Friday, January 27, 2017

Americans Rated Speech Higher Than Trump

President Trump’s inaugural speech recorded a 49 percent “excellent” or “good” rating and a 39 percent “fair” or “poor” from a sample of 1,762 American voters who heard the speech. In the poll conducted by Politico/Morning Consult, 65 percent liked the “America First” message and 61 percent agreed with the government should “buy American and hire American.”

However, Trump’s approval rating among all American voters in the poll (1,922) was only 46 percent, nearly equal to a Gallup poll conducted the same time, which gave him a 45 percent approval (Gallup, Jan. 20-22, N1525, and Politico/Morning Consult, Jan. 20-22).

President Trump at the inauguration, Jan. 20, 2016 | Getty

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trump’s Approval Rating at Record Low

President Donald Trump got his first post-inaugural approval rating, and it was low – 45 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove.

It was expected. He won with only a plurality (46%) of the national vote, the country remains closely divided, and most importantly, the transition was controversial, and by early January was producing more negative ratings of approval and favorability than positive.

But Trump is taking action and Republicans in Congress are supportive. This poll shows 90 percent of Republicans approve his performance. Approval ratings will not become important unless either they begin to move down or up or until an election comes within sight or both.

But for now, President Trump operates with slightly more than two-fifths of the public supporting him. Can he get to 50 percent?

Read Politico: Poll: Trump’s opening weekend gets lowest approval of modern era

Trump Starts a Border War – Populism From Left Sweeping Into Mexico

  • “America First” will affect many countries and not always to the benefit of America’s foreign policy. 
  • Not all populist movements come from the right. Mexico is moving to the left.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has a 12 percent approval rating, with a painful two more years to serve. François Hollande, the socialist president of France, has a 12 percent approval, and has wisely decided not to stand for another election. The main populist opposition in France approaches from the right.

The populist opposition to Peña Nieto comes from the left in the form of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City who has challenged the two establishment parties for more than a decade. López Obrador almost won the presidency in 2006 against the center right PAN party candidate Felipe Calderón. Peña Nieto’s PRI, which was the old revolutionary ruling party, morphed in recent years into a more centrist organization and beat Calderón in 2012.

Donald Trump’s rhetoric and the proposed policies toward Mexico are the major contributors to Peña Nieto’s collapse. The border wall, hostile references to Mexican immigrants, renegotiation of NAFTA and demanding manufacturers wishing to sell in America, build in America have put the Mexican economy into a crisis and the political and business establishment on the defensive. Peña Nieto’s meeting with Trump last fall helped Trump, but was a disaster for Peña Nieto.

Peña Nieto was a reformer and it has cost him support among the status quo interest groups. Education reform opposed by teachers’ union and more competition in the monopolistic oil industry have led to social conflict. The oil and gas effort sparked riots as prices increased. Peña Nieto and the PRI also suffer from an image of corruption in a country that has little trust in major institutions. Mr. Trump may deal with a very hostile socialist-oriented Mexican government in 2018.

See Wall Street Journal: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto loses support, poll finds

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Trump Rally Breaks 20000 in Near Record Speed

The Dow rally that began after the November 8 election pushed through 19000 on November 22, a gain of 668 points. Another 1000 points was added in the last two months, a near Dow record for speed. The last surge moving this fast was in 2007 when 14000 was hit after a mere 59 days. The Great Recession began the next year. The peak in that boom was hit on October 9, 2007 at 14164 (it took more than 5 years to recover on March 5, 2013).

The more than 9 percent gain in eleven weeks is a record in president-elect history of Dow rallies. It has been accompanied by a near doubling of investor confidence. Clearly, it reflects a reservoir of investment energy that has been damned up by the sense that the tax and regulatory policies of the last eight years would continue and possibly become even more restrictive.

Although there is still considerable concern about Donald Trump’s presidential temperament, his business and Republican establishment appointments have been highly reassuring for the market.

New Right Authors Inaugural Speech

The White House admitted the inaugural speech was written by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller. The two Steves are leading doctrinaires of the new administration’s direction. The inaugural speech was a textbook definition of the populist and nationalist approach Donald Trump has advocated for 18 months.

A dark, uncompromising speech that began with an attack on the Washington establishment across the board:
“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country…That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment. It belongs to you.”
It offered a dark vision of American carnage:
“But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. 
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
It then provided an intense nationalism that closes borders and puts America ahead of everyone else:
“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern out land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first. 
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”
Finally, to implement the vision, it required the full attention the all-sacrificing leader:
“I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before…The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.”
Though it ended with patriotic sentiments of national unity, it was generally a tightly crafted statement of 2017 populism and economic nationalism that Bannon and Miller ascribe to. The speech was immediately seen by the European right forces as a manifesto that speaks to their movements.

The Trump administration represents significant change. With the new cabinet designees, aggressive White House staff and the inaugural direction, the Washington establishment on both sides of the aisle should hang on.

Read The Buzz blogs:
European nationalists cheer Trump
Populism dominates 2017 European politics

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

European Nationalists Cheer Trump

Donald Trump’s inaugural address was excitedly received by European populists and anti-globalists at a conference of Euro skeptics and anti-immigrants leaders held in Germany. The continent’s top far-right political leaders see Donald Trump’s victory and his aggressive populist (anti-establishment) and nationalist (own country first, closed borders) themes as a positive sign that Western elites everywhere are losing power.

The inaugural speech itself has many anti-establishment and nationalist lines that appealed to Europe’s right wing political groups.
“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed…Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”
Marine Le Pen, the highest profile participant, said about Trump, “He will not support a system that oppresses the people.”

The European elections in 2017 will provide numerous opportunities to advance the candidates and agenda of the right starting on March 15 with Dutch parliamentary elections under the well-established leadership of anti-Islamist Geert Wilders. Elections are scheduled or are likely in France, Germany and Italy and in each, populist forces are energized.

Wall Street Journal: Boosted by Trump, Europe’s anti-EU parties unite
NBC News: Marine Le Pen, Europe’s nationalist leaders kick off year of election hopes

Monday, January 23, 2017

More than 100,000 Fill Civic Center

More than 100,000 demonstrators for women’s and minority rights with lots of anti-President Trump signs filled Civic Center. They joined half a million marchers in Washington, D.C., and millions worldwide in a show of passion for a variety of causes, but mostly opposing the Trump agenda, especially on social issues. It is a sign that polarization continues in the U.S. and that the anti-Trump forces are equal to Trump’s when they feel threatened.

It is not clear if the rally will become a movement, but the next few years will not likely just be a wait for a 2018 midterm vote. Saturday launched a reinvigorated left after the disappointing election result. America is very likely to see direct political action all the way to November 2018.
Civic Center, Jan. 21, 2017
Credit: Andy Cross/Denver Post

Friday, January 20, 2017

Trump Manages to Choke His Own Rally

Donald Trump was headed for an amazing stock market rally to 20000, but on December 20, after a 1642 point surge, it stalled. Today, a month later, it has drifted more than 181 points below the December 20 high point of 19974 (Jan. 20 – 19793).

Most of the rally was correlated to optimism for Trump’s likely tax, regulatory and spending proposals. But when examining the polls, an inference can be made that he choked off his own rally with poor behavior, most highlighted by his ill-tempered and poorly thought out tweets. His polling numbers have dropped after about a month of post-election improvement (an 11-point drop in confidence in mid-January). He is stepping on his own message of positive change by spreading confusion and conflict.

One thing most of the public (69%) and nearly all the investor class would like to see much less of is Donald Trump’s tweets.

The Dow will likely hit 20000 soon, but for now, the Trump surge is the Trump stall.

Populism Dominates 2017 European Politics

Populism is the rage. It’s on the cover of Foreign Affairs, the topic of politicians, columnists and faculty, and the apparent political trend resulting in Brexit, the Donald Trump victory, and numerous political movements and elections in Europe the last few years.

The word’s origin is mostly generic and can apply to a host of political movements, some right, some left, some benign and some ominous, but in today’s context the main features are anti-elitism and desire for a strong leader to ensure significant change. In Europe, it tends to be anti-EU, anti-immigrant and pro-Russia.

European political conversation has been dominated by talk of the sweep of populism from Poland and Hungary to Great Britain and Italy and most of the nations in between.

The year starts with the global conference in Davos where capitalists, globalists and free traders will try to account for the hostile environment. Chinese President Xi will be the ranking world leader, positioning himself and China as protectors of globalism. Conference session focuses on the dangers of anti-globalism and trade protectionism – elements in the current version of populism. Capitalism is on the defensive from the right and the left.

Italy’s pro-EU party of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost a referendum in early December to reform the sclerotic Italian government. He resigned (Obama’s last state dinner was held for him) and the populist Five Star Movement is maneuvering to win an election likely to be called this year.

Great Britain
Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to begin its Brexit negotiations in March. There appears little consensus on how the process will work or the objective. But the anti-immigrant, nationalist fervor that led to the Brexit vote looms as a threat to the British establishment. She appears committed to a “hard” as opposed to a “soft” exit.

France faces an election in May that will likely bring a conservative to power, with the populist Marine Le Pen leading the largest anti-immigrant, anti-EU party in close pursuit of the center-right frontrunner, François Fillon. Both candidates take a friendly position toward Russia.

The German anti-immigrant right is still too weak to derail Chancellor Angela Merkel in the September German federal elections, but they have forced Merkel to move to the right on immigration. She is now the only voice of authority for European unity and continued sanctions on Russia.

America’s new foreign policy direction, apparently more in alignment with the anti-immigration, anti-EU, pro-Russian trends, is likely to influence the politics of the continent, if not the voters directly. But the potential significant impact of Trump’s presidency (such as Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn and others) on 2017 European politics is a story yet developing.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

America’s Views of World Leaders

The latest CNN poll asked Americans at the start of the new administration how they would rate some national and world leaders. The results should remind the new administration that there is a backdrop of attitudes positioning friends and foes that should be kept in mind as policies and tweets start to fly.

For example, at the bottom of the list of favored leaders are Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Raúl Castro and Xi Jinping. Claiming any one of these people a good friend and ally will be a lift.

The public loves the Queen and the Pope. They have a few detractors, both to the office and the person, but very few. Starting fights with them will be costly.

Many people don’t know Angela Merkel or Theresa May, but due to old alliances and respect for their actions, they have more than two-to-one favorability among the attentive public.

Donald Trump has a 44 percent favorability rating, higher than the mean of the eight foreign leaders. However, with near universal awareness, his unfavorability rating of 53 percent is near Raúl Castro’s.

The Red Line: A Decision that Leveled a Foreign Policy

Barack Obama is doing his legacy tour. There are some high points; some may even survive his successor. But one decision sums up a series of mistakes that most harmed his foreign policy and produced a disastrous effect still being felt.

In August 2013, Obama backed away from a threat to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime for the use of chemical weapons against his population. From the moment the decision was announced, Obama’s credibility dropped with allies and adversaries, foreign and domestic.

The Situation Room announcement picture captures the disbelief among the president’s team, especially the responsible politicians – Biden, Kerry and Hagel.

In fact, the decision only highlighted an often described feckless policy related to the Syrian civil war. A strategy that contributed to millions of refugees, many fleeing and destabilizing democracies in Europe, a vacuum allowing the entry of Russia on Assad’s side, and the utter destruction of Aleppo. The decision was firmly embedded in Obama’s fundamental approach of minimalism in the Middle East, which included the Iraq withdrawal and the truncated Libyan intervention.

See blogs:
President has options in Syria
Will foreign policy effect the 2014 elections?
Red Line: Kerry and Hagel agree Obama foreign policy disaster
Chuck Hagel – Nice guy, wrong fit
Syria: Public opinion cul-de-sac
Panic in the White House – Foreign policy
Obama’s last State of the Union and foreign policy

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Marijuana Takes Heat in State of the State Speech

Marijuana was mentioned, but not in a friendly fashion, in John Hickenlooper’s State of the State address.

He opened by stating he hadn’t supported the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012, but the state had mastered regulating it, including addressing continuing problem areas of edibles endangering children and the need for education on underage use.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, State of the State address
Photo: Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
But then he shifted to the bad news. He pointed out that, contrary to the claims of drug advocates, organized crime is flourishing in a home grow “gray market” and action must be taken to fight it. Finally, he linked the spread of marijuana in Colorado to mental illness and chronic homelessness, and advocated using marijuana money to service the victims.

Governor’s list of major problems:
  • Endangering children
  • Underage use
  • Organized crime
  • Mental illness and chronic homelessness
Just as four more states legalized recreational sales of marijuana, Colorado’s leadership, from the state to local level, appear to be becoming aware of the ill consequences of commercialization of marijuana. In Colorado, the public may also be becoming more attuned to the problem. A majority (53%) in a DU/Korbel School poll was against the increased sales of recreational marijuana in their community.

Eight states and Washington D.C. have now legalized commercial marijuana. California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada joined the number with Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Numerous other states are considering legislation or initiative to legalize commercial sales. The question in Colorado is no longer legalization, which a majority of the public favors, but retail sale and use in neighborhoods and communities. On this issue, the public is becoming much more skeptical. Will the forces of opposition get organized?

The Hill: Marijuana reforms flood state legislatures
The Buzz: Colorado Voters Appear Reluctant to Expand Use of Recreational Marijuana
The Buzz: End of Marijuana Holiday? El Paso County Says “No” to Marijuana Expansion

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Kalorama and Kompromat: The Week of Transition in Washington

Washington loves and dreads transition. The inaugural event is a high political society celebration, a circus, and can be a civil war. A bit of all three will take over Washington this weekend. There will be nostalgia for the Obamas, a modern update of a Norman Rockwell painting and the Nelsons of TV sitcom fame. Of course, there is a relief for those anxious to end what they consider a failed administration. The Trump inaugural instills a combination of dread and elation. Almost all new residents of the White House are considered vandals and Philistines, although Donald Trump appears to look for fights: John Lewis, the intel community, CNN, EU, Merkel, NATO and China, and that’s just the last few days.

The new words of currency this week are Kalorama and Kompromat. Kalorama, an exclusive section of D.C. north of DuPont Circle, has just gotten the Obamas, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, and Jeff Bezos ($23 million for house) as residents. This may be ushering in an era of big money and big houses.

Kompromat is the Russian term for compromising material, like that found in the unverified dossier on Donald Trump. Sex, scandal, tweets and Russians are in D.C.’s future.

As thousands pour into the weekend celebrations and demonstrations, the 2016 post-election period is over and the fun begins.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Tall is Good – Regis Jesuit

Congratulations to Regis Jesuit for attracting and supporting women sports stars and superstars.

Missy Franklin at 6’2” and Fran Belibi at 6’1” are Regis Jesuit stars and part of an academic program that puts athletes on track for Berkeley and Stanford, which offers support that produces winning athletes and teams.

Trump Wins Intel Battle, But Losing War – 9KUSA

Trump at first press conference, Jan. 11, 2017
(Photo: Getty Images)
Donald Trump’s first press conference as president-elect was vintage Trump. He vigorously denied (fake news) the Internet-driven intelligence story about a Russian dossier on him, attacked the media for printing it and pivoted to his approach to conflicts of interest concerning the Trump Corporation. He dominated the news cycle and the press conference. Not particularly “presidential,” but self-confident, chatty and in control.

Of course, it is likely only a temporary reprieve from news on the dossier and fight with the intelligence community, and Trump already has problems. A new Quinnipiac poll shows the president-elect with a declining favorability rating since his November victory and low approval ratings for the transition.
  • 37% favorability, down from 44% right after the November 8 election
  • 37% approve transition, 51% disapprove
  • Optimistic about next 4 years was 59%, now 52%
  • Stop tweeting 64% to 33%
In an interview with 9KUSA TaRhonda Thomas, the following was highlighted:
  • It is unprecedented to have this much controversy just prior to the inauguration, but the entire public aspect of this transition is unprecedented. The public entrances and departures at Trump Tower and frequent tweeting, including fights with actor Meryl Streep.
  • Trump is master at surviving scandal. The Access Hollywood controversy last fall shows his durability. He recovered and won the election.
  • The dossier will surely recede if no new evidence shows up. As president, he will have more ways to manage bad news, but there are a lot of intelligence players who intend on protecting their agencies, some of whom don’t believe he should be president.
  • The conflict of interest issue will be back because his solution is too shallow for most observers.
See Politico: Highlights from Trump’s press conference

Friday, January 13, 2017

Body Cameras for Police

Body cameras are becoming increasingly common equipment for police patrol officers. They are a technological approach to issues of transparency and accountability offering some real time protections for police officers and the public.

They are overwhelmingly popular. New polling data from Pew Research shows that both the general public and police officers support body cameras. Denverites agree. A recent Ciruli Associates poll in Denver indicates strong support for their use.

The Denver Police Department endorsed use of body cameras and the Denver Police Foundation has assisted in their purchase.

Pew: The racial confidence gap in police performance
Pew: On views of race and inequality, blacks and whites are worlds apart

Hickenlooper’s Seventh State of the State Address: Speech Better, Climate Worse – 9News

Governor John Hickenlooper’s seventh State of the State speech was better delivered than the first six. He paced himself carefully and didn’t fight the teleprompter. But, the January 20th presidential inauguration hung like a dense cloud over the State Capitol.

The Governor made repeated references to the changes coming from Washington that will likely send more responsibility to the states, some of which Democrats don’t want, much of which will decrease money for established programs.
It’s no secret that we’ve just been through one of the most toxic political campaigns on record.
Regardless of who you supported, we can all agree: last year was divisive.
But we’ll soon have a new president, and it is clear that the new administration and Congress seek a different relationship between the federal government and the states.
In the early 20th century, Justice Louis Brandeis popularized the idea that states are the laboratories of democracy. And in the coming years, we expect more responsibility to be directed our way.
9News political reporter, Brandon Rittiman, with 9News political analyst, Floyd Ciruli, framed the speech and the political context as 9News livestreamed the speech from the Capitol.
Photo: 9KUSA
Health Care
There were bipartisan moments in the speech. For example, Hickenlooper’s recommendation that more revenue must be added to the transportation infrastructure and the Internet should be built out to rural areas. But possibly the most contentious moment was when Republicans (who control 18 Senate seats – a majority) did not stand and applaud the Governor’s health care comments.
Since 2011 we’ve helped over 600,000 people get basic health insurance, and 94% of Coloradans now have coverage...
That’s a lot of good news, but we all know actions in Washington could threaten the progress we’ve made.
I think most of us would agree that the last thing we would want is Congress making all of our decisions around healthcare.
If changes are inevitable I will fight for a replacement plan that protects the people who are covered now and doesn’t take us backward.
Colorado and its governor are not unique. All the country’s governors and legislators are watching the first 100 Trump days with intense interest, some more anxious and hostile than others.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Can You Feel the Global Power Shift?

Chinese President Xi will lead a group of mega-millionaires and billionaires from his communist-controlled country to the Davos World Economic Forum, a think tank of capitalism. He will argue for globalism and against protectionism. Of course, at home he is intensely nationalistic and China has a myriad of protectionist practices, but still he is now a world spokesperson for globalism. Mostly Xi is looking for allies against America’s pending anti-China position. Also, his presidency is up for renewal this year and President Xi is looking for some international prestige.

President Vladimir Putin will not attend Davos and continues to try to be the leading spokesperson for anti-globalism, nationalism and defending the Christian West against radical Islam.

Trump, who will be sworn in the last day of the Davos conference, sides with Putin on globalism, a shift from the the U.S.’s post-World War II positions, and against the positions of most of America’s historic allies.

Attending Davos will be Secretary John Kerry, who most likely considers Switzerland his second home, and Vice President Joe Biden.

Given the momentum of anti-global populism in the developed world, the World Economic Forum no doubt welcomes China’s high-profile advocacy. But, the champagne will not be flowing at the 2017 Davos conference.

Colorado and Denver Continue to Grow at Wild Pace

Colorado grew by more than 190,000 residents from July 2014 to July 2016. The state now has 5.5 (5,540,545) million residents, up 491,901 since the 2010 census.

The West contains eight of the fifteen fastest growing states from the last six years. Colorado is ranked fifth with nearly a half million new residents. In the West, only Utah grew faster over the last six years. Most of Colorado’s new growth settled in the Denver metro area and the North Front Range.

After the 2010 Census, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Washington gained one congressional seat each. Colorado will be competitive for another seat, but it will depend on growth during the remaining four years of the decade. Will the torrid pace continue, or will congestion and housing prices turn migrants away?

Race and Criminal Justice

Although confidence and respect for police has improved in the country (see blog), one of the most profound difficulties in dealing with police and community relations issues is the substantial differences in basic outlook on race relations between black and white Americans.

A 2016 national survey by Pew Research documents the differences. A majority of black residents (88%) believes the country needs to continue to make changes for blacks to have equal rights. Nearly half (43%) are skeptical the change will occur. But only 53 percent of whites believe there is still work to do and few doubt the changes will happen (11%).

When asked if blacks are treated less fairly than whites on a series of questions concerning treatment of blacks, white opinion is different by 20 to 30 percentage points. Hence, conversations begin from dramatically different positions.

Notice, as the Pew Research shows, one of the most controversial issues at the present time, “dealing with the police,” is an area where half the white community agrees “blacks are treated less fairly than whites.”

As local police departments, such as Denver, attempt to improve community relations, the backdrop of more general racial attitudes at this point in the country’s history make the effort substantially more challenging.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Trump’s Rating Up, But Still Weak

Donald Trump was a plurality winner in the multi-candidate Republican primary and then won 46 percent of the electorate. He is likely to govern with less than half the country’s approval.

Since the November 8 election and during the nine weeks of transition, Donald Trump’s polling numbers have improved. His image, as rated by favorability, has nearly doubled from before the election. Most importantly, the public in general, while still very polarized by the election result, is more optimistic, reflected in numerous polls and a near 20000 Dow. But this still does not look like the usual presidential honeymoon. His ratings are well below historic norms and he has vulnerabilities related to his temperament and unpredictable, controversial statements (mostly self-generated tweets).

Trump’s approval rating, which will begin to be recorded on January 20, will likely be lower than recent presidents, but the political effect may be unpredictable like much of the election and transition. This may be the era of governance without majority support. Trump may be recalibrating the old indexes.

Wall Street Journal: Poll finds more Americans now view Donald Trump positively
Gallup: Trump maintains post-election bounce, but no new gains
Gallup: Trump’s transition approval lower than predecessors’
Fox News: Majority feels hopeful, yet low expectations for Trump

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One Aspect of the Cold War is Back: Russian and American Publics Are at Historic Odds

Russian approval of their president, Vladimir Putin, couldn’t get much higher and disapproval of American leadership any lower. Numerous Russian polls report Putin’s approval among his citizens at 80 percent or higher. But Gallup reported in 2015 only one percent of Russians approved of U.S. leaders – “worst rating in world” and “lowest approval for the U.S. in the past decade.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Defense Minister Sergei
Sholgu (R) and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Kremlin on
Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 (Photo: Wall Street Journal)
Well before reports of Russian intervention in the U.S. election, American opinion of Russia had sunk to new lows. Only 22 percent of U.S. have a favorable opinion of Russia. The new low reported by Gallup reflects the criticism of Russia related to the Crimea, Ukraine, Syria and Edward Snowden.

One observation that stands out from the data is an uptick in partisan difference. A significant gap now appears between Democrats and Republicans, with a recent YouGov survey showing only 16 percent of Democrats see Russia as an ally or friendly, but 31 percent of Republicans categorized them that way, a significant jump since July 2016.

It remains to be seen if President-elect Trump and foreign policy elites so inclined (i.e., realists, nationalists, etc.) can head off a further deterioration in relations, but the public in both countries already feel winter is coming.

Wall Street Journal: Obama sanctions Russia, expels 35
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs: Majority of Americans – except for Republicans – back congressional inquiry; survey shows 30-year lows for Russian’s favorability
Gallup: The 2016 year in review at
FiveThirtyEight: All of a sudden, Russia has become a partisan issue

Monday, January 9, 2017

Fight Over Trump’s Nominees Begins – 9KUSA

Interest groups and Democrats have started the battle against President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees. As a contentious and high-profile transition nears its end and confirmation hearings begin, opponents have little time to make their point. It’s hard to see how they stop the administration getting their entire slate approved. But one of the most important positions and controversial nominee is Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General.

The Justice Department under President Obama was an activist agency led for six years by his strong ally, Eric Holder. He directed it into a host of fights, including those related to voting rights, immigration, police practices and criminal prosecution, including national security and drugs. The Attorney General also has the president’s legal back.

Hence, it is not surprising that 1,100 law professors are protesting Sessions’ appointment. He is very conservative and has been accused of racial insensitivity in the past. But few Cabinet nominees are rejected. There is deference to presidents’ choices. The Republicans also have 52 party votes and a plan to rush the confirmation hearing en masse to reduce the time and opportunity opponents have to mount effective opposition.

Ryan Haarer of 9KUSA interviewed me concerning DU law professor Robin Walker Sterling’s signing the petition opposing Sessions with 1,100 of her legal colleagues. We discuss why opponents of Trump are concerned, but also the unlikelihood their effort will be successful.
9NEWS political analyst Floyd Ciruli says these law professors are “by and large on the liberal side of things” and likely won't have much impact on Sessions' confirmation.
“Mr. Trump has made it utterly clear, as has the Republican congressional leadership that they are reversing the Obama legacy root and stem. It's going to be gone if they can do it,” Ciruli said. “This is part of the strategy to slow it down, to injure it.”
I pointed out that this is just the beginning of the resistance, which will likely reach a peak at the January 20 inauguration with thousands of protestors expected to come to D.C.

Confidence and Respect for Police Hits High in 2016

Although the nation’s police forces have been on the defensive over civilian shootings and minority community relations, confidence and respect for police surged.

In 2016 in particular, attacks on police officers, along with a rising murder rate in a number of big cities, have engendered a strong reaction of support for police that spread into the presidential race. Law and order became a major theme, along with criminal justice reform. Attendance at memorials for both police and civilians were high-profile events in the campaigns./>
  • 76% report a “great deal of respect” for the police in their area, a 12 percent surge since last year (Gallup, October 5-9, 2016). Respect for police increased last year among both whites (80% up from 69%) and non-whites (64% up from 53%).
Police also ranked very high in comparative ratings of American institutions for “honesty and ethical standards” and for confidence.
  • Police were fifth from the top in a list of twenty-one professions for having a high or very high rating of “honesty and ethical standards” (56%). They ranked lower than medical professionals (nurses – 85%, pharmacists – 68% and doctors – 67%, and just behind teachers – 60%). At 56%, they ranked above clergy (45%), journalists (27%), business executives (15%) and Congress people (8%). (Gallup, December 2-6, 2016)
  • Police were third from the top in a list of fifteen institutions with more than half the public (56%) expressing a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence (Gallup, June 1-5, 2016). This observation was reinforced at the end of the year when NBC News/WSJ reported 59% of American adults rated police and law enforcement second behind the military (73%) in level of confidence with the American people. They are exceptions. The poll showed little confidence in major American institutions, such as the CIA (33%), public schools (31%) and the national news media (16%). 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Princess Leia for Four Decades

It is said the Star Wars franchise does not have fans, but followers. Carrie Fisher, from May of 1977, played the part of Princess Leia, probably the most famous and popular of the original characters, with considerable aplomb and good humor for 39 years. She was 19 years old in the original movie.

Her introduction to what became the greatest movie franchise in history was as a hologram projected by a scruffy little droid, R2D2. “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”

General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire. I regret that I am unable to present my father’s request to you in person, but my ship has fallen under attack and I’m afraid my mission to bring you to Alderaan has failed. I have placed information vital to the survival of the Rebellion into the memory systems of this R2 unit. My father will know how to retrieve it. You must see this droid safely delivered to him on Alderaan. This is our most desperate hour. Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

U.S. Asian Policy in Turmoil, Key Old Allies Uncertain on America’s Commitment

The first eight weeks of the transition to the Donald Trump administration has caused major upheaval in Barack Obama’s Asian foreign policy initiatives and turmoil with even longer-standing diplomatic and treaty understanding.
  • In general, Trump has been highly critical of China’s trade and currency policy.
  • Trump will abandon the long-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
  • Trump has said he would talk to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, took a call from Tsai Ing-wen, the President of Taiwan, and is quoted as telling Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte his anti-drug dealers campaign is the right way.
  • He generally casts doubt on American treaty commitments and understanding related to national defense and nuclear deterrence. He has wondered aloud about the U.S. commitment to Japan and South Korea’s defense and speculated they possibly should obtain nuclear weapons.
Earlier this year, residents of the region were asked if their country “was in a military conflict with another country, do you think the U.S. military would defend or not defend” them.

South Korea, among the most threatened nations in the Asian Rim, is also among the most confident the U.S. will defend them (70%). Philippine President Duterte has decided direct China negotiations about territorial disputes without U.S. involvement is a better strategy, but his constituents believe the U.S. would support them militarily (78%). Two of our allies most dependent on the U.S. deterrent and military commitment – Japan (53%) and Taiwan (44%) – have populations clearly divided in their sense that the U.S. would defend them.

It will likely be considerable time before the turmoil subsides and a new equilibrium of relationships with the U.S. and China is established. Public opinion will only then come to reflect the new reality.

See Gallup here

Hickenlooper for President

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. John Hickenlooper
The Hill political magazine put Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper on its early list of potential Democratic presidential candidates. Hickenlooper was listed number seven out of fifteen. Leading the list were senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Michelle Obama held the sixth position just ahead of Hickenlooper.

KOA’s April Zesbaugh discussed the Governor’s career path with Floyd Ciruli. A few points:
  • Hickenlooper has been a popular governor, is an effective politician and term-limited. He needs a new job. 
  • In the spring and early summer of 2016, he was considered by the Clinton campaign as a potential vice-presidential pick. It was never clear whether or not he was fully vetted, but he did receive several extended meetings with Hillary Clinton. The campaign picked U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. During the fall as he campaigned for the ticket, there were regular rumors that he would be offered a cabinet post – Interior, Commerce and Agriculture were mentioned. He denied he wanted to leave Colorado and his job early. Few believed him.
  • In the January 12, 2017 State of the State speech, Hickenlooper’s new status will bring attention to how he positions himself with the Trump administration. Both appointments (for example EPA and Interior) and policies (such as public land and energy) will be controversial for Western Democrats. Does he cooperate where he can and resist where he feels he must? 
  • Although it is very likely that the 2018 mid-terms will see Americans still very polarized, Trump may have a good two years or it could be a disaster. Hickenlooper may claim a presidential race is not an interest, but the Democratic Party is in a major transition, and Hickenlooper, as a popular second-term governor (there are only 18 Democrats out of 50), could be a valuable contributor to the party’s attempted revival.
  • Hickenlooper is a Democratic moderate in a party with a very liberal establishment. This election loss may strengthen party moderates, but Hickenlooper is not as well-known as others on the list. There may be a middle position where he helps elect Democratic governors, including his successor, but doesn’t start a campaign. Mostly what is required is a very strong commitment and plan of action. 
This is an extraordinary moment in the political life of the country and most politicians would savor the chance to be in the game. Hickenlooper will have to make a choice and then design a role that is comfortable for him.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Millennium Falcon – What a Piece of Junk

The minute I saw the Millennium Falcon at the 1977 opening showing of Star Wars: The New Hope, I knew this was my version of a space vehicle. No NASA Mercury, Apollo, Right Stuff spit and polish stuff, but a working man’s freighter, or in the case of Han and Chewbacca, smugglers.

The introduction to the Falcon:


Strange creatures play exotic big band music on odd-looking instruments…Han is a tough, roguish starpilot about thirty years old. A mercenary on a starship, he is simple, sentimental, and cocksure.

Han Solo. I’m captain of the Millennium Falcon. Chewie here tells me you’re looking for passage to the Alderaan system. 

Yes, indeed. If it’s a fast ship.

Fast ship? You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?

Should I have?

It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs!...I’ve outrun Imperial starships, not the local bulk-cruisers, mind you. I’m talking about the big Corellian ships now. She’s fast enough for you, old man. What’s the cargo?

Chewbacca leads the group into a giant dirt pit that is Docking Bay 94. Resting in the middle of the huge hole is a large, round, beat-up, pieced-together hunk of junk that could only loosely be called a starship. 

What a piece of junk.

She’ll make point five beyond the speed of light. She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid. I’ve added some special modifications myself.

Chewbacca settles into the pilot’s chair and starts the mighty engines of the starship. 

Imperial cruisers fire at the pirateship

The ship shudders as an explosion flashes outside the window. 

Here’s where the fun begins!

How long before you can make the jump to light speed?

It’ll take a few moments to get the coordinates from the navi-computer.

The ship begins to rock violently as lasers hit it. 

Are you kidding? At the rate they’re gaining…

Traveling through hyperspace isn’t like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it? 

The ship is now constantly battered with laserfire as a red warning light begins to flash.

What’s that flashing?

We’re losing our deflector shield. Go strap yourself in, I’m going to make the jump to light speed. 

The galaxy brightens and they move faster, almost as if crashing a barrier. Stars become streaks as the pirateship makes the jump to hyperspace. 

At the time, I drove a 1956 VW Bug. It didn’t look like much, but it had real metal in the body and a small oval back window. It had been across country at least five times. One of the most dependable and easiest to repair cars I’ve ever owned. A Star Wars-type of vehicle. When the Millennium Falcon blasted its way out of Tatooine, we were in for a very long ride.

Where Did You See “Star Wars: A New Hope” in 1977?

On May 25, 1977, Star Wars opened with a galactic explosion. I was a newly-hired congressional assistant in Washington D.C. and joined a long line for an opening show. The theater was packed, and I ended up in the front row center.

And then the opening crawl began.

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…”

As the text disappears in eternity, an Imperial Starship quietly fills the screen. In the front row, you are impressed and lean back to absorb the new world of computer animation. As soon as the show was over, around midnight, I joined the line again to see the next show.

I saw Rogue One with my grandkids Christmas weekend. It ends with a digital recreation of Princess Leia. The kids loved it. I felt we were a family on a four decade, three generation adventure.

L to R: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in the
Denver Post lunch room at 15th and California on June 14, 1977
Photo: Steve Larson, Denver Post
Read Denver Post: The story behind the Denver Post Star Wars photo of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Dow End of Year – 19763 – Trump Bump

The driving force for much of the recovery from the 2008 Great Recession was low interest rates. Most recently, starting about mid-year and accelerating in November, oil prices have moved more securely above $50 per barrel due to the OPEC (plus Russian and other non-OPEC producers) cutback of about 1.8 million barrels a day.

But the Trump bump of 1400 points since the election is mostly a reflection of investor optimism about:
  • Lower taxes
  • Less regulation
  • Fiscal stimulus
Compared to the approach to January 2016, today there is more confidence the American recovery will continue and China will manage its slow-down without a crisis. It contrasts with the 1000-point Dow drop in 5 days in January, culminating in the year’s low of 15660 on February 11. Crude oil was $26 at that point. It’s been a 16.5 percent climb, or 2160 points (17603 start).

But the last week of the year the Trump rally stalled. The index shed more than 200 points from December 22. The dark cloud in 2017 will be additional Federal Revenue interest rate hikes, return of wage inflation and more polarizing domestic political conflict.

Christmas Meatballs

Christmas dinner is a family event. I get to make meatballs and spaghetti sauce. Sinatra, Prima and Martin are on the iTunes, especially “That’s Amore” (When a moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie/That's amore). The grandkids think it’s pretty funny (or a little weird), but they missed Dino in 1954.

Watch Dean Martin - That's Amore here

Christmas Ravioli

Making Christmas ravioli comes from a tradition of my sister Donna and her family in Pueblo. Ours don’t look as good as hers, but everybody from the two to the 13 year old likes to make them and eat them. Buon Natale, e mangiare!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Trump on Safe Ground Picking Military Leaders

Since the War on Terror began, the military has been on the top of the list of American institutions people have confidence in. Donald Trump selecting several military leaders for his cabinet is likely to be well-received.

More than two-fifths of Americans (41%) have a great deal of confidence in the military. That number was in the 20s throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It improved during the Clinton presidency and then jumped to 40 percent and stayed there from 2002 on (Gallup, June 2016).

Obviously, the question of the right person, right job and total number will be factors the public and Senate interrogators will weigh, but in general, the military has become one of the country’s most respected institutions.

Castro and Scalia Deaths Made Biggest Impact

Fidel Castro and Antonin Scalia were two of the most prominent political leaders to die in 2016.

Fidel Castro’s long-awaited passing (90 after a decade of illness) helps free up Cuba for its inevitable evolution into a more modern economy and less oppressive regime. Antonin Scalia’s sudden passing (79) changed the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court. Senate Republicans stalling on picking a replacement helped motivate conservative voters for Trump.

Castro’s totalitarian socialism is mostly an anachronism (North Korea), while Scalia’s originalism and legal preferences are likely to be the future of the court.