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Is this a F.D.R. moment for Biden?

First of all, the stock market crash precipitated much of what followed under Hoover.  It crashed because so many had bought their stock on margin meaning they had to borrow to buy them.  That can’t happen now.  The SEC helps make sure of it, plus other regulations.  Second, literally thousands of banks went under making what had been a panic into a depression.  ¼ of all family savings had been wiped out.  The FDIC changed that for good. Third, the federal government had never been involved in housing, but it still is.  The Federal Housing Administration is THE largest home insurer in the world. Third, the Smoot-Hawley tariff was designed to protect American industries and jobs resulted in retaliations and international trade was seriously harmed and jobs with it. 

Fourth, there wasn’t any unemployment insurance, a 40 hr work week with 1 ½ pay for overtime, safety standards, social security, workman’s compensation, and a federal labor relations board.  Fifth, so many farms went under particularly due to the Dust Bowl that the New Deal created the Farm Credit Bureau which is the largest farm lender in the U.S. Sixth, there was no social security and the New Deal created it.  Unemployment was so catastrophic that F.D.R. did what Hoover would not do and that was to put millions to work with the PWA, WPA and the CCC.  Those agencies did what they were supposed to do and thus were all put to bed in WWII.  And, finally, the T.V.A. which is still with us—the one lasting socialist institution created as the federal government owns and operates the dams and sells electricity.

Whatever Biden may be able to do, he can’t possibly be as consequential as the New Deal.  That fundamentally changed the relationship between the public and the federal government. 

Well, what about LBJ?  Not a better comparison since he did not inherit an economy in turmoil.  Quite the opposite as he inherited an incredibly prosperous economy. He used JFK’s murder as a rationale for pushing for lasting civil rights legislation in the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968.  And, he went far beyond that because he won one of the most resounding electoral victories in our history.  He made multiple lasting reforms in our society with Medicare and Medicaid, Headstart, and many others.  He introduced 87 bills to Congress and 84 of them passed or 96%–a record never likely to be equaled.  The trade off was that his legislative agenda spawned a counter revolution among conservatives which led to growing partisanship that has led to a pretty toxic political environment.  It also led Southern white Democrats to desert the Democratic party to become Republicans which led to Nixon’s successful Southern Strategy and painted the GOP into a likely demographic mess.

And, of course, there’s Vietnam. Our grandchildren will still be paying for its consequences.

So, I don’t think there’s enough of a comparison here either for Biden to latch onto.  If he wins, he inherits a very different set of circumstances than did either F.D.R. or L.B.J.  And, even if he wins, his supporters agree on one main goal—to retire Trump. If they succeed, I don’t think his supporters will be able to coalesce long enough to get anything like the legislative records of F.D.R. or L.B.J. passed.

What will Biden be faced with?  First of all, he has to deal with a seriously dysfunctional political party system which has managed to secure very little public trust.  How can he rebuild that trust?  Good question.  He has the temperament and experience to make a good effort.

But, from the get go, he will face considerable opposition from Trump’s base.  Many look at Biden and Harris and can only see what they term as “baby killers”.  I don’t think Biden can cure that.  That base will believe Trump’s accusations of a fraudulent outcome.  Many more believe that Biden’s win will bring the unwanted Progressives to power. There have already been a plethora of conspiracy theories about Biden and/or Harris. I expect that to get worse. However, as I suggested above, his own coalition will likely fray.  Those who fear the progressives taking over have little to fear.  They are a minority within the Democratic party which is an unwieldly coalition.

Second, the pandemic and its consequences have exposed multiple serious weaknesses in our system.  Inequalities between the bottom and the top are imbedded and hard to resolve. Unemployment insurance and paid sick leave have been woefully inadequate. Many of the former jobs will be gone for good.  Their employers have not survived.  Congress passed palliative temporary care, but not lasting fixes. 

Many, many more are without health insurance and Trump is in court to dismantle the ACA with no plan to replace it.  How to improve on the ACA in a manner that can gain enough support to get through Congress is a hard question. Other democracies have done much better in doing the needed testing and care.  They have universal health care and we don’t.  We are still a long way from having control over Covid without a useful vaccine.  Partisan conflicts over opening schools, wearing masks, and other issues have divided us; and the President has aided in enhancing those divisions.

The rise of telework; the demise of retail; the uncertainties of the gig economy; more automated manufacturing; and even the role of restaurants, theaters, tourism, and theme parks in this new environment will take time to sort out. The economy will NOT go back to where is was before Covid hit.

The third challenge is international.  In previous crises, the U.S. took the lead in dealing with them.  That has not happened.  America First has meant trying to be THE hegemon with little international support and trust from its allies.  The world IS multipolar and the U.S. has not adjusted to this reality.  It has tried to muscle China into an agreement without international support.  How to contain China’s worst tendencies without alienating the regime is a hard road to go without that support.  How to work with China where we can and contain them is a tough challenge.

What a tough agenda for Biden if he wins.  If Trump wins, we can expect even more of the same of what he’s done so far. And, our structural weaknesses will likely not be addressed.

Vietnam: 45 years later


It doesn’t show what you may have thought it did. 

The photo and explanation:

How should we remember this war?  Are there any lessons worth paying attention to without getting into the: if we had only done (fill in the blank) we would have won useless debate?

First, the underlying justification for the war was not critically examined at the time.

Always question your justifications for any potential use of violent force elsewhere.

Second, while the Vietnam War does not permit specific lessons, it should lead us to consider two key principles.  A) The importance of local forces in conflicts.  The above justification was not appropriate.  The Vietnamese were not ever going to be an existential threat to the U.S. or even anything beyond the former French Indochina.

In this regard, I recall reading Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s memoir. In it, he debated whether Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist or a communist.  He did not consider that he was both and thus made an incorrect assumption that as a communist Ho had to be part of the international communist conspiracy directed from Moscow.  He could not see that Ho’s goal was to make Vietnam independent and he had sought U.S. help to do that in a letter he sent, based on the advice of his O.S.S. advisors, to President Truman.  That letter apparently never got to Truman.  We had no one in the upper reaches of our government who knew Ho.

Instead of seeing Ho Chi Minh for who he was, the U.S. misinterpreted him as an agent of communism directed from Moscow.  Yes, he had studied there, but he was not their agent.  Later, LBJ saw Ho as being directed by China.  Yes, he had Chinese advisors, but he did not take their advice on several key occasions.  Ho directed an independence movement and was going to use the Russians and the Chinese to help him be successful against the U.S.  He had not wanted their aid but saw no other option than to use it once Ike created South Vietnam.

B) There were and are limits to American power.  The U.S. was not ever going to be able to set up a lasting non-communist regime in South Vietnam or create a viable alternative regime to Saddam’s or to the Taliban.  The locals would and did resent our intrusion.  Containment yes, invasion no.  It was and is hard to admit there are limits to what we can/should do.

We had created a weak client in South Vietnam that could never achieve our ambitions for it.  We faced a determined foe who was willing to take enormous casualties to achieve independence.  Don’t ever underestimate your foe.  The U.S. could not imagine losing to a third world insurgency, but we did.

The U.S. had been so successful it was hard to imagine that our power had limits and that we could lose.  Still, many believe we should have won if only we had done______________(fill in the blank).  But, the North Vietnamese were not going to quit.  Have we resolved the issues that led to Al Qaeda or ISIS or Shiite Iran?  Should it be up to us to do that?  No. 

Since the Soviets collapsed, we have been overly tempted to use the military because we don’t have a relatively equal adversary.  This was predicted then and it has sure come to pass.  J.W. Fulbright’s The Arrogance of Power is still a cautionary warning.  Our military involvement in the Middle East led us to forsake our commitments to the rule of law, prudence, ethics, and more.  To defeat the jihadists, who never were an existential threat, we became like them.  Once W. signed an order that terrorists would not have any rights, excesses in their treatment were likely to take place.

Declaring a “war on terror” was much too broad a “goal”, and thus not capable of being achieved.

NIetzche aptly warned that if one is going to confront a monster, you have to be careful you don’t become like the monster.  Having read accounts of what happened at the “black sites” for alleged terrorists after we invaded Iraq without being invited, we became like the monster.  

Just as the photo above has been misunderstood so has our former war in Vietnam.  It still haunts us and the Vietnamese.  Go to the Vietnam memorial in D.C.  Feel its presence, touch it.  I have several times and it has always been a deeply emotional experience.  We can’t go back and change anything done in that war, but we can be more careful in the future.  I don’t have much faith that we will.

An update on several of President Trump’s foreign policies


1. NAFTA REVISED TO THE USMCA—accomplished with bipartisan support, without Speaker Pelosi it would not have passed. Was NAFTA completely revised? No, it didn’t need to be, but it did need to be updated. Its main goal was to integrate Mexico into the highly developed world of the U.S. and Canada. It did that. Mexico went from an underdeveloped nation to one of the top twenty in the world, currently ranking 15th and that is the main reason why few illegals come from there to the U.S. Here’s a reasonable analysis of NAFTA’s pros and cons:
Another analysis comes from:
And, finally,
Trump can claim ½ credit for USMCA and Pelosi the other ½.

2. ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS—accurate figures are not easy to come by since most who are illegal don’t want to be known, still try this:
It is important to note a main source of illegals since 2010 has not been from those coming into the U.S. illegally, it has been those who have overstayed their visa requirements. Suzanne, my wife and I, know how this works. Trump’s wall and its supporters either are unaware of this or choose to ignore it. I’m not going to touch the issues related to the wall except to say there was no serious security threat that required it. It is significant that when the GOP controlled both Houses of Congress they did not fund it.
For Trump’s promises and the realities they face try this: Most of the land on the TX side of the border is privately owned and Texans are very loath to accept eminent domain.
Trump has had a small part of his wall built. On the other hand, he has made it much more difficult for asylum seekers to get here.

3. NORTH KOREA—While Trump’s efforts gained much publicity, little of substance has transpired as a result: It appears his efforts granted legitimacy to the North Korean dictator with nothing to gain from it except photo ops. It has not stopped North Korea from testing its weapons. It does not appear that Trump’s objectives for North Korea have been met.

4. CHINA—Again, a great deal of publicity but not that much of substance has been accomplished. The Chinese Communist Party was formed with a goal of never again agreeing to “unequal” treaties and Trump’s efforts appear to have convinced China that that is what he has in mind.
America First clashes with Chinese First. Some progress was made: But:
Another look:
Trump has shifted to re-election mode and believes it is advantageous to attack China’s reputation. That is not going over well in China. He seems to believe the U.S. alone can bring China to heel, but that won’t happen. Again, he has little international support for his efforts. The first phase deal is but a start, yet it is a start.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative is breathtaking in its reach, and its implications. Suzanne and I have been on the Old Silk Road and witnessed some of the implications of this vast new initiative.

5. TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership)—The TPP was designed originally in large part to deal effectively with China, but Trump withdrew from it arguably because it was negotiated by Obama and not whether or not it was a good idea. By withdrawing, now Americans must pay TPP tariffs. That has been mitigated some by a new trade deal between Japan and the U.S. The TPP is working well for those in it.,expansions%20to%20improve%20market%20access.
Trump’s withdrawal has not aided American interests.

6. The E.U.—For all the emphasis on China, this is the main economic relationship for the U.S. See:
The E.U. offered to work with the U.S. to deal with China but were rejected by Trump. So, the E.U. negotiated its own strategic deal with China:
The E.U. also offered to work with the U.S. to improve the Iran deal, but Trump also rejected that offer and despite the serious efforts of Macron and Merkel, Trump withdrew from the Iran deal.
Trump’s relations with the E.U. has not been helped by his praise for Hungary’s dictator Orban:
This fits with a pattern of Trump’s praise for dictators such as for China’s Xi, Russia’s Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jung-un, the Philippines Duterte, Egypt’s el Sissi, Turkey’s Erdogan (a phone call with Erdogan led to a precipitous withdrawal of US troops that stood between Turkish and Kurdish forces leading to a bloodletting on the Kurdish side); and the long dead Mussolini—see Madeline Albright’s book Fascism. Trump has been publicly proud of their praise of him. By the same token, he has been known for criticizing democratically elected leaders such as Macron, Merkel, Trudeau, and others. According to Carl Bernstein’s sources, he has been especially obnoxious personally to former PM May and Chancellor Merkel.
His relations with the EU have not improved.

7. WITHDRAWING FROM THE IRAN DEAL: This simply has not worked out as Trump had imagined it would. He has had no support from any of the other signatories of this deal for his withdrawal and its consequences.
Trump complained the deal did not include provisions to halt Iran’s development of ICBMs, but neither Russia nor China were supportive of such provisions. Russia had already sold its state-of- the-art antimissile system to Iran and China is Iran’s main weapons supplier. He also complained the deal did not touch Iran’s penchant for proxy wars. True, but the signatories could not agree on doing that.

Why not? Iran’s support for Assad’s regime suited Russia’s efforts to keep him in power. In actuality, Iran’s commitment to proxy wars has increased since U.S. withdrawal from the deal. Pompeo’s 12 demands of Iran are perceived by Iran to mean forced regime change and that just isn’t going to happen. Even if it did, the U.S. might eliminate the mullahs, but the power would then go to the Iranian Rev Guards and all would suffer from that. Iran’s domestic critics are not united and lack a common agenda.
At any rate, Iran has a host of internal problems that existed before Trump and have only gotten worse. Iran was not a good candidate for investments and trade. Iran is not an existential threat to the U.S. or Israel. The main threat if Iran becoming a nuclear power has always been that the main Sunni states would then feel they needed to do the same. Recently, the UAE announced the creation of their own nuclear reactor.
Having unilaterally withdrawn from the Deal; and applying severe sanctions on Iran have not achieved Trump’s objectives and don’t seem to be likely to in the future.

8. OVERTHROWING THE MADURO REGIME. No doubt about it, the Maduro dictatorship is wretched, but Trump’s efforts have not been nor are they likely to be successful. Why not? Support for the regime by Russia, China, Iran and Cuba. Trump’s recognition of Juan Guaido as the actual President of Venezuela have not been successful. Juan has been unable to gain the internal support of enough potent interest groups to carry out his potential presidency. Nor, is he likely to do that. The good news is that Trump has wisely avoided military intervention.

9. NATO—Trump has consistently complained about the relative lack of European countries as members of NATO. He has a point there, but they agreed already in 2014 for all to meet the 2% of GNP spending each should supply by 2024 as a result of Putin’s acquisition of the Crimea. He tried to get them to increase their giving but got in return only a recommitment to their existing agreement. Further, see:
Recently, he, unilaterally without consulting NATO, began the process of withdrawing 9,500 troops from Germany. This naturally reinforces doubts about his commitment to NATO. And, there are good reasons for those doubts:
This fits a pattern of Trump just not liking international treaties and organizations that the U.S. has been the main party within them. He appears to want only bilateral agreements where possible. That would undermine the post WWII world the U.S. created. He has withdrawn from a significant number of international agreements already. He has significantly frayed our relations with NATO. But, we are still in it.

Overall, there is a mixture of plusses and minuses in his initiatives.

When was the decisive moment for the U.S. in making a lasting commitment in South Vietnam?

It took place during and after the Geneva Conference of April 26 to July 20, 1954.  We’ll focus on that part of it that dealt with a resolution of the conflict in French Indochina which had lasted eight years at the instigation of the French.  The agreement temporarily separated Vietnam into two zones, a northern zone to be governed by the Viet Minh rebels who had defeated the French, and a southern zone to be governed by the temporary State of Vietnam, then headed by former emperor Bảo Đại, who had been put there by the French. A Conference Final Declaration, issued by the British chairman of the conference, provided that a general election be held by July 1956 to create a unified Vietnamese state.

The U.S. took a unique approach to this conference that still seems a bit bizarre.  We sent a delegation to the conference.  But, they were instructed to not participate, in fact to not say anything. They were there just to observe.  Try to imagine being in that delegation’s shoes.  Observe and do nothing?

Why?  So that the U.S. government could do whatever it wanted to do.  Here was an opportunity to just let the Final Declaration be implemented.  The U.S. could have done that and then there likely would not have been a Second Indochina War.

But, instead, we ignored the Declaration and helped set up Ngo Diem as the ruler of South Vietnam. That regime never had a good chance of being able to work.   He had played no role in defeating the French and could never get past being set up by the U.S. and thus being dependent on the U.S. for his survival.  He was part of a corrupt elite, though he was not corrupt, that never had built any strong constituency of its own in Vietnam.  He was Catholic, a minority in Vietnam, and set up his regime to marginalize all others.  That was bound to fail.  He was the Eisenhower administration’s candidate, not Vietnam’s.  The Viet Minh had won and felt cheated of its likely victory in the forthcoming election which was never held.  Why not?  Ho Chi Minh would have won.

By setting up and sustaining a South Vietnamese government with American advisors, that made it quite difficult for any of the succeeding US administrations to withdraw or win (winning meant having a sustainable South Vietnamese government that could survive without being dependent on the U.S.). 

The U.S. turned a local conflict into a much bigger one.  Did Ho Chi Minh deserve better?  See below:


Ho Chi Minh letter to Harry S. Truman, 16 February 1946.

I avail myself of this opportunity to thank you and the people of United States for the interest shown by your representatives at the United Nations Organization in favour of the dependent peoples.

Our VIETNAM people, as early as 1941, stood by the Allies’ side and fought against the Japanese and their associates, the French colonialists.

From 1941 to 1945 we fought bitterly, sustained by the patriotism of our fellow-countrymen and by the promises made by the Allies at [the summits in] YALTA, SAN FRANCISCO AND POTSDAM.

When the Japanese were defeated in August 1945, the whole Vietnam territory was united under a Provisional Republican Government which immediately set out to work. In five months, peace and order were restored, a democratic republic was established on legal bases. and adequate help was given to the Allies in the carrying out of their disarmament mission.

But the French colonialists, who had betrayed in war-time both the Allies and the Vietnamese, have come back and are waging on us a murderous and pitiless war in order to reestablish their domination. Their invasion has extended to South Vietnam and is menacing us in North Vietnam. It would take volumes to give even an abbreviated report of the crimes and assassinations they are committing every day in the fighting area.

This aggression is contrary to all principles of international law and to the pledges made by the Allies during the World War. It is a challenge to the noble attitude shown before, during and after the war by the United States Government and People. It violently contrasts with the firm stand you have taken in your twelve point [January 1, 1942, United Nations] declaration, and with the idealistic loftiness and generosity expressed by your delegates to the United Nations Assembly, MM [James] BYRNES, [Edward] STETTINIUS and J.F. DULLES.

The French aggression on a peace-loving people is a direct menace to world security. It implies the complicity, or at least, the connivance of the Great Democracies. The United Nations ought to keep their words. They ought to interfere to stop this unjust war, and to show that they mean to carry out in peace-time the principles for which they fought in war-time

Our Vietnam people, after so many years of spoliation and devastation, is just beginning its building-up work. It needs security and freedom, first to achieve internal prosperity and welfare, and later to bring its small contribution to world-reconstruction.

These securities and freedoms can only be guaranteed by our independence from any colonial power, and our free cooperation with all other powers. It is with this firm conviction that we request of the United States as guardians and champions of World Justice to take a decisive step in support of our independence.

What we ask has been graciously granted to the Philippines. Like the Philippines our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the UNITED STATES. We will do our best to make this independence and cooperation profitable to the whole world.


There is NO evidence that President Truman ever saw this letter or anyone else of any major consequence.  Would he have paid attention? We can not know that.

Some modest suggestions for dealing with poverty

  1. Why have there been such a high rate of out of wedlock births for Hispanics, whites and blacks?

The Center for Economic Opportunity Feb. 26, 2020 report found that illegitimate-birth rates “vary considerably by race and Hispanic origin.” The percentage of out-of-wedlock births for non-Hispanic whites is 21.9 percent, but for non-Hispanic blacks it’s 69.3 percent. For Hispanics it’s 41.6 percent, and for American Indians 59.3 percent.  Center for Economic Opportunity Feb. 26, 2020 report based on 2018 stats.  I’m not at all afraid of telling the truth here.

If we know anything about causes of poverty, this is definitely a major cause as it results in single moms trying to raise children.  Why have the rates increased?  Not because of welfare, contrary to myth.  Gingrich and Clinton took care of that.

Want to guess why?  Primarily two causes: 1) disappearance of “shotgun weddings” or the stigma of having unmarried children.  2) the ready availability of contraception and abortion has not accomplished what its advocates believed: that that would reduce the number of out of wedlock births.  It had the exact opposite effect.  Why?  Too many males no longer felt they had to stay in the house to take care of their offspring.  Pro choice meant males too often were left out of the decision.  A third factor for blacks, of course, would have been the impact of the anti drug laws resulting in mass incarceration.  Those issues have been addressed such that the main remaining discrepancy has been in the length of sentences that blacks received compared to whites for the same offense.  What jobs are available to convicted felons?  Not many good ones though that is being addressed.

I’ve taught in prison and visited county jails for quite some time.  If there was any commonality among the males there it was that few whites or blacks or Hispanics had ever had anything like a decent male role model.  Single moms, black or white, have a rough time raising children and making ends meet especially in today’s fractured economy. Most of them have to live in poor neighborhoods where violence is more common, the schools are not as good as in non-poor neighborhoods, and there’s a relative lack of public services including health care.

OK, so what can be done about this? Shotgun marriages aren’t going to return.  Contraception and abortions are still available. Trying to force the sperm donors to support their children has not worked well.  More integration of poor with the not so poor.  How do you do that?  Do away with the zoning rules that prevent affordable apartments in better neighborhoods.  In other words, the children don’t have to grow up in systemic poverty.  As it stands right now, federal assistance is by a lottery where winners can get the subsidies needed to live in such apartments while the losers get nothing.  Right now, most subsidized apartments are in areas with an average poverty rate of 26.3%.  That just ain’t a good situation

Besides any subsidies, the feds or states or local governmental agencies or NGOs could provide assistance in terms of finding affordable accommodations and dealing with landlords.  Our son does this routinely in his rapid rehousing efforts in D.C. on behalf of a good NGO.

2. Education.  Schools in poor neighborhoods need good teachers and teaching resources.  But, too many get the most inexperienced instructors with little financial encouragement, not to mention mentoring assistance from more senior teachers, to stay in those schools.  I think of what happened to our oldest daughter in her practice teaching assignment to a very poor school and was not provided with a mentor or any aid.  She gave up on her dream of being an English teacher as a result.  Some municipalities have made it possible for parents to send their kids to the better schools.  Dare I say this? Properly regulated charter schools often deliver much better outcomes in poor neighborhoods.

How to keep poor college students in college?  It doesn’t help to just let them in the door.  That is a road map for failure.  You have to have community colleges that can and do deliver the kind of advising, small cash grants for work study students, support services, and metro tickets to those students.  Modest amounts can make big differences in graduation rates, double in fact for those who are poor.  Don’t send poorly prepared students to four-year colleges.  They are usually not set up to help those students adequately.

3. Child poverty.  There are two changes that can make a huge difference.  Canada did these two and it took just two years to reduce child poverty by a third.  1) Expand the earned-income tax credit by up to 40% which tops up the wages of working low income single or even married couples.  (2) a universal child tax credit of $2,700.  These two would cost maybe up to $110 billion BUT will results in better tax revenues and less expenses in incarceration, health care and homelessness.

Expansions of cash welfare grants and health coverage ARE not likely to go far in Congress.  Better to improve Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Those tend to be politically acceptable since they are universal benefits.

A significant portion of this blog was aided by information provided in The Economist’s July 11-17th issue entitled The New Ideology of Race and What’s Wrong With it. Excellent analysis.

A Bay of Piglets? Americans attempted to overthrow Maduro in Venezuela

It is still hard to believe such a half assed attempt was made to overthrow Venezuela’s awful, wretched government. But, one was made not long ago.

It has been compared, naturally, with the ill fated Bay of Pigs operation. But, I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. The Bay of Pigs operation was designed under Ike and carried out by CIA backing under JFK. It had over 1,400 Cuban exiles accompanied by a handful of American agents with the purpose of overthrowing Castro’s regime. It had dreadful consequences for those involved and later.
But, this recent effort had nowhere near that kind of numbers and support from the U.S. It did have the signed backing of Juan Guaido, who has had Trump’s support as the legitimate head of state of Venezuela. Trump’s backing has not worked for multiple reasons.

What we can say is that it is unlikely that the Trump administration agreed to this effort. However, the Trump administration created the kind of atmosphere that encouraged it to carry out “Operation Gideon” which maybe had around 60 armed supporters (maybe as many as 300 depending on who you read). Maybe the Trump administration knew something about it and did nothing to stop it.

But, it miserably failed. Dictator Maduro, who reportedly gets instructions in part from his very dead predecessor and from the long ago dead Simon Bolivar—there has been a Bolivar Cult there, had infiltrated it, knew about it, and his admin easily put it down. It was more farce than a serious effort to get rid of Maduro.

But, even if this had had U.S. support, it was unlikely to have succeeded contrary to Pompeo’s claims. Why? Maduro has support from Cuba (whose secret police has trained his and have a significant presence in Venezuela), Russia, Iran, and China. Those are formidable obstacles to an overthrow being successful. Their support has been perhaps decisive in helping Maduro’s Venezuela with dealing with Covid. They have advisors present in multiple capacities.

An American invasion, as threatened by Trump, could kill some of those advisors. That could lead to direct conflicts we do not want or need. Iran has been sending oil tankers to help Maduro out as well as a way to get around the Trump administration sanctions on the Maduro regime. Indeed, Iran and Venezuela have developed a strategic partnership.

With all of this there is a long history of American interventions in Latin America that have harmed our relations. Against this background, this latest attempt bears resemblance to the “filibustering” expeditions pre-Civil War in Central America and the Caribbean. As a reminder for the readers, these were private military attempts to subvert and hopefully rule a Central American nation without U.S. government support.

Narcisso Lopez, starting in 1849, led three efforts to boot the Spanish out of Cuba. None worked; the Spanish captured the perps in the last one and had them executed. This all led to the Ostend Manifesto as a circular written effort by American diplomats in Europe to encourage the U.S. government to buy Cuba and if that didn’t work perhaps to take it. That died still born.

The most successful, for a time, was William Walker’s efforts to take and rule Nicaragua. He succeeded and his rule was recognized officially by President William Pierce in 1856. His rule ran afoul of Cornelius Vanderbilt who had his rule destroyed. Walker tried two more times and on the coast of Honduras the Brits captured him and executed him by firing squad.

The Civil War brought an end to these escapades. But, this latest effort in Venezuela reminds me of them. All in all, this history has not led to a good U.S. reputation in Latin America.

What now? Maduro’s regime is in serious trouble. Mismanagement, corruption including collusion with the drug cartels, have all led Russia to reconsider its support. If Russia backs out, his regime becomes vulnerable. But, does the opposition have “the right stuff” to take advantage of these issues and lead to a successful domestic (U.S. aided) coup? Maybe, but they didn’t do well at it before and there’s no guarantee they will.

An American “invasion” would be unwise to say the least. It would almost certainly lead many who don’t like the regime at all, to resist the American led invasion. It is unlikely to get Congressional and American public approval. Better to bet on a domestic takeover. It might succeed, but don’t count on it. A Bay of Piglets was not the way to get it done. What would you recommend?

A Backwards View of Presidential Approval Ratings in Times of Crisis

Recently in various news sources, it was reported that President Trump had experienced an increase in his presidential approval ratings due to his perceived handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic. How does this compare with presidential approval ratings in times of crisis in our past?

A fair comparison is not easy to arrive at given the increased partisanship the U.S. has experienced especially within the past five years. See Pew Research’s new study on how the gap has widened. Plus, the science of poll taking has evolved considerably over time. Still, for what it may be worth, let’s look at how public opinion responded to presidential handling of crises starting with Truman.

TRUMAN: His popularity went down quite a bit from its height of over 80% after entering office to the dumps by 1947 in the mid to lower 40% range. There was considerable reaction against him during that time leading to major GOP gains in the 1946 Congressional elections. But, as the Cold War heated up, his popularity went from a nadir of around 38% after the 1946 elections to over 60% approval with the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine designed to rescue Europe. However, it soon began to decline again to where it looked like he could not possibly be elected in 1948. That was one of the greatest political upsets in our history and led to another spike of support in 1949 of over 60% with the creation of NATO and victory in keeping the Soviets from grabbing West Berlin.

His support steadily declined after that as China went Communist, McCarthyism raised its ugly head and the Korean War turned into a stalemate. His firing of MacArthur sealed his fate politically though he could have run again. He left office with the lowest public approval ratings on record around 24%, just slightly below George W. Bush’s. He also holds the modern record for the lowest overall average of popular support for his term in office at 45.4%.

So, yes, it is true that in popular opinion spiked in the crises that Truman faced.

IKE: His approval ratings are among the most consistently best of any modern President. He never went below 50% and most of the time he was at or slightly above 60%. His overall average was a stunning 65%. His approval ratings spiked to their highest of about 80% from about 70% when he took decisive action during the Little Rock controversy and soon thereafter with his response to Sputnik to call for many to become scientists and mathematicians. They sank to their lowest of close to 50% when his Chief of Staff Adams had to resign due to a major scandal in 1958, but rose after that.

Since Ike didn’t face any major crisis sufficient to impact his approval ratings, we don’t have much to work with here. We LIKED Ike.

JFK: His approval ratings were the highest of any Presidency for his time in office of an average of 70%! He received a spike of approval in response to his standing firm in response to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Went down at first as a result of the Bay of Pigs fiasco but rose quickly to 83% with his forthright apology for that debacle placing the blame squarely on himself, and rose again with the Cuban missile crisis, declined after that as the Civil Rights issues heated up but spiked up with his response to the March on Washington with his major address on race—the first President to make a strong stance publicly in favor of civil rights.
So, in his case, he also gained support in response to crises, but not in large amounts in large part since his approval ratings rarely dipped much below 60%.

LBJ: He received a huge outpouring of support for how he handled himself after JFK’s murder and that lasted for months at over 80%, but then went down and down and down as a result of the escalation of the Vietnam War. His only spike of support oddly enough came after he announced he wasn’t going to run for re-election. He rarely got as much of 50% support by mid to late 1967 and after. Overall average amounts to 55.1%.

So, yes, he got a huge spike early, but….

NIXON: One might be surprised to find that overall his approval ratings stayed in the above 50% to a bit over 60% for much of his presidency until, you guessed it, Watergate. At first, he gained support even going over 60% in early 1973 but it then collapsed leaving an overall average of 49%. So, no, he didn’t have any significant spikes upward or downward in approval ratings until Watergate.

FORD: It seems unfair to discuss this topic with Ford as he came into office in the midst of extraordinary circumstances. He had good support at first but his controversial pardon (a wise and brave decision) cost him dearly. The fall of Saigon in 1975 was his nadir in support at below 40%, but he saw a significant rise in support after that as his wife Betty Ford came forward on 60 minutes to speak candidly on several topics such as her alcoholism, issues with marijuana and in favor of pro choice in abortion. Ford helped himself by calling for reduced taxes. So, his approval went from below 40% to over 58% before it began to slide downwards leading to his defeat to Carter. He holds the third worst overall support record since WWII of 47.2%

CARTER: He gained significant support as he negotiated lasting peace between Egypt and Israel but saw his popularity decline steadily to the 40% range with a mild spike up to the mid 50s with his efforts to negotiate arms limitations with the Soviets though never ratified, rose to 61% by taking in the Shah of Iran but then his “malaise” speech sealed his political demise along with mishandling the Iran hostage situation.

So, yes, good support for his peace efforts and for showing humanitarian concern for the seriously ill Shah. His overall average of 45.5% approval is just higher than Truman’s for second worst since WWII.

REAGAN: He began with only 51% but gained significant empathetic support as a result of nearly being killed with approval ratings rising to 68% but then the Rust Belt rusted away to a major crisis taking down his approval ratings to the 40% range but those steadily and strongly improved with his handling of major issues such as invading Grenada after which his ratings hovered around the 60% range until Iran contra hit the news bringing his approval ratings down in the lower 40% range. He recouped his support quickly though with going public with a heartfelt apology in March of 1987 for Iran Contra and gained more support with his superb discussions with Gorbachev leading to an Intermediate Missile Reduction Treaty.

So, yes, his approval ratings went up strongly not once but twice in response to serious crises. His overall average stands at 52.8% and that was lowered by the length of the recession.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: He is a strong case for gaining very strong approval for a crisis with his handling of Saddam’s grab of Kuwait where his support quickly soared from around 57% to an incredible high of 89% within little over a month’s time Amazing support but that soon dissipated to about 29%, a loss of 60%!!! as a result of a recession and other issues. It was “the economy, stupid” that did him in along with his breaking his election campaign promise to “read my lips” about no new taxes. Still, his overall average approval stands at 60.9%.


BILL CLINTON: His popularity declined quickly in the midst of 1993 with the perceived mishandling of Waco to a bit below 40% to see it quickly rise to near 60% with his Oslo I accords between the PLO and Israel. They declined soon thereafter back into the 40% range with Mogadishu but rose steadily after that with the start towards welfare reform and helping facilitate a lasting peace between Israel and Jordan. Still, he will only win with 49% of the vote in 1996. After that, his approval range improved to the 60% range and while scandal after scandal emerged none hurt his approval ratings much.

The public felt he had done so well at a variety of things such as helping bring lasting peace in Northern Ireland, getting NAFTA approved, having budget surpluses, and more that the scandals just didn’t make much of a difference. Impeachment actually improved his support to as high as 62-3%. And, he stayed in the 60% range for the rest of his Presidency. His overall average was 55.1%. His will be the first Presidential administration where there will be virtually unrelenting Congressional partisan efforts to find scandals to harm the presidency.
So, in his case, his approval ratings did go up in crises even in the midst of scandals.

Starting with his Presidency, the partisan divide has sharply increased. The main reasons would be: (1) the creation of Fox News which was designed to go after the “main steam media” for purveying fake news and intending to bring Clinton down; (2) the growing impact of Prot evangelicals siding with the GOP thus a tendency to see the “other” as somehow evil; (3) the rampant impact of gerrymandering making the real elections be the primaries thus bringing more “true believers” to Congress from both parties with little inclination to compromise; and, (4) the successful efforts made by folks like Gingrich, Falwell and Schafly to use wedge issues like abortion and gun control to divide the public more so as to enable the GOP to have a better chance to win elections. Clinton’s average support from Dems was 80% and from Reps at 27 for a whopping 53% differential.

W: The partisan divide continued here with an average GOP support for W. at 81% and Dem at 23% for a differential of 58%. W. started out with decent support at around 60% but then took the sharpest increase in the history of Polls due to his handling of 9/11 to close to 90% within less than a month. That declined to his starting point of around 60% by the start of 2003 and then spiked about 10% with his surge. But, that gain was soon wiped out by the chaos in Iraq and it was a steady downhill movement from there to where he wound up with the second worst public approval rating of around 25%.

Like his Dad, he had a spectacular outpouring of support in a very short time but lost it. By and large, however, he was spared unrelenting efforts by his political opposition to find scandals to harm his presidency.

OBAMA: He had entered office hoping to help heal the partisan divide. However, he was never given a chance to do it. On the very evening of his first inaugural, the GOP leaders met to decide to do all they could to make sure he was unsuccessful and thus be a one term President. They were aided by the birther movement and Obama is a Muslim craze both designed to delegitimize him as NOT BEING a “real” American.

Though he had inherited huge crises, the GOP was not about to work with him so one doesn’t see any significant spikes upward in his approval ratings except for taking down Bin Laden which gained him a quickly evaporated 7% gain. He will wind up with an average approval rating of 47% though he started at around 60 and left office at that rate. He was much more popular overseas as in Europe than here.

One can’t help but compare his situation with the aftermath of the bitterly contested 2000 election. Gore and the Dems conceded reasonably gracefully and did NOT band together to make W. unsuccessful. The 2008 election stands out as the first Presidential election since 1860 where the losers refused to accept the results. There were many, many GOP inspired Congressional hearings designed to harm Obama’s presidency. Now, the Dems have been copycats with Trump. Some feel they’ve gone too fur.

TRUMP: His average support to date has been 40%, the lowest on record. Recently, it grew to 49 % for finally taking charge of the Covid-19 outbreak. His low was 35% which he has hit several times. His partisan divide is even worse than Obama’s with average GOP support at 84% while average Dem support has been 16% for a differential of a staggering 67%. Now, contrary to the GOP on the evening of Obama’s first inaugural, the Dems did not agree to do all they could to make him unsuccessful. Indeed, there have been a number of bipartisan bills of quite some import passed.

On the other hand, the Dems pushed for impeachment without making sure they had bipartisan support. Same mistake the GOP made with Clinton but while that cost the GOP electorally that has not happened with the Dems. The Dems did not lose significant support though many pundits were sure they would.


With the growing partisan divide, it is unlikely that Trump or any President will experience the kind of sharp outpourings of support that several previous Presidents received during times of crisis. This does not augur well for our future. Trump made much of his popularity increase, but it was small by comparison of the even spectacular gains made by several presidents earlier.


Watching videos of a torchlight parade including Nazi salutes and shouted Nazi slogans such as “blood and soil” brings chills to anyone who knows the history of Nazi Germany. . Yes, there can be no moral equivalency to this. All Americans need to do all they can peacefully to reject this hatred.

During the next day, most of those who came to be counter protestors followed this principle by peacefully protesting against the neo-Nazis, KKK, and white nationalists who had gathered at the University of Virginia. And some got the daylights beaten out of them, particularly one in a certain parking garage that I watched being interviewed afterwards.

However, a significant portion of The Antifa was NOT there to peaceably assemble. That cohort came with clubs and other weapons to confront the anti-Semitic crowd which included folks with their own weapons. And, therein lies the great danger of what happened at Charlottesville.

Condoning violence utilized by a faction of Antifa will almost certainly galvanize more support for the political right and will drive away moderates. Trump’s base will feel they have good justification for believing they have been marginalized by those lefties. Folks who are so intolerant of intolerance that they will resort to violence to defeat intolerance should not be attractive to anyone on the left.

You who support such actions in any way must be warned that a major factor bringing fascism to power in the 30s was the actual danger of radical leftists gathering to carry out street fights with the Nazis and their supporters. Most Germans then were not attracted to such a movement. The Nazis promised law and order and that appealed to most or at least gained their willingness to “not get involved”.

If you’re worried about some American style of authoritarianism rising to power, a virtually guaranteed way to make sure that takes place would be to support in any way those who are willing to use any method, including violence, to oppose the neo-Nazis, KKK and white nationalists. ONLY peaceful non-violent protest in intent and in practice can successfully appeal to the better angels of our nature as Americans.

What’s my takeaway here? We should KNOW that from the successes of the Civil Rights movement. Those lessons ought to be applied now as well. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it so well in his Beyond Good and Evil: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster.”

Question for you: To what extent do you agree with this and why or why not?

What Did Pershing Really Do in the Philippines?

President Trump recently told a story about Pershing’s involvement in the Philippines. To understand the story, it is important to know why Brigadier General Pershing was in the Philippines in the first place.

He had to deal with the consequences of perceived broken American promises at the end of the Spanish-American War. Based on what they regarded as American commitments, the Filipinos and Moros (a Muslim ethnic group in the southern Philippine islands) expected the U.S. to grant independence to the Filipinos and preserve the autonomy of the Moros. But, President William McKinley and the U.S. Congress approved an Annexation of the Philippines over the objections of a considerable anti-imperialist movement in the U.S. (see Mark Twain’s classic satirical essay: “To the Person Sitting in Darkness”).

Annexation resulted in a Filipino Insurrection for independence and a Moro Rebellion initially for autonomy. The U.S. Army was sent to put these down. Pershing played a role in accomplishing an end to the Moro Rebellion.

However, his preferred M.O. was the exact opposite of the st ory told by President Trump. He attempted whenever feasible to negotiate. Indeed, his military Governorship of the Moro region from 1909-13 put in place a healthy list of lasting positive reforms including a transition from a military to a civilian government.

During his governorship, it is true that the Army continued its practice of burying each Moro rebel who had been killed in battle in pig skin to encourage the Muslims to put down their weapons. This policy helped stop the rebellion, but the greater credit should go to Brigadier General John J. Pershing who carried out his already stated policies along with a carefully constructed plan to disarm the rebels with a minimum of bloodshed.

The U.S. Army did not shoot unarmed prisoners of war to carry out Pershing’s successful policies and plan.

What is a takeaway to this recorded history? The U.S. willfully participated in the late 19th Century binge of imperialism already being indulged in by the European powers (an example would be the Berlin Conference of 1884-5 regarding dividing up Africa). Not surprisingly, the Person Sitting in Darkness in the Philippines was not going to cooperate. Their efforts to achieve independence for one group and autonomy for the other would not be successful.

I look forward to your comments!

Are We Ready for a Woman President?

Inside an ice sculpture in Joensu, Finnland
Inside an ice sculpture in Joensu, Finnland

I was in Joensuu, Finland as the primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was in full swing. Finland is considered the most “American” nation in Europe, and Finns were wondering whether the U.S. was ready to elect a woman President.

No one was asking about a black President, but the civil rights struggles of blacks and women are very interconnected. In 1870, we were forced to choose between them, and women’s rights came in second. Fifty years elapsed between the Fifteenth and Ninteenth Amendments, so women got the right to vote a long time after black men.

We were at a political crossroads eight years ago. The question I asked then was, “If Obama becomes President, will it be another half century before we have a woman President. We’re at another political crossroads. Here’s the background I recorded in Finland.