Monday, February 28, 2022

Taiwan and Ukraine – Related, But Different

Russia’s claim of a right to control Ukraine’s foreign and defense policy and willingness to enforce it with a military invasion has sent shockwaves not just in Europe, but throughout the Pacific. The argument is similar to China’s claim of rights over Taiwan currently being reinforced with military flyovers and diplomatic isolation. But, there are some distinct differences.

  • Any change in the sovereign status of Taiwan would be a massive shift in the power positions in the Indo-Pacific. China’s strategic boldness would be affirmed and dominance accelerated. The U.S. would consider it a much greater threat than the change in the political status of Ukraine.
  • The U.S. has had security relations with Taiwan since the 1940s, and although the “one country, two systems” mantra is repeated since Hong Kong, it comes with little credibility. Although the commitment to Taiwan independence “has strategic ambiguity,” there are clear limitations on the use of force. A military and economic reaction is far more likely.
  • In the immediate terms, a military action would have high risk for Xi Jinping, who wants to secure a third term this fall. With economic and security threats abundant from previous initiatives (Hong Kong, Xinjiang), he is unlikely to want more.
  • This may not turn out well for President Putin. Russia’s modest economy is about to suffer more sanctions and NATO has been revived. Putin has challenged the post war viewpoint that the sovereignty and territoriality of nations are linked to peace and prosperity. But the visuals of the action against civilians and the damage to the world economy has significantly harmed autocrats’ strategy of offering a more attractive alternative to post war, U.S.-led world order.
  • Ukraine has activated the U.S. national security establishment to the danger of ambitious autocrats. Republicans, except for a small isolationist wing, see Putin as a threat and sanctions as necessary. Democrats were already onboard. With the violence against civilians and Putin’s talent for unbelievable rhetoric and brutish behavior, U.S. and Western opinion is becoming attentive and more willing to back investment and pro-defense policies.

The U.S.’s shift of interest to central Europe is unlikely to distract from the broad national security consensus that the greatest challenges are in Asia. Japan and Australia are both committed to a stronger defense alliance, and even European fleets are starting to enter Pacific waters. Ukraine, in fact, is adding urgency to the alliance.

Bipartisan Support for Getting Tough on Russia

Russia’s and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has managed to help build a bipartisan consensus that Russia is a threat, sanctions are needed and NATO should be backed. Although there is an isolationist sentiment, the full televised onslaught of Russia’s army has helped coalesce American opinion in opposition to the invasion. A new poll from the Washington Post indicates that the public is supportive of sanctions.

Support for sanctions on Russia for the Ukraine invasion was at 67 percent, with 20 percent opposed. Although there are partisan differences, still only 23 percent of Republicans oppose sanctions compared to 14 percent of Democrats. The poll was completed on February 24 as the Russian onslaught was just beginning.

Bipartisan Majorities Support Economic Sanctions on Russia

Q: Given Russian military action involving Ukraine, would you support or oppose the United States and its European allies imposing economic sanctions on Russia?

Judge Jackson Nominated to Supreme Court

President Joe Biden has nominated federal appeals court judge, Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the Supreme Court. Democrats would like to finish confirmation by Easter, April 17. Her appointment won’t change the balance of the court, but it might affect the dynamics and the tone.

In a Washington Post poll, the pubic appears to believe having a Black woman on the Court would be “a good thing for the country” (45%) or “make no difference” (48%). Only 4 percent believe it would be bad. Democrats (78%), Blacks (65%) and women (54%) are the most supportive of a Black woman the Court.

Democrats, Women, Black Americans More Likely 
to Say Having a Black Woman on Supreme Court 
Would Be a Good Thing for Country

Q: Do you think that having a Black woman as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court would be a good thing for the country, a bad thing for the country, or would make no difference?

Unless something unexpected appears in the record or hearings (she’s been confirmed previously for judgeships and received Republican Senate votes (3)), this may be a win for Biden after a very tough period.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Does Ukraine Affect the Security and Independence of Taiwan?

Japanese and American professors and policy leaders will begin a month-long program on the tensions and challenges arising in the Indo-Pacific region, including the impact of the Ukraine crisis.

The Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research and the Consulate-General of Japan in Denver are continuing their two-year-old program of bringing Japanese foreign policy experts together with their counterparts at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies to discuss the changing conditions affecting the U.S. and Japanese alliance and the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.

Some of the questions that have become more salient in the last year:
  • How does the Russian-Chinese relationship affect conditions in the Indo-Pacific?
  • Do events and the Western response in Ukraine harm or strengthen Taiwan’s position?
  • North Korea has started missile tests again. What is the strategy for diplomacy and deterrence after the Trump administration?
  • President Xi Jinping is likely to win another term. What does it mean for diplomacy and security in the Indo-Pacific?

Three new panels are scheduled in March. More details will follow.

  1. Thursday, March 10 - Japan and U.S. Relations in Light of New Administrations and Challenges in the Indo-Pacific
  2. Wednesday, March 16 - U.S., Japan and South Korea Roles in Maintaining a Free and Open Indo-Pacific
  3. Wednesday, March 23 - Position of Taiwan in U.S., Japan and China Relations
New U.S. Ambassador Presents Credentials
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel (L) and Japanese Foreign
Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi are pictured ahead of their talks
in Tokyo, Feb. 1, 2022 | Pool photo/Kyodo

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Putin’s Long History of Proclaiming “Russian Greatness”

Russians have been told and mostly believe the U.S., Ukraine and the West are aggressors and stopping NATO’s expansion requires war. This has been a consistent position of Putin’s, and for more than a decade, the position of his party and now near total state-controlled media.

Putin’s latest one-hour speech (Feb. 22) encapsulated the historical perspectives and grievances he’s argued for two decades. The position has a long history in nationalist politics. In Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, it was the stab in the back by liberal politicians undermining the German war effort in WWI. Putin’s argument is that until he came into authority, the West took advantage of Russia’s weaknesses and he intends and works ceaselessly to reverse it and recreate historic Russia.

Vladimir Putin is 69 years old and can serve two more six-year terms until 2036. He would be 84 if he serves the terms currently allowed. He will have been president for 37 years at that point, including 4 years as prime minister when he really ran the country. The West should prepare for a long and dangerous engagement.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Russian-Chinese Affair Goes Public

The camaraderie between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping has been in the news since September 2018 when they met at the Vladivostok so-called Eastern Economic Forum where Putin famously showed Xi how to cook blintzes while their tanks practiced maneuvers (see Autocrats Cook While Tanks Rumble, 9-18-18).

President Xi brought President Putin two pandas in a show of good will at the June 2019 economic forum in St. Petersburg as the two signed trade agreements, at least partially to avoid trade sanctions from the West. Xi called Putin his best friend as they celebrated Putin’s birthday (see The Two Pandas Summit: Autocrats Gather; Economies and Military Ties Strengthened, 6-11-19).

The pandemic interrupted bonhomie, but in a show of friendship and respect, Putin managed to slip into Beijing for some Olympic viewing (and napping) at a moment when he needed to show the U.S. and Western Europe he has a powerful friend in Asia (see Americans Dislike Putin, Support Ukraine, But Don’t Want War, 2-10-22). They have long made clear their hostility to Western democracies and the U.S.’s geopolitical and trade positions, which they label as unilateralism and hegemony.

Monday, February 21, 2022

The Ever Shortening Cycle of Control of the House

The Democratic Party exercised uninterrupted control of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1954 to 1994, an extraordinary 40 years. Control partially reflected the slow decay of the Roosevelt political legacy of 1932. It was finally ended by the Republican takeover in 1994, led by Newt Gingrich, who became the Speaker. 

Since 1994, however, the average length of a party’s control has been only about 8 years. Democrats came back to power 12 years later in 2006 during George W. Bush’s second term, making Nancy Pelosi the new Speaker, but she only held it 4 years until 2010 when Republican John Boehner became the Speaker. Since that first 12-year cycle, the turnover has been quick, with Pelosi out in 2010, but back in 2018 and possibly out in 2022.

The faster cycle reflects the polarization of politics and the nationalization of elections from presidents down to Congress. Expect it to continue.

Joe Blake – A Master of Community Service

Joe Blake blended a talent for bringing people together with a deep commitment to community service. Leading the Denver Chamber and becoming Chancellor of Colorado State University highlighted his range in achieving goals with both the private and the public sectors. At the same time, he was on dozens of community boards dedicated to service projects around the state.

He was extremely proud of helping bring major league baseball to Colorado and passing the statewide time-out of tax limitations in 2005. He was always interested in the liberal arts. It was demonstrated by his tireless support for the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), the successful funding mechanics for the state’s premier regional and local community cultural venues and programs.

But Blake’s proudest accomplishment came late in his career from his work with CSU and its students as a board member, chancellor and major fundraising.

“Colorado State University is creating phenomenal citizens for a world that’s in desperate need of phenomenal citizens. To be with people who are inspired, aspirational, and committed, it’s a joy. It’s a joy, and I’m very fortunate to be able to do it.” (Joe Blake)

Blake’s extraordinary contribution to Colorado is now a valuable part of the state’s history and his legacy. Thank you, Joe.

Joe Blake, President and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce,
socializes following the State of the State address by Colorado Gov. Bill
Ritter at the State Capitol in Denver, Jan. 08, 2009 | Denver Post photo

Read Denver Post: Joe Blake, first chancellor of the CSU System, dies in Denver at 86

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Fatalities More Than Double in 2022, Public Wants to Move On

The number of fatalities from the coronavirus and its variants more than doubled, to 940,000 from the 411,000 Joe Biden inherited from the Trump administration. The relentless spread of the latest Omicron version, while less deadly, has been debilitating to America’s efforts to return to normal. The impact on the health care system and its ICUs has been well-documented, and now the shift in the politics of the country is opening wide visible divisions. For example, governors, including Democrats, are lifting restrictions, hopeful the pandemic is receding. They are being joined by many counties, cities and school boards, but the White House believes it’s “premature.”

Polls show the public’s divisions in opinions:

  • People are divided on what to do next: 51% learn to live with the virus vs. 48% stop the spread highest priority (CNN).
  • Public officials are reacting to exhaustion from pandemic (75% feel burned out) (CNN), yet deaths still average 2,300 per day, and 64% think we can’t eradicate the virus in next year (Axios-Ipsos).
  • Mandates are polarizing (21% no mandates, 29% some, 23% keep current, 21% increase mask and vaccine requirements), K-12 education (67% worried children fall behind due to online instruction) restrictions are highly controversial (Axios-Ipsos).
  • CDC’s performance rating (50%, down 10 points since August) and President Biden’s approval ratings (40% new low) on handling issue down (Pew).

Where Does Putin Go Next?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a number of options to achieve his stated goals of reducing NATO’s footprint in Eastern Europe and eliminating Ukraine’s independent, pro-Western drift. Unfortunately for him, his military strategy to achieve the goals has initially produced the opposite effect. This is a “military exercise” and “I don’t want to attack Ukraine” are not credible on their face and highlight the dangerous, cynical expression of political power that threatens civilians, holds a country hostage, and disrupts the economies and peace of the democratic West.

The Putin build-up has produced:

  • A renewed commitment to NATO with a step up in interest in joining, an increase in funding and transfer of equipment to frontline nations threatened by Russia.
  • A shift in public opinion against Russia’s intentions and actions, including publics in the Ukraine and other frontline countries. New polling shows little support among Russians.
  • American opinion now strongly dislikes Putin and identifies Russia as a threat. The military overreach has helped create a bipartisan commitment to sanctions. In addition, the administration is drawn back to the Atlantic Alliance and European affairs after a desire to focus on the Pacific China.

But, if the military show of force has not accomplished its purpose in the short run, the West should be prepared to see the long-term strategy, which will continue the effort to weaken NATO and the EU and undermine Ukraine’s economic and political institutions. An invasion was always a risky strategy, but Russia is a master of hybrid war, including cyber attacks, and Ukraine and other neighbors should be prepared.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
hold a meeting at the Moscow Kremlin at an oddly long table,  Feb. 14, 2022
Photo: Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press & Information Office/TASS

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

LA Mayor’s Race Gets a Serious Business Candidate

Billionaire developer Rick Caruso enters
LA mayor’s race | Photo: LA Times
Rick Caruso, a Los Angeles billionaire property developer, just entered the June 7 mayoral primary. It was already crowded with local politicians, some with national and statewide profiles. Caruso just switched from being an unaffiliated to Democrat in a very Democratic city. He has served on a number of important city boards related to police and water and power (utilities), but no elected positions.

Crime and homelessness were the two issues he mentioned first. Caruso promises to bring a new approach to a city that has suffered much during the pandemic with long lag in population and economic growth and a major increase in homelessness. He believes the professional politicians running have failed. He claims to be a centrist, pro-jobs and public safety Democrat.

The field:

  • Congressperson Karen Bass. The frontrunner with a $2 million war chest. On a Biden list for Vice President.
  • City Councilperson Kevin de León. Next best-known. Ran a primary against Senator Dianne Feinstein.
  • City Attorney Mike Feuer. Announced in March 2020. Reformer, but dealing with investigations of his office.
  • City Councilperson Joe Buscaino. Most conservative candidate, former police officer.

Campaign team: Lex Olbrei, Ace Smith (SCN Strategies/Bearstar Strategies), Mark Fabiani (Fabiani and Lehane) and Pete Ragone (public relations)

LA Times reporters: Julia Wick, Benjamin Oreskes

Sources: Fernando Guerra, Loyola Marymount University, Center for the Study of Los Angeles; Sonja Diaz, UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative; Ralph Sonenshein, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University of Los Angeles; and Consultants Darry Sragow and Bill Carrick

Metro Denver Sales Tax Revenue Ends the Year Strong

The seven-county Denver metropolitan area sales tax revenue had a spectacular final month, up 17.8 percent over December 2020 and the year’s revenue was 18.9 percent above 2020. This year, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) will have $76.4 million for distribution, an increase of more than $12 million for distribution above 2020 revenue ($64.3 million). The funding is an important source of operation revenue for more than 200 cultural organizations regionwide.

Read The Buzz:

Monday, February 14, 2022

From Counties to School Districts, New Election Districts are in a Fight

The 2020 census doesn’t just reallocate U.S. Congressional Districts among the states, but guides all local election districts as they equalize population and follow other statutory and constitutional tests. California’s recent slow growth – about 6 percent vs. the U.S. population increase of 7 percent – cost the state a congressional district. California’s growth has declined dramatically in this century, some of which was caused by people leaving. They also shifted around the state.

California counties grew at different rates compared to the state average of 6 percent. Riverside, San Bernadino and San Diego counties grew above the average. Orange County grew only slightly and Los Angeles and Ventura will lose considerable political influence. Because the drawing of district lines affects incumbent politicians and the distribution of partisan influence in a county, city or school district, conflict is assured, especially when population doesn’t keep up to the state average.


Thursday, February 10, 2022

Americans Dislike Putin, Support Ukraine, But Don’t Want War

Recent polls show that Americans want to avoid war in Eastern Europe, but choose Ukraine over Vladimir Putin and Russia. President Biden’s diplomatic strategy is generally supported and the U.S. far-right pro-Russian position is an outlier.

YouGov Poll, Kathy Frankovic and Carl Bialik

  • 74% Russia is serious threat to U.S., 60% so is Putin
  • 58% support Ukraine, 8% for Russia in this conflict
  • Only 13% say agree Ukraine can never join NATO (far-right position). For more on pro-Russia position, see Yahoo!News here.
  • But don’t favor war, 56% say sending troops to fight Russia is a bad idea (12% good idea)

Morning Consult, Politico

  • 57% support Biden’s diplomatic effort
  • 48% support deploying 3,000 troops to Eastern Europe
  • 65% support sanctions if Moscow attacks Ukraine (68% Democrats, 63% Republicans)

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the opening ceremony of the Winter
Olympics in Beijing | Alexei Druzhinin /Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Leadership Welcomed in Japan and Australia, Much Less in India

As the U.S. steps up its diplomacy and defense in the Indo-Pacific region, a recently released Gallup poll reveals that half of the Australian (51%) and Japanese (50%) public approve of the leadership of the U.S., up significantly the last year. But, the public in India, an important member of the newly revived Quad, is much less supportive of American leadership (38%).

The Quad will not be fully credible until the Indian public see U.S. leadership in a more positive manner.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Will Russia Attack Ukraine Civilians?

It is ironic that near the anniversary dates of the Battle of Stalingrad (Feb. 2, 1943) and siege of Leningrad (Jan. 27, 1944) when the Red Army liberated two of its cities that the Russian army threatens to attack the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine. The civilian population does not support the Russian cause and is training men, women and youth in guerilla tactics to defend the city.

Whatever Ukrainian casualties – civilian or military – are sustained, they are the responsibility of Russia’s political and military leadership.

Putin has lost the Ukrainian public.

An instructor shows a group of women how to use weapons during
training in Kharkiv, Ukraine | Evgeniy Maloletka/AP Photo

Read AP: Ukrainians train in guerrilla tactics in case Russia invades

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Japan’s Foreign Minister Welcomes Ambassador Emanuel

Fortunately for Rahm Emanuel, he got his ambassadorship confirmation through the U.S. Senate early. Dozens of nominees are waiting. His credentials were just accepted by Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.

Emanuel arrived at a key moment with the U.S. and Japan leading the way on a “free and open Indo-Pacific. Along with the revived QUAD representing the U.S., Japan, Australia and India, he will be dealing quickly with the leadership of allies South Korea and Taiwan. And, of course, he will be in frequent communication with his ambassador colleague in China, Nicholas Burns.

He’s also fortunate to miss the winter in Chicago.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel (L) and Japanese
Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi are pictured ahead of their
talks in Tokyo, Feb. 1, 2022 | Pool photo/Kyodo

Read Kyodo News: New U.S. envoy Emanuel, Japan foreign minister affirm alliance

Russian Aggression Costs It Support in Ukraine and Eastern Europe

The Wall Street Journal reported January 31 on Kharkiv, a city in northeastern Ukraine that in 2014 was very pro-Russian in sentiment before the Russian seizure of Crimea and creation of the Donbas breakaway, but has now shifted against Russia toward Ukrainian sovereignty and identity. It reflects seven years of Russian and separatist control of far eastern Ukraine that has terrorized and impoverished the local population and caused many of them to abandon the area.

Kharkiv’s shift parallels changed attitudes toward Russia in Ukraine in general. Ukrainians have held very positive feelings toward Russia, but like Kharkiv, support collapsed after the invasion of Crimea and the fighting in Donbas. An analysis in 538 reports that it shifted from 80 percent favorability to only 42 percent and unfavorability nearly tripled from 15 percent to 41 percent. Ukrainians do not want to be a part of Russia in spite of Vladimir Putin’s view that there is no such thing as a Ukrainian nation.

Putin’s use of Ukraine to further his anti-NATO strategy has alienated the population and made NATO more, not less attractive. Support for joining NATO climbed from 30 percent before the Crimea seizure to 56 percent today. Opposition to joining, which was greater than support (30% favor, 47% oppose), is now in favor 56 percent to 33 percent.

Joining NATO is no doubt off the table due to the power relationship in the region today, but Russia has likely lost a generation of opinion by his denial of Ukraine identity and use of them as a pawn in his effort to roll back NATO.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Russia’s Anti-NATO Behavior Backfires

Gallup reports the collapse of support among NATO’s Eastern members for “Russian leadership” after the Crimea annexation in 2014 and continuing with ongoing military threats. Disapproval of Russian leadership went from 32 percent in 2013 to 58 percent in 2014, with approval dropping from 30 to 26 percent. Disapproval is now 49 percent and approval at 27 percent. 

These are the 14 countries that joined NATO after 1997 that President Putin now demands be abandoned by the alliance. Some countries feel especially threatened by Russia.

Disapproval of Russia across the NATO eastern bloc is much higher in 2021 than before the seizure of the Crimea and war in eastern Ukraine. Gallup states from previous data: “Most NATO member countries in the region have seen the alliance as protection rather than the threat that Russia portrays…”

Europe Tries to Head Off War, But Appeasement is Out

European foreign and defense ministers with their presidents and prime ministers are attempting to avoid a war in Ukraine while maintaining agreements and understandings reflected in NATO and more than 77 years of no major land wars in Europe.

Ironically for Russian interests, European pacifist and pro-Russian nationalists, the Ukraine crisis is strengthening NATO and its Eastern members who want a forward defense and deterrence of Russia.

The appearance of appeasement is out, even for Germany. The UK has committed troops to the Baltic states and Poland, France to Romania. Militarily nonaligned Sweden and Finland expressed interest in NATO membership. The U.S., trying to focus on China and the Indo-Pacific, is now shifted its attention back to Europe and proposes troop and Navy deployments. Uncommonly, the U.S. Senate has moved on bipartisan sanctions.

Even Sergey Lavrov, master diplomat and the dean of foreign ministers, who has been President Putin’s minister for 18 years (72 years old) and has been providing misdirection in several of Russia’s military excursions (Georgia in 2008, Crimea (2014) and Ukraine (2014 Donbas)), is being tested in the latest adventure. Very few publics or European leaders are supporting Russia’s tactics or its anti-NATO goal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) with Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov (L) and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (R), Moscow,
 Russia, Feb. 2, 2019 | Kremlin pool/EPA/EFE