Thursday, December 31, 2015

European Leaders Face a Difficult 2016

Europe’s top leaders survived 2015’s tumultuous events, but each approaches 2016 with considerable unease. Holding the EU together, dealing with immigration and terrorism, along with the continuing economic stress in much of Southern Europe, will test the most able of leaders and their abilities to work together.

Great Britain’s David Cameron won a surprising strong parliamentary re-election in May, but now faces a referendum on the UK remaining in the EU. Polls indicate opinion is closely divided. And, Scottish nationalism has never been stronger or more likely to exert independent demands.

France has survived two major terrorist attacks, but after the second on November 13, the country appears as changed as the U.S. was after 9/11. President Fran├žois Hollande has shown considerable leadership dealing with terrorism, but his popularity is still in the low 30 percent range (he had a modest rally effect of about 10 points). The nationalist and anti-immigrant National Front Party just did remarkably well in regional elections, and its leader, Marine Le Pen, is the frontrunner in recent presidential polls. Although, he’s not facing re-election until 2017, his ability to lead is considerably circumscribed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Time Magazine’s person of the year, Angela Merkel, faces a political challenge in her own country, described by many as the most serious since she came to power in 2005. She has lost at least 10 points of her approval ratings since she became the primary spokesperson for welcoming Syrian and other refugees into Europe and especially Germany.

Along with managing a still nascent backlash among German voters, the refugee crisis is adding additional strain on the EU, with anti-EU parties gaining adherents in several countries and many leaders, especially in Eastern Europe, not anxious to cooperate with Germany or EU immigration distribution proposals.

Vladimir Putin now sports a 90 percent approval rating as the Napoleon of the Volga. But his popularity is based on an aggressive nationalism that is causing a considerable challenge to the West in holding an alliance together to contain his current actions and deter his possible next ominous initiative.

Barack Obama, who begins his last year in office, had a good 2015 in terms of his foreign policy goals (Iran, Cuba, climate change), but still struggles to find an effective strategy related to Russia, immigration or ISIS. The American presidential race features a Republican frontrunner who’s a nationalist, nativist and non-interventionist and has already established war of words with David Cameron.

EU unity is not a natural state, and 2016 will test the talent of its advocates to hold it together and the U.S.’s alliance with it.

See The Buzz: European 2015 Elections May Decide Future of EU

Surprise – Unions Spent $250,000 to Recall Jefferson County School Board

9-KUSA refused to be misled by the teachers unions-dominated recall when the unions’ public relations firm orchestrated a major effort to deny union money and campaign consultants were in charge.

Even when forced to declare their financial participation by a legal ruling, the union and its PR representatives spent most of their explanation on how the unions only collect voluntary contributions from members, a position forcefully countered by many critics of operation of the teachers unions’ political action committee.

It is assumed by most observers that the $250,000, which was 99 percent of the pro-recall group Jeffco United’s funds, was only a portion of the unreported funds spend by the union in the Jefferson School District election. Both national and local teachers unions were active in numerous Colorado school districts in a very successful election geared to reduce or eliminate conservative or non-union-oriented board members.

Much in-state and out-of-state conservative funding was also unreported due to inadequate financial disclosure laws.

9News: Unions revealed as major Jeffco recall funder
Colorado Secretary of State: Jeffco United financial filing

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Colorado’s Population Surge

The recent discussion concerning having enough water and infrastructure for the growing population was affirmed this week when it was reported that the state ranked second in the country in population growth with 101,000 new residents, mostly from out-of-state. The state hasn’t grown this fast since early in the century.

Demographers believe most of the newcomers will locate on the Front Range and at least 60 percent in the Denver metro area.

Denver Post: Colorado’s population jumped by 101,000 in 12 months
The Buzz: Denver metro area on a roll

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Red Line: Kerry and Hagel Agree Obama Foreign Policy Disaster

The August 31, 2013 picture of President Obama springing on his national security team his reversal on the Red Line threat in Syria was likely the Administration’s worst foreign policy decision, both in terms of the process and the long-term consequences.

The iconic picture from the meeting shows a “stunned” (his word) Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a Secretary of State John Kerry appearing to calculate the foreign policy damage and a Vice President Joe Biden in pure political disbelief.

Hagel, in an exclusive interview in Foreign Policy Magazine, describes a weak national security team micromanaging the Defense Department, complaints already expressed by Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta. But, Hagel makes clear that the Syrian decision, which was mostly engineered by new Cabinet Home Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, was a disaster that seriously damaged the President and American foreign policy.
It was Aug. 30, 2013 and the U.S. military was poised for war. Obama had publicly warned Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad that his regime would face consequences if it crossed a “red line” by employing chemical weapons against its own people. Assad did it anyway, and Hagel had spent the day approving final plans for a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missile strikes against Damascus. U.S. naval destroyers were in the Mediterranean, awaiting orders to fire.
Instead, Obama told a stunned Hagel to stand down. Assad’s Aug. 21 chemical attack in a Damascus suburb had killed hundreds of civilians, but the president said the United States wasn’t going to take any military action against the Syrian government.  The president had decided to ignore his own red line – a decision, Hagel believes, that dealt a severe blow to the credibility of both Obama and the United States.
“Whether it was the right decision or not, history will determine that,” Hagel told Foreign Policy in a two-hour interview, his first extensive comments since he was forced out of this position in February. “There’s no question in my mind that it hurt the credibility of the president’s word when this occurred.”
In the days and months afterward, Hagel’s counterparts around the world told him their confidence in Washington had been shaken over Obama’s sudden about-face. And the former defense secretary said he still hears complaints to this day from foreign leaders.
“A president’s word is a big thing, and when the president says things, that’s a big deal,” he said.  (Foreign Policy Magazine, Dec. 18, 2015)
In a New Yorker article, a sympathetic David Remnick described the Syrian decision Kerry’s “most humbling experience” and the “red line aftermath to be a diplomatic fiasco.”
From the beginning of the civilian uprisings in Syria, in 2011, and the regime’s escalating and bloody reaction, many of Obama’s advisers have argued for a more aggressive policy: arming and funding the “moderate rebels”; air strikes on Damascus; taking out Assad’s helicopters and planes, which drop barrel bombs packed with shrapnel, explosives, and, sometimes, chlorine; the establishment of safe zones and a no-fly zone. In 2012, the C.I.A. director, David Petraeus; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey; Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; Samantha Power, who was then a national-security adviser; and Secretary of State Clinton pressed Obama to support vetted rebels against the regime. Kerry—who was influenced by the relatively successful, if belated, interventions in the Balkans, in the nineties, and also by the calamitous decision not to intervene in Rwanda in 1994—joined this chorus when he replaced Clinton. But no one could convince Obama that deeper involvement would avoid a repetition of the Iraq fiasco.
Kerry was a critical actor in the most humbling episode of the Syrian drama. Obama had warned Assad that he would be crossing a “red line” if he used chemical weapons, saying that such an act would “change my calculus.” In August, 2013, a year after the “red line” warning, Assad’s forces, according to Western intelligence services and an independent U.N. commission, fired rockets armed with sarin on Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, killing hundreds. The U.S. prepared to attack with cruise missiles. In a speech insisting that Assad give up all his chemical arms, Kerry referred to the “lessons” of the Holocaust and of Rwanda. General Dempsey said, “Our finger was on the trigger.” Obama warned of an American attack, although Kerry, following the President’s minimizing lead, allowed that the strike would be “unbelievably small.” Then, without consulting Kerry, Obama stepped back, saying that he would have to get congressional approval before an attack on Syria. He had concluded that it was worse to go to war than to be seen as weak.
Nearly everyone I talked to in the Administration considered the “red line” aftermath to be a diplomatic fiasco. The Syrian government did, however, give up its main chemical stockpiles when its ally Russia stepped in and pressured it to do so. Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, worked with Kerry to close the deal. Meanwhile, Assad remains in power. The Administration, which started out saying that he must step aside, is now willing to see Assad play a transitional role in a political settlement before leaving the stage at an undetermined point. As one abashed U.S. official told me, “The meaning of ‘Assad has to go’ has evolved.” (New Yorker, “Negotiating the Whirlwind,” Dec. 21, 2015)
Although the Obama team is now trying to adjust the Syrian strategy to account for terror being the top issue in the election, Susan Rice, Benjamin Rhodes and Denis McDonough will not escape considerable blame for the endless meetings, the lack of decisions and the substitution of public relations for policy that much of the critics, many supporters of the President, have attached to the National Security team. But as both articles make clear, the Syrian policy was fundamentally a reflection of President Obama’s experience and philosophy, which led him to consistently decide on the side of avoiding risk in spite of substantial contrary advice as to the consequences, which were borne out over several years by repeated harmful events, including the survival of Assad, the refugee crisis, the rise of ISIS and the Russian intervention.

Last Stand on Terror

President Obama, in what will probably constitute a final effort to shore up his embattled foreign policy, has gone back to the War on Terror language that had been expunged from the administration’s rhetorical lexicon from its first days in office. President Obama in his December 6 White House address put “terror” back to use. “Our nation has been at war with terrorists since al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11.” Not since the President had to play catch up in September 2014, reverse his withdrawal from the Middle East, and re-introduce bombing and a few military advisors and trainers aimed at ISIS has the President been more criticized than the last few weeks after the Paris and San Bernardino massacres.

President Obama
The term “War on Terror” was first cited in September 2001 and was in common use until President Obama’s election. Obama rarely used the term, and in March 2009, it fell out of official favor when Defense Department officials changed the name of its operation from “Global War on Terror” to Overseas Contingency Operation.” And, of course, the change wasn’t just rhetorical, but an explicit change in policy and practice. For example, in 2012, Jeh Johnson, then the General Counsel of the Defense Department (Johnson is now Secretary of Homeland Security) stated that “the military fight will be replaced by a law enforcement operation.” Obama in 2013 personally announced the end of the War on Terror: “We must define our effort not as a boundless ‘Global War on Terror,’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.”

The latest rhetoric has been part of a three week effort by the White House to get ahead of a cascade of criticism and falling polling numbers concerning the administration’s competence and commitment to the national security.

Read the President’s speech, Dec. 6, 2015 here

Monday, December 28, 2015

Presidential Race Close Call – Including Colorado

Hillary Clinton
Repeated generic presidential polls asking which party do you want to win the White House show that with about ten percent of the public undecided, Republicans and Democrats are within a couple of percentage points, with some showing Republicans ahead 44 percent to 43 percent and others with the Democrats ahead by similar margins.

The latest RealClearPolitics average has Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, running slightly ahead of most top Republican prospects. For example, she is ahead of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush, and only behind Marco Rubio. On the current polling average, the difference is within the margin of error.

In the latest Quinnipiac University Colorado poll, Clinton is ahead of her rival, Bernie Sanders, by 28 points, but is behind the entire Republican field by double digits.

Clinton has an advantage on experience, but a stunningly low favorability (36%-61% unfavorable) and little trust with votes (67%-30% not honest and trustworthy).

The polls are early and Quinnipiac has a reputation of volatile surveys, but given close national polls, as indicative of a very close race even with the Republican nomination chaos, clearly Clinton does not start in a strong position in Colorado.

Also see CNN/ORC poll: In Democratic race, Clinton solidifies lead

Thursday, December 24, 2015

My Kingdom for a Horse

But for something relatively simple, a viable candidate in Colorado, the Republican’s may lose their
Sen. Michael Bennet
U.S. Senate majority. They are vulnerable in at least four seats nationally, and along with winning Harry Reid’s seat in Nevada, they had hoped to put Colorado in play.

Although the latest Quinnipiac University survey shows Senator Michael Bennet vulnerable in his re-election, no horse, no race, and so far the Republicans’ self-starters for the senate nomination have gathered little enthusiasm from both local Republicans and importantly the national Republican interest groups that will have to fund most of the $50 million or more a race could cost.

Bennet’s polling numbers are weak.
  • His approval rating is 37%, 10 points below Governor Hickenlooper at 47% and 8 points below Senator Cory Gardner.
  • His re-elect numbers are in negative territory at 30% re-elect, 41% don’t re-elect.
  • Substantial percentages of voters don’t have a position on his performance: 28% overall couldn’t rate it – 40% of Republicans and 31% of Democrats.
  • Also, Hillary Clinton loses to many of the Republican frontrunners in early polls, indicating a competitive contest and little help for Bennet.
But Bennet is perceived as well-positioned for re-election. He has funding and his moderate voting record (e.g., Keystone Pipeline) has won him friends in the upper reaches of the state’s business and civic establishment.

Senate Democrats only need four or five seats (depending if they win the presidency) to take back the Senate and holding Bennet’s Colorado seat is an essential, and as of today, likely part of that strategy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Marijuana Holds Slim Majority of Colorado in Favor

Very little movement in public opinion is detected in the commercialization of marijuana in Colorado. The latest Quinnipiac survey shows a narrow majority of Colorado voters perceive marijuana legalization as positive. Only 53 percent believe legalization has been good for the state. And 55 percent still support the law passed in 2012 by 55 percent (Amendment 64).

Support and opposition, not surprising, is highly influenced by a person’s partisanship, their age, and interestingly, their gender. While a bare majority of women support the law, 47 percent oppose it.

Nationally, after a strong run-up in support in recent years, polls show public support for legalization has leveled off at the mid-50 percent level.

Although Gallup’s 2015 poll had support at 58 percent, they were cautious that is might be less of a trend than significant volatility in their annual poll on the issue.

But, momentum for legalization and commercialization of the industry continues with numerous states considering legalization, including California, and the new prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, advocating his country legalize it.

Photo: Coloradoan

All in for Gun Control

Democrats have decided, as they did in December 2012 after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, that now is the moment to demand more gun control. It will be interesting to watch the impact of their strategy. It had very limited affect in terms of new laws in 2013. Colorado was one of the very few states that enacted any legislation, and it produced a backlash that led to the loss of three legislators and cost Democrats their state senate majority.

Examining public opinion concerning gun control shows the public’s views are complex. And after the recent spate of horrific incidents, likely subject to change.

In the short-term, there is a noticeable increase in support for gun control. The latest Gallup poll shows an 8 point increase over last year. But, other recent polls are showing mixed support for gun control. CNN’s pre-San Bernardino poll shows 52 percent of Americans oppose “stricter gun control laws.” Whatever the current support for gun control, it often decays as time passes and top news stories shift.
  • Although the public supports some gun restrictions, such as universal registration and bans of some weapons, they also are:
    1. Skeptical the restrictions will make much of a difference.
    2. Support the Second Amendment and the right to own a weapon. In fact, 40 percent of households have a gun.
  • Gun owners tend to be very passionate about their rights, and there are more of them than equally passionate gun control advocates. 
Also, a July Colorado survey shows only 39 percent in favor of “stricter new gun control laws in Colorado,” 56 percent oppose them. In general, Colorado Democrats should be cautious about how much gun control they advocate. There are far more families with guns in their households than marijuana.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Nation’s Influential Newspapers are Jumping into Presidential Politics with Hot Editorials

Donald Trump and gun control have triggered high-profile responses from the print media. New York
Donald Trump
put its pro-gun control views on the Saturday, December 4, 2015 front page and the Washington Post house editorial on Sunday, December 6, 2015 called Donald Trump a corrosive candidate who is ethically bankrupt. It recommended he be condemned by the party establishment.

The Times called for the end of gun epidemic and called it a “moral outrage and a national disgrace that people can legally purchase weapons designed to kill with brutal speed and efficiency.” It recommended reducing the number of firearms and eliminating deadly categories of weapons. Putting it on the front page yells the viewpoint. Editorial can command attention, especially of the attentive public and political activists and leaders.

Trump and gun control are now tests for the influences of the media establishment. We shall see the effect.

Getty Images

Pollsters Present “Year of the Outsider”

Some of the West’s top pollsters gathered in San Francisco on a panel organized by Floyd Ciruli, director of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Denver, titled the “Year of the Outsider.” The Pacific Chapter of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (PAPOR) annual conference brings together public opinion professionals in the West.

The group presented California, Washington State, Colorado and national data on the political outsider phenomena that is having so much impact on the 2016 presidential race.

Washington State’s best-known pollster Stuart Elway was joined by Mark Baldassare, who directs California’s leading polling research center, the Public Policy Institute of California. Jon Cohen, vice president of research for Palo Alto based SurveyMonkey, which is rapidly becoming a leading election research firm, presented the latest national data on the Republican presidential field. SurveyMonkey has most recently partnered with NBC News to provide post-debate polls on who won. Co-presenting with Jon was recent Crossley Center graduate, Kevin Stay, a new research associate of SurveyMonkey.

Colorado has a long history of liking candidates with outsider credentials. Ciruli spoke about that history and placed the phenomena in historical and public opinion context.

Panel – 2016: The Year of the Outsider

Chair: Floyd Ciruli, Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research
The History of Outsider Preference, Floyd Ciruli
The Summer of our Discontent, Stuart Elway, Elway Research
Californians’ Opinion of Political Outsiders, Mark Baldassare, Public Policy Institute of California
Trump’s Beguiling Ascent: What 50-State Polling Says About the Surprise GOP Frontrunner, Jon Cohen and Kevin Stay, SurveyMonkey

Denver Metro Area on a Roll

After a nine percent increase in sales tax revenue in the seven-county Denver metro area, the region is headed for a six percent increase this year.  A one-percent sales tax, a common source of revenue for municipalities and counties in the area, would produce more than $550,000,000 region-wide, a fifty percent increase since the 2008-09 recession.

The Denver Business Journal reports that the metro area added 22,200 jobs the first six months of the year, an upward revision of 12,800 additional jobs. The growth rate of 3.9 percent is a full percentage point above the state rate. There were some losses in oil and gas jobs, but residential construction is hot.

The Denver Business Journal also reported the state has the second highest growth in personal consumption in the U.S., tied with Texas (just measures of consumer spending on goods and services) and just behind North Dakota (which is slowing down rapidly) (5.7% in Colorado and Texas vs. 4.2% nationally).

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

American Global Strategy in a Changing World

Dean Chris Hill and Floyd Ciruli, director of the new Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, will present a day-long symposium on American foreign policy and politics for the annual University of Denver Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) event on December 3.

Clinton Expects to End Contest March 1st Super Tuesday

KOA anchors Steffan Tubbs and April Zesbaugh hosted a discussion of Hillary Clinton’s latest foray into Colorado in advance of the March 1st caucus. In 2008, Clinton lost the Colorado caucus to candidate Barack Obama, highlighting his strategy of focusing on low turnout caucuses that young people and liberals could dominate.

Former Sen. Mark Udall introduces Hillary Clinton
 at organizing event at Boulder Theater on Nov. 24
Photo: Pat Duncan/Colorado Statesman
Clinton doesn’t intend on losing to Bernie Sanders in 2016.
  • Although Clinton dominates the race as of the end of November in terms of polling support (55% Clinton to 27% Sanders in Colorado, Quinnipiac poll, Nov. 2015), the measure of command of the nomination is about to shift to delegate counts. The March 1st Super Tuesday will, if all goes according to Clinton’s plan, create such a sweep of momentum to make her nomination a forgone conclusion. She hopes to win the four February events, demonstrating national support and early momentum. But, it is the eleven events on March 1st with a powerful southern tilt that could well crush Sanders.

Also events on March 1st in American Samoa and for Democrats abroad.
  • Clinton came to Colorado for endorsements and contributions. She got both; Wellington Webb is leading the caucus rally and many of the state’s current and ex-public officials have endorsed (Mark Udall, Ken Salazar, Jared Polis, Dickey Lee Hullinghorst). About 700 of the 4,000 Democratic delegates are automatic so-called super delegates. Clinton plans to have most of them by March.
  • Although terrorism is the issue de jure (when she was here on August 4 her focus was criticizing Jeb Bush on immigration and Republicans for defunding Planned Parenthood), it is not a strong issue for Democrats. And indeed, she kept focused on social and environmental positions, favored by liberals and young voters – for example, gun control and global warming. Clinton’s challenge is not a lack of appeal to the basic liberal sentiments of potential caucus attendees, but their passion and motivation to attend.
  • Basically, Clinton represents the old Democratic establishment anxious to hold on to power and the presidency, hardly an aspiring message. Clinton attracted about a 1,000 supporters to each of the two events: one in Denver and one in Boulder. In Bernie Sanders’ two Colorado visits, he attracted 9,000 in Boulder and 5,000 at DU – 5-to-1 is probably about the enthusiasm level between the two candidates at the grassroots.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Immigration May Decide the Republican Nominee

The Republican debates have repeatedly highlighted candidate differences on immigration and the Paris attack placed Syrian refugees on the front page. The issue may decide who is the Republican nominee. The candidates are making clear there is little room for any nuance. This is partially a reflection of the public’s visceral reaction to the Paris massacre, but it also expresses the long-established Republican rank and file hostility to America’s immigration policy.

A poll in the last week shows a majority of Americans opposing accepting Syrian refugees, which corresponded to more than half the states’ governors stating they wouldn’t accept any. Their authority on the issue is not clear, but the politics is clearly controversial for most politicians and has a litmus test quality for Republicans.
  • 56% of the public nationally disapprove of accepting Syrian refugees; 81% of Republicans, 59% of independents (NBC News SurveyMonkey, Nov. 2015)
  • The public is closely divided on the question of building a fence along the entire U.S.-Mexican border (46% favor, 48% oppose), but Republicans are overwhelmingly in favor (73%).
U.S. immigration policy’s linkage with terrorism may give Republicans an advantage with an issue that had considerable downside risk with both immigrant populations and more reasonable voters who can support a path to citizenship if accompanied with sufficient conditions.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Act of War

Not since President George W. Bush in 2001 has the world heard the term “act of war” as frequently as it has since Friday’s Paris massacre. President Obama rejected the war terminology and banned it in his first year of office. The War on Terror became a criminal justice activity in America and a special ops strategy to attack specific terrorist cells and networks abroad. Further, the administration refuses to label various perpetrators of terror and the leaders of the ISIS Islamic terrorists.

Obama’s statement of sympathy after the attacks highlights his philosophy of a narrow engagement with ISIS. He made no reference to Islam and offered to support the French “bringing the terrorists to justice” and go after terrorist networks and help on investigations.

It appears his approach is being swept aside by the horrific events and leaders, both foreign and domestic, who intend on a more aggressive response to ISIS.

President Obama’s Final Foreign Policy Moves Not Scoring Any Points

As Barack Obama’s presidency ends, his foreign policy accomplishments are becoming increasingly muddled. Events and politics are undermining his goal to reduce the American military involvement and depend on diplomacy. The Paris attack is just the latest and most serious blow. A quick scan of world hotspots highlights Obama’s problems.

Ukraine. Although a fragile cease fire is holding in Ukraine, mostly due to Russian interest in maintaining it, pressure is building from regional allies to step up NATO’s ability to counter Russia’s newly honed skill at disrupting neighbors with a so-called “hybrid war.” The long-term trend of reducing troops in Europe is now in reverse as men, war materials and exercises with NATO partners increase.

Although Obama has kept the U.S. out of arming Ukraine and provided only minimal assistance, pressure is building to do more. And while it is unlikely Obama will change policy, the next administration may. The momentum is for more action, not less. President Putin has shown himself as an effective opportunist. His military is getting stronger and his aggressive nationalism is playing well at home.

Asia. The administration pivoted to engage China where possible and counter it where needed. But China is a difficult power to manage. As the recent naval exchange in the South China Sea around China’s manmade islands make clear, America’s basic role in ensuring navigation and protecting allies is being threatened, and neither President Xi Jinping nor his military is likely to change the direction they are on. It will be a major challenge for the next administration.

Middle East. Obama was hoping his signature legacy would be the so-called rightsizing the U.S. commitment, especially removing military from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is in the Middle East that Obama’s preference to treat terrorism as a criminal problem and not a war was most visible. But events and politics are disrupting his approach in nearly every area:
  • Iran: The nuclear agreement is his signature policy. It contains Obama’s desire to change policy direction, use diplomacy, engage allies and achieve a laudable goal. But the agreement doesn’t have domestic support, and as Iran’s recent rhetoric and behavior makes clear, they have no intention in opening the country up to Western influence or especially Americans or dampening their regional support for Shia-inspired conflict.
  • Libya: An effort to help allies and protect a people without follow-up has left a failed state and a platform for Jihadists.
  • Israel and Palestine: No real progress and an alienated Israel leadership.
  • Iraq: Withdraw completed in December 2011, but in September 2014 had to re-introduce air power and a few support troops to fight Sunni army that filled the vacuum of power. Little progress after the year of militarization.
  • Syria: After proclaiming Assad must go did little to encourage it when it might have helped. Obama finally adopted a policy of training and arming an army of anti-ISIL moderates, which spectacularly failed. ISIL took advantage of the vacuum and now Russia props up Assad and makes war on both so-called moderate anti-Assad forces and ISIL.
  • Afghanistan: Afghanistan is where Obama reluctantly accepted military advice for a surge of troops, but added a withdrawal date. The mission is generally not going well and a small number (probably insufficient) of troops will remain.
Even before the Paris tragedy, the domestic criticism from Republicans and some Democrats is as heavy, if not as lethal, as the shooting in the field. As this scan indicates, Obama’s foreign policy goals are mostly under attack from foreign actors who do not share his or America’s goals and values and do not play by his rules. There have been some highlights and he has a few more goals, such as closing the Guantanamo facility, but he will be mostly playing defense the next twelve months.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hillary Clinton Takes Command of Democratic Nomination

Nine days in October from the Democratic debate on October 13 through the Benghazi hearing on October 22, Hillary Clinton took command of the nomination of the Democratic Party.

Her steady performance in the two events won plaudits and the ending of Joe Biden’s shadow campaign extinguished the doubts that had come to overshadow the campaign from its April start through the summer and fall e-mail controversy.

Endorsements, many of whom are Democratic convention super delegates (Clinton claims more than 400 on road to 2,250 needed), and campaign contributions, which are now rolling into the campaign and her super PAC ($30 million in last reporting period; total through June - $98 million, $20 million in super PAC). Her polling position is well above half the Democratic Party voters nationally and she is now even with Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, the only early state he had registered a lead.

Of course, Clinton still has an outstanding investigation, but that is hardly a new phenomenon for the Clintons. Republicans should not depend on it to derail her nomination.

See Gallup: Democrats’ positive views of Clinton improve after debate

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Challenge to Their Survival

Keith Coffman in a Reuters post-Colorado recall election story points out that the Jefferson County recall election involved a host of issues beyond just the Board’s perceived anti-union approach. Although the loss of union control in a well-off suburban school district was a “challenge to their survival,” I pointed out in that the large margin of the recall victory “showed there was wider discontent with the trio’s performance” (the school board’s conservative majority).

In an effort to reverse school reform (a word in some controversy) in Colorado, the national and local teachers union orchestrated a statewide counterattack on conservative board members and picked up seats in the Douglas County, Adams 12, Colorado Springs 11, Steamboat Springs, Mesa and Greeley. They took back control of Thompson School District in Loveland.

Republican Contest has Two Tiers, But No Resolution

Two very identifiable tiers have been established in the Republican nomination field: Donald Trump and Ben Carson in the lead, followed by Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both of whom benefited from their CNBC debate performances.

But Republicans, especially the very power establishment, remain unconvinced that Carson can either go the distance or has the depth to be the nominee, and Trump’s ad hoc campaign and lack of a predictable philosophy causes considerable anxiety.

Talk has begun that no candidate gets much more than 30 percent of the delegates, and there could be the feistiest brokered convention since 1948 and the Dewey nomination (3 ballots).

Monday, November 9, 2015

Republican Establishment Begins to Enter Crisis Mode

Although the Republican Party and presidential candidates are angry with NBC News, this latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll is likely to be accepted as an accurate snapshot of the race (10-29-15).

Carson and Trump do not seem to be going away, which was expected by much of the Republican establishment. Along with Rubio and Cruz, the four lead in the latest poll, which seems to blend the results of the CNBC debate with the continued ascent of Ben Carson.

The last four NBC/WSJ polls show the steady improvement of Carson to the lead at 29 percent, the plateau of Donald Trump at or below the mid-20s, and consistent leadership of the second tier by Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Jeb Bush is now the straggler in the tier. The third tier has shown no movement, with the exception of Carly Fiorina’s bump up after the October debate, but it appeared to quickly decay.

The post-debate NBC News SurveyMonkey poll showed a very angry Republican electorate, which judged Cruz the overall debate winner with 24 percent, Rubio second at 20 percent, with Carson (15%) and Trump (17%) closely following. Importantly, Trump wins “best at handling the economy” hands down at 41 percent.

Nearly half (48%) of Republican voters are very dissatisfied with how Washington works and they mostly supported Trump and Carson. Trump is stronger with men and Tea Party supporters and Carson wins Evangelicals and “very conservative” voters and does better with women than Trump.

Why don’t the bottom tier candidates quit? Three reasons:
  • The brief Trump and Carson can’t or won’t win the nomination. They will implode (becoming less likely as time passes) or the polls will show they will destroy the entire ticket and the establishment will revolt (possible).
  • Independent money PACs (Citizens United) have given campaigns, even weak ones, enough cash to get to the first few nominating events; i.e., into early March.
  • An optimist belief that lightning could strike and an opponent collapses or a debate-type breakout occurs.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Election Predictions Hold Up

There were a few surprises in this election, but the Denver predictions made in my blog on September 3 held up (Denver Voters Face Five Major Issues in November: Prediction). I reported them on 9KUSA and 850 KOA Monday.

In my blog on October 30, 9KUSA: Balance of Power – Jeffco Recall Election, I predicted the pro recall forces would win. As I said on KOA, you expect proponents who go to all the effort to petition a recall and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars are going to have the advantage.

The conversation in Denver the last two weeks was that longtime political activist and school board president, Happy Haynes, was in trouble. Besides the controversy related to two jobs, people talked about the outsider advantage and made reference to the Chris Nevitt rule, that is, a surprise loss for the establishment candidate.

Floyd Ciruli (L) and Gary Shapiro talk about the election.
Photo: 9News

Friday, October 30, 2015

Rocky Mountain Debate Revives Republican Race

The Republicans have a new enemy. Actually, it’s an old enemy revisited – the mainstream media. CNBC’s poor debate performance became the main story from the Colorado debate. And, the Republican presidential field relished bashing it. They gained points with Republicans and even regular viewers around the country.

Jeb Bush (L) and Marco Rubio at Republican debate in Boulder
Photo: AP/Mark J. Terrill
In spite the CNBC moderators being a distraction, the candidates appeared relaxed, competent with the subject matter, and willing to mix it up with each other and the moderators.

After two weeks of stories contrasting the Republican disarray with Hillary Clinton’s inexorable march to the nomination after a good debate performance, Biden not running and the unharmed Benghazi testimony, this debate shifted the narrative to the Republican race that still has surprises and many talented players. As Valerie Richardson reported in the Washington Times (CNBC Debate Fires Up Republican Base Over Media Bias, 10-30-15):
[Republicans] have been down because the narrative over the last two weeks has been, ‘The Democrats have their nominee, she did well before the Benghazi committee, she did well in her debate, and the Republicans are in chaos,’” said Denver-based political analyst Floyd Ciruli.
“That was essentially the narrative, and last night changed that,” he said. “You saw a little revival here.”
It’s not clear the field will be much affected. We’ll have to wait for polls, but there were winners and losers.

There is slightly over three months until voting in Iowa. Still time for lots of surprise, but the Rocky Mountain debate has given the party some new energy and new soundbites to mull.

9KUSA: Balance of Power – Jefferson County Recall Election

Photo: 9News
The million-dollar election battle in the Jefferson County School District has the attention of local and national Democrats, their labor allies, Republicans and conservative super PACs. Brandon Rittiman hosted a Balance of Power session with 9 News education specialist Nelson Garcia.

Some observations on the election:
  • Jefferson County is a battleground for suburban education reform in the county. Clearly, opponents of the type of change promoted by the new conservative board were so concerned about losing control of the school district, they mounted an unprecedented recall election. They have constructed a slate of five candidates to take total control of the district.
  • Douglas County School District coming under the control of conservatives and reformers with charter schools, not recognizing the teachers union contract and vouchers (now in court ordered abeyance), helped motivate the Jefferson County strategy. After a major 2013 effort to retake control in Douglas County failed, the Jeffco parent and union activists decided to not wait for re-election but use a recall.
  • Money is pouring into the race from labor and local liberal allies and national conservative groups, including the PAC run by the Koch Brothers.
  • This is the third school district where massive amounts of money is weighting in for essentially non-paid school board positions. Denver started the battle when local reform business groups and liberals dissatisfied with the pace of improvements took over the board to institute performance pay (although 90% of teachers get the raises), charter schools (unions really dislike alternatives to their control) and higher standards. Douglas became Colorado’s first wealthy suburban Republican county to see a reform drive from the right. Now Jefferson County, one of Colorado’s swing political counties (leaning slightly Democratic in statewide elections) is the center of the fight.
  • Schools are very big business in the suburbs. Upwards of 10 percent of voters say they or their families work in the public school system, Schools are the largest employer, paying top government salaries with lots of benefits and job protection. Jefferson County School District is the second largest in the state, just behind Denver.
  • The pro recall forces are assumed to have the election advantage.
9News: JeffCo recall gets underway
CPR: JeffCo recall election spending could be over $1 million
Denver Post: Jeffco recall supporters turn in more than 30,000 signatures
Chalkbeat Colorado: Why the tug-of-war for Jefferson County’s school board isn’t just about local classrooms
Chalkbeat Colorado: These three Jefferson County residents want to be your next school board majority
Chalkbeat Colorado: Organizers say they have double the signatures necessary for a Jeffco school board recall
Complete Colorado: 9News segment: Recall is about union control, power

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Migration Starts Moving European Politics

After an initial period of acquiesce and even welcoming, the massive and seemingly unstoppable wave of refugees from the Middle East, Afghanistan and North Africa is producing political backlash in Europe.

Angela Merkel, the popular German chancellor, has lost 10 points from her stellar 65 percent approval rating in the last month. Her initial open door policy is being overwhelmed by 10,000 migrants a day entering Germany and her Christian Democrat Union Party, at least at the grassroots, is in revolt.

Merkel is not alone in feeling the backlash as other European governments are seeing a rise in anti-migrant politics.

A recently published global survey conducted by Gallup shows that about a third of the public opinion in the nations of the world are in favor of decreasing immigration in their country. More than half of the public in European nations are in favor. In fact, Europe is more resistant to immigrants than North America.

Excerpt from executive summary of global survey on immigration:
European residents appear to be, on average, the most negative globally towards immigration, with the majority believing immigration levels should be decreased. However, there is a sharp divergence in opinions among residents in Northern and Southern Europe. The majority of adults in Northern European countries – except for those in the United Kingdom – would like immigration levels to either stay the same or increase, while most residents in Southern European countries would prefer to have lower levels of immigration to their countries. More broadly, residents in less than half of the 40 countries in the larger European region are more likely to favour decreased immigration levels than the same or higher levels.
Business Insider; This report proves that Britain is overwhelmingly anti-immigration and it could prompt Brexit
Telegraph: German MPs ‘drawing up plans’ to close borders in challenge to Merkel’s refugee policy
Xinhuanet: Anti-immigrant Pegida supports, opponents rally in Dresden
New York Times: Pressure grows on Merkel as strain from refugees increases
Washington Post: Behind Sweden’s warm welcome for refugees, a backlash is brewing
Washington Post: Think the United States is anti-immigration? It has nothing on Europe.
Breitbart: Financial Times: The end of the Merkel era is within sight
The Guardian: The observer view Europe’s lurch to the right

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Is Crime Up?

Gallup reports (Oct. 22, 2015) that Americans’ perception of the level of crime is up. Seventy percent of Americans say crime is up, a seven point increase in twelve months.

Gallup points out that public perception often doesn’t track crime statistics and is affected by gender (women tend to perceive crime rates higher) and partisanship (i.e., which party controls the White House). But, a Gallup analyst (Justin McCarthy) speculates it’s related to high-profile news reports of police shootings.

A different slant in this view was FBI director James Comey’s statement that highly publicized incidents of alleged police misconduct have led some officers to be less aggressive and a subsequent increase in the level of criminal activity. Other factors he cited were early releases of criminals from prison and cheaper street drug prices. President Obama and the White House were quick to downplay the “Ferguson effect” as unproven.

But the political implications for Democrats running for office, from local DAs to Hillary Clinton, have not been missed by the observations.

Local Denver DA candidates are dealing with media reports and activists’ claims concerning police misconduct. How far toward the activists’ position do they go in an effort to capture liberal voters before they and their party become seen as anti-police, generating potential backlash? And more importantly, how far to the left does Hillary Clinton go in her anti-gun, early release and Black Lives Matter rhetoric and policies before she undoes her husband Bill’s efforts in the mid-nineties to shake off the Democratic Party’s “weak on crime” image bequeathed on Democrats from Nixon and Reagan eras.

New York Times: F.B.I. chief links scrutiny of police with rise in violent crime
CNN: FBI chief tries to deal with the ‘Ferguson effect’
New York Post: Obama fuels the flames of the anti-cop movement
Gallup: Despite criticism, NRA still enjoys majority support in U.S.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

NRA and Planned Parenthood – Two Polarizing Organizations, But Both have Public Support

After being neglected in several presidential elections, Hillary Clinton has revived Democrats’ hostility toward guns and launched a full-scale war on the NRA. Equally passionate, the Freedom Caucus is prepared to shut down the federal government to defund Planned Parenthood. In spite of these power enemies, both organizations have public support, which is why the respective anti-gun and anti-abortion strategies are fraught with political peril.

Gallup reports that 58 percent of the American people have a favorable view of the NRA, including a record 26 percent with a “very favorable” rating. The public values the Second Amendment and see much of the gun safety and sport shooting aspects of the NRA as positive.

Of course, liberals (30% favorable) and conservatives (77% favorable) have different views as do gun owners (78% favorable) and non-gun owners (20% favorable). And, the public is closely divided on wanting new gun regulations, with 46 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed (ABC News/Washington Post 2015).

Planned Parenthood
In spite of controversy around Planned Parenthood’s abortion service and aggressive political action activity, Americans still perceive the organization favorably. Its women’s health programs, cancer screening and reproductive services for the disadvantaged are valued and the organization has a 59 percent favorable rating.

There is little support for a government shutdown over the issue (19% favor shutdown, 29% for spending cutoff – Suffolk University/USA Today 2015).  The country is slightly more pro-choice (49%) than pro-life (44%), but the difference has been close for many years (Gallup 2015).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Canada Elects Hope and Change

In a turn to the left, Canadian voters handed a landslide to a legacy candidate, Justin Trudeau. Late polls showed a Liberal Party win, but the final result was well outside the expected margin (17% possible to 34% result). His party received an absolute majority of 184 seats in a parliament that needs 170 to control.

Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, served as prime minister for 15 years from 1968 (the Nixon election) to 1984 (the Reagan re-election), with one short break. Justin delivered his father’s eulogy in 2000 and started the talk of his possible career in politics.

Justin Trudeau
Photo: Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press
On election night, Trudeau announced Liberals had beaten fear with hope, and 70 percent of Canadians had told pollsters they wanted change.

Justin’s Liberal Agenda
  • Legalize marijuana (use Colorado’s model)
  • Raise taxes on the 1%, lower on middle class
  • Climate change policy in 90 days after Paris summit
  • Funds and rights for indigenous people
Canadian campaigns are brief, but intense – a little over two months (78 days) with five debates. Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, saw the difficult re-election slip away at the end as the forces of change and liberalism consolidated behind the Liberal Party and Trudeau.

ABC News/Washington Post Poll Claims Obama’s Approval Rating Up

In a gravity defying movement, just as the president appears to be losing to the autocratic of the decade, the Napoleon of the Urals, Gary Langer, the pollster for ABC News and the Washington Post, claims President Obamahas just gained six percentage points of approval since July and has hit 51 percent.  The last time the President was in positive approval territory in an ABC News/Washington Post poll was in May 2013, three months after his re-election inaugural.
His RealClearPolitics average is still at 45 percent, reflecting the average of the most recent polls. Although, it is an improvement from an August 23 low of 44 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval.

Langer attributes the improvement to the economy, although he uses the phrase “likely boosted by the economy,” which means good guess, but no real evidence in this poll.

A 51 percent approval is good news for Democrats running for the senate and other offices next year and especially welcome by Clinton supporters.  Forty-five percent was on the cusp of being a drag on the ticket, but over 50 percent presidential approval helps.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Not All Millennials Will be Demonstrating at the Republican Debate

As Joey Bunch pointed out in a long Denver Post report, the youngest cohort is about to become a larger bloc of voters than the huge Baby Boomer generation (1946-1964, 74 million) and they are substantially more liberal on a number of values and issues. They like some purpose in their jobs, are idealistic in their approach to foreign policy and very progressive on America’s main social issues, for example, gay rights and immigration.

Bunch used a Pew Research survey of September 2014, which highlighted the challenges for the Republican Party.

But Millennials (born after 1980) are also very independent in their partisanship, interested in solutions to the challenges they face, especially concerning the economy. They are looking for leaders that offer a chance of accomplishing something. They were taken by President Obama’s hope and change message of 2008, but like most voters, are disappointed, and not yet sold on Hillary Clinton.

My quote in the article referenced that an interesting and accomplished personality could attract the Millennial voter:
While young people tend not to vote, they turned out strong for both Obama elections. But there isn't that kind of candidate in this election, said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli. Even Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton is old-school party establishment, he said.
With disappointment in Obama's economy, Republicans have an inroad, but they need to prove they can get something done, Ciruli said.
"My sense is that if Republicans can find a candidate with the right personality who speaks directly to (millennials) and seems like they can actually get something done with the other party, younger people would vote for that candidate," he said.
As the data shows, a third of the generation is conservative. But Millennials attending major universities are among the most liberal of the entire generation. Expect some noise at the CU debate on October 28.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Polls Show Variation in Crowded Republican Field

The multitude of Republican candidates and the small percentages that separate them shows up in the rapid movement in rank order.

A couple of recent polls have had Dr. Ben Carson ahead or tied with Donald Trump, although Trump leads by six percent in the RealClearPolitics average. Marco Rubio, who has moved up in recent polls, is now in a race for third place with Carly Fiorina.

The message is that the placement of candidates has considerable variation, although there is a discernable top tier with Trump, Carson, Fiorina and Rubio challenging; and a second tier with Bush and Cruz. A third tier barely registering in national polls has Kasich, Huckabee, Christie and Paul hanging on.

At the state level, there has been considerable repositioning. Trump is down four points on average in the first three states, although he still leads. Carson moved up to third place in New Hampshire, replacing Jeb Bush. Ted Cruz is now in third place in South Carolina where Bush has dropped to fifth. Following her national climb, Fiorina is now third in Iowa, tied with Cruz, and second in New Hampshire, replacing Kasich, who fell to fifth. Scott Walker dropped out on September 21, 2015.

Pre-Democratic Debate Polls: Clinton Leads Field, But Looks Vulnerable in General

Hillary Clinton is below her 60 percent super leads in July, but with about two-fifths of the vote in RealClearPolitics polling average, she is still the solid frontrunner.

She has a modest lead in Iowa (6 points) and continues to lag behind Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire (9 points). But beyond the first two states, there is no sense her support among rank and file or minority Democrats has collapsed. Sanders draws his biggest crowds on the coasts and the campuses.

But, Clinton has problems and they are highlighted by the Joe Biden boomlet. His moving around on the sidelines is a sign senior Democrats believe Clinton could be so wounded by the email scandal that she can’t credibly lead the party next November. That crisis, if it comes, may not happen until 2016, making a Biden entrance now very contentious since neither Clinton nor Sanders are likely to move aside.

The numbers that scare Democrats the most are from a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll that shows her losing or tied with everyone except Donald Trump. That is the second recent poll that has undermined one of her main arguments for her frontrunner status – that she can win the presidency and help Democrats win back the Senate.

Whether or not Michael Bennet goes back to the senate rests to a large extent on the President’s approval rating next year and the quality of the party’s presidential nominee and campaign.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Obama’s Syrian Policy Collapses

UN building
The September 2015 United Nations meeting in New York will be seen as the nadir of President Obama’s foreign policy. America’s and the West’s biggest adversaries – Russia and Iran – have joined with the Middle East’s least favored failed state, Syria, and perennially unstable Iraq to form a new relationship that will enhance autocracy and greatly accelerate the violence. Very little of this appears to have been known or anticipated by U.S. policymakers or intelligence services.

In Syria, Obama’s preference for diplomacy appears naive and irrelevant. His minimum military engagement appears feckless and an invitation to despots. Presidents Putin and Rouhani are now in charge of the outcome with America’s alleged ally and protectorate in tow. The collapse of President Assad’s government is halted and his survival for the foreseeable future assured.

Just to highlight the crisis of Obama’s foreign policy, the Taliban, mostly thought of as a southern regional force, just took an Afghan provincial capital, Kunduz, in the far north of the country. It reflects another failure of intelligence and calls to question the withdrawal policy that dominates the White House.