is that the issue of federal enforcement of laws and cooperation is a quilt work of precedents.  Federal and local law enforcement usually cooperate unless local politicians disagree with a federal law.  An example is “illegal” immigration, where some cities and states expressly forbid the local police from cooperating with the federal government.

This is the background behind the current controversy.

The issue came up first in Portland, Oregon, which is very Democratic and progressive.  They have had Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and clashes almost every night for two months.  These protests included coordinated attempts to control federal buildings, which overwhelmed the local federal protective agents.  Trump said the situation in Portland was “Worse than Afghanistan.”

In one instance, the federal courthouse was set afire by protesters on Wednesday night, they were angry by the detaining of some protesters by the federal agents sent by Trump, and after the Department of Homeland Security sent teams in to reinforce the local agents.

The DHS teams came in without warning the governor, mayor, or local law enforcement.  They also came in heavily armed like soldiers, not policemen.

The state went to federal court to seek a restraining order to stop the federal teams from detaining Oregonians.

Stories quickly spread that these agents were taking protestors off the street without arrest warrants or identifying themselves (unconstitutional behavior).  They were also charged with using less than lethal weapons that can seriously hurt protestors.

This week, Trump announced that he was going to send other teams of federal agents to other cities with “lawlessness problems”.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress called for investigations into the Portland events and the legality of Trump’s moves.

One of the cities to receive federal agents will be Chicago, which saw the shooting of 15 people at a funeral just this week.  Despite that, the mayor, a Democrat, was not interested in additional help from the Federal government.

Meanwhile the District Attorney of Philadelphia threatened to arrest federal agents if they came to town.

“Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults, and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office.”

Speaking about Trump, he went on to say, “He has an agenda.  It is a strictly political, racist, divisive, fear-based fictional agenda.  All this stuff comes out of the fascist playbook.  All of this stuff comes out of the white supremacist playbook.”

However, he did admit that federal agents have great flexibility to travel to cities if they obey the law.

Trump supporters responded “but he didn’t mention that his city has major crime problems.  230 people have been murdered in Philadelphia this year – up 28% from last year.  The city has also had nearly 1,000 shootings this year too”.  According to them “these are the types of statistics that can encourage independents to vote for Trump and his pro-police position”.

Democrats obviously do not agree.  Elizabeth Goiten of the Brennan Center for Justice said this was a pretext to have federal agents supplant local police.

“In short, the use of secret federal paramilitary forces in Portland (and soon Chicago and likely other cities) is every bit the abuse of power that it appears to be.  And it is an abuse we can expect to see again in November if the administration isn’t called to account,” she tweeted.

Is this being a rehearsal for November?

First, we have no idea of what violence may take place in November after the elections.  Both sides seem agitated and the potential for protest and violence by both sides is real, especially if it is a close election with the winning margin being decided in the courts or by absentee ballots.

But there is a question if these paramilitary police teams will side with Trump if he is trying to remain in power.

Probably not.  These statements are aimed to encourage the Democratic voter base.

America has gone into overdrive during the past few months when it comes to charges of racism.  While most people supported BLM after the events in Minneapolis, there are concerns after the violence of the last two months.  Trump is counting on many voters, especially White and middle-class voters, to show less support for the BLM movement.

Trump’s calculation is based on his desire to repeat the 1968 situation, when riots and protests led to the victory of the “law and order” presidential candidate Richard Nixon. He is wishing that supporting peaceful protest and opposing violence is a good way to win elections, while supporting the radical protestors is a nearly guaranteed way to lose.

Supporting law and order is clearly Trump’s strategy.  On Wednesday, he approved Operation Legend to tamp down lawlessness in some of America’s biggest cities.  The operation is named after Legend Ruggiero, a four-year-old who was shot and killed while he slept.  Trump was joined by the Ruggiero family in the White House.

The issue according to Trump is not just protests, but an increase in murders and shootings. As the election date approaches, it is not certain whether this strategy will work while his failure to confront Coronavirus is dominating the news forcing him to cancel holding the GOP convention in Florida.