Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Supreme Court Tells Title Board to Step Up

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

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

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

Colorado Politics: Justices block animal cruelty measure from ballot

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Welcome Back America, But Can It Last?

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 21, 2021

America is Back

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Putin Has Swagger, But Few Friends and Little Support

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

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

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

One Billion Shots Worldwide

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

AMLO in Office Three More Years as Mexico Descends into Criminality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

SCFD Supports Culture Through Shutdown

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

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

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

Monday, June 14, 2021

Videos Now Available on Japanese Diplomatic Program

Watch Japanese and U.S. foreign policy experts discuss the new era in U.S.-Japan relations under the Biden and Suga administrations as they address the challenge of China and the goal to maintain a free and open Indo Pacific.

  • Free and Open Indo-Pacific and China session was held on March 24, 2021

  • Free and Open Indo-Pacific and the Quad session was held on March 29, 2021


Friday, June 11, 2021

Tokyo Olympics

Some media have speculated in the last few days that the Tokyo Olympics could be cancelled due to political opposition. Don’t bet on it. In spite of considerable controversy, the Japanese government and Prime Minister Suga are pushing ahead. And if you read news of athletes and the competition, excitement is building for the once postponed start.

Although the public in Japan are hostile to the event, mostly on COVID-19 grounds (60% of public in recent poll want the games cancelled), a recent poll in America shows that a significant U.S. audience is interested in the event and will watch. So, the Olympic Committee, the athletes and the Japanese Olympics will have an audience regardless of the delay and the protocols.

Americans are used to watching sporting events without fans and half the “population (49%) said they planned to watch part of the games,” that is about equal to the number of viewers of the Rio games in 2016 (51%). Sixty-two percent said the lack of fans will not deter them from watching it on TV. And sports fans are even more interested (65%).

The poll was conducted by Stillman School of Business at Seton Hall University as part of their annual sports survey for their sports management program (May 2021).

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Immigration and Discrimination are Passion Issues, Crime May Be 2022 Sleeper

Five months into the Biden administration, the two political parties are far apart in what they believe are the key issues for Americans. Although both parties rate the economy and jobs as their top issues, they then diverge with Republicans citing immigration whereas Democrats rating inequality and discrimination as their next priorities. Note the differences shown in the table between the parties on those issues.

The challenge for Democrats in the 2022 election is that as the pandemic recedes and the economy revives, social issues tend to take up a strong position in the electorate’s issue space. The Republicans have been adept in recent years using social issues to animate their rank and file. Today, immigration and crime may be their most potent issues – both for their base, but also to rattle Democrats in swing districts. Democrats are most concerned about inequality, discrimination and the health system (public and private). Both issues that were important for their success in 2018, the last midterm elections.

Managing social issues between now and November 2022 will be essential to both parties’ strategies.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Biden Maintains Approval, Country in Better Mood

Like Donald Trump’s approval rating, Joe Biden’s has been steady, but unlike Trump’s, it’s positive. In fact, it’s nearly an inverse. In early June, former President Trump had a 39 percent approval and a 55 percent disapproval, or 16 point negative. President Biden has a 53 percent approval and 41 percent disapproval, or a 12 point positive rating. (Trump needed another year to get to 41% approval, his more common rating – Gallup.) (Data from RealClearPolitics, 2021)

Also, Americans are in a better mood. The 42 percent of Americans rating the country moving in a positive direction is a high since 2013, the Dow Jones Industrial average is up 13 percent since January and unemployment just dropped below 6 percent, the lowest since the pandemic shutdown started in March 2020.

Not surprising, Biden’s approval rating is polarized, with Democrats offering 88 percent approval, independents 55 percent and Republicans 16 percent. The 72 percent difference between the parties shows the strong polarization, but the 16 percent approval from Republicans is relatively high for recent times (Ipsos, June 2021).

Netanyahu and Conservative Majority Out

As I blogged on May 28, Bibi Netanyahu’s international political capital was running out. His American partners – the Trump administration and the Republican Congress – were, as of January 20, out of power. The Biden administration is much more interested in human rights and allies’ opinions. They put the Iran deal back in play. And while the Hamas war was decided mostly in Israel’s favor on the ground, it was largely lost in U.S. and international political opinion. It significantly contributed to the growing split in the Democratic Party and among younger, more educated voters away from the Israeli position vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

Although Netanyahu’s loss of power is mostly related to internal Israeli politics, such as the desire to avoid a fifth election (4 previous in last 2 years) and simply removing Netanyahu from office (under serious corruption charges), he, in fact, was no longer an asset for Israel’s foreign policy.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Jack Graduates. First Class in the Post Pandemic.

KK & Floyd Ciruli with grandson, Jack Harris
Jack Harris, in a class of more than 700 in San Clemente, California, got to graduate with his classmates outside, and with some distancing, but no masks.

It was a great pleasure for KK and Floyd – the grandparents. Jack is going to San Diego State in a year that is off Zoom and on-campus. He’s ready.

As Virus Spread Slows, California is the State With the Most Fatalities

As the U.S. national death toll from COVID-19 passes 610,000, it has fortunately begun to decelerate as more than half the population is vaccinated. California just became the nation’s deadliest state with a death toll of 63,000, passing New York at 53,000, leaving Texas third with 52,000 fatalities.

This chart was last prepared on January 30 when there were 440,000 fatalities, an increase of 170,000 or 39 percent. So even with the start of an aggressive vaccination program, COVID-19 was a killer. 

Because the pandemic became a part of the 2020 election environment, every aspect – from masks, to shutting down, to the vaccination, now to passports – became part of polarized politics, leading a significant population resistant to pandemic appeals and mandates. Even today with the demonstrated success of the vaccination program polls regularly report about a quarter of the U.S. adult population refuse to get vaccinate (37% of self-identified Republicans).

One Million Deaths Between Mexico, India and Brazil; COVID Surges Worldwide

COVID-19 infections and death totals have accelerated outside of the most developed countries. And several non-western European and Asian countries that had appeared to master the virus have had recent surges. But, the main loss of life is concentrated in large third and second world countries with high poverty rates, inadequate health care infrastructures, and weak or conflicted leadership. The frontrunner nations with deaths outside of the U.S. are Brazil, India and Mexico – the epitome of weak health care systems, massive poverty and inconsistent leadership. These three countries represent nearly 30 percent of the world total.

While the world fatalities raced ahead by 1.5 million during the last four months (75%), Brazil and India death totals double. Many doubt some of the published numbers’ failure to capture thousands of deaths in homes outside of hospitals and other medical facilities.


The origin of the virus continues to be a controversy. A WHO investigation leaned toward an animal to human origin, but without certainty and lacking full Chinese cooperation. Doubts continue to be raised as to a possible lab origin. And President Biden just ordered an investigation using U.S. and willing partners’ sources of intelligence as to the likely origin. Not good news for China’s aggressive public relations foreign policy apparatus. When more than 3 million people die, knowing the true origin of the virus is a humanitarian and national security priority.

Roe v. Wade at Risk

The United States Supreme Court will take up Mississippi’s prohibitive abortion law next term. It could trigger a major reconsideration of Roe v. Wade to end it as a legal precedent or significantly limit its legal boundaries. And by 2022, many states have or would move to ban or limit it as much as allowed.

Abortion rights are a very polarizing issue, but a majority of the public does not favor overturning Roe v. Wade.

  • A 2020 Gallup poll shows the public describe themselves as either pro-choice (48%) or pro-life (46%), and that closeness has extended during most of the 20th century.
  • The latest Quinnipiac poll asks if Americans agree or disagree with the Roe v. Wade decision and 63 percent agreed and 61 percent did not believe it would be overturned.
  • A May 2021 Pew Research poll affirms what most polls show that a majority of the public accepts some restrictions, but leans toward abortion being legal in all or most cases (59%) as opposed to illegal in all or most cases (39%) – a 20 percent difference, 9 points above a majority.
  • Although political parties have become very polarized on the abortion issue, both parties have members who are willing to tolerate restrictions and not absolute rights or bans (Quinnipiac 2021).

As the table shows, 22 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of Democrats disagree with their respective majorities. Also, each party has about 40 percent of its members in the middle – accepting some restrictions, but not the extreme position.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

McConnell and Republicans Say “No” to Commission, Placate Trump and Hope Riot Goes Away

Mitch McConnell, in his most manifest partisan maneuver in this Congress, defeated the independent riot commission legislation that had passed the House. He didn’t win by much. He lost 30 percent of his caucus, including respected members, but he believes the media criticism he’s getting will pass and the strategy was worth it for his critical goal of winning back the Senate and his position as majority leader in 2022.

McConnell, as he strategized with his allies, saw the following:

  • Republicans must have Donald Trump on board and this commission was toxic to him and his already damaged reputation.
  • The riot is fading from view and the commission would provide a forum that would make it a continuing story with possibly a climax in mid-2022. Any “select committee’ can be more easily labeled partisan and obstructed when possible.
  • Most members of his caucus and the Republican base voters believe Trump was cheated and the Capitol riot is not that big of an issue and should be back-burnered. Seventy-four percent of Republicans say “too much is being made of it and that it is time to move on” (Quinnipiac, May 27, 2021).

Of course, it’s clear McConnell is gambling that Trump will be more an asset in November 2022 than a liability, the sense that democracy is endangered will fade as an issue and that the polls showing most voters don’t agree the riot should be forgotten are a snapshot in time that will not be a focus of attention next year. But 55 percent of Americans say events of January 6 were an attack on democracy and should never be forgotten. Democrats, with or without a commission, will do what they can to maintain the issue.

Trump supporters beset a police barrier at the Capitol
in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021 |John Minchillo/AP)

Geographer Wins 7th Fulbright

Congratulations to Professor Karen Barton of the University of Northern Colorado for winning her seventh Fulbright Scholarship award for research and field trips with her students. Exceptional use of geographic knowledge as a base for applying social science and the humanities to improving people’s lives.

Barton pictured with her son and the UNC student team at Chitwan
National Park in Nepal | Curtesy of Karen Barton via Greeley Tribune

Read: Professor wins seventh Fulbright award

Colorado Leadership Over Four Decades

The state’s five governors who have served since 1974 gathered in 2017 for a Denver Post forum. Roy Romer, the oldest at 92, and Dick Lamm (85) are retired, but still express their views. The only Republican in the 47-year span is Bill Owens (70). Bill Ritter (64) is the youngest member of the group and is the only one born in Colorado (Aurora). Owens and Ritter recently wrote an opinion column in the Denver Post. Finally featured is the most recent ex-governor and current U.S. Senator, John Hickenlooper (69).

The picture captures a sense of the five personalities with Hickenlooper talking, Ritter and Owens looking reflective, Romer ready to jump in, and Lamm known as gloomy is still looking unhappy.

Former Colorado governors (L to R) Richard “Dick” Lamm,
Roy Romer, Bill Owens, Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper at a
Denver Post forum, May 25, 2017 | Aaron Ontiveroz/Denver Post