Week of December 04, 2020

Assassination of Iranian Nuclear Chief Raises Many Obstacles for Biden

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh poses many short terms and long-term questions.  First, how was the killing done and who is responsible?  How will the US and Iran react?  And finally, how will this impact the incoming Biden Administration and its future relations with Iran?

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh has been a potential target for Israel and the US since the Bush presidency, when his claimed assets in the US were frozen.  Although compared to the Father of the American Atomic Bomb Robert Oppenheimer, his specialty was not nuclear physics.

It appears that his area of specialty was miniaturizing the nuclear warhead and making it rugged so the warhead could survive its reentry into the atmosphere.  There is also the production of an ablative material to protect the warhead from temperatures caused by reentry and design of the whole warhead package.  According to US analysts these are technologies that aren’t as easily solved as the basic physics of a nuclear weapon and have not been solved yet by the Iranians given the known state of their current ballistic missiles that have been tested.

Although there remain many questions, it appears that this was a remote-control assassination.  An unofficial Fars source claims the attack was done without any killers onsite and with a remote-controlled firearm.  The assault took three minutes as the scientist and Revolutionary Guards general was heading east out of Tehran.  When Fakhrizadeh left his armored car, he was hit by a gun attached to a Nissan automobile that was about 150 meters away.  After hitting the general, the Nissan exploded.

Some military experts claim that the gunfire was too accurate for a remote-controlled device and human snipers were present.  However, such technology is readily available in the US, and therefore Israel.

ATN (the American Technology Network) is the producer of many optical instruments used by the American special forces, including night vision, and thermal devices.  They have produced day and night rifle scopes that can be operated remotely.  Not only does it have ballistic calculators to ensure accuracy, but the information from the scope can also be sent to a remote site.  One example is the discontinued ATN X-sight II HD day and night rifle scope, which can be viewed on the manufacturer’s website.

These technologically advanced rifle scopes are export controlled, which indicates that the assassination was limited to either the US or a close US ally like Israel.

A scope like this, along with a set of remote-controlled servos could have little problem carrying out an attack like this.

This does not necessary imply that ATN or the US government was involved but cannot be ruled out.  It merely shows that the technology is available at a commercial level.


Reaction to the Assassination

On Sunday, the Iranian parliament retaliated by authorizing the enrichment of Iranian uranium to 20%.  Although this is not enough for a traditional nuclear device, it signaled that Iran was moving closer to enriching their uranium up to weapons grade.

The parliament also voted to restore the old design to the Arak heavy water reactor, which will allow to produce plutonium.  Plutonium is critical for smaller, more sophisticated nuclear devices.

The Iranian parliament speaker Muhammad Qalibaf confirmed that “The draft law on strategic measures to lift the sanctions will limit the terrorist acts waged by the enemy against Iran.”

It is the hope of the Iranian government that by pressing forward on uranium enrichment and plutonium production, they can force European governments to put pressure on Israel and the US.

In the meantime, there are actions that are taking place throughout the region.  Israel has put its embassies and diplomatic compounds on a high alert.

The US has also taken military measures.  President Trump ordered the American nuclear aircraft carrier USS Nimitz back to the region.  The Navy denied that the move was related to the assassination and was only taken to protect US troops being withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The US Navy said, “It was prudent to have additional defensive capabilities in the region to meet any contingency.”

Although some have claimed that the Nimitz deployment proves that the US is planning an attack, US naval doctrine says otherwise.  When taking any major military action, the US Navy prefers to deploy nuclear carriers in pairs.  This move is more likely a preventative move rather a prelude to an attack on Iran.

If the US were planning a missile attack, they would be more likely to deploy missile carrying ships like submarines, destroyers, and cruisers.

It is unknown if Iran will retaliate given the US presidential transition.  Biden is seen as more friendly towards Iran and any Iranian retaliatory action would only tie Biden’s hands.

However, Tehran has accused Israel of seeking a full-scale war before Trump leaves office.

Iran’s options are limited.  They can orchestrate an attack through its allies in the region.

Iran could try to carry out an assassination against an important Israeli, but it appears that there are few Iranian assets in Israel and Iran doesn’t have the ability to carry out a human free, remote control attack as Israel did.

Iran can also carry out a military action against the Strait of Hormuz to cut off oil exports by the GCC nations.  However, given the rapprochement between the GCC nations and Israel, such a move would only drive them closer to Israel.  In fact, the GCC nations may even grant the use of their military facilities to carry out an attack on Iranian nuclear assets.  This does not even consider the possibility that European nations may join the US and the GCC in stopping Iran.


The Iranian Nuclear Deal

Despite the Biden election, the chances of the US reentering the Iranian nuclear deal is virtually nil.

First, the actions by the Trump Administration over the last four years have made going back to the status quo nearly impossible.  Additional sanctions against Iran have been taken and their status would have to be negotiated prior to renewing the deal.

Then, there are Iranian actions like their parliament passing a law that allows the increase of nuclear activities like increased uranium enrichment.  Would the US allow Iran to keep that enriched uranium?  That is unlikely.  Arrangements for eliminating the uranium would have to be arranged (if Iran would even agree to that), along with some payment compensation by the US.

Although Biden was Obama’s Vice President, he is not Obama, and he doesn’t have the same goals.  The Iranian nuclear deal was to be the centerpiece of the Obama foreign policy.  It took years to cobble together an agreement and there was accusation that Iran was hiding secret nuclear activities early on.  Biden has no obligation to reenter the deal.  Besides, there are other foreign policy issues that may capture Biden’s attention.

Then, there is the political impact of reentering the Iran nuclear deal.  Under Obama, the deal had no chance of being ratified by the US Senate, even when the Senate was under Democratic control.  With a slender Republican control of the Senate, ratification is impossible and there could be embarrassing questions asked in Senate committee hearings if Biden tries to make the deal an executive action as Obama did.

At this point, Iran realizes that any deal would only be an executive action by Biden and easily abrogated by the next administration.  In addition, any funding for the deal would have to pass Congress, including a potential Republican Senate.

Is Iran willing to make any deal that can be cancelled by the next president?

Finally, the Trump supporters are against any such deal with Iran.  Trump campaigned in 2016 against the Iranian nuclear deal and there has been no change of mind by his voters.  Biden would have to invest considerable political capital on any revived deal with the Iranians.

Besides, the US has another option – collaboration with Israeli intelligence.  It worked when the US and Israel sabotaged the Iranian centrifuges to slow the Iranian enrichment program.  It also helped to slow nuclear development as Israel assassinated several Iranian scientists.  And it is possible that the US had its hands in the recent sabotage of Iranian nuclear facilities.

The Israeli option is much “cleaner” than high profile missile strikes that could justify an Iranian response.  Israel obviously has an effective intelligence network in Iran that can carry out everything from sabotage to high tech assassinations.

Although many of Biden’s more progressive political allies may yearn for better relations with Iran, American foreign policy does not “turn on a dime.”  Biden must deal with Trump’s hard and sabotaging previous actions.  That will take months at best.

Then, there is the question of how much Iran wants to close a deal with the US.  For forty years, Iran has enjoyed “twisting the tail of the American eagle.”  It has given them status in corners of the world, where the US is disliked.

There is an American saying that “It takes two to tango.”  In other words, it takes two sides, who are interested in making a deal, to successfully complete any negotiation.

At this time, there is no evidence that just having Biden in the White House will dramatically change relations between the US and Iran.

Week of November 24, 2020

The US Military After 4 Years of a Trump Presidency

In 2016, candidate Trump promised to “Make America Great Again.”  Part of that promise was to strengthen the US military and give them additional support, while withdrawing them from needless battles without a clear goal.

How has Trump done in the last four years?  The fact is that it is a mixed bag.  Trump is drawing down US forces in the Middle East despite serious opposition in the US military bureaucracy, including senior military officials lying to Trump about force levels in the Middle East.  It appears that by January 20th, 2021, there will only be token forces remaining in the Middle East.  Biden can decide to increase forces in the region, but at his own political risk.

But there is more to the current role of the US military than deployment levels in the Middle East.  There has been a push to engage them in domestic politics.  Several months ago, Democrats leaders asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff if they would help in removing Trump, if necessary.  The answer was that the US military had no constitutional role in domestic politics. Likewise, Trump attempted to get the military intervene against protests in many US cities.

But there is more.  The character of the military has changed dramatically for a career soldier in the past 30 years.  It is frequently said today that someone like General George S. Patton, one of America’s most honored soldiers, would never make General – or possibly even field officer grade (major to colonel).

60 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the “Military Industrial Complex.”  And his warning has come true.  A large part of the “Swamp” that Trump talks about is found in the Pentagon, which has a massive budget.  Trump has discovered that there is a big difference between the soldier patrolling Kabul and a general sitting in the Pentagon.  The egalitarian military where officers and the enlisted hold the same values is long gone.

Although the US military is strong thanks to technology and the large American economy, it is quite different today than it was a few decades ago.

Leadership begins with the officer corps and that has changed dramatically.

While the enlisted may have common American type values, officers have learned that being politically correct is more important than military skills.  This attitude led to several sloppy collisions at sea by US naval vessels.  People who did not have adequate training were allowed to command and “drive” the ships because they met political goals.

Consequently, skilled officers who are capable of fighting are likely to leave the military after their original obligation is up.  They are in great demand in the private sector, especially with companies with defense contracts.

Those who remain are less capable, but more politically correct and better able to direct the bureaucracy.  The result is a military that is better capable of fighting the White House than a Russian armored corps.

This bureaucracy of military officers who received their promotions to flag rank under previous Presidents were the ones that dealt with Trump.  And Trump soon learned that these bureaucrats were masters in delaying, misinterpreting, and ignoring his orders.  As a result, Trump was eager to fire or force out a number of senior military officers who failed his loyalty test or follow his orders even though, according to the Constitution, the president is the Commander in Chief.

Recently, Ambassador Jim Jeffery admitted that they lied to Trump about force levels in Syria.  “We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” Jeffrey admitted in an interview.  It was “a lot more,” than the 200 that Trump agreed to.

The Pentagon advisors say keeping US forces in the region will limit Iranian influence from growing – even though it was the Bush invasion of Iraq, that was most responsible for increased Iranian influence in Iraq

The unwillingness to withdraw the troops per Trump’s order led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Mattis.

Another change that has impacted the use of the military was Obama’s decision to focus more on Special Forces.  The increased use of Special Forces kept deployments of US forces secret (which benefitted that hiding information from Trump) and avoided the public announcements of the deaths of American soldiers.  Special Forces also seemed to accomplish more with less manpower and “fewer boots” on the ground in foreign countries.

The problem is that US Special Forces are not as special as they once were.  During the Vietnam War, when the US military was vastly larger than it is now, Special Forces numbered a couple of thousand.  Today, Special Forces number about 70,000, even though the size of the military is much smaller.

To increase the number of Special Forces, shortcuts were made in training.  People who would have failed to make it into the Special Forces in past years were given more chances to pass.  The result is a diluted force that costs more to train and support.  It also has a higher risk of failing to successfully complete a critical mission in the future.

Another problem is that these trained soldiers frequently leave the military after their enlistment is up and then sign on with a private contractor to provide some of the same services as they did in the Army, but for much higher pay.

Meanwhile, training for regular Army and Marine combat forces suffers; just as poor training led to ship collisions a few years ago.


The Trump Military in 2020

Although Trump wanted to increase the military’s capabilities, he has fought a bureaucracy that focuses on “toys” instead of combat capability.  For instance, the Marine Corps has announced that they will be eliminating their tank force and start focusing on high tech and lighter weapons – this at a time when the role of a main battle tank has become more important as friction and the possibility of conflict between NATO and Russia has increased.

One reason is the “Industrial” part of the “Military Industrial Complex,” that Eisenhower warned about, including some of America’s largest companies, does not focus on soldiers, but equipment.  This equipment is made more attractive because these companies hire retiring senior officers, who lobby their former colleagues to buy the latest high-tech weapon.

The result is that the US military has incredible capability to launch high tech weapons for highly visible, quick strikes.  Cruise missiles, aircraft strikes, and Special Forces operations are the mark of an American attack.  However, as seen in Iraq today, the regular forces ability to stop low tech rocket attacks by Iraqi anti-American forces supported by Iran is limited.

This is what is limiting Trump’s response towards Iran.  Trump appears to be willing to carry out a strike against Iran to limit its ability to quickly develop nuclear weapons.  But can the military withstand the Iranian response?

Although the New York Times said that the Pentagon had to talk Trump out of a more aggressive option against Iran, the truth is more mundane.

Trump had asked for a list of options that he could take after international inspectors had reported a significant increase in Iran’s stockpile of nuclear materials.

Trump had thought about a preemptive attack against the Iranian facilities because it could take place before January 20, 2021 and such an attack would make it harder for Biden to reenter into the Iranian nuclear agreement.

This was not the only option for Trump.  Some of the options included the aforementioned cruise missile attack on the nuclear facilities, attacks on Iranian “assets” in Iraq, and large-scale cyber-attacks on facilities like Natanz.

The problem with launching large scale cyber-attacks is that they take time to set up (more than a few weeks until January 20th) and they could be cancelled by Biden after he takes office.

There are reports that the missile attacks have been taken off the table.  Iranian leaders had threatened a “crushing response” to any such attack.

There is also the possibility that Israel will be given a free hand to respond – something that Biden may be willing to accept.

If not, Israel has warned it could act on its own should Biden move to restore conditions of the Iranian nuclear deal.  Tel Aviv has warned that Iran will continue to advance its nuclear weapons program.

So, what are the likely options?  It appears that US military leadership is not eager for a strong response towards Iran.

Actions against Iranian supported forces in Iraq like missile, drone, or aircraft attacks seem to be the likely option.  There is also the possibility of a covert Israeli cyber-attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, with US assistance front loaded so a Biden administration cannot pull back.

Meanwhile, expect continued American military withdrawals from the region.  These include Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria.  This is one area where Trump has kept his campaign promises – except for some small numbers in the region that remain because Pentagon officials disobeyed orders.  Compared to the numbers of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan when Trump came to office, 2,500 men is a minor number.

Biden should be careful in listening to Pentagon advice in the future.  Unless he keeps a careful eye on Syria, his generals could put him in a position where he is confronting Turkey or Russia.

Americans have grown tired of the perpetual war in the Middle East that began in 1991.  Biden must be just as careful, as Trump, that the “Military Industrial Complex” does not take charge of Biden’s Middle East policy.

Week of November 12, 2020

US Presidential Election Headed for Courts

Make no mistake about it, the US presidential election is a mess and both sides have claimed that they are on the road to victory. And reports of software problems have made it impossible to claim where this will end up – except in court.

Remember, no state has certified their election results.  Consequently, the only “results” are from media organizations, which give Biden 284 electoral votes and Trump 214.  However, that is not official and there are disagreements.  Just today, the political website Real Clear Politics has pulled back on their calls of Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania (leaving Biden with only 259 electoral votes).

The gross vote count is about 74 million for Biden and 70 million for Trump.  However, that will change.

As a result, the General Services Administration (ordered by Trump) has ruled it will not send government funds for the Biden presidential transition until the Constitutional standards have been met.

One reason for the claims that the voting was fixed in Biden’s favor was the fact that Republicans did well in all the other races.

Much of the following data comes from the Cook Political Report, which has gathered more election results data than other groups

The US Senate control is critical as Democratic control would mean that the Democrats would have total control with the Senate, House, and Presidency (if Biden retains his lead).

Before the election, the Democrats were forecast by the major political analysts to win most seats in the Senate.  However, according to the Cook Political Report, every tossup seat has apparently gone Republican.  According to Democratic Senate Minority Leader, Democratic control of that chamber requires the difficult task of winning both Georgia Senate seats in January.

Democrats apparently took two Republican Senate seats in Colorado and Arizona. One unexpected GOP win was in Maine, which saw the reelection of Senator Collins, who was widely expected to lose.

Two seats are still undecided in Georgia, which requires a runoff in early January, which currently leaves the Republicans with 50 seats and the Democrats with 48.  Analysts give the Democrats a slim chance to gain both seats, which would give them a 50-50 split with a Democratic Vice President having the tie breaking vote.

The final House results are not in.  None of the states have certified the election results, so these are based on current vote totals.  Currently, the bipartisan election analysis group Cook Political Report has all decided tossup seats going Republican.  12 tossup seats are still undecided by them.

Four leaning Democratic House seats have been called for Republicans according to the Cook Political Report.  They are the Florida 27th, where a long time Democrat, Donna Shalala has been defeated.  Others Democratic leaning seats that went Republican were the Florida 26th, South Carolina 1st, and the Texas 23rd.

As of this writing, Democrats were unable to win a single leaning Republican according to the Cook Political Report.

According to the Cook Political Report, at the state level, Republicans did well, which gives them control of the redistricting and gives them a better chance to win more House seats in 2022.  This was despite the hundreds of millions spent by Democrats to gain a bigger foothold in the states.

While Delaware, Washington, and North Carolina elected Democrat governors; Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia went Republican. Montana switched from Democrat to Republican with the result that Republicans control 27 of 50 governorships.  The Montana win also gives Republicans total control of Montana, since Republicans already control the state legislature.

The New Hampshire State Senate and State Legislature flipped to Republican after going Democratic in 2018.  With its new Republican governor Sununu, it means New Hampshire is now in GOP hands,

It appears at this time, of the 99 state legislative bodies in the US (Nebraska has only one legislative body), that the Republican Party controls 62 legislative bodies, while the Democrats now control 37 (a loss of two by the Democrats).  Republicans also gained in seats held in several states.  In heavily Democratic Maine, the GOP gained six seats in the state legislature.

In Iowa, Republicans expanded their majority control of their legislature.  Republicans in Pennsylvania gained seats in both the legislature and state senate (which raises more questions about the validity of the Biden lead in the vote counting).  North Carolina saw the GOP retain control of both state senate and legislature

In Texas, where tens of millions of Democratic dollars were spent to turn the state blue, Democrats gained only one senate seat.  Both legislative chambers remain Republican, as well as the Texas governorship.

The other fact that will impact future elections is the bleeding of population from Democratic states to Republican states, which means that the 2024 presidential election will give Republicans a greater electoral advantage.


Legal Challenges

Trump and his supporters are claiming that no matter who wins, this election will be fought out in the courts and will inevitably end up in the US Supreme Court.

They are saying that voter fraud is common in the US and some cities like Philadelphia and Chicago are considered masters of fraud, although it has been hard to change tainted elections.  However, they pointed out that there is evidence ranging from video of postmasters admitting that they postdated mail in ballots (a felony that is now being investigated by the FBI) to dead people voting.  There are also districts on Wisconsin that turned in more votes than registered voters.

When a ballot comes into the mail ballot counting center, the ballot does not have any indicator of who voted the ballot.  The outside envelope shows the voter and has their signature.  The poll worker is to validate the right of the person to vote and ensure the signature is valid.  Once that is done, the envelope is opened, and the ballot is added to others.  At that point, there is no way to discover if the ballot is valid or fraudulent.  That is why the GOP wanted vote counting to stop.  However, polling people in Pennsylvania refused to stop counting the ballots. These “fraudulent” ballots are now mixed amongst valid ballots and cannot be separated.  This makes traditional legal remedies difficult.

There are many challenges to the voting, but the major focus will be on Pennsylvania.  Here are some of the issues that will be coming up.

The SCOTUS declined a motion to consider a Pennsylvania court ruling on the validity of mail in ballots, which was a victory for Democrats.  However, the high court only declined the motion to expedite the hearing of the motion.  However, the court did not deny a hearing.  The motion is still before the court to review the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling.  Supreme Court Justice Alito has already ordered the separation of votes that came in after 8 pm on Election Day.

Much of the future SCOTUS decision will stand on what the US Constitution says about who oversees elections in the state.

Last year, the PA legislature passed a law that stated that only votes arriving at the county board of elections by 8 o’clock pm on Election Day are valid.  The law also stated that if this clause were declared invalid, it would also invalidate the rest of the act, which allowed mail in voting.  In other words, if the Election Day deadline was invalid, the whole mail-in law was invalid and most, if not all, mail in ballots (for both candidates) were invalid.

The PA Supreme court ruled that the deadline was invalid, and people had 3 days to turn in votes.  It also ruled that ballots with no postmark or illegible post mark were to be considered valid.

Some judges consider this to be a reasonable expansion due to the “natural disaster” of the pandemic.

However, this might be considered violation of the US Constitution.  Justice Alito wrote, “The provisions of the Federal Constitution conferring on state legislatures, not state courts, the authority to make rules governing federal elections would be meaningless if a state court could override the rules adopted by the legislature.”

The applicable sections of the Constitution are Article I, section 4, clause 1; and Article II, Section 1, Clause 2.  They give state legislature exclusive rights in terms of proscribing time, place, and manner of voting.

If the SCOTUS rules in favor of the GOP, all ballots received after 8 o’clock on November 3rd would be invalid.  This may give the election in Pennsylvania to President Trump.

In the case of states where determining which votes are valid is not so clear, legislatures are already looking at determining the state electors since the vote is “fraudulent”.  Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin legislatures are already preparing investigations that could lead to a vote that would give the electoral votes to Trump.

Although it is assumed that the popular vote determines the electors, the US Constitution does not say that.  Legal precedent holds that the legislatures hold the final power.  In the 2000 SCOTUS decision in Bush vs. Gore, the court reaffirmed that the legislatures held the right to choose electors.  The decision states, “The State, of course, after granting the franchise in the context of Article II, can take back the power to appoint electors.”  This was mentioned because the Republican Florida legislature was considering appointing the Republican electors to vote for Bush.

Although the “hanging chad” issue decided the race, SCOTUS held that Florida had the legal and Constitutional power to appoint the Republican electors despite the outcome of the hanging chad issue.

There is also the precedent of McPherson vs. Blacker, which ruled in a Michigan case in 1892 that the legislature had total power to decide their electors.  They stated in the decision, “The Constitution does not provide that the appointment of electors shall be by popular vote… It recognizes that the people act through their representatives in the legislature and leaves it to the legislature exclusively to define the method of effecting the object.”

McPherson vs. Blacker remains the legal precedent.

Since Republican legislatures hold power in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, and Arizona, they can act by appointing Trump electors if they think the vote was fraudulent.  Biden would likely sue, but the legal precedent is not in his favor.

The SCOTUS could also rule that the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which gives the US Congress the right to pick which groups of electors to seat, was unconstitutional because it overrides the express right given to state legislatures by the US Constitution.

The precedent, McPherson vs. Blacker, was decided after the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and the Act was never updated since it was never needed.  In addition, the 2000 SCOTUS decision in Bush vs. Gore reaffirms the McPherson vs. Blacker decision.

In other words, to Trump the 2020 presidential election is far from over.  SCOTUS will have a say in many legal issues.  And the legislatures also have the option to pick the electors if they think there was fraud.

Stay tuned.

Week of November 2, 2020

The 2020 Presidential Election – Who will win?

It is just 2 days until the 2020 presidential election and anyone who says they know for sure who will win is relying on the average of polls that showing Biden with a 6-8 points ahead of Trump.

Polls, which overlooked Trump’s strength in 2016, see him losing again.  Could they be right in saying Biden will win?

For all the faith given to polls, they have been somewhat unreliable over the years.  There was the 1948 presidential election that showed Dewey ahead of Truman by a sizable percentage.  The highly regarded Gallup poll showed Reagan behind by 6 points two weeks before the 1980 election, only to see Reagan beat Carter in a major landslide.  And, of course, there is the 2016 election that predicted a landslide by Hillary Clinton over Trump.

So, are the 2020 polls right, or just as wrong as they were in 2016?

There are several factors that indicate that they could be over estimating Biden’s strength.  First, there are the large enthusiastic crowds at Trump rallies.  These are just as big as those in 2016, when the polls said Trump was going to lose.  Then there are the Biden rallies, where a few dozen attend.

Then, there is the tendency to give pollsters socially acceptable answers.  According to a Cato Study, 2/3 of voters say that the political climate is so poisoned that they do not want to give an honest answer.  Instead they give a “socially acceptable” answer.  In 2020, saying that they support Trump is not considered socially acceptable.

One way to avoid the “socially acceptable” answer problem is to ask other unrelated questions that indicate the actual views of the person being polled.  In fact, the Trafalgar Group, which was the most accurate pollster in 2016 calls these “unrelated” questions the “secret sauce” in their modeling (they also use larger samples, which is more reliable, but more expensive).  And their results indicate a big difference between what respondents say and what they believe.

If we examine the dramatic report of THE HILL on some of the positive Trump polls, we can find the anxiety among pollsters and their desire to avoid the debacle of 2016.

Most pollsters show Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with a sturdy and stable lead over President Trump at a time when tens of millions of people have already voted and there is almost no time to change the course of the race.

But a handful of contrarian pollsters believe Trump’s support is underrepresented and that election analysts could be headed for another embarrassing miss on Election Day.

The battles have spilled on to social media, where some well-known political analysts have dismissed polls that show Trump leading Biden.

The Trafalgar Group, which was the only non-main stream  outlet in 2016 to find Trump leading in Michigan and Pennsylvania on Election Day, shows Trump with small leads in both states, which would be keys to another Trump win in the Electoral College. Nearly every other pollster shows Biden with a comfortable lead.

Trafalgar’s Robert Cahaly says there is a hidden Trump vote that is not being accounted for in polls that show Biden on a glide path to the White House.

“There are more [shy Trump voters] than last time and it’s not even a contest,” Cahaly said, adding that it’s “quite possible” that the polling industry is headed for a catastrophic miss in 2020.

FiveThirtyEight’s (www.538.com) Nate Silver and Cook Political Report editor Dave Wasserman are among those deeply skeptical of Cahaly’s polling.

Both have dug into the crosstabs of Trafalgar polls and pointed to questionable breakdowns as evidence Trafalgar doesn’t know what it’s doing. For instance, the crosstabs in a Michigan poll, which are no longer online, appeared to show Trump leading Biden by 8 points among young voters, a Democratic stronghold.

“[Trafalgar] doesn’t disclose their ‘proprietary digital methods’ so I can’t really evaluate what they’re doing,” said Jon McHenry, a Republican pollster with North Star Opinion Research. “They’re far enough out on a limb that a year from now, we’ll all remember if they were very right or very wrong.”

FiveThirtyEight’s model gives Trump about an 11 percent chance of winning — roughly equal to pulling an inside straight in poker — after giving him about a 30 percent chance on Election Day in 2016.

Biden appears to have a more comfortable lead in the polls than Hillary Clinton had at this point in 2016. Polls show Trump is underperforming — in some cases dramatically — among the key coalitions that powered his 2016 victory. Biden is also a more popular candidate than Clinton.

McHenry said he does not think there are many “shy” Trump supporters who would lie about their intentions.

Rather, there is concern about a “skewed response rate pattern,” whereby Trump voters would be less likely to participate in a survey or answer the phone when a pollster call.

Still, McHenry noted that this would not be an automatic benefit for Trump. In Pennsylvania, for instance, he found Democrats were less likely to answer the phone than their registration would suggest.

“I can’t definitively say there is no response bias, but I’m skeptical of it, and it certainly wouldn’t be enough to explain the national deficits we’re seeing,” he said.

That said, Trafalgar is not the only contrarian voice in polling. Several other pollsters have joined it in arguing that other pollsters are missing pro-Trump voters.

Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research has been another proponent of the “submerged” Trump voter theory.

A recent Susquehanna survey of Wisconsin found Trump and Biden tied, making it the only poll to not show Biden in the lead in the Badger State since August, when the Trafalgar Group found Trump ahead by 1 point. In Florida, Susquehanna shows Trump leading by 4 points, while the FiveThirtyEight average gives Biden a 2-point advantage.

“There are a lot of voters out there that don’t want to admit they are voting for a guy that has been called a racist. That submerged Trump factor is very real,” Lee said this week on WFMZ’s Business Matters. “We have been able to capture it and I’m really disappointed others have not.”

The University of Southern California’s Dornsife Center is publishing results from its regular national poll but is also using parallel “experimental” questions asking people who they think their social contacts are voting for and who they think will win their home state.

In 2016, USC-Dornsife made headlines for being one of the few polls to show Trump leading nationally. Clinton ended up winning the national popular vote and USC later adjusted its methodology, saying it oversampled rural voters in the last election.

This time around, the USC-Dornsife poll shows Biden leading by 11 points nationally.

However, the race tightens to 5 points when voters are asked about their social circles and to 1 point when voters are asked who they expect others in their state will vote for. That survey suggests Trump would once again win the Electoral College in 2020

However, polls tend to slew a lot when it comes to Michigan.  The RCP average shows Biden ahead by 8.6%, while the Trafalgar poll shows Trump leading 49% to 47%.

Wisconsin is also a state where polls differ.  The Trafalgar poll shows Biden with a 0.4% lead (47.5% to 47.1%). However, the RCP average gives Biden a 6.4% lead.

However, for Biden, the road to the White House needs to go through Florida.  Since the Civil War in 1860, only two Democratic candidates have lost Florida, but won – Kennedy in 1960 and Clinton in 1992.

Trump won 306 electoral votes in 2016 – 36 more than the 270 needed to be elected.  That means Biden must win 37 electoral votes that Trump won four years ago.  If Biden cannot win Florida, he must sweep Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – without losing any other states like Minnesota.

Since Pennsylvania election results promise to be complicated, let us look at Florida in depth.

Florida has 29 electoral votes – the third highest number (after California and Texas).  A Biden win there would eliminate the need to win every electoral vote in the Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin bloc.  Florida also more closely reflects the nation than those states of the upper Midwest.

Since there is a difference in statewide polls, let us look at some of the critical voter groups in Florida.

The Hispanic vote is critical in winning Florida, since it represents 17% of the registered voters.  Clinton won the Hispanic voter by a 27% margin in 2016 (62% to 35%).  The latest polls show Biden leading in this group by 11% and 7%.  Trump is at 43% which is the same percentage of the Hispanic vote that went to Republican winners Governor DeSantis and Senator Scott in 2018. (we need to reexamine Black and Hispanic polls this election in Florida)

Since Trump only won 35% of the Hispanic voter in 2016, if he can boost his vote to those shown in the polls (43%), that represents an increase in statewide Trump votes by 1.36% from 2016.

Trump won only 8% of the Black vote in 2016.  Although young Black voters between the ages of 18 and 44 give Trump 21% of their support.  However, older, retired Black voters are more likely to prefer and vote for Biden.

Trump is having problems with seniors, especially those between 65 and 70.  Since seniors represent 26% of the registered voters in Florida they are a critical voter bloc.  Trump won the senior vote by 17% in 2016, but this poll shows Trump with only a 10% lead now.

Another poll, however, showed Trump winning the over 70 voter age group by 59% to 38%.  Since 71% of Florida seniors are over 70, this may be a more important poll.  However, if the younger seniors are moving towards Biden, it could negate much of the larger Trump margins in the Hispanic and Black vote.

So, what do the Florida polls show?  The Trafalgar poll that was just released shows Trump ahead by 2.3%.  The RCP average shows Trump with a 0.4% lead.


What to Look for on election Night

If the polls prove to be inaccurate and states like Pennsylvania take days to announce results, where should one go to get a good idea of who is winning?

Each state has a Secretary of State website that will give the latest “official” results.  They will be more accurate than media reports or websites that may show some bias.

The best bet is to monitor the Florida Secretary of State website because the winner in Florida is likely to be the national winner.  The Secretary of State websites of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania are also good sites to visit, although mail in ballots may take days to tally.

Although the Minnesota polls close later, this state may be worth following as it has a similar demographic profile to Wisconsin.  While Minneapolis and St. Paul are Democratic, the rest of the state is Republican.  A strong Trump showing here may indicate more Trump votes nationally than the polls show.  And, if Wisconsin is slow in delivering its results, a strong Trump showing in Minnesota may indicate how Wisconsin may end up.

The Wisconsin Secretary of State website would be the best choice of the three of the Upper Midwest states.  Their office has historically had fewer problems with mail in ballots and they probably will have results faster than Michigan and Pennsylvania.

If you are monitoring the Florida website, remember that Eastern and Western Florida are in two time zones and the Eastern part of the state, which will close its precincts first, is more Democratic.  Only after the Western part of the state has closed and has a chance to process a lot of their ballots, will there be an indication of the winner.

However, remember that there will be confusion with the massive number of mails in ballots and a plethora of legal challenges no matter how the election night results come out.

So, who do we think will win on November 3rd?  This time  we do believe in the general accuracy of the polls that showing Biden with a commanding lead, we think that the intangibles and historically accurate polls indicate a Biden win that could range from 275 electoral to a possible 335 electoral when the dust settle on counting all delayed votes.

Week of October 21, 2020

An American Civil War
Who Are the Would Players?

As the United States moves closer to the presidential election, the talk of a post-election civil war grows.  Both sides have threatened to not recognize the election results, but Trump was more vocal and threatening not to concede if he loose.

So, if a civil war erupts, who will the players be?  The US military is considered the most powerful in the world, so are there any potential organizations that could hold out?


Remember that recent analysis by small arms NGOs indicate that American citizens are the largest owners of military grade firearms in the world.  According to an international small arms report, Americans own 47% of the world’s privately owned small arms.  For every 100 Americans, there are over 120 firearms – a figure that has obviously grown in the past few years as Americans are buying record numbers of guns in anticipation of post-election trouble.  Conservative estimates also put American private ammunition stockpiles in the hundreds of billions of rounds.

It is also important to remember that although some of these firearms are shotguns and small caliber guns for hunting small game, the American citizen has access to firearms usually reserved for the military or police in other countries.  Americans can buy high power sniper rifles used by many armies around the world.  They can also own large caliber rifles that can penetrate light armored vehicles like those used in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In fact, the American Army frequently buys commercial firearms that are superior to some of their own equipment.

This means military and police units do not have the traditional edge that they have in other countries that descend into a civil war.  It also means that they cannot move freely through hostile territory with impunity – an ambush is a constant possibility.

It also means that private military organizations will be more powerful than many might expect.

With that in mind, here is a review of the possible forces that could be arrayed in a potential American civil war.  We will look at military forces, police forces, and private militias on all sides of the political spectrum.


Government Forces

US Military.  Although the US military is probably the most powerful in the world, it will be unable to quickly end a civil war.  Those doubting that can only look at resistance to the American military in Afghanistan.

Remember that much of the American military is designed for large scale conventional combat, not a domestic guerilla conflict.  B-52 bombers are great for attacking another country but would be worthless in a civil war.

In a civil war, many military units will be tied down.  Expect the US Navy and US Air Force to relegate its security forces to securing its military facilities and nuclear forces, while maintaining an international presence.

The US Army will have ground combat units, but many of those will be dedicated to securing its military bases, critical infrastructure, and the Washington DC area.  They will also be reserved in case a foreign nation tries to take advantage of the situation.

The same holds for the US Marine Corps.

There are some civilian law enforcement agencies at the federal level.  The FBI has several specialized units that could take small targets, but don’t have the combat capable manpower to be a significant factor in a civil war.  And, there is a question by Trump supporters about where their loyalties lie, given the claim that they attempted to bring about Trump’s downfall both before and after the 2016 election.

If the FBI is employed, it would be in either protecting or taking targets in the Washington DC area.  They could be employed to capture Trump if there is a question of who won the election.

However, there are other law enforcement units that would be more “Trump friendly” One such unit would be the Border Patrol, which has good relations with Trump because of his tough immigration policy and his building of the border wall.  It was Border Patrol forces that went to Seattle and Portland to quell the protests when the FBI refused to act.

However, in a civil war, it is likely that the Border Patrol will focus more on aggressive border protection, intercepting arms shipments, and stopping people who want to cross the border.

While the federal police may remain neutral until a winner becomes evident, state forces may become more active, depending on the state government in power.

One example is the state national guard, which falls under the control of the state governor.  Although the Pentagon can activate them, as California’s refusal to let its National Guard patrol the border with Mexico, shows that state politics has a lot to do with their use.

It is quite possible that state national guard forces could step into a civil war situation.  For instance, California, which has an anti-Trump governor, could use its national guard to hinder or block US Army units on the move.  However, since many National Guard members were once members of the Army, the chance of a full-blown battle between the two is unlikely.

The same holds for Air National guard Units too – at least unless someone becomes too aggressive and starts shooting.

While these military units will be loath to attack other units, they could be readily used against militias.  However, as we noted earlier, unless the unit is a combat trained unit, they may find themselves out-gunned or out maneuvered.

That leaves only a handful of combat ready National Guard units available, which the governor may prefer to use in protecting state buildings.

State Police fall under the state governor’s control.  They could be used against local militias with little hesitation.  However, law enforcement is usually lightly armed and would find that the militia they will face will have more arms, heavier arms, and more ammunition.  Also, although the police must use firearms, they may highly likely be less proficient than the average militiaman.

City and county police have the same drawbacks in the type of firearms deployed and ammunition supplies.  Since county sheriffs are elected, they may be more responsive to the local wishes of the voters than other law enforcement agencies.

Another law enforcement group are Native American Tribal Police.  Treaties with the American government give them sovereignty and in a civil war scenario, they could try to secure their land from interlopers.  Some may try to gain more independence and gain recognition as an independent nation.  However, they suffer from the same lack of firepower that other law enforcement agencies have.


Government Forces Overview

Although the federal, state, and local forces are well armed, they may have little impact on events.  The American military is barred from civil action unless an insurrection has been declared and although large, would be stretched to protect key government facilities.  Commanders would find it in their best interest to stay away from acting, unless clearly legal and ordered by a superior.

Federal civil agencies, state police, and local police would not find the same constraints.  However, they are lightly armed and would find themselves without any tactical advantage in a civil war.

An example of how they might react in a civil war can be seen by law enforcement actions in the protests and some “riots” that have shaken the US in the past few months.  In most cases, they have stood by and focused on protecting government buildings.  Law enforcement isn’t trained in combat and most police would rather avoid any life-threatening combat, especially with fellow Americans.

All these non-military government units would also find themselves experiencing desertions.  Police with strong political views and police disagreeing with law enforcement actions are more likely to leave and either try to remain neutral or join a militia with their same views.



In this analysis, we call any non-governmental military unit, a militia. We will also differentiate real militias that have regular military training from potential militias that could form active units as conditions deteriorate.

As we noted earlier, American militias are better armed than those in other civil wars.  Depending on their size, training, and arms, they are probably more powerful than most law enforcement units and some non-combat military units.

Most militias tend to be secretive to prevent government informers from penetrating their group.  One example is the recently arrested “Wolverine Watch” militia unit that was arrested in Michigan last week.  It was two informers who were able to provide the evidence that allowed for their comrades’ arrest.

The result is that there are few militias that have national memberships.  One group, Oathkeepers, is not a militia, but its membership is former military and police, which makes it a potential militia if circumstance warrant.  It is right-of-center and was formed during the Obama Administration.  Its highpoint was its support of the Bundy Ranch protests in 2014.  It has deployed volunteer groups for hurricane relief and to protect private property in the riots of the last few months.

Although it is not an organized militia now, in a civil war, it could be the nucleus for one.  Since its members are former military or law enforcement, it has the experience.  It has the firepower and logistics support thanks to its national membership.  If the membership does become a militia, it could very well become the largest in the nation, with the capability to form several brigades.  However, it could take some time to become a militia capable of operating nationally.

Another group with a national membership is the III%ers.  Little is known about this right-of-center group, but they have been known to deploy across the nation at rallies, protests, etc.

Another unit that claims to have a national membership is the Colonial Marine Militia. Their membership appears to be strongest in the upper Midwest (Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc).  They deployed some units last weekend as the threat of action against Michigan militias became a possibility with the arrest of the Wolverine Watch militia.

The Colonial Marine Militia also claims to have an air wing, air mobile capability, mechanized units, and a sophisticated support organization.  How much of that is real is unknown.  However, if their claims are even partially true, they could pose a threat to most units, except for hardened American Army or Marine combat units.

Most militias are regional or statewide.  In fact, a review of websites indicates that most states have at least one operating militia.  Since they are public, they focus on emergency response, not military.  They are also assumed to be penetrated by informers.  Other units have been involved in controversy as members have been discovered with arrest records and unable to own firearms.

The quality of these units depends much on their leadership.  They are well armed and have statewide support.  How well they will do in a combat situation is unknown.  Given the current situation, we can assume that military tactical training has increased in the past few months.

An idea of the type of right of center militia units in the US can be seen in the German documentary that can be found on YouTube (titled A GERMAN VIEW: Trump warriors – highly determined and heavily armed militias in the US). It looks at the Pennsylvania Lightfoot Militia.  As can be seen, its gear and weapons are not quite different from American or European armed forces.  This militia unit has deployed across the East Coast.

While some units are already organized and training, some are just starting up.  The United American Defense Force is organizing defense forces in the Rocky Mountains.  They claim that as police units are being defunded or refuse to come to the aid of civilians, the average person must defend themselves.  It has some retired Special Forces – some who were in Benghazi during the 2012 attack.  These promise to be as organized as any regular military unit.

Similar groups are organizing locally as they perceived a threat of Antifa or BLM protests come closer.  These could very well become the backbone of the future right-of-center militia movement.

However, the left-of-center militia movement is also growing.  A few months ago, a new Black Nationalist militia called the NFAC fielded 500 armed members in a march in Atlanta.  Since then they have also shown up in Kentucky and Louisiana.  Although some downplay the threat because they have not mastered the safe use of firearms, they are growing and learning the tactical use of firearms.

NFAC is not the only Black Nationalist militia.  However, they are large, taking in recruits, and training for a potential civil war.  One of their demands is a Black nation that is carved out of the United States.

Another militia that has received some publicity recently is the Wolverine Watch, which saw most of its members arrested for planning to kidnap Michigan’s governor.  Their videos and emblems indicate their philosophy is anarchism.

It appears that the militia’s plan was to encourage a revolution.

Although they are not a right of center militia, they are from Michigan, which probably has more militias than other states, including the Wolverine Militia (not related to the Wolverine Watch), Michigan Militia, and the Hutaree Militia.

The big unknown in any potential civil war in America is the militias that have not been formed yet.  America has millions of veterans who know how to fight and hundreds of millions of firearms to fight with.  It is understood that there are probably over a thousand groups that are potential militias.  They have enough equipment and people to make up an operational fire team (the smallest military organization).  Depending on previous military experience or the ability of some veterans to train them, these units could deploy within days.  And they can expand as volunteers join and bring their own firearms.

Although there are many factors to preclude an American Civil War in the next few months, there is the real potential for a major conflict.  Clearly, there are dramatic philosophical differences that have deeply split Americans.  And there are the firearms to carry out that fight.

Civil wars are a “zero sum” game.  No one wants to fight a unit that is more powerful.  And average Americans can form units that would make any general think twice.

Week of October 12, 2020

Vice Presidential Debates take on more Importance this Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gearing up for the Post Election Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of October 05, 2020

The First 2020 Presidential Debate
The Rumble in Cleveland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Do Debates Help or Hinder?

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

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

But is that true?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of September 30, 2020

Battle for the Soul of the US Supreme Court


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until last week.

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

No wonder Democrats are so concerned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of September 25, 2020

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of September 08, 2020

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chinese military also faces problems in several other areas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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