Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Supreme Court Tells Title Board to Step Up

After years of regularly approving deceptive and complex ballot titles, the Colorado Supreme Court finally told the Title Board to do its job and stop approving ballot titles with multiple subjects, often in deliberately deceptive language.

Kudos to the agricultural community for leading the fight on this initiative and to Mark Grueskin for his legal work. He’s Colorado’s best attorney on ballot titling and just performed a public service in this case. Grueskin also argued, although not adopted by the court, that the language was deceptive for the purposes of misdirecting voters’ attention to human sex with animals and pets instead of primary impact of commercial animal husbandry and recreational practices, such as rodeos. But at least the case was made and the deception exposed.

The court also struck a blow against the rural-urban divide that some Colorado political advocates like to exploit in ballot campaigns.

Colorado Politics: Justices block animal cruelty measure from ballot

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Welcome Back America, But Can It Last?

European publics and its leaders welcomed America back into alliance diplomacy without the disruption and overt hostility of the last four years. Recent polls from alliance countries show a dramatic increase in confidence in U.S. leadership (75% alliance-wide) and favorability of the country (62%) (see America is Back), up at least 28 points in each case after the end of the Trump administration (Pew, May 2021).

But at the same time, there is considerable skepticism that American democracy is functioning well. More than half of the alliance publics now believe the U.S. is not a good example to follow. More than half (57%) say it used to be, but not in recent years, and only 11 percent of U.S. allies describe it as a “very reliable ally.” 

Of course, America’s adversaries are fully aware of its weaknesses and exploit them at every opportunity. President Vladimir Putin in pre and post interviews at the latest summit with President Joe Biden, while denying suppressing internal Russian dissent, immediately points to Black Lives Matter and America’s racial turmoil as examples of worse behavior. Also, he references January 6 as an example of the U.S. government repressing dissent.

As U.S. intelligence documented, Russia, at least since 2016, has been using social media tools to emphasize American divisions, to denigrate American politicians and institutions, and to encourage chaos during U.S. elections. Hence, Russia both encourages U.S. division and chaos and then points to them to justify their behavior.

Monday, June 21, 2021

America is Back

“America is back” became a mantra of President Biden’s on his first overseas trip to allies at the G7 in Cornwall, England, and a NATO meeting in Brussels. Most allies welcomed America being back, supporting the alliance, the NATO commitment and multilateralism in general. 

Biden is right, at least America’s reputation is back from the collapse during the Trump presidency. The U.S. favorability as measured by Pew Research among 16 world democracies surged from 34 percent favorability at the end of Trump’s term to 62 percent in May 2021. Confidence in Biden personally is at 75 percent whereas former President Trump left office with a 17 percent confidence level.

Biden joins Western world leaders with a high level of confidence (77%) – much higher than Vladimir Putin (20%) or Xi Jinping (18%), the Russian and Chinese presidents, respectively. He joins at the highest level of public confidence with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (78%) and French President Emmanuel Macron (67%).

G7 leaders in at summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain,
 June 11, 2021 | Leon Neal/PA Media

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Putin Has Swagger, But Few Friends and Little Support

In the run-up to the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva, Vladimir Putin demonstrated his swagger with glib answers in an exclusive NBC interview, offered Iran intelligence technology to undermine the defense of U.S. troops in the region and launched war games off Hawaii. But, President Putin has few friends in the nations of Europe, which Russia is a part of, and little public support. When 16 democratic countries were asked their level of confidence in world leaders, Putin (20%) was near the bottom, with President Xi Jinping (18%) of China.

President Biden shared space with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (78%) and French President Emmanuel Macron (67%).

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet
at the U.S.-Russia summit in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021 | Reuters

One Billion Shots Worldwide

President Joe Biden began his first trip abroad announcing the goal of one billion vaccinations provided to WHO, which is responsible for worldwide inoculations. America will provide half the total and G7 allies the other half.

It was a spectacular start for the trip – a strong sign that the U.S. was reemerging into its traditional leadership role and a significant humanitarian gesture. Fortunately for Biden, his four-month focus on COVID-19 vaccinations has helped reassure the American public that the U.S. has the pandemic under control. They are supportive of the worldwide commitment for surplus doses.

And it’s desperately needed. As the U.S. ends its restrictions and nears 70 percent inoculated, the worldwide total of deaths and infections continues to grow with more than 3.8 million fatalities. It’s believed that 10 billion or more shots will be needed to contain the pandemic around the world.

Boris Johnson, Joe Biden, Justin Trudeau, Mario Draghi, Ursula von der Leyen,
 Charles Michel, Yoshihide Suga, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, at the top
of the G7 meeting in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 11, 2021 | Reuters pool

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

AMLO in Office Three More Years as Mexico Descends into Criminality

Mexico is in danger of becoming the Afghanistan of the Americas with criminal gangs increasingly controlling large territories, including municipalities, by dominating or neutralizing their elected officials and law enforcement. They do this with massive wealth from drug trade and extortion of legitimate businesses, and horrific, relentless violence. They have mostly had impunity due to the passivity of federal government.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), in his third year of a six-year term, has formally adopted the approach of not using the power of federal law enforcement against Mexico’s criminal gangs, called as “hugs not bullets” – the view that cash subsidies and state-induced jobs would best address the problem.

In a new Gallup poll, six in ten Mexican citizens (56%) said they were afraid to walk alone at night (Gallup, 6-8-21). In addition to concerns about the level of crime, Mexicans are also threatened by the government’s inadequate response to COVID-19. The country has the fourth highest number of deaths in the world – U.S. (600,000), Brazil (448,000), India (370,000) and Mexico (230,000).

But AMLO and his party remain popular. In the recent legislative elections, his party, MORENA, lost seats, but maintained their majority (more than 250 seats, but declined by approximately 30) in the lower House due to grassroots support for his populist, anti-elite appeal. However, his loss showed dissatisfaction from many better educated urbanites in Mexico City and other municipalities.

Will AMLO adjust his strategy to the decline in support or become more authoritarian, a tendency many critics believe has accompanied his career?

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Vice
President Kamala Harris meet at Palacio Nacional in Mexico
City, June 8, 2021 | Hector Vivas/Getty Images

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

SCFD Supports Culture Through Shutdown

The Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) has been a significant economic generator contributing billions during its 30-year existence and employing thousands through its more than 300 member cultural organizations. And, of course, it faced the same crisis that local governments faced in early 2020, the beginning of the pandemic.

Although the seven-county sales tax collection for the SCFD was down by about 3 percent (2.8%) last year, it still managed to collect $64.3 million in 2020 compared to $66.1 million in 2019, which was a record. That was considerably more revenue than expected. A loss of 10 to 20 percent was projected early in the shutdown. The better tax performance indicated that the shutdown reduced activity after March 2020, but did not stop much of the spending that collects sales tax. The funding was desperately needed by metro Denver cultural organizations that had lost visitor revenue as they were mostly forced to turn away audiences, curtail programs and furlough employees. Many were able to provide virtual programming, but still suffered major losses of incomes.

Since this year’s reopening, regional sales tax collections have accelerated with a record-breaking pace. March tax receipts were up 36.6 percent compared to March 2020 and year-to-date revenue was up 13.4 percent. The April year-to-date is up a spectacular 17.2 percent. Revenue increases will likely begin to level off later in the year, but for there is a significant economic recovery underway. Most Denver metro cultural organizations have restarted their programs and are planning numerous summer events that were delayed last year.