Category Archives: biden

“Vive La France”

President Joe Biden told French President Emmanuel Macron that France was an important friend and said the US was “clumsy” in the way the submarine deal with Australia that led to Canberra bailing on an agreement with France was handled. I, for one, breathed a sigh of relief.

Pouilly Fuisse, a white wine from the French region of Burgandy was one of the first wines I ever drank. I am no oenophile, but after decades of wine drinking it has remained one of my favorites. The thought, therefore, of a possible trade war with France as a result of the submarine deal was scary. As to the thought of America having offended French sensibilities, I could have lived with that.

In September Australia backed out of a $66 billion contract with the French to buy twelve new diesel-electric submarines. Instead, it announced plans to buy nuclear powered submarines from the United States, gaining access to technology until this time closely held by the United States and the United Kingdom. Outraged, France temporarily recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia.

It is anybody’s guess what most offended the French. It could simply be the loss of revenue for its defense industry, where $66 billion means a lot more than it does in the United States. There is also a sense of betrayal felt in Paris, a city I have always enjoyed. Critics of the Biden administration quickly dug out the old chestnut about France being America’s first and dearest friend. First yes. Dearest, I’m not so sure.

Yes, Franch support during the American Revolutionary War was critical. France shipped supplies to the Thirteen Colonies in 1775 and signed a Treaty of Alliance in 1778, which led to money, materiel and troops being sent to the United States. Viva Le Marquis de Lafayette!

But this should not give the French a permanent hold on America’s guilt complex. Our Revolutionary War debt has been paid back many times over. One need only look over the nearly ten thousand graves at the American cemetery near Normandy, France to realize that. And the French assistance during the Revolutionary War benefited France in its perpetual competition with the British as much as it helped America. Remember the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

The problem for modern day France is that it won’t accept a world where it is no longer a major player. Its empire days are long gone. In a world where America shoulders the responsibility of being the preeminent superpower of the west, first standing against the Soviet Union and now facing China, it needs allies more than friends.

France claims to be such, former French ambassador to the United States Gérard Araud complaining, “They have negotiated [behind] our back for weeks! We are allies. You don’t do that to an ally.”

But France has never been willing to play a supporting role, backstopping the United States. As far back at 1958, 15 years after the coalition led by the United States and Britain liberated Paris and went on to unconditionally defeat Nazi Germany, French General Charles de Gaulle reserved the right to withdraw from NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization created in post war years as a deterrent to the Soviet Union.

The current French government of Emmanuel Macron sees the French role today as a “balancing power” able to maintain an independent position between the United States and China. A weak Australia, struggling to maintain obsolete French built submarines fits right into that strategy. Macron had support from none other that Donald Trump, who favored an insular America, withdrawn from the world stage.

But this is not in the long term interest of Australia, or of the United States. Chinese expansion must be met with resistance by the other nations of Asia and Australia is in a position to play a major role. To protect Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, and Japan requires coordination and a firm will. A deployment of strategic forces by Australia in partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom can provide the backbone the nations closer to the Chinese mainland need. And every ship and every base they deploy is one less that America must supply.

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“Déjà Vu”

I’ve been trying to make sense of it because I’ve been here before. On the left, Saigon, April 29, 1975. On the right Kabul, August 16, 2021. In 1975 I was at my first post school job in the CBS newsroom in Chicago. The helicopters were evacuating Americans and Vietnamese who had worked with Americans as they fought the communists. In 2021, I’m at the other end of my career. The helicopters are taking out Americans and Afghans who worked with Americans as they fought the Taliban. Forty-six years between these similar scenes. It is eerie.

Yes of course there are many differences between the two events. But from my perspective, there are far too many similarities. We do not seem to learn from history. We just repeat it.

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What is a Joe Manchin?

Yeah. I know. An easy one, right?

A Joe Manchin is a United States Senator. Represents the great state of West Virginia. One of two senators representing about 1.8 million people. Claims to be a member of the Democratic party. Loves the spotlight. Is a royal pain in the butt.

Whose butt? Mine for one. I didn’t vote for Manchin. I did vote for Joe Biden. Remember him? He’s the one who ran for president. Got 81 million votes. Won the election. Has promised a wide range of popular reforms on taxation and spending designed to rebuild our aging infrastructure. Prepare us for the competitive world we face. Care for those who have not benefited from the great growth of the American economy in the last century. Narrow, at least a little, the gap between those who have done very, very, very well (and pay little or nothing in taxes) and those who could use a little help.

But we are unlikely to get any of these things, because Joe Manchin doesn’t want us to. In the United States Senate, 1.8 million people outvote 81 million. Or put another way, 41 votes beats 59. That’s because Joe M. believes in the filibuster come hell or high water. The high water will be arriving soon because new laws to help protect us from climate change can’t get 60 votes in the Senate. That’s what the filibuster rule requires and that makes the United States Senate about the least democratic institution in any modern democracy.

Just remember, the filibuster has nothing to do with the Constitution. The framers did not think it up. They clearly believed 51 votes out of 100 should be sufficient to pass new laws through the Senate. If anything the filibuster was a mistake written into the Senate rules controlling debate. The rule went unnoticed until segregationists hit upon it as a way to create a deadlock and prevent anti-discrimination laws from being voted on. That is the great tradition Joe Manchin is upholding.

Of course he’s not the only one. But he is one of two or three Democrats willing to torpedo the entire Democratic platform for…. Actually, I’m not sure what for.

Manchin says he has a strong belief that no legislation should pass unless it is bipartisan. I’ve written before about the days when Everett Dirksen and Lyndon Johnson could get together over a bottle and do some horse trading resulting in compromise legislation. But those days are long gone.

Mitch McConnell, the current Republican leader in the Senate, has dug in his heels on voting reform while Republicans across the country are passing law after law designed to suppress Democratic votes in future elections. McConnell also says revisiting the huge two trillion dollar 2017 Trump tax cuts for the rich and for big business is out of the question, and Democratic plans for increased infrastructure spending and social programs are not going to be paid for with tax increases as long as he has his 41 votes.

Meanwhile the turtle from Kentucky is warning that if Republicans regain control of the Senate in 2022 he’ll keep Joe Biden from appointing anyone to the Supreme Court. Probably from appointing anyone to any other court as well. McConnell is sent to Washington by a state with only about four and half million voters. Still he gets to tell Democratic presidents to go to hell any time he wants. Go figure.

Meanwhile Manchin won’t remove the filibuster to pass the voting rights law, the “For the People Act,” without Republican support. And Manchin won’t support use of the so-called “reconciliation” process to side step that blockade on Democrat’s tax and spending proposals, even though the Republicans used that process to pass the 2017 tax cuts.

There is really nothing one can do to solve the Manchin problem in the near term. The only solution for Democrats is to overcome the odds and win more Senate seats in 2022. A Democratic majority not counting Manchin, or the frequently unpredictable and always strange Krysten Sinema of Arizona, would render those two nominally Democratic senators irrelevant. That’s the title both so richly deserve.

At least good old Joe is keeping the political cartoonists busy:

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Ban the Damn Guns

America today is suffering a plague of gun violence.

It wasn’t always this way. Americans used to own guns without engaging in daily massacres. As a Chicago native, I learned as a child about the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, when members of one Chicago gang set up and killed seven members of a rival gang. It was so shocking it led to legislation that prohibited automatic weapons in the U.S.

That ban was extended with restrictions on “semiautomatic assault weapons,” as well as magazines that met the criteria for what it defined as a “large capacity ammunition feeding device,” in 1989 after 34 children and a teacher were shot and five children killed in Stockton, California with a semi-automatic Kalashnikov rifle. A pull of the trigger is required for each shot of a semi-automatic. An automatic fires continuously.

The Federal Assault Weapons ban went into effect in 1994 after a 52-48 vote in the Senate. President Bill Clinton signed it into law the same day. But times have changed. The ban expired after ten years and attempts to renew it have repeatedly failed. In 2018, another Valentine’s Day shooting, this one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 children and wounded 17 others. This time, then-President Donald Trump called for arming teachers, and the Republican-dominated Florida legislature rejected a bill that would have limited some high-capacity guns.

Fast forward to today. Our acceptance of violence npw stands in striking contrast to Americans’ horror at the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre. I’ve done the legal arguments before, most notably here in a column which includes Chief Justice Warren Berger’s declaration that the conservative reading of the Second Amendment is a “fraud.”

I won’t repeat those arguments. What I do want to do is call your attention to the latest judicial idiocy, California has had its own ban in assault weapons for thirty years. Six other states plus the District of Columbia have similar bans. You would think even if the Second Amendment restricts the Federal government on gun control, language putting the right to bear arms in the context of a “well-regulated militia” would allow the states, which at the time the Bill of Rights was written controlled the militia, to pass reasonable legislation to regulate firearms.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California now says he knows better than Berger and the state of California. He must figure the words “well-regulated” and “militia” were just thrown in because the Framers had some extra ink they wanted to use up. In a 94-page opinion Benitez declared unconstitutional the California statute. Benitez, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, comes out swinging with his opening paragraph:

Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. Good for both home and battle, the AR-15 is the kind of versatile gun that lies at the intersection of the kinds of firearms protected under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR 15 type rifle. Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional.

Miller v Bonta, 19-cv-1537-BEN (JLB)

The Law and Crime blog has a detailed set of quotes from the decision. I’ll dwell on just a few. Judge Benitez writes, “The assault weapons ban has had no effect. California’s experiment is a failure.” This conclusion follows an analysis that claims the rate at which assault weapons were used in mass killings in California during the years the weapons ban has been in effect has not changed. Benitez also writes that mass killings are “rare events.” He also states, “A Californian is three times more likely to be murdered by an attacker’s bare hands, fists, or feet, than by his rifle.”

The New York Times ran a partial list of recent mass shootings in the United States.

Politifact earlier this year found that 10 of 11 mass shootings were done with AR-15 weapons. Newsweek says they were used in 26 of the last 80 mass shootings. As to his other conclusion, I have to wonder if he’d like to stand up for a duel. He gets the Swiss Army knife while his challenger gets the AR-15.

The hypocrisy of the conservatives is clearly on display here. If it is the place of judges only to “say what the law is,” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), Judge Benitez’s judgments on failure and the frequency of events is way out of the base path. If you believe in a state’s right to regulate its own militia, Benitez is also out of bounds.

Voters generally support an assault weapons ban. They support a large magazine ban. They support enhanced background checks. They support closing the gun show loophole. They might support amending the Second Amendment itself to clear up the poor punctuation that the gun lobby and their supporters in Congress and on the bench have used in the last few decades to prevent reasonable regulation. The United States has many more deaths by guns than other western developed countries. The United States has the weakest gun control laws in that group.

Do the math.

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A Breath of Fresh Air

It some ways it was certainly unusual. But mostly its normalcy made it a breath of fresh air. For more than an hour President Joe Biden delivered a report to Congress, the nation, and the world on the state of the state one hundred days into his administration. He laid out the achievements already accomplished, the programs now under way, and the proposals he is sending to Congress for enactment into law.

One way the speech was unusual was that there were two women behind the president. Presiding over the joint session of Congress were Vice-President Kamala Harris, who is President of the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. That was a historic first. Another way was that the chamber, which normally holds 1,600 people for these events, was limited to 200 by pandemic protocols. The audience members were socially distanced and most were masked.

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Infrastructure for the 21st century

I long for the days when I could have a rational discussion with someone I disagree on the serious issues of the day without that person spouting a stream of totally unsubstantiated falsehoods. In other words lies. I’m pointing my finger at you, Republicans, almost without exception.

Discussions with Democrats are also often frustrating. But that is because the Democrats include a wide range of differing views and the disagreements are generally over strategy. I’m thinking of you Joe Manchin. Not over the role of government in attempting to solve problems or denying that problems even exist. And Democrats are not inclined to interrupt a serious discussion with a rude critique of your mother’s footwear. I still remember being told, “Your mother wears army boots.” I was on the first grade playground at recess at the time.

Republicans will call you every name in the book at the drop of a hat. They will insult your relatives, living and dead. And charge you with a wide variety of crimes without the slightest bit of evidence. They also live in an alternate universe where up is down, down is up, and things you can see right before your own eyes are somehow not true. They revere the framers who wrote our Constitution, except when they ignore it.

Republican hypocrisy knows no bounds:

  • Senate rules are sacrosanct unless they need to be broken to thwart a Democratic proposal.
  • Deficits are bad but only if there is a Democrat in the White House.
  • The purpose of the federal government is to “provide for the common defense,” quoting the magnificent preamble to our Constitution, ignoring the fact that the phrase is part of a list and imminently following are the words, “promote the general welfare.”
  • Infrastructure means roads. That’s it. Roads.

Let’s put the debt debate aside for now except for to state that the evidence is clear, economics is an art, not a science. We really don’t understand what it is going on. Starting with Ronald Reagan, Republican, yes, Republican presidents have greatly increased the national debt by cutting taxes and increasing defense spending. Yet the inflation that was predicted by my college economics teacher (we used Paul Samuelson’s Principles of Economics) did not really appear. Go figure. For more right now I refer you to a great piece by John Oliver.

What this means is, while we should be watchful, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell seems to be, we do not have to be afraid of some Covid related economic stimulus. Republicans opposed the latest round of Covid economic payments even when Donald Trump asked for them. We also do not need to be afraid of a big infrastructure program. The Republicans are outraged at the infrastructure program, arguing that it will increase the debt and complaining that Democrats are extending the traditional definition of infrastructure.

Republicans don’t seem to have a problem with repairing the nation’s highways and bridges. Republican Dwight Eisenhower signed the legislation that created the Interstate Highway System in 1956 after all. But Republicans like highways that connect towns in rural America. Transportation projects that benefit urban areas do not get their approval. I take the New Jersey Transit train under the Hudson to Manhattan and always wonder if the crumbling tunnel, built in 1910, is going to cave in on the 200,000 people who use it every day. In 2012 the tunnel was inundated with millions of gallons of salt water during Super Storm Sandy. The water left behind corrosive chlorides, which continue to damage the already aged concrete and wiring. A Republican New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, and a Republican President, Donald Trump, each killed a project to build a replacement.

But where the Republicans most throw up the roadblocks is where it comes to infrastructure they claim is outside of the “traditional” definition of the word. I disagree. But I also don’t care. We do not live in a stagnant word. We can be respectful of our traditions but should not be afraid to change them for the public good.

So I am on board with what some analysts are calling “Social Infrastructure”:

Social infrastructure can be broadly defined as the construction and maintenance of facilities that support social services. Types of social infrastructure include healthcare (hospitals), education (schools and universities), public facilities (community housing and prisons) and transportation (railways and roads).

Aberdeen Standard Investments

I do not understand why people cannot see that the nation depends on the health of its people, and the safety, and quality of its schools. We also need a 21st century power grid and high-speed rail would be nice. Child care for working parents is an economic necessity. In an information driven society, broadband connections for the entire population are essential. Faced with tremendous world-wide competition education, research and development are all that stands between America and second-class status.

The public seems to understand this even if the Republicans do not. A Quinnipiac University National Poll finds the Infrastructure Plan is popular with the public:


Q46 Do you support or oppose President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan?

—–

Support

Oppose

DK/NA

Total

44%

38

19

Republicans

14%

71

14

Democrats

81%

5

15


And even more popular if corporate taxes fund it as President Biden has proposed:

Q47 As you may know, President Biden has proposed funding his infrastructure plan by raising taxes on corporations. If it was funded by raising taxes on corporations, would you support or oppose President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan?

—–

Support

Oppose

DK/NA

Total

53%

39

9

Republicans

22%

70

8

Democrats

92%

6

2

Last but not least, expenditures on infrastructure, traditional and 21st century alike, have a large multiplier factor. Put simply, they pay off many times over. The benefits spread throughout the economy. The Eisenhower creation of the Interstate Highway System is credited with creating the long post-war expansion of the American economy. Studies show tax cuts for rich people and fiscal policies which benefit Wall Street do not have this positive effect. The proposed infrastructure projects should be seen as an investment in America’s future.

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Biden Meets the Press

For weeks the right-wing bobble heads on cable complained that President Joe Biden had not yet held a news conference. As if he didn’t have a few other things on his plate as he worked to clean up the mess his predecessor had left behind. This week he did face the press in a formal setting and, of course, the bobble heads complained about his performance.

I’m old enough to remember when reporters asked presidents questions and filed stories based on the answers they received. Today reporters ask questions and the stories are made up of the opinions of people I have never heard of speaking with great authority about things which have nothing to do with the answers.

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