Week of May 22, 2020

Special Elections Give Insight into November Election

Although relatively insignificant, special elections show political experts a lot.  While polls show the leanings of adults, registered voters, and likely voters, special elections show who the real voters prefer.

The other difference is that special elections, although small have an impact.  In Tuesday’s case, they narrowed the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives by one vote.

The Republican wins in two congressional districts were more important in that they both occurred in states that have Democratic majorities – California and Wisconsin.  No doubt, Democratic Party leaders are worrying a bit.

The most dramatic Republican win is in the heavily Democratic state of California.  For the first time in over 20 years, Republicans have managed to flip a Democratic seat to Republican control.

The nationally watched congressional special election in California’s 25th congressional district appears to have gone to Republican Mike Garcia, although mail-in ballots have yet to be counted.  However, Garcia is leading by more than 11%, so his margin appears to be sound.

What is remarkable is that Hillary Clinton won this district in 2016 by 6%.  And, though the nonpartisan Cook political report rated the district a “toss-up,” Garcia’s margin of victory represents a major shift.  It is also the first time Republicans have flipped a California congressional district since 1998.

If the election results hold, Garcia will be the only House Republican to represent a district that Hillary Clinton won with more than 50% of the vote.

The other congressional special election win for Republicans was in Wisconsin’s district 7, where Tom Tiffany beat Tricia Zunker.  And, although Wisconsin went for Trump in 2016, the state is still overwhelmingly Democratic, the Republican won by a margin of 14% of the vote.  The district, which is rural, has started to tilt Republican over the last few years and Trump won handily in 2016.  However, Obama had won the district in both 2008 and 2012.

So, does this mean that Trump is on his way for reelection and the Republicans are set to retake the House?  Not necessarily.  The election is still half a year away and there is the political maxim that, “A week is an eternity in politics”

There are several factors still in play and no one really knows what will happen.

The Corona virus issue is still the great unknown.  While many thoughts that the number of cases and the declining economy would scuttle Trump’s reelection bid, this week’s Newsweek and CNN polls showed Trump with his highest approval rating since 2017.  Not only do voters think that China is to blame for the pandemic rather than Trump, the daily press briefings have given Trump more.

In fact, the CNN poll shows Trump beating Biden by 7 points in the battleground states which will decide the election.  However, Biden leads nationally, thanks to large majorities in solidly Democratic states like California, which does not count in the way the president is elected by the Electoral College.

No one, not even the medical experts know what will happen if the restrictions are eased.  Americans are getting tired of staying at home and the Democratic governors who are pushing for continued isolation are facing more resistance.  Some political commentators have even speculated that the strict isolation policy in California may have helped the Republicans win in California.

Will a surge of new Corona cases as the nation opens cause voters to turn against Trump?  Will the crashing economy cause voters to blame Trump?  Will voters turn against Democrats who want to keep restrictions in place?  No one can tell at this time.

Another issue is apparent Democratic presidential nominee Biden and his choice of a Vice Presidential candidate.  Many Democrats are worried about Biden’s fading mental capabilities and lackluster performance in the last couple of months.  They see Biden’s pick of a VP as a chance to energize the electorate and bring all the wings of the Democratic Party together for the election.

Another issue that the Democratic leadership is discussing – but not publicly – is replacing Biden if necessary.  Biden is losing support due to credible charges that he raped a member of his staff back in the early 1990s.  He is also having problems articulating himself in interviews.

If the problem gets worse, there may have to be a last-minute change in the Democratic presidential ticket. Although Biden has the largest number of delegates currently, Bernie Sanders has a sizable number too.  There are also quite a few uncommitted delegates from states that did not have their primaries due to the pandemic.

How these delegates are picked and how they will vote are big questions.  They will probably be picked at state conventions and their selection may depend on who controls the party in that state.  Democratic governors and senators will have a big say in who is picked and therefore, these delegates will be likely to support the governor’s or senator’s presidential choice.

However, these delegates will not be legally bound to any candidate, which can make the national convention a “free for all.”  It may be the first brokered convention since the end of World War Two.

If it is decided to pick someone to replace Biden, the Sanders delegates will expect that choice to be Sanders – something that the Democratic leadership will not tolerate.  The result might be that the Sanders delegates may walk out of the convention and not support the Democratic nominee in November.

Of course, the biggest determinant of the election is the economy.  A bad economy means the incumbent loses.  A good economy means the incumbent usually wins reelection.

However, this is a different situation.  The Corona virus, which voters may not blame on Trump, has caused the economy to go into a tailspin – a situation that more closely reflects the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Here the dynamic is interesting.  Franklin Roosevelt won reelection during the Great Depression, so the good economy/bad economy theory does not hold in extreme circumstances.

The other issue is that Republicans are pushing for reopening the economy, while the Democrats are insisting that the economy remain closed until the threat of the Corona virus is eliminated.

In this case, the issue is: do you want the economy to reopen and grow or do you want to stay home?

While many seem to want to remain in isolation, providing they can receive more stimulus money from the federal government, the increase in public demonstrations across the nation show that the majority of people want to reopen the nation and economy.

There is also a growing concern about the issue of Constitutional Rights.  As some states try to keep their citizens at home, there are more and more stories about police arresting people for being outside, opening their business, worshiping at church, or even protesting the isolation rules.

One of the governors at the center of this is Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who has found herself in the center of the Constitutional Rights debate as thousands of Michigan citizens have protested her strict isolation rules.  As one of those on Biden’s list for Vice President, her political future may very well hang on how American voters view the guaranteed Constitutional Rights of assembly, religion, and petition of grievances.

Whitmer may have overplayed her hand this week.  Last week a 77-year-old barber, Karl Manke, opened his shop despite the governor’s orders.  Despite the revocation of his license and threats to arrest him, he opened the shop, which was then surrounded by armed Michigan militia who were there to prevent any police from arresting him.

However, the county Sheriff made it clear he would not arrest the barber, “Since the Michigan legislature did not extend the state of emergency beyond April 30as required by law.” Sheriff Begole noted his office’s “responsibility to serve and protect the citizens of Shiawassee County and to ensure their rights as described in both state and federal Constitution.”

Later a judge denied the state’s cease-and-desist order against Manke.  And, with it, probably goes Whitmer’s chances of going to Washington as Vice President.

In the end, it must be remembered that there is still a long road to the November elections.  Trump has improved his ratings and it appears, based on this week’s special elections, that Congress may have more Republicans next year.  However, the Republicans’ hold on the Senate is precarious as twice as many Republicans are up for reelection this year than Democrats.

If history holds, however, Trump should win reelection and increase Republican margins in Congress.

Admittedly, the Corona virus is an unknown, although the press briefings are helping Trump’s approval ratings.

The new factor is the shutdown of the nation and the growing issue of Constitutional Rights.  Americans want to leave their houses, spend their money as they wish, return to their jobs, and assemble in crowds or at their place of worship.  Some Democratic governors have probably overstepped their authority, and this may become a Republican issue in November.

But keep in mind that in the world of politics, the next six months is several eternities.

Week of May 01, 2020

Americans have no patience with continuous lockdown

245 years ago, this month, Americans showed their disdain for following the orders of their government.  In that case, it was American militiamen who refused to disperse when ordered by the British military.  The resulting firefight was the beginning of the American Revolution and what is now called the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

That same disdain for government edicts remains at the heart of the American Spirit.  While state governments have issued orders to keep Americans at home, tracking of cell phone traffic shows that Americans are leaving home in growing numbers.

One segment of the government, the courts, have aided the “breakout” as judges across the nation have ruled many of the government edicts unconstitutional and an infringement on American rights.

But courts or not, Americans are growing tired of staying at home.

Unacast used “anonymized cell phone location data” to measure foot traffic at retail locations.  According to the report, traffic increased by about 25% from the previous week.  Nor was the shopping just at drug stores or supermarkets.  It was a wide range of retail stores and travel facilities.  Although shopping trips are down 20% over last year, Americans made 103 million stops at retail stores on Friday, April 25.

This data raises several questions.  Is the economic downturn going to end within weeks instead of years?  Will this scoffing at government orders to stay home force state governors to recognize reality and allow the economy to restart?  And will the stimulus checks going out to Americans now help jump start all the economy – not just grocery stores?

States like Georgia have already allowed many stores to restart. In fact, retail traffic has surged above 2019 levels, which promises to bring the economy back quickly according to optimists.  Other states like Ohio and Wisconsin, who have allowed more business to open, are also seeing increased traffic.

Actual sales data has not come in, so how the stimulus money will be spent is still a question.  However, with the ability go places, the spending profile should change.  During the shutdown, groceries and medicines were in the greatest demand. Much of that demand went to internet “stores” like Amazon that offered home delivery.   There was also an increase in home improvement purchases as people stuck at home spent some of their time in home improvement projects.

Some of the money will be saved as Americans remain unsure of the future.  There will also be the paying of some overdue bills.

However, there will be increased demand for gasoline as Americans move about more.  Automobile and home sales, which dried up in the last two months, can be expected to pick up.  Travel and apparel purchases are also expected to come back.

Much will also depend on future stimulus checks and how quickly the unemployed can be reabsorbed into the workforce.  However, the ability of the economy to bounce back also depends on how optimistic consumers are.

Of the Western nations, the US is the most optimistic about the ability of the economy to recover.  In fact, for every European who is optimistic about their economy’s future rebound, there are two Americans who have faith in the US economy.

Given this bit of information, it appears that stories of America’s economic death have been greatly exaggerated.

The Case Against a Nationwide Lockdown

After being flooded with advice about locking down a nation to “flatten the curve,” many medical experts are questioning the tactic.

Some note that many people are delaying preventative care by not going to their doctor or an emergency room.  And many hospitals have stopped usually routine cancer screenings during the current emergency.

Now WHO’s Dr. Adhanom has officially endorsed the “no lockdown” approach by Sweden.

Evacuation of Washington still possible

Despite the confidence of Americans in the future, the US government is advancing its plans to evacuate the capital if the Corona virus spreads.

It now appears that the 106th Aviation Regiment, which is a National Guard unit, has been called up by the Pentagon.  The unit flies Blackhawk helicopters, which are used for moving soldiers, but also can carry a wide assortment of weapons.

The unit is now stationed at Fort Belvoir and has been isolated to prevent contamination by the Corona virus.

Captain Adam Kowalski of the 106th said, “We are the quick reaction force that allows us to help mobilize forces within the Washington DC area, evacuate people, or whatever that might be.  We are kind of that big taxicab that makes sure everybody gets where they need to be and keeps the government going.

However, the 106th Aviation Regiment is more than a “big taxicab.” They have also engaged in combat training.  A couple of years ago at Fort Irwin in California, a brigade of the 106th was involved in providing air assault capability for the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team.

In an emergency, the 106th could move troops in order to secure parts of the capital, provide tactical fire support, and evacuate critical government personnel.

The 106th Aviation Regiment falls under the command of Major General Omar Jones, the Commander of the Washington Military District.

Logistics Chain Showing Signs of Stress

Over the past four weeks, a dozen large meat packing plants have closed due to many workers contracting the Corona virus.  As a result, meat products are starting to disappear at grocery stores.  And, while meat prices at the retail level are going up, the price for cattle, hogs, and chickens at the farm level are dropping.

According to Bloomberg, 25% of America’s pork and 10% of America’s beef processing capacity has gone offline in the last few weeks.

This week, Tyson Foods, a major meat processor, placed ads in several papers warning the nation about the problem.  They wrote, “As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain…the food supply chain is breaking.” But some reports are circulating about euphemizing pork in many pork farms,

to get rid of the excesses created by lower demand in order to maintain higher prices.

As we have noted before, we are just about half a dozen meals away from a breakdown of society.  With widespread civil disobedience over the strict “stay at home” rules, a lack of food could quickly lead to massive civil unrest.

In order to keep the meat supply chain from falling apart, President Trump signed an executive order keeping meat processing plants open during the current crisis.  He is using the Defense Production Act, which was passed during the Korean War.  It has been used in the past in the wake of hurricanes and President Clinton and Bush used it to supply California utilities during an energy crisis.

Currently, many plants are decontaminating their equipment and taking steps to keep the Corona virus from infecting their workforce.  Some meat processors are also offering higher pay and bonuses for employees who return to work.

At the same time, Brazil and Australia are ready to scale up exports to the American meat market.

A Corona Virus Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Try as he might, it has been hard for Trump to withdraw forces from Afghanistan.  Many generals and officials insist that the US must remain in the country and have done their best to slow down the withdrawal process.

However, now it appears that the Corona virus may help Trump keep one of the campaigns promises he made in 2016.

The peace deal between the US and the Taliban includes a complete withdrawal of US and allied forces from the country in 14 months.  However, Trump is dissatisfied with the pace of the withdrawal.

Now US officials worry that the Corona virus could become rampant in Afghanistan given the country’s lack of health care and its border with Iran, which has been hit hard by the virus.  The Afghan health ministry is bracing for possibly millions of cases.

This leaves the US in a bind.  The soldiers could stay in Afghanistan but remain confined to a few bases.  US troops confined to base and unable to patrol would be an inviting target for attackers.  In that case, it makes more sense to withdraw them earlier than planned.

 Of course, there are generals who want to keep US forces in Afghanistan.  They argue that if Trump is that concerned about American troops getting infected, maybe the US should withdraw from Italy.

Week of April 24, 2020

Tensions Increase while US Navy is Stretched by Corona Virus

 While most of the world stays home and focuses on the spread of the Coronavirus, several hot spots are beginning to form – hot spots that may very well require the movement of US Navy warships – warships that are already stretched thin by the Coronavirus.

In the Mediterranean, Russian aircraft are challenging US Navy air patrols over the eastern Mediterranean.  In North Korea, the exact situation is uncertain, but that nation’s capital is locked down and it appears that Kim Jong Un hasn’t been seen recently and may be seriously ill.  In the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian boats are challenging US Naval and Coast Guard vessels and President Trump has given the Navy permission to shoot Iranian boats that get too close or become threatening.

Finally, a number of Chinese vessels are threatening Malaysian ships in an area that both nations claim.  At the same time, China has ordered increased air and naval patrols around the island of Taiwan.

The situation in North Korea is uncertain and Trump has admitted that “we don’t know what is going on.”  The capital of Pyongyang is locked down and there are signs of an abnormal situation taking place. Kim was last seen on April 11 at a politburo meeting. Many think he is seriously ill, and the precautions being taken are to ensure a smooth transition.

The problem is that two of Kim’s relatives may have a claim on the leadership. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong is the Vice Director of Propaganda and Agitation for the Workers Party of Korea.  At the April 11th meeting, which was the last time that Kim Jong Un was seen, she was reinstated as an alternate politburo member. This has solidified her position as “Number Two” and the likely successor to Kim Jong Un.

However, Kim Jong Un has an older brother, Kim Jong Chul, who was passed over by their father Kim Jong Il because he was regarded as unfit to rule the country.  It is possible that he could make a bid for power.

The biggest question is who will control North Korea’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems? Could a fight evolve over who controls them and what could that mean to North Korea’s neighbors?

There are American military assets in the area, but the US will be unwilling to move those assets to other hot spots if the situation in North Korea remains uncertain.

The next potential hot spot is Syria. The US Navy accused the Russians of endangering the crew of a US Navy reconnaissance aircraft over the Eastern Mediterranean.

The US Navy’s Sixth Fleet said in a statement that, “The interception was determined to be unsafe because the Sukhoi Su-35 conducted an inverted high speed  maneuver, 25 feet facing the mission plane, thereby exposing our pilots and crew to danger.”  The air turbulence caused by the Russian aircraft made it difficult for the US patrol aircraft to operate for about 45 minutes.

These unsafe interceptions were more common in the past but have decreased in recent times.

During the Cold War, the Mediterranean was always home to two US aircraft carriers. However, as the number of American aircraft carriers has declined and there has been more focus on the Gulf region, the US Navy can no longer muster the naval air superiority it once did around Syria.  This has allowed Russian aircraft to challenge US patrol aircraft, who are likely tracking Russian submarines in the Eastern Mediterranean. Since there are few NATO facilities in the Eastern Mediterranean (now that Turkey is no longer working with NATO) American fighter aircraft cannot react as quickly to these Russian moves.

The US can move the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower into the Mediterranean, but that would take it away from its current position outside the Gulf region. And, as we will see, that is the last place the US Navy wants to leave without enough ship strength.

A bigger threat is the increasing harassment of US Navy warships in and around the Strait of Hormuz by the Iranians. That prompted President Trump to tweet a warning, “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”

Currently the carrier USS Eisenhower and an Amphibious Readiness Group are stationed in the area and there are bases in the GCC nations that the US can use if hostilities break out.

Although the possibility for full blown hostilities to break out in the Strait of Hormuz is slim, the impact on the oil markets will be major. Iran, whose oil industry is a major foreign currency earner, wants to boost the price, which any danger to oil shipping in the Gulf will do.  Ironically, the US, which is now a major petroleum producer, is also anxious to keep prices up. And, although the Saudis want to keep their percentage of the oil market, it’s not in their interest in hostilities to break out, especially since they and the UAE have their hands full in Yemen.

However, some analysts in Washington believe that the biggest threat is not Iran, Russia, or North Korea. It is China and its expansionist policy in the South China Sea. There are several reports that the Chinese have made several provocative actions in what Malaysia considers its Exclusive Economic Zone.

China’s survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 and 10 Chinese Coast Guard escorts have remained 200 nautical miles off the coast of East Malaysia for several days near a Malaysian oil exploration vessel. The waters are claimed by Malaysia, China, and Vietnam.

The Australian Navy has helped take the pressure off the US Navy by dispatching a frigate to join the three ship American task force.

At the same time, China is making threatening moves towards Taiwan by increasing aircraft and naval patrols around the island nation.

Normally, this threat would call for the US Navy dispatching one of its carriers. In fact, the USS Roosevelt was deployed to the South China Sea before its crew was infected by the Coronavirus

The result is that the US Navy has sent an amphibious ship, the USS America, with its five F-35 fighters and some helicopters to the South China Sea. While the USS America is a potent weapon, it does not have the full range of capabilities of a nuclear aircraft carrier. And it is possibly not as capable as the new Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, which sailed into the Pacific on April 13th.

Clearly, the US Navy has left a vacuum in the Pacific that the Chinese are more than willing to fill. However, there is a question about the fitness of the Chinese Navy to carry out its mission after China was hit so hard by the Coronavirus.  The Chinese moves could be a bluff.

Another troubling sign is the withdrawal of several B-52s from their forward position in Guam back to the continental United States. They had been positioned there to give the US a strategic fast reaction force in the South China Sea.  However, with the USS Roosevelt docked in Guam and unable to rapidly deploy as most of its crew are on shore, the Pentagon decided that it was unwise to place too many strategic assets on the small island of Guam and risk a “Nuclear Pearl Harbor.”

While the US strategic bombers can reach the South China Sea from the United States, it will take longer to reach their target.

Clearly, while the number of aircraft carriers has declined, the number of potential hotspots has grown.  The result is that amphibious ships with some fighter aircraft capability are now being forced into roles that were once delegated to full deck nuclear carriers.

The one hope for America is that while the Coronavirus has infected several of the Pacific aircraft carrier crews, the great majority of crew show no signs of the illness. That means that in an instant, it is possible the Western Pacific aircraft carriers could set sail quickly in an emergency. In addition, other ships of the Pacific Fleet have been kept at sea and away from port so they will not be infected with the Coronavirus.

In the meantime, the Trump Administration is committed to increasing the number of Navy warships.

However, if any of these four hot spots blow up, the US Navy will find itself strained in the short term.

Week of April 17, 2020

Biden Starts Vetting of Vice-Presidential Choices

With Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren suspending their campaigns and formally endorsing former Vice President Biden, the vetting and interview process for picking a vice presidential choice has begun. But what are Biden and his political advisors looking for?

Traditionally, vice presidential nominees are picked to balance the ticket, geographically, and in terms of experience.  That’s why the experienced Senator Biden was picked by freshman Senator Obama.  That’s why Northeastern Senator Kennedy picked Southerner Senator Johnson.  It’s also why political novice Trump picked then-Indiana Governor and former Congressman Pence for his running mate.

Biden doesn’t have to pick someone with a lot of experience, since he has been in politics for decades.  But he needs to look for someone who can help win some of the states Hillary Clinton lost in 2016.  He also should look for an ideological balance that can excite some of the more liberal/left-leaning members of the Democratic Party.

However, one of the most important factors (and one that usually isn’t a major factor in picking a running mate) is to pick someone who can readily step into the office of president.

Given Biden’s obvious mental decline and age (77 years old), it is quite likely that the Democratic vice-presidential choice could become president in the next 4 years.  And, if Biden makes it through the first term, he is unlikely to run for a second term, which means the Vice President could be the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2024.

Biden said in one of the Democratic primary debates that he would select a female vice-presidential candidate that would align with him on key principles and shore up his weaknesses – probably an allusion to his age.

Voters aren’t as concerned about the sex of the vice-presidential nominee with the exception of a majority of women.  According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week, voters overwhelmingly preferred someone with governing experience over gender or race.  Only 29% said it was important for Biden to choose a woman and only 22% said it was important to pick a person of color.

41% said it was important that Biden pick someone more liberal then himself and 31% wanted someone religious.

However, many Biden advisors want him to pick a woman of color.

Keeping in mind that the person running for president impacts voters more than the vice president, here are some of the top contenders for VP nominee:

Senator Kamala Harris.  Harris is young (55 years old), a Black woman, someone with experience in Washington as a senator from California, and as California Attorney General.  It doesn’t hurt that she endorsed Biden when she dropped out of the presidential race.

She does have weaknesses.  Her record as California’s Attorney General was attacked by her Democratic opponents during the presidential primary debates.  Her office was involved in a crime lab scandal that resulted in more than 1,000 drug cases being dismissed.  She was also accused of blocking evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until she was forced to by the courts.  Investigative reporting by the Sacramento Bee verified the charges and Harris didn’t have a good response to either charge.

This type of heavy handedness by Harris while Attorney General will hurt her in the Black community. Black men represent a large part of America’s prison population.

On the positive side, Harris is a favorite of the Democratic leadership.

Senator Amy Klobuchar.  If Biden hopes to do better than Hillary Clinton, he needs to win the Midwest.  This is where Klobuchar comes in.  Although Minnesota is considered Democratic, it has shifted towards Trump in polls over the past few years.  Klobuchar could hold her state for Biden, while her Midwest roots could help retake Wisconsin and Michigan.

Klobuchar is also one of the favorites of the Democratic leadership.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer.  As governor of Michigan, Whitmer promises to help Biden retake Michigan – a state that helped Trump win the presidency.

However, Whitmer’s recent performance during the Coronavirus epidemic has been lackluster.  She first outlawed the prescribing of anti-malarial drugs for Coronavirus, even though preliminary tests show it to be somewhat effective.  Then she turned around and asked for the same drugs from President Trump.

Her heavy handedness during the epidemic has outraged some Michigan voters, who are circulating a petition to recall her.  The petition already has about a quarter of a million signatures.

She has banned the sale of vegetable seeds or plants.  Her strict stay-at-home orders have led to silly arrests by the police- including a $1,000 fine for a person found alone in a state forest.  Her authoritarian approach during the epidemic led this week to large protests at the state capitol that blocked traffic for miles.  Four Michigan sheriffs have announced they will not follow extreme executive orders.

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board wrote, “Decrees like those from the Michigan Governor’s office and their capricious enforcement run the risk of encouraging mass civil disobedience.”

Speaking not only of Whitmer’s actions, former Secret Service Agent Dan Bongino said, “Civil disobedience is about to make a bold comeback.”

Although her tangles with Trump will warm the anti-Trump bloc, her recent actions will do little to win over people who voted for Trump in 2016.

Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Warren is the obvious choice if Biden wants to reach out to dissatisfied Sanders voters.  However, Warren frequently tangled with Biden during the debates and she was the last 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to endorse Biden.  She is also 70 years old, which negates the idea of bringing fresh, young blood to the ticket.

There are questions about her effectiveness as a campaigner despite her energy and good organization.  She lost the presidential primary in her home state of Massachusetts and did poorly across the nation although she was well financed.  She has also been caught in controversy that was exploited by Trump, including claiming she was partially Native American and that she was fired for being pregnant.

However, Warren has proved to be an effective fundraiser and fighter against corruption.  She is also one of the favorites of the Democratic leadership.

Senator Tammy Baldwin.  The senator from Wisconsin is the first openly gay senator, who withstood a strong effort by Republicans to unseat her in 2018.  This makes her a good choice to retake Wisconsin from Trump this year.

Although she isn’t as well-known as Warren, her liberal credentials put her in the same part of the ideological spectrum as Warren and Sanders.  This gives her some of the advantages of Warren, without any political baggage.

Stacey Abrams.  Abrams barely lost the race for governor in 2018, which would have made her the first Black woman to be a governor.

Abrams is popular with Black women, but her lack of experience and her refusal to admit defeat, while accusing the Republicans of voter fraud may make her more of a liability than an asset.

What is most likely to kill her chances to become the vice-presidential nominee is that she is actively seeking it – a negative in American politics.

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto.  Hispanics are the largest minority in America, and Cortez Masto may be the one to make a Hispanic person a nationally elected official.

One of Biden’s weaknesses during the primaries was with Hispanics, who went overwhelmingly for Sanders in Colorado, Nevada, and California.

One advantage that gives Cortez Masto the inside track for the nomination is that one of her supporters is former Senator Reid, who is close to Biden.  It’s quite likely that Reid will be pushing for her in the coming months.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.  Grisham is the governor of New Mexico, a Democratic state.  However, as with Cortez Masto, she is a Hispanic and would help solidify a critical bloc of voters.

She has tangled with Trump over border enforcement.  She has pulled National Guard troops away from the border with Mexico and fought ranchers on the border who complained that the state wasn’t doing anything to close the border and protect their property. Some critics are asserting that border crime is higher in the New Mexico section the El Paso Border Patrol Sector than it is in the Texas section.

Although it is a given that Hispanics are for more flexibility on borders, polls show the average Hispanic voter wants more border security.  That and the large majority of voters who want America’s borders controlled, make Grisham a controversial choice for the vice-presidential nomination.

These are the women that are under consideration.  However, picking a woman isn’t a guarantee of election success.  Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro for his Vice-Presidential nominee and lost.  John McCain picked Sarah Palin for his vice-presidential nominee and lost.  And Hillary Clinton ran for president and lost to Trump. But time has changed and the mid-term election 2018 showed a wave of elected women to the congress.

Could there be a man that would make a better candidate?

The fact is that the current Democratic Party is so focused on gender and race that it can’t see that voters aren’t overly impressed by either factor.  They prefer experience.

This is one reason why New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is being considered as a vice presidential possibility, even though he has said he isn’t interested.

Cuomo has raised his profile with his daily news briefings on the Corona epidemic in New York.  He has tangled with Trump, but he has also thanked Trump for his help, which allows him to seem bipartisan.  All in all, he appears to be an effective executive although New York is America’s Coronavirus hotspot.

However, despite the positive news coverage, Cuomo has several problems.  First, New York State has the highest taxes in the nation and is losing people and businesses.  He is very anti-gun in a nation where the majority of voters’ support gun ownership.  And in past years, he has told conservatives that they aren’t welcome in his state.

While Cuomo has high visibility now, he is probably the most vulnerable of the other potential VP nominees.

So, who has the best chance to help Biden win?

According to some leaders in the democratic party and prior to Coronavirus crisis, the best choice probably is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.  She is more moderate and comes from the Midwest, which is a Republican stronghold.

Some polls show that among the women mentioned for the vice-presidential nomination, Klobuchar has a stronger image among white voters, independents, Republicans, moderates, conservatives, and those with a favorable view of Trump.  She also is more popular than Warren or Harris in the Midwest, Northeast, South and West.

Although the sentiment for a progressive woman of color is great amongst some in the Democratic Party, the reality of vice-presidential politics will probably come to the fore.  More than anything, the vice-presidential nominee must help the presidential candidate win the election by delivering electoral votes. Again, her supporters claims that   Klobuchar could erode Trump support more than politicians like Warren or Harris.

However, will Klobuchar help Biden that much?  Incumbents usually win reelection and Trump’s popularity numbers have gone up and down during the Coronavirus epidemic.  Klobuchar may be more popular than the other potential Democratic VP nominees, but in the end, nearly all voters will be choosing between Trump and Biden, not Klobuchar and Pence.

In the end, that is what counts.

Week of April 10, 2020

American Leadership Crisis Scenario During the Corona Virus Epidemic

President Trump and Vice President Pence have remained very visible during the Corona epidemic, often being seen together in briefings on the epidemic.  Yet, according to the White House, both have been tested and shown so far, no Corona contamination.

Yet, the recent news that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to the hospital and placed in the intensive care unit indicates that this illness is no respecter of person or position.  It is quite possible that Trump, or Pence, or both could come down with the Corona virus.  If that happens, what then?

Currently, the US Constitution’s rules on succession of leadership is limited to singular events, not an epidemic that could incapacitate a number of those who might be required to fill the position of president.

The 25th Amendment, proposed by Congress and ratified by the states in the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, provides the procedures for replacing the president or vice president in the event of death, removal, resignation, or incapacitation.  The Watergate scandal of the 1970s saw the application of these procedures, first when Gerald Ford replaced Spiro Agnew as vice president.  Then he replaced Richard Nixon as president after Watergate.  Then Ford appointed Nelson Rockefeller to fill the resulting vacancy as vice president.

Sections 3 and 4 are the sections most applicable to the current epidemic.  Section 3 states that the president can send a letter to the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore stating that he can’t discharge the powers and duties of president.  In that case, the Vice President becomes acting president until the president sends a letter stating that is now capable of fulfilling his duty as President

Section 4 is for a situation when the president wants to retain the powers of president, even though he is incapacitated.  It states, “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

In other words, if Vice President Pence and the majority of the president’s cabinet decide that Trump is so seriously ill that he is unable to discharge the position of president, the Vice President becomes acting president.

Of course, in this case, Vice President Pence is the key player.  If Pence doesn’t feel that Trump is incapacitated, this option will not work.  If he does, the transfer of power could just take hours.

While the 25th Amendment allows for a quick transfer of power, it also allows the president to challenge any charges of incapacity.  It says, “Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.”

In other words, if Pence says Trump is too sick to be president, Trump can challenge it.  If the Vice President and majority of the cabinet continue to say the President is unable to carry out the office of president, it goes to Congress to determine the fitness of Trump.  It would take a 2/3 vote in both the House and Senate to remove Trump.

Needless to say, the 21 days that Congress has to determine the fitness of Trump would be a politically unstable time, especially if the nation is suffering from a widespread epidemic.  If Trump is sick, then, it is quite possible that numerous members of Congress would be unable to attend because they are sick or under quarantine.

At least, there is a clear path for everyone to follow if Trump is incapacitated by the Corona virus.  Things get much murkier after that.  If the President is healthy, but the Vice President becomes incapacitated, there is no way to remove him.  He dies, resigns, or recovers.  If he dies or resigns, the president can nominate a new vice president, who must be confirmed by the Senate.

The problem is that currently the next in the line of succession to the presidency would be the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who is a Democrat and opponent of Trump.  If something happens to Trump during the time when there is no vice president, Pelosi would become the president.

There is another issue that has never been decided.  If vice presidential spot is open, does the ability to declare Trump incapacitated or incompetent become Pelosi’s privilege?  If so, she could use that power to try to remove Trump – a possibility given the fact that many Democrats argued over the last three years that this was the way to remove Trump.  However, she would still have to garner most Cabinet officials and 2/3 of the Senate and House.

The problem becomes more complicated if both Trump and Pence fall ill to the Corona virus.  There is no constitutional way to remove them both.  The Speaker of the House could try to declare both the President and Vice President incapacitated, with the concurrence of the majority of the Cabinet.  Although the courts might allow this to take place, it is likely that the Cabinet officers, who are Republican, would prefer an incapacitated Republican president to a Democratic president.

This event might lead to a standoff that leads to the US not having a president for a short time.  However, while the bureaucracy would still function, there is a need for a president to sign legislation and budgets into law.

It’s possible that in such a situation, the Cabinet might negotiate with the Speaker of the House.  They might provide a majority vote to declare both the President and Vice President incapacitated in return for some consideration.

The reality is that the incapacitation of both President and Vice President poses some problems, especially if neither recovers nor dies, but remains on life support.  The same problem can continue farther down the line of succession – incapacitation of the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate (both of whom are much older than the President and probably more susceptible to the virus).

There is a bigger problem if Pelosi tries to declare Trump and Pence incapacitated.  Such a move would have to ignore the limitations in the Constitution and would also mean a dramatic shift in the politics of the nation as the Democrats would then be in control of the White House.  This could very well lead to large scale civil unrest that the military would be unable or unwilling to suppress.

In other words, the legal ascension to the presidency could become a political battle (and possibly a street battle too) that could take weeks or months.  While the bureaucracy could manage to operate for a time, there must be someone who is clearly authorized to handle homeland security.

Fortunately, there is a plan in place, thanks to the Cold War and the possibility that Washington could have been leveled with a nuclear bomb, leaving the country without a clear civilian leader.  The advantage of this plan is that it can handle the slow pace of the pandemic.  The problem is that the walls of a bomb proof bunker might not stop this virus, which can infect others, even if they show no signs of illness.

As we noted in our analysis a couple of weeks ago, if the Corona virus gets out of control and the government must rely on military support, the authority will reside in the US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in Colorado Springs Colorado.  On February 1st, NORTHCOM received warning orders from the Secretary of Defense to be prepared to act.

Another part of the plan is the separation of Defense Secretary Esper and Deputy Defense Secretary Norquist in order to lessen the likelihood that both will be infected.  Defense Secretary Esper in is the fifth person in the line of succession and would be a likely candidate to be sent to an isolated command headquarters.

That isolated location might be the Cheyenne Mountain facility, which was built during the Cold War and is designed to withstand a 30-megaton nuclear bomb.  This bunker complex, which is 2,000 feet under the Colorado Rockies, was designed to wage a nuclear war even if the rest of America had been destroyed by a Soviet nuclear attack.

Corona-free staff have been sent into Cheyenne Mountain and are currently being isolated there.  There is also the probably that others in the presidential line of succession will be sent there, including the Vice President.

These measures are being taken, “To ensure that we can defend the homeland despite this pandemic,” NORAD and NORTHCOM Commander General O’Shaughnessy said in a briefing.  O’Shaughnessy would be the key commander if there is a problem with the presidential succession.  He will oversee efforts defending the US if an enemy tries to take advantage of the uncertainty to attack the US.  He would also be responsible for deploying the troops that would have to deal with any civil unrest caused by the political uncertainty.

There is also another team at a secret location that can take over if the Corona virus infects the Cheyenne Mountain Bunker.  Undoubtedly, someone in the line of succession will be stationed there.

If the Corona virus gets out of control on the East Coast, it is likely that Vice President Pence will be flown to Cheyenne Mountain for the duration.  With their separation, it should limit the chance that both the President and Vice President will be infected.  Then, if the epidemic gets out of control, there will still be a civilian in control of the military.

With the military and civilian leadership protected, there remains the military itself.  It appears that the four aircraft carriers in the Pacific all have cases of the Corona virus onboard – the USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Carl Vinson, USS Chester Nimitz, and the USS Ronald Reagan.  Given the threats posed by the Chinese in the South China Sea and the Iranians in the Middle East, there is no possibility that all four carriers can be sent to port all at one time for quarantine and decontamination.  The best alternative would be to ship the promising anti-malarial drugs to the ships so they can be given it at the earliest possible time.

 

Conclusion

 

Although the focus has been on those who die from the Corona virus, the evidence is that about 80% have few if any symptoms.  Seriously incapacitating symptoms usually are limited to 5% – 10% of the population.  So, although the civilian leadership is older (Trump 73, Pence 60, Pelosi 80, Grassley 86), the chances that they will all be incapacitated by the Corona virus are minimal.  It’s also likely that all four are currently taking anti-malarial medications.

Since age is a major factor in being incapacitated by the virus, it is more likely that President Pro Tempore of the Senate Grassley and Speaker of the House Pelosi would be the ones to have the biggest problems.  But House rules allow for an immediate vote for a new speaker if something happens to Pelosi.  The same type of rules pertains to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

The key person in any change of leadership would be Vice President Pence.  He is the one that is constitutionally delegated the sole authority to declare the president incapacitated, provided he is backed up by a majority of the Cabinet.  And, Pence is the youngest and least likely to be susceptible to infection.

The military leadership is much younger and likely in better health.  This means that the military side of any epidemic caused crisis is in better shape.

Although plans for succession are likely being reviewed, the chances that they will lead to a major shift in the leadership of the United States are unlikely.

 

Succession to the vacancy of the president:

1 – President

2 – Vice President

3 – Speaker of the House

4 – President Pro Tempore of the Senate

Week of April 3, 2020

Military Readiness in the Era of the Corona Virus

While there has been much talk about the readiness of the medical community and the government in terms of reacting to the Corona pandemic, there hasn’t been much conversation about military readiness, except in terms of how it can assist the government in keeping order or providing medical facilities.

However, in a world where there are dozens of conflicts, military readiness – the ability to fight in a conflict – is important.

That issue came to the fore this week when a letter from the captain of the American aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to his superiors was leaked to the media.  In it, he posed the problem of balancing the lives of his sailors with the need to maintain military readiness.

A week ago, the Roosevelt only had a handful of Corona virus cases.  Now it has climbed to over one hundred.  The ship has pulled into Guam and offloaded the sick, but the rest of the crew has remained onboard in quarantine.  Unfortunately, the ship, with crowded sleeping quarters and meals served by potentially sick cooks makes the threat of a growing epidemic onboard a real possibility.

Captain Crozier wrote, “Due to a warships inherent limitation of space…the spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”

The Captain then comes to the key factor – one that all militaries are probably considering.  He wrote, “If the Navy focuses on being battle ready, it will lead to losses to the virus…We are not at war.  Sailors do not need to die.  If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset – our sailors.”

The Captain then offers two options.  Take everyone off the ship, except for a 10% of the crew (about 500) to maintain the nuclear reactors and decontaminate the ship.  The other option is to maximize readiness despite the virus.  He wrote, “We go to war with the force we have and fight sick…there will be loses to the virus.”

He concludes, “As war is not imminent, we recommend the peace time end state.”

However, the Secretary of the Navy didn’t agree.  Acting US Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Wednesday that he did not agree with the captain that all but 10% of the crew could be removed.

This is not the first time Crozier has been at the center of controversy.  He was stationed at Strike Force NATO (Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO) and was the Deputy Director for aircraft targeting for the Libyan operation (Operation Unified Protector).  Several of the bombings hit civilian targets and killed at least 72 Libyans.

The most serious incident according to Human rights Watch occurred in the rural village of Majer, 160 kilometers east of Tripoli. Human Rights Watch found remnants of GBU-12 laser guided bombs.

If the Navy had taken his advice, the Roosevelt would have been out of commission for at least 10 days.  And, even when it went back to sea, it would have probably been undermanned.

That however, is a moot issue as Crozier has been relieved of command. The new skipper will likely be more aggressive in returning the Roosevelt to combat readiness.

This is an unusual letter for the captain of a warship – especially one of the most powerful ships to ever go to sea.  Aircraft carrier captains are usually on the track to become admiral and this letter has probably scuttled his chances to achieve flag rank.  Operational information like this is always secret and by failing to send this to his superiors in a more restricted manner the leaked letter has given American enemies a critical piece of intelligence.

Of course, the leak may have been engineered in order to force the Pentagon to decide.

Of the captain’s letter, Navy Secretary Modly said, “It’s disappointing to hear him say that.  However, at the same time, I know that’s not the truth…This ship has weapons on it. It has munitions on it…It requires a certain number of people on that ship to maintain the safety and security of the ship.”

If the Navy took his advice, the Roosevelt will probably be out of commission for at least 10 days.  And, even when to goes back to sea, it will probably be undermanned.

Of course, this is taking place when tensions in the South China Sea are at a peak and there are indications that Iran may retaliate against American troops or assets in the Middle East.  Can the US afford to take a major part of its military force in the region out of commission?

Probably, sickness on board ships is nothing new and these ships have continued.  In 1977, the American aircraft carrier USS Saratoga faced a hepatitis epidemic when a cook, who made and served ice cream to the ship’s company, got hepatitis.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough gamma globulin in Western Europe to inoculate the crew, which led to an emergency effort to gather enough medication in the US to fly to the Mediterranean, where the Saratoga was deployed.  The ship continued its deployment and was even stationed off the coast of Lebanon for a while in case there was a need to evacuate US citizens during the civil war. But Corona virus situation is unprecedented and complicated any remedy.

This isn’t the only situation where the Corona virus has impacted American military readiness.  The US Air Force has expanded its crew in the NORAD command bunker at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado.  This bunker is designed to withstand a direct hit by a nuclear bomb and still carry out its mission of waging a war.  The crew sent to Cheyenne Mountain is virus free and will remain in isolation until the epidemic threat has passed.

The US Army also cancelled it NATO maneuvers this spring and sent its 20,000 soldiers back to the United States.  US military bases are also trying to isolate its occupants as much as possible in order to limit the spread of the Corona virus.

However, the fact is that hostilities do not end during a pandemic.  The Spanish influenza epidemic took place during World War One and killed more people than the war did.

In fact, a military that does lower its guard during an epidemic is making itself a target for an enemy attack.

That may be one reason that Trump publicized the fact that Iran or its “militia” allies were planning a sneak attack on US troops or assets in Iraq.  He warned, “It this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed.

It’s interesting to note that if hostilities between the US and Iran take place, it will be the task of the USS Theodore Roosevelt to reinforce the American forces in the region – unless it is undergoing the decontamination routine suggested by the ship’s captain.  That’s probably one overriding reason for keeping the Roosevelt operationally ready.  If Iran were to start hostilities, including closing the Strait of Hormuz, the US would want to move two aircraft carriers into the Indian Ocean.

However, it isn’t only the Roosevelt that is suffering from the Corona virus.  Although the rate of illness in the US military is less than that in the general population, it has impacted the military.  According to the Military Times, the military is seeing a growth in those infected by 10% – 15% daily.

However, the Pentagon has ordered military units to not publicize their infection rate.  The Pentagon told the Military Times, “Unit-level readiness data for key military forces is information that is classified as a risk to operational security and could jeopardize operational or deterrence.”

At the time this being written, about half a dozen active duty military person has died.  However, military units across the globe have been impacted.  Two aircraft carriers, three training facilities, and the Army’s Fort Bragg have had cases of the virus.  The two carriers are both in the western Pacific.

The fact that Fort Bragg has Corona virus cases is a concern for the Pentagon.  It is the largest military installation in the world with 50,000 active duty personnel.  It is headquarters to the US Army Special Operations Command, the 1st Special Forces Command, and the 82nd Airborne Division.  It is the 82nd, that acts as a rapid reaction force and was the unit that deployed to the Middle East when the American embassy in Baghdad was targeted.

In Afghanistan, US forces have been isolated as much as possible in their bases in order to prevent more infections.  Due to the virus, experts worry that the military may have to stay in Afghanistan longer than planned.

“Protecting the force is our top priority,” Army Col. Sonny Leggett wrote on twitter.  “We continue to execute the ordered drawdown to 8,600.”

“To preserve our currently healthy force, Resolute Support is making the necessary adjustments to temporarily pause personnel movement into theater,” Army General Scott Miller, commander of US operations in Afghanistan, said in a statement.  “In some cases, these measures will necessitate some service members remaining beyond their scheduled departure dates to continue the mission.”

Only essential personnel can enter US bases in Afghanistan and Americans are using more teleconferencing to communicate with their Afghan counterparts.

Although there are Corona virus test kits at US bases in Afghanistan, they can only have them verified by sending them to Germany.  Currently there are about 1,500 soldiers in quarantine – not necessarily because they are exhibiting signs of illness, but because they are new arrivals or are returning from trips.

America isn’t alone in this case.  Militaries around the world are experiencing the same problems, although they are remaining quiet about the threat to their national security.

So, what is the solution?  It’s not as simple as the two options offered by the Captain of the Roosevelt – shut down or risk sailors dying.  Giving the military priority on testing and access to anti-malarial drugs, along with aggressive treatment (medicating those with the virus even before symptoms occur) would allow military units to remain operational during this period, that’s the pentagon hope.

As of this writing, it appears that about half of the crew of the Roosevelt will be moved off the ship (a good number of those will probably be the air wing).  This will still leave the ship capable of carrying out some operations if necessary.  There will also be emergency plans for bringing the rest of the crew onboard within hours if necessary.

To the Pentagon leaders who displayed anger at the Captain of the Roosevelt, they are asserting that what he forgot is that military units must always be prepared for war. He also forgot that being combat ready is as much a guarantee of peace as anything in their view.

As one American veteran who served in the US Navy said recently, “I’m glad the captain of the Roosevelt wasn’t in charge of an American carrier at the Battle of Midway.” *

*The Battle of Midway was an epic clash between the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy that played out six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Navy’s decisive victory in the air-sea battle (June 3-6, 1942) and its successful defense of the major base located at Midway Island dashed Japan’s hopes of neutralizing the United States as a naval power and effectively turned the tide of World War II in the Pacific.

Week of March 29, 2020

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES
Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)

 

The Heritage Foundation sees the US as the winner in the current situation in Syria, with conflict between Turkey, Russia and Syria.  They conclude, “That leaves the U.S. sitting in not-the-worst position of all the players. We still have some small teams in Syria conducting anti-ISIS operations, but no one seems to want to challenge them. In addition to hounding terrorists, the U.S. has a vested interest in keeping the problems of Syria from spilling over and destabilizing Iraq. As long as the U.S. can maintain a presence in Iraq, Washington can keep up that effort and continue to pressure and isolate Iran. In short, Syria is a big headache for many world leaders, but Trump has more to be happy about than most. A stable Middle East is important to the U.S. The three biggest threats to stability are extremists, terrorists, and Iran. At present, the U.S. military footprint there seems adequate to keep them all contained.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at America’s weak missile defense given the recent attacks in Iraq.  They note, “Patriot systems are ill-suited for use on or near the front line. Even a relatively small caliber bullet can damage the fragile missile launchers or radar. Patriots require a secure area, free from the danger of direct fire from weapons such as anti-tank missiles. Al Asad did not provide that level of protection. Its perimeter fence is, in many cases, within sight of the main airstrip and facilities.  Unless the Iraqis and the U.S. deliberately expand the base or change its security posture, Patriot systems are unlikely to be employed there.   The situation argues for the U.S. to develop a more hardened ballistic missile defense system, but that’s difficult—especially when it comes to radar. Space-based radar might one day solve this problem, but in the meantime, the answer may be either to move all U.S. troops who are within missile range of Iran (i.e., anywhere in the Middle East) to bases able to employ Patriot or to disperse them in smaller concentrations to locations with substantial early warning assets and shelter”

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy examines the fight between the Saudis and Russia over oil.  They conclude, “Riyadh sometimes has interpreted “reasonably priced” as “realistically priced.” But these days, such diplomatic smoothness is gone. Yesterday the Department of Energy issued a statement that included: “These attempts by state actors to manipulate and shock oil markets… [.]” Such language may be normal in dealing with Moscow but is new, at least publicly, for communication with Riyadh. The White House said today that President Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, or MbS, on Monday about global energy markets. When is this going to end? And how is this going to end?  The “when” is difficult to answer. It might end tomorrow if Iran were to launch another salvo of missiles against Saudi oil installations as it did last September. However, assuming the crisis remains a simple struggle between the rival ambitions of President Putin and MbS, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, then expect it to be a knife fight. Both men are ruthless and determined. One could perhaps debate who is more cunning. I know where my money is.

ANALYSIS

The Coronavirus Economy

Life-threatening pandemics aren’t easy to manage.  On the medical side, isolation and quarantine are the best answer because it stops the spreading of the virus.  However, on the impact to the economy, isolation and quarantine are the worst of all possible options.  True, some can work at home, but farming and food production can’t be run out of one’s living room.

This is the problem facing the national leaders around the world.  And, each is trying to balance these two sides of the problem in their own way, based on the advice they are receiving and their own common sense.

In the United States, the solution is to throw money at the problem, then to get the population back to work in a few weeks, and count on the medical profession to limit the spread of the virus.

It appears that the US is ready to start throwing money at the problem.  Early Wednesday morning, Senate leaders and the White House announced that a $2 trillion agreement had been reached to provide economic relief to the Corona virus epidemic.

The broad outlines of the deal include the following:

Direct cash payments of about $1,200 for each adult earning under $75,000 for single people and $150,000 for couples.  The amount received will taper off over these figures, but they will receive the whole amount initially.  The excess they receive will be owed in next year’s taxes.

The bill provides $367 billion in forgivable loans to employers with less than 500 employees.  The amount that will be forgiven will depend on how many employees are laid off.  The fewer laid off, the more of the loan is forgiven.

An interesting prohibition in the bill states that businesses controlled by the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, and heads of executive departments can’t receive loans or investments from any Treasury programs.

The $500 billion loan program for larger companies includes an inspector general and a five-member congressional panel for oversight.

The bill increases unemployment benefits for those laid off.  According to Senator Schumer, the Democratic Leader in the Senate, the deal increases “the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 per week and ensures that laid-off workers, on average, receive their full pay for at least four months.”

Schumer also said the bill includes $150 billion for state and local governments.

The goal of this bill is to keep consumer demand up even as many consumers are staying at home.

On the positive side, by stimulating consumer demand, when it looks like it was about to take a dive, the proposed bill keeps many sectors of the economy (and their workers) operating.  This will make it easier to restart the economy when the pandemic has passed – especially if the money is handed out quickly and the workforce is able to leave their homes.

The problem is the size of the stimulus.  The planned (before the pandemic) federal budget for FY 2021 was to be $4.829 trillion.  Revenue was to bring in $3.863 trillion, but that assumed a good economy.  The deficit would be about one trillion.  That means coronavirus emergency spending has already boosted federal spending by 50%.

The result is that the amount that the government must borrow to pay for the emergency spending will cause this year’s budget deficit to triple.  Unfortunately, with no one to buy the additional Treasury bills and notes, the Federal Reserve will be forced to step in and buy the debt with newly created money.  And, as any economist will tell you, when demand, caused by additional money, goes after a limited supply of goods, inflation will occur.

Whether the money is just created by entries in the Federal Reserve computer or a couple of trillion dollar coins are minted, the result is just the same – the money supply will be increased without an increase in the economy’s ability to produce more goods and services.

With each adult receiving $1,200 and each child receiving $500, the boost in spending will be considerable.  However, given the current coronavirus situation, it won’t go equally into all sectors of the economy.  Based on recent spending patterns, the money will surge into the grocery sector – causing more empty shelves in stores and more inflation.  The question is how much.

In 2017, the agriculture and food industries contributed $1.053 trillion to the economy.  That is 5.4% of the nation’s GDP.

If consumers that receive a government check decide to buy groceries with the bulk of their money, the food sector could see an additional $250 billion in spending.  Unfortunately, increasing food supplies takes time either to raise the cattle or grow the crops.  The result could see food prices climb 25%, depending on imports and some consumers deciding to shift their spending away from food as food prices go up.

In the meantime, some sectors of the economy like housing, automobiles, brick and mortar retail stores, and traditional restaurants will see very little of that stimulus money, although drive-in restaurants and internet stores will gain.

In turn, these other sectors of the economy will not be buying supplies from their suppliers and paying rent to property owners.  As Bloomberg News noted, what happens to the billions in rent owed for business that have closed?  Since most property owners have high levels of debt themselves, what are they to do?

These and other issues mean that a stimulus bill can’t by itself solve the problem.  The economy can only operate if everyone can go back to work.  This is the issue Trump is facing.  Can the economy recover if everyone can go back to work, while current medications and potentially new vaccines keep enough people healthy to get the economy working at full capacity?

Unfortunately, there is little information to work with.  The last major pandemic was the Spanish flu that started in the last year of World War One.  The war and the lack of data collected make it hard to base policy on a pandemic that occurred over 100 years ago.  As a result, politicians are forced to rely upon models of epidemic growth and decline.  And, there are as many models as there are experts.  And many of the experts are willing to inflate the risk in order to help their organizations.

While some models forecast a future with millions of deaths, bankruptcies, increased suicides, and a depression unknown to the modern world, there are others that see the virus coming under control soon.  Politicians are left to make the hard choices based on a variety of models and theories.

One fact that makes it more likely for politicians to ignore the doomsday predictions has been the failure of the more pessimistic models to accurately predict events.  One of the pessimistic groups is COVID Act Now, which has used a model from the Imperial College, London, which was the one to predict 2 million American deaths.  It was widely quoted and used by governors and mayors of both parties to make decisions.

However, its predictions have been inaccurate.  They claimed that by March 19th, 5,400 New Yorkers would be hospitalized.  Only about 750 were hospitalized by the 19th.  They predicted 13,000 hospitalizations by March 23rd in New York.  By the 23rd, the actual number was only 2,500.

The COVID Act Now model was also wrong in predictions about Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma, and Virginia.  Now COVID Act Now has admitted the problems of its model and has stated, “The model does not adjust for population density, culturally determined interaction frequency and closeness, humidity, temperature, etc. in calculating.”  They also admitted to many other problems with the model.

This isn’t the model that the President is basing his decisions on.  In the case of President Trump, he sees a more optimistic pandemic track.  His desire is to keep the US economy going, while trying to limit physical contact, and allowing doctors to use medications currently used for malaria.

The Wall Street Journal has come in on Trump’s desire to get the people back to work.  It noted that the third coronavirus stimulus plan will cost a lot, but so will a shutdown of the country.  They note, “Each month of a national shutdown costs the economy about a trillion dollars.  The damage will become harder to fix as businesses fire workers and close forever…A blanket lockdown can’t go on.”

They go on to note that keeping every business closed and every worker unemployed won’t work.  Nor will replacing the private economy with borrowed money won’t work.  They also noted that the private sector was taking steps as many businesses were already tailoring their businesses to working in the current environment.

Will the Trump plan work?  That is an unknown currently.  The President is aware that a shutdown of the nation will have serious side effects that may take years to recover.  On the other hand, an early return to “business as usual” may mean the number of coronavirus cases will rise, along with deaths.

Currently, Trump is looking at the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.  If those numbers are trending down by Easter and the anti-malarial drugs are shown to limit the severity of the coronavirus, he will probably try to get people back to work.  If he can do that, the stimulus money that everyone gets will be less likely to be spent solely on food and may flow into other sectors of the economy.  A family that is confident that there will be food at the grocery store may use the stimulus money for a down payment on a new automobile.

If Trump can do that, he will have reassured his reelection.

PUBLICATIONS

An Increasingly Aggressive Iran Warrants New Emphasis on Missile, Rocket Defense

By Thomas Spoehr

Heritage Foundation

March 24, 2020

On March 11, about 30 rockets rained down on Taji Air Base in central Iraq, killing two American troops and one British soldier. Three days later, more rockets landed on Taji, wounding another three U.S. service members. Last week lawmakers pressed Pentagon officials regarding the lack of missile and rocket defenses on Iraqi bases housing American forces. Why wasn’t our Army using the Iron Dome system or other capabilities to protect our troops? Similar concerns had been raised earlier, following Iranian missile attacks on the al-Asad and Irbil air bases, launched in response to the killing of Qassem Suleimani. The short answer is: our current missile defense systems are not optimized for use on remote bases. Our rocket defenses have progressed no further than what we fielded in Iraq from 2004 to 2010.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/missile-defense/commentary/increasingly-aggressive-iran-warrants-new-emphasis-missile-rocket

Syria Is the War Nobody Wins, Except Maybe Trump

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

March 11, 2020

Many forces are waging war in Syria, all of them willing to fight to the last Syrian. But in this conflict, the United States is MIA. Thank goodness for that. The war in Syria is likely to devolve into another interminable, unwinnable conflict. Fighting recently flared in the Syrian province of Idlib. A year and a half ago, Russia and Turkey had negotiated a demilitarized zone in the province, one that separated the area controlled by the forces of President Bashar Assad from the territory held by rebels. Russian and Turkish patrols made sure that zone remained heavy-weapons-free until late last month, when the Syrian army moved in with the assistance of air cover from the Russians. From a military perspective, what happened next could not have gone worse for the Syrians. Years of war had already decimated their air and ground forces. Now, the Turks have gutted what was left. The Syrians lost the equivalent of two mechanized divisions and virtually all of its fixed wing and helicopter air force.

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/middle-east/commentary/syria-the-war-nobody-wins-except-maybe-trump

Russia and Saudis in a Knife Fight Over Oil—But We May Be the Victims

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

March 10, 2020

The Hill

A train wreck is about to occur in the oil market, and there will be casualties. Russia and Saudi Arabia, which previously had cooperated in making the world market well-supplied, no longer can agree on how to share the benefits. Today Riyadh announced it will step up output to a record 12.3 million barrels per day in April, the vast majority of which is exported. Russia also is increasing production but its incremental volumes are smaller. It’s a game of bluff: Who can survive longer? And we are the spectators…

Read more at:

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/russia-and-saudis-in-a-knife-fight-over-oilbut-we-may-be-the-victims

 

Week of March 20, 2020

Part 1/2 series:

The American Corona Virus Apocalypse – What to Expect and What Could Happen

A month ago, predictions about the course of the Corona virus were varied.  Many insisted it was merely a typical mild winter sickness that would quickly dissipate when the weather got warmer.  Others warned this was a pandemic that could impact the world and how we live for decades.

It seems the pessimists were closer to the mark.  While the death rate has moderated itself in China and other nations in East Asia like Japan and South Korea, the West is experiencing an alarming growth of the disease.

It now appears that the West will have the same widespread problems China had.  Confirmed cases in the West are doubling every two to three days.  Some countries like Italy don’t have the medical infrastructure to handle the serious cases.  And, instead of just targeting the old, the Corona virus is also infecting and killing young people in their 20s and 30s.

In the meantime, all investments from stock to precious metals are losing value.  It appears that the only investment that is holding its value is food and sanitary supplies.  Major companies like Boeing are on the verge of bankruptcy and it appears that employment figures this month will be like those during the worldwide depression of the 1930s.

Fortunately, humans are resilient, and the world will come back – eventually.

So, how will this impact the world superpower – America?  The fact is that recovery will be slow.

Many companies will go bankrupt in the coming months.  And, others will take time to get back on their feet as they must gear up production and rebuild their customer base.  Although the US government is passing legislation to provide economic assistance, most of that will go to paying bills that must be paid despite the lack of sales and paying for sick leave for employees.  Companies may start up production, but there must be a market for their goods and demand for everything from aircraft to automobiles has crashed.  The result will be higher unemployment for a while – unemployment that can lead to civil unrest.

As billionaire Bill Ackman noted about government assistance, “You can’t borrow your way out of the problem. You can’t lend your way out of the crisis.  You have to kill the virus.”

There will be some positives in the long terms for America as this crisis has shown how dependent the US is on Chinese products.  Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act, which will bring critical manufacturing back to the US from China.  However, starting up production is something that takes years, not weeks or months.

The most important sector of the economy in this crisis is food – as seen in the empty shelves in American stores as people rushed out to buy food for self-imposed quarantines.  Here the US has an advantage.  Most American food production is in states that have not been seriously hit by the Corona virus.  Population density is low in farm country, so the virus will have problems spreading in the American food belt.  However, the weakness is to be found in the logistics that converts Midwestern wheat into flour and then the loaf of bread on the shelf in New York.  These factories, mills, food processing plants, warehouses, and truck lines are vulnerable to sick workers, food riots, theft, and economic factors.

Another long-term impact is social.  Although many of the lines in stores were orderly, many fights broke out between people over limited supplies of food and sanitary products.  One can only wonder what will happen when there isn’t enough food to go around.

The potential violence will be multiplied by the impact the virus is having on law enforcement, the courts, and prisons.  In order to limit contact with potential Corona virus carriers, law enforcement has been instructed to limit their enforcement actions to serious crime.  Shoplifting, petty crime, drugs, prostitution, and traffic laws will be overlooked in order to limit the chance the police are exposed to the virus.

The change is also found in the courts.  Court cases have been delayed; juries are not being empaneled due to the health risk, and warrants for minor crimes aren’t being issued.

This reduction in law enforcement and justice has been compounded by the release of some prisoners in order to keep prisons from becoming hot spots for the Corona virus.  Hopefully many of those released will go home and try to change their lives.  Unfortunately, many will go back to crime – especially since the chances of being caught and arrested are lower now.


An American Apocalypse?

Apocalyptic movies have been popular entertainment ever since Mad Max.  And, in recent years, these movies have used the theme of worldwide infections.  Popular movies like the Resident Evil series and the Maze Runner trilogy have popularized the idea of an epidemic destroying the world as we know it.

But, is real life beginning to resemble a movie?  Could the scuffles in American stores over toilet paper be just a sample of what may occur if the corona virus epidemic continues to grow at a geometric rate?

It’s not unlikely.  Food riots are common in some nations and the only thing keeping it from happening in America is the abundance of food and its low prices.

However, as Alfred Lewis observed in 1906, “There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy.”  The same has been observed by others, including the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  While people can deal with other shortages like clothing or gasoline, food is an essential commodity.  And, if there is no food, even the most civilized person will commit a crime to feed themselves or their family.

The American food industry operates on thin profit margins and “just in time” stocking.  Unusual consumer demand, as America has seen in the last few weeks, can quickly empty the shelves.  And, the only way to refill those shelves is a rapid resupply by truck from the local warehouse, which in turn relies on food processors.  Any glitch in transportation, food processing or warehousing can keep shelves empty.

There is also the inflation problem.  The US is seriously looking at economic recovery legislation that will cost over $1 trillion.  And, since there isn’t that sort of money available to the federal government, it will be paid for with the selling of more government debt, which is purchased in large part by the Federal Reserve – using money it has created.  And has been seen in 1920s Germany, 2000 Argentina, and modern-day Venezuela, food supplies are most vulnerable in inflationary times.  Stores with the worst profit margin (usually in the poorer parts of a city) close first.  This, in turn leads to food riots.

Don’t forget that as food becomes scarcer, theft grows.  Hijacking trucks, warehouse thefts, and shoplifting become prevalent as food prices go up and law enforcement looks the other way.

It’s not hard to see food riots becoming common in the Western world.

If food riots come to the US, expect the US military to step in.  Many states have already called up the National Guard and California Governor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that the state is prepared to declare martial law.

There are plans for such an eventuality in America.  In 2008, the Army War College issued a report saying that an economic crisis in the US could lead to massive civil unrest that would require the military to intervene to restore order.

Ironically, the military planning for such a civil disturbance is based on the same types of movies that are popular with the movie going public – zombies created by some infection.

As Time.com writer observed, “Dystopian movies used to reflect our anxieties, now they reflect our reality, mirroring…how our government views us.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) joined with the Department of Defense (DoD) to use zombies to train government agents in mock military drills.  In 2011, the DoD created a 31-page manual on how to protect America from an attack carried out by zombie forces. In 2012, the CDC released a guide for surviving a zombie plague.

The current plan for a military intervention during civil unrest is outlined in “CONOP 8888.”  According to a Foreign Policy article dated May 13, 2014, the document states, “This plan fulfills fictional contingency planning guidance tasking for US Strategic Command to develop a comprehensive [plan] to undertake military operations to preserve “non-zombie” humans from the threat posed by a zombie horde.”

Lest anyone think this was a joke, in the disclaimer section, it states, “This plan was not actually designed as a joke.”  Although zombies are the theoretical enemy, it outlines how the military envisions its role in any unrest.

By basing the study on “enemy zombies,” the Pentagon avoids any political fallout by picking a realistic threat like terrorists, white supremacists, leftists, black nationalists, militias, etc.

Although the Corona virus doesn’t create zombies, the manual does outline how the military will put down a civil uprising that may result from the Corona virus.  Its 6 phases to protect and restore the civilian government and civil peace are: shape, deter, seize initiative, dominate, stabilize, and restore civil authority.

The first step is to increase surveillance, carry out drills, and coordinate with state and local law enforcement.  This transitions into deterrence by recalling military personnel to their duty stations, fortifying military bases, and starting limited combat operations against the enemy.

The military would then shelter all essential government employees at these bases and then deploy troops to control waterways.  Reconnaissance forces would then reconnoiter remaining threats and survey the status of important infrastructure like water, power, and lines of communication.

The last step is restoring civilian authority and assisting them with military forces.  Any opposition hold outs will then be attacked.

Although there is no solid evidence that CONOP 8888 is seriously under consideration, the DoD has ordered troops to stay on base and is quickly moving the 20,000 troops currently in Europe on NATO exercises back to the US – movements that are similar to stage 2 in the plan.  They are also making plans to deploy two Navy hospital ships to Corona virus hot spots in order to care for patients that aren’t infected.  The Army Corps of Engineers is also planning to build temporary hospitals to handle hospital overflows.

But the employment of martial law and the military comes at a cost.  In America, there is a clear line separating the military and law enforcement – a legacy of the days when the United States was a British colony and British soldiers enforced the law.  As a result, any attempt to put the military on the streets to enforce laws will not be greeted with favor in many parts of the country.

Another problem with martial law is that some in government will use the situation to advance their agenda without public debate or legislation.  For instance, in the past week, some anti-gun politicians have used the state of emergency to restrict gun rights.  Many gun owners are concerned that some politicians could use martial law to try to confiscate firearms as they did in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  If that happens, the level of civil unrest will grow into a post-apocalyptic civil war.

What happens next depends on the course of the virus, the actions of health officials, and what politicians – who are trying to balance economic issues and health concerns – will allow.

Although an American Corona virus apocalypse is still an unlikely event, the chances of it occurring are much greater than they were just a few weeks ago.

 

*Next part 2 : Military Takes

Week of March 13, 2020

Coronavirus Plagues America

 For the first time in living history, the headlines after a major presidential primary night weren’t focused on the election.  Instead, they were focused on the coronavirus and its spread across the nation.

Even the election news focused on the fact that both Biden and Sanders were cancelling their post-primary rallies due to the coronavirus.

The American mood is certainly schizophrenic.  While airplanes fly nearly empty as Americans are afraid of coming in contact with someone with the corona virus, they are willing to wait in line and crowd in cheek to jowl with others at grocery stores and warehouse clubs in order to buy toilet paper, sanitary supplies, water, and freeze dried food.

Although the US was slow in taking the virus seriously, they have reacted quickly in the last few days.  Several states have declared States of Emergency.  New York governor Cuomo called in the National Guard to police the New Rochelle area, which is the hot spot of corona virus infection on the East Coast.

President Trump after a dismissive attitude of the seriousness of the situation, came out Wednesday with a program of health and economic incentives to battle the epidemic.  Although his speech was intended to assure the American public, he created confusion regarding some of the elements about banning travel from Europe and how the Americans will deal with testing…

However, there are a lot of problems in fighting this infection.  Since many who get the virus don’t show any symptoms (or very mild ones), health officials don’t really know the extent of the infection or how serious it really is.  For instance, an infected person with mild or no symptoms can pass it on to another person, who can develop a serious condition that can lead to death.  Consequently, no one really knows the real situation, which leads to predictions that are probably more too pessimistic.

On the other hand, there are doctors who remain optimistic based on research on the virus and how it interacts with humans.

One positive is that studies are showing that the virus is most effective at 47.7 degrees Fahrenheit.  At temperatures above that, it’s ability to spread decreases dramatically.  One proof of that is that all the major hot spots in the US are in colder states.  Warmer, drier states like Arizona have patients with the Corona virus, but it hasn’t spread throughout the community like it has in Washington State, Northern California, New York, and Boston. 

This temperature weakness of the virus means that as summer approaches, the chances are good that new cases will decline, giving scientists a chance to discover a way to fight it before the winter cold returns.

In the meantime, the virus will have an impact of America’s economy, social interaction, stability, and even the presidential election in November.

 

Economy

Although the world has lost trillions of dollars in the world’s stock markets, much of that loss was do as much to the fact that stock prices were overvalued in the first place. 

The biggest economic problem from the infection is production and consumer buying.  With the corona virus ability to spread, many factories are closing in order limit the threat.  Factories that aren’t producing aren’t selling to consumers.  They aren’t paying their employees or suppliers either.

There is also consumer demand.  With a population afraid to go out, brick and mortar stores are experiencing a decline in sales – unless they sell toilet paper, water, and sanitary supplies.

There is an upside for some sectors of the economy.  As the population stays inside, they will probably increase their buying online.  Businesses like Amazon should experience growth as more consumers rely on products that are delivered directly to them.  In addition, many grocery store chains are also taking orders online and then delivering to homes.

Some companies that sell emergency food supplies have seen their business skyrocket.  Companies that produce freeze dried foods or military rations for emergencies are working overtime to meet demand.

Companies that rely upon energy will do well, providing they have consumers buying their product or service.  The mining industry is very energy reliant, but with slowing global demand for minerals and metals, they will see lower earnings in the upcoming quarters.  With the decline in traveling and the oil war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, oil prices are expected to remain low, which will hurt the American petroleum sector. 

Normally, low oil prices benefit the airlines.  However, with the Corona virus scare, many airlines are flying nearly empty aircraft.  Although lower ticket prices may tempt some customers, the airlines are in for a bad time.

One benefit for the US economy in the long run may be a return of some manufacturing to the US from China.  Shortages in pharmaceuticals, rare earths, and electronics are encouraging some companies to rethink their strategy of subcontracting to China.  In fact, there is talk that President Trump may invoke his presidential powers to bring back pharmaceutical production of masks, antibiotics, medicines, etc. to the US.

 

Society

One only had to look at the fights breaking out over the last package of toilet paper on the shelves to see how the panic is impacting Americans.  The “everyone for themselves” mentality is breaking out across the nation.

This wouldn’t be so bad normally, but in a society already fractured by racial, political, economic, and gender lines, it is only exacerbating the fissures already in American society.

We can add to that a geographical divide as most of the corona illness is on the predominantly Democratic coastlines.

Should the pandemic grow and there becomes a refugee flow from the Democratic coastlines to the interior and warmer south, which are more Republican, there could be calls for quarantines to keep people out of these states – especially if there are instances of them bringing the corona virus with them

Another issue is Americans’ basic human rights and the medical battle against the epidemic.  Although quarantines have been instituted in the US in the past, this could potentially be the biggest quarantine in American history.  How will Americans feel about military forces patrolling the street like they are doing in New Rochelle, New York?  How will they react to orders limiting their travel?

These may seem to be minor issues, but in a society that fights over toilet paper, what can happen is anyone’s guess.

 

Political

Ever since the coronavirus struck, some who have have wondered how this might impact the presidential election.  Many think that Trump could lose the election as he will be too weak to effectively govern.

As we have noted in the past, a week is an eternity in politics.  Consequently, there is no way to predict what will happen in November.

Although Democrats are already blaming Trump for the problem, Trump’s poll numbers are currently at an acceptable range compared to previous presidents.  There is also the fact that America is not currently experiencing the coronavirus deaths that have occurred in other countries Italy, Iran, and China are having.

There’s also the fact that nothing makes a president more presidential than going on national TV and announcing his plans.  Obama did it when U.S. Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden and his poll numbers jumped.  Trump did that on Wednesday as he outlined the economic and other steps the government would take.  These include a ban on travel from Europe (except for Britain) for the next 30 days, with the exception of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and proposed economic measures to help businesses and people facing an economic impact from the virus.

One step was to eliminate the health insurance co-pays and completely cover coronavirus treatment.  This should encourage people to get treatment earlier. But  many observers echoed what a CNN political analyst observed:  “President Donald Trump set out to steady a rattled nation and a diving economy in a solemn Oval Office address, but instead sowed more confusion and doubts that he is up to handling the fast-worsening coronavirus crisis”.

“Trump spoke to the nation at a fearful moment, when the rhythms of everyday American life are starting to shut down — with schools closing, the NBA suspended, hospitals on high alert and movie icon Tom Hanks saying he and his wife have the disease”.

The White House also is preparing an executive order that would eliminate U.S. government reliance on foreign made medical supplies.  The order covers 400 “essential medicines” and medical countermeasures and aims to attract more medical jobs to the United States.

All these moves might help Trump look presidential.

If the virus slows down as summer temperatures arrive, the coronavirus issue could be gone long before the election.  Since it takes a few months, the start of the 2020/2021 flu season will not be in full swing when the election is held.

The biggest impact may be economic.  If voters view the economy pessimistically and think conditions will get worse before getting better, they will be more likely to vote Democratic.

One mixed blessing for Trump is the decline in the markets.  That limits a downturn in the days before the election, which hurt Senator McCain, who was leading Obama before the stock market crash in 2008.  It also means that stocks may experience a bull market this fall, which will only help Trump.

However, it’s important to remember that the world is experiencing an unusual event.  Although we have seen pandemics, they haven’t been as contagious and have been limited geographically.  We are truly in unknown territory.

Week of March 06, 2020

SUMMARY, ANALYSIS, PUBLICATIONS, AND ARTICLES
Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)

The Heritage Foundation looks at the peace deal for Afghanistan.  They note, “most importantly, talks within Afghanistan between the government and the Taliban will take place March 10.  This is the most crucial stage in the peace process. It does not matter what the U.S. agrees to with the Taliban; what matters most is what the Afghan government agrees to with the Taliban.  Many questions remain unanswered. And healthy skepticism is only natural under circumstances like this.  But ultimately it is for all Afghans—those who support the government in Kabul and those who identify as Taliban—to settle their differences. The Afghan government has been fighting a Taliban-led insurgency. History shows that most insurgencies are successfully ended through a political settlement. After all, the most basic goal of any counterinsurgency campaign is to allow those who have political grievances the ability to express these grievances through a political process rather than through violence. This is the goal of the intra-Afghan talks. You no more can kill your way out of an insurgency than you can drink yourself out of alcoholism.” 

 

The CSIS has a skeptical view of the Afghan agreement.  They note, “As has been noted in a previous Burke Chair analysis, far too many of the steps proposed to date are reminiscent of the U.S. failures in Vietnam. They ignore the current state of Afghan forces, the lack of unity within the Afghan government, Afghan dependence on outside aid, massive problems within the Afghan economy, and the quality of Afghan governance… Most of the media’s reaction to the announcement of a peace process agreement ignores a wide range of these issues and has only focused on the immediate military implications of the agreement to enter negotiations. This commentary focuses on the three critical limits in the official reporting and media coverage of these military developments: 1. Underestimating the real size of U.S. forces in (and for) Afghanistan. 2.Ignoring the critical role of forward train and assist forces and airpower. 3.Failing to examine the importance of the role played by our allies.”

 

The Cato Institute also looks at the Afghan agreement.  They conclude, “If the Trump administration is truly making U.S. withdrawal contingent on the Taliban and Kabul successfully signing a powersharing peace agreement, it could very well be the death knell for the deal. We are already seeing cracks: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday that he rejects the idea of a TalibanKabul prisoner swap, which is supposed to be carried out by March 10. He said the United States was in no position to make that promise on his behalf. Even as America announces her impending withdrawal from Afghanistan, she still helplessly clings to the very fantasies that have kept her bogged down in this quagmire for nearly 20 years. We have not remade Afghan politics. We have not established a stable, democratic, independent government in Kabul. We have not defeated the Taliban. But that does not vitiate the wisdom of withdrawal. After nearly 20 years, $2 trillion, and an immense loss of life, it is now a vital national interest to end the war. But if the war doesn’t end within 14 months, exiting the war should be the priority, regardless of conditions on the ground.”

 

The American Foreign Policy Council says America should declare war on proxies.  They note, “Countries around the world are increasingly realizing that the most convenient way to occupy foreign territories is to set up a proxy with the ceremonial trappings of a state, including governments, parliaments, and flags. Why go through all that trouble? Because the norms of the liberal international order, which outlaw changing boundaries by force, risk leading to sanctions for the perpetrator state. Creating a proxy regime generates a convenient falsehood that obfuscates reality and helps states evade such consequences. The most systematic user of this tactic is Russia. Since the early 1990s, it has manipulated ethnic conflicts in three different states and helped set up nominally independent entities over which it exerts control. Moscow’s practice began in Moldova’s Transnistria region and in two breakaway territories of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia…Following its 2008 war with Georgia, Russia established permanent military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and formally recognized the independence of the two territories. This allowed Moscow to create a fictive legal basis for its military presence, based on so-called interstate agreements it signed with its proxies.”

 

 

ANALYSIS

 

Super Tuesday Election Results Shake Up Democratic Nomination Race

There is an old political adage that says, “a week is an eternity in politics.”  That adage was no truer than this week.  A week ago, Vice President Biden’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination seemed dead.  His showings in the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa and Nevada caucuses were dismal.  Major Democratic donors were sitting on the sidelines, which left the Biden campaign without the money to contest important states like Texas.  And, his verbal gaffs on the campaign circuit created questions about his ability to mentally handle the office of president.

All that changed in the last few days.

On Saturday, Biden won the South Carolina primary thanks to overwhelming Black support.  Within a day, candidates Buttigieg and Klobuchar had pulled out of the race and had endorsed Biden – followed by several other prominent Democratic politicians like Beto O’Rourke.

The momentum of the weekend led to a surprising win in the Super Tuesday primary elections.  As of this writing, although Biden hasn’t sewn up the nomination, he is leading by a comfortable margin and has over 50% of the delegates pledged.

That win was followed on Wednesday by the withdrawal of candidate Bloomberg, who endorsed Biden.  On Thursday, Warren pulled out.

Although Biden doesn’t have the 1991 delegates to guarantee a first ballot win at the convention, his road to the nomination seems much clearer.  With only Sanders to seriously contest the nomination, the chances of a “brokered” convention are nearly impossible.  And, even if the convention is brokered and Biden doesn’t win on the first ballot, he is nearly assured victory in the second ballot by the super delegates who overwhelmingly support Biden.

The upcoming primaries don’t provide much hope for Sanders to overcome Biden’s lead.  The March 10, primaries are in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Washington.  Of those, only Washington and maybe Michigan appear to be in the Sanders column.  The rest are probably going for Biden.

On the positive side for Sanders, the upcoming states holding primaries has more – White and more Hispanic – groups that did give Sanders more support

If Sanders can stop Biden’s momentum on March 10, the March 17th primaries of Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio may help get him back in the race.  However, with the democratic rules that split up the delegates according to the percentage of support each candidate gets, Sanders must manage to get some major wins in order to overcome Biden’s lead in delegates.

Sander’s problem is that there aren’t any other serious candidates that can siphon off votes from Biden.  And, he needs another viable candidate in the race in order to create a brokered convention.

Although the primary season goes into June, it’s possible that the eventual winner will be clear by the end of March.

 

Senator Bernie Sanders

Although Biden’s comeback was the big story coming out of Super Tuesday, the Democratic leadership who backed Biden can’t afford to ignore Sanders.  Sanders did win the biggest prize, California.  He also earned enough votes to win delegates in every state that Biden won – even though Senator Warren siphoned votes from him. 

Biden can’t expect a victory like Super Tuesday every week.  Super Tuesday had a preponderance of Southern states (the old Confederacy) that are more conservative and less likely to support Sanders.

There is also the fact that the upcoming primaries have more Whites and Hispanics, which are more likely to vote for Sanders.  The problem is that the demographics of the likely voter in the upcoming primary states probably will not be enough to overcome the current Biden lead.

But it isn’t just the nomination that is on the line.  The race also reflects the great divide in the Democratic Party and its future.  Currently, control of the party is in the hands of more moderate establishment Democrats.  They want Biden to win the nomination at all costs, just as they wanted Hillary Clinton to win the nomination in 2016.

The Democratic leadership is concerned that a more radical presidential candidate like Sanders would hurt the party in local elections as well as the US Senate and US House.  In their mind, it’s better to lose the White House with a moderate candidate yet, retain its majority in the House.

However, there is a sizable minority in the Democratic Party that envisions a more democratic socialist Democratic Party like those in Europe.  They also want to overthrow the establishment Democrats that currently run the party.  And, Biden’s win will not mend that divide.

Therefore, it’s possible that Biden may come to the Democratic convention with enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot, but face an upset minority that supports Sanders and feels that the nomination was taken from their candidate, as it was in 2016.  These Sanders voters may decide to stay home in November and hope that they can take over party leadership with a new generation of politicians like New York Congresswoman Cortez.

In other words, while this is probably Sanders last run for president, it isn’t the last time that democratic socialists will be heard from.

 

Michael Bloomberg

Although Bloomberg pulled out of the race on Wednesday, he has won one distinction – howbeit a humiliating one.  He has beaten John Connally for the distinction of spending the most money for fewest delegates.  Former Texas governor Connally had spent $11 million for one delegate in the 1980 Republican primary.  As of the time of this writing, Bloomberg had won 50 delegates after spending $700 million (the delegate count should give Bloomberg more delegates in the next few days).

Bloomberg had misread the Trump victory in 2016.  He assumed that a large personal fortune that could be spent on the campaign would insure victory.  As a result, he saturated the airwaves, including the expensive California market, with commercials for the last month. 

But he had little to show for it but the victory in the small American Pacific territory of American Samoa.  He had forgotten that a candidate needs an agenda in addition to media coverage.

It also helps to make a good impression in the debates.  Bloomberg, however made a poor impression on the debate stage as the other candidates ganged up to attack him.

Although Bloomberg is out of the race, he is expected to remain active, using his personal fortune to help defeat Trump. 

Although the Bloomberg money will help the Democrats this year, it is offset by the lack of donations to the Democratic National Committee this year.  There is also the fact that Americans don’t like the idea of anyone “buying” the election.  Consequently, Bloomberg may waste hundreds of millions of dollars more in a vain attempt to defeat Trump in November.

 

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Warren has pulled out of the race, thanks to a poor performance across the nation, including her home state of Massachusetts, where she lost to Biden.  The reality, however, is that Warren had no path to victory. 

Warren did poorly with demographic groups that she counted upon.  Exit polls showed that only 1 in 10 women in Massachusetts voted for her and only 1 in 5 college educated Whites in the state supported her.

Her future, post campaign, is uncertain.  As a woman, she would be a logical VP choice for Biden and may help bring pro-Sanders democratic socialists back into the Democratic Party camp.

 

The Future

As we noted at the beginning, a week is an eternity in politics.  That means that any attempt to analyze the future may prove wrong within a week.

Assuming Biden retains his lead in delegates, he will be the nominee – either on the first or second ballot.  However, his victory may not bring about a Democratic victory in November.

There are questions about Biden, his son, and corruption in the Ukraine – an issue that came up in the Trump impeachment proceedings.  In fact, the Ukraine has started a criminal corruption investigation into the circumstances surrounding Biden’s involvement in stopping an investigation into his son’s action.  There is also the possibility of a Senate investigation.

There is also the question of Biden’s suitability as a presidential candidate.  As the former Vice President, Biden should have sewn up the nomination months ago.  However, his missteps on the campaign trail have worried many in the Democratic Party.  During campaign stops he has often forgotten what state he is in and what office he is running for.  As a result, many observers think that he may be showing signs of mental degeneration.

This placed the Democratic leadership on the horns of a dilemma.  Do you support a moderate, establishment candidate like Biden, even though he may lose the election, but will keep the establishment Democratic leadership in power?  Or, do you support someone who will be a better campaigner, but is outside the establishment.

Picking an outsider for the nominee is a threat to the leadership.  Someone like Sanders will oust many current Democratic leaders and install his own supporters if he wins the nomination.

On the other hand, Biden has made it clear that he is sticking with the status quo and political leaders like Speaker of the House Pelosi.

There are also troubling signs that the Democratic majority in the House may be in jeopardy – another reason to back Biden.  The California congressional primaries on Tuesday showed that Republican voters in Republican congressional districts that had flipped Democratic in 2018 outnumbered Democratic voters, even though there was no Republican presidential primary. 

Traditionally, a Democratic presidential primary, with no Republican presidential primary will see Democratic voters outnumber Republican ones.  The fact that Republican voters outnumbered Democratic voters, means that nine California congressional seats could flip to the Republican side in November – about half the number needed to turn the House Republican.

While a Biden candidacy may help the Democrats in the House, there is also the issue of Biden’s mental condition.  If he is elected and his mental condition continues to decline, there is a chance that a move to oust him by using the 25th Amendment may take place.  In that case, the choice of a vice presidential nominee at the Democratic Convention may be critical.

Normally, VP choices are made to “balance” the ticket.  Biden may want a more democratic socialist VP – preferably one that is a woman and a minority.  Senator Kamala Harris of California would be a choice that might energize women voters and Blacks, although she is from the strongly Democratic state of California.  Senator Warren of Massachusetts could also be a possibility.  Both would also help pacify the democratic socialist wing of the party too.

Both women, however, would not be the favorite VP candidate for the Democratic Party establishment, which sees both of them as far left outsiders like Sanders.  If one of them succeeds Biden as president, they will likely replace the current Democratic leadership.

A more logical choice for a VP that could take over for Biden and retain the current Democratic leadership might be a Democratic governor from a state that Biden needs to win in November.  He could take a more active role in a Biden Administration and be a good successor if the 25th Amendment is used.

What this means is that the race for the Democratic nomination is hardly over.  Does the party want someone who can win the White House in November?  Does the party want to allow more of a say for democratic socialists in the party, although it may cause the party to lose seats in the House of Representatives?  Or does the party leadership want to retain its power?

All of these are questions that must be answered by the end of the Democratic Convention in July.

 

PUBLICATIONS

U.S., Taliban Sign Peace Deal for Afghanistan

By Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

Feb 29, 2020

A U.S. special envoy and a senior Taliban representative signed an agreement Saturday in Doha, Qatar, that aims to be the first step to bring peace to Afghanistan and allow U.S. troops to come home. In the seven days leading up to the signing ceremony, violence by all sides in Afghanistan had dropped. While there were some attacks, the overall trajectory and levels of violence were reduced drastically. After concluding that the reduction in violence was satisfactory, President Donald Trump gave the green light for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to accept the deal, which comes more than 18 years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Pompeo was present in Doha as U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder and chief negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar signed the agreement that resulted from more than a year of on-and-off formal talks. Among those also present were the foreign ministers of Turkey and Pakistan. This is a first step in what will be a long, drawn-out process. The Afghan people want peace, having known some form of war since 1979. 

Read more at:

https://www.heritage.org/defense/commentary/us-taliban-sign-peace-deal-afghanistan

 

 

Ending the War in Afghanistan vs Exiting It

By John Glaser

Cato Institute

March 2, 2020

The Trump administration has signed an interim deal with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan. The basic contours of the deal are as follows: the Taliban agree to not allow alQaeda or any other group to use Afghan territory to conduct international terrorism against the United States or its allies, and in return the United States will withdraw its military forces from the country. Within 135 days, the Trump administration will reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from approximately 13,000 today to 8,600. The remainder will be withdrawn within 14 months, contingent on the Taliban’s fulfillment of its side of the bargain, which includes a prisoner exchange, verifying that it is taking measures against foreign terrorist groups on Afghan soil, and starting intraAfghan negotiations with the U.S.-backed regime in Kabul.  The good news is that we have never been this close to ending the war. 

Read more at:

https://www.cato.org/blog/ending-war-afghanistan-vs-exiting-it

 

 

Afghanistan at Peace or Afghanistan in Pieces – Part One: The First Phase

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

March 3, 2020 

In fairness, Secretary Pompeo made it clear when he announced the first steps towards a peace agreement that, “the United States has secured separate commitments from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban to hold negotiations for peace.” He made no reference to a full peace plan with any major details. Currently, however, far too much of the coverage given to his announcement has focused on the conditions which allowed the start of such negotiations – as if they provided a coherent plan for the future. As has been noted in a previous Burke Chair analysis, far too many of the steps proposed to date are reminiscent of the U.S. failures in Vietnam. They ignore the current state of Afghan forces, the lack of unity within the Afghan government, Afghan dependence on outside aid, massive problems within the Afghan economy, and the quality of Afghan governance. This previous analysis, entitled, Afghanistan: “Peace” as the Vietnamization of a U.S. Withdrawal?

Read more at:

https://www.csis.org/analysis/afghanistan-peace-or-afghanistan-pieces-part-one-first-phase

 

 

The United States Needs to Declare War on Proxies

By Svante E. Cornell and Brenda Shaffer

American Foreign Policy Council

February 27, 2020 

There has been no shortage of debate about the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani and its effects on U.S. foreign policy toward Iran and the broader Middle East. Not nearly enough has been said about whether it can broadly serve as a model for dealing with the problems posed by proxy forces elsewhere in the world. By killing Suleimani, the United States indicated it would no longer tolerate Iran’s use of proxies to circumvent its responsibility for killing Americans and for other acts of terrorism and mass bloodshed. Washington decided to deal with the source of the terrorism, not its emissaries. The same principle should apply to the many proxy regimes established by various states—Russia most prominently—to circumvent responsibility for illegal military occupations. Countries around the world are increasingly realizing that the most convenient way to occupy foreign territories is to set up a proxy with the ceremonial trappings of a state, including governments, parliaments, and flags. Why go through all that trouble? Because the norms of the liberal international order, which outlaw changing boundaries by force, risk leading to sanctions for the perpetrator state. Creating a proxy regime generates a convenient falsehood that obfuscates reality and helps states evade such consequences.

Read more at:

https://www.afpc.org/publications/articles/the-united-states-needs-to-declare-war-on-proxies