Sunday, May 22, 2016

Reversals of Fortune

With the polls now indicating a tight race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a far cry from the blowout predicted for Clinton two months ago, the focus will now turn to the July conventions. Where in early April it appeared that the Republicans were on the road to suicide, it now appears that the Democratic Convention will be far more raucous. To the chagrin of the Clinton's, it now appears that Bernie is a bitter-ender. After all Bernie Sanders, despite his Jewish background, is really a member of The Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Outrage. Simply put, Bernie is looking for a fight. My guess as the Republicans line up for Trump, the Democrats will make their Nevada convention look like a dress rehearsal for the real thing.

The other reversal of fortune is that while the Obama Administration was busy in taking Andrew Jackson, the founder of the Democratic Party, off the $20 bill a new Jacksonian was on the rise in the person Donald Trump. Recall that Jackson was the richest man in Tennessee, believed in democracy for white Americans only, supported the "tariff of abominations," removed the Cherokee Nation from Georgia and Tennessee and though his foreign policy was isolationist he believed that when attacked the U.S. should use the full might of its military to defeat the attacker. This sounds awfully like The Donald.

I know it is early and there will be more reversals, but we are living in an extraordinary political year where the two leading candidates are disliked by a majority of voters, myself included. To mix metaphors batten down the hatches and fasten your seat belts!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My Amazon Review of Marc Wortman's "1941:Fighting the Shadow War: A Divided America in a World at War"

Prelude to War

America’s entry into the Second World War has been told many times before, perhaps best in recent years by Michael Fullilove and Susan Dunn. Thus historian Marc Wortman faced a difficult task to add value. He partially succeeds and he does it with the writing style of a novelist making the book easy to read. Where he is most interesting is in presenting the very active American role in the famous sinking of the German battleship Bismarck and his very lengthy discussion of Phillip Johnson who would become a world famous architect, as a very active Nazi sympathizer who was almost indicted for treason. He also covers the role of the young Nelson Rockefeller as a state department official organizing our efforts to counter Nazi influence in Latin America.

He leaves out Dean Acheson’s role in coming up with the legal analysis that enabled FDR’s bases for destroyers deal and the role of American communists in their shifting from being pro-war to anti-war and back to pro-war as they cleaved to the party line coming out of Moscow.

As a result if a reader is not familiar with the history, Wortman’s book would be a good start in learning how Roosevelt with starts and stops moved the Nation to face the reality of the Nazi menace. 

For the full Amazon URL see:

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

My Amazon Review of Lawrence Haas' "Harry & Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg and the Partnership That Created the Free World"

Politics Stop at the Water’s Edge

Would that be true today, but it was true for a brief moment from 1945-1949 when Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg worked hand-in-glove with President Harry Truman to craft a revolution in American foreign policy. Lawrence Haas, a former communications director to Vice President Al Gore, tells the story about a partnership that ended a century and a half policy of isolation and turned the United States towards a policy of full-throated internationalism. All of this was done against a back drop of highly partisan domestic politics. Recall that Harry Truman called the Republican Congress of 1946-1948 the “do nothing Congress” all the while the Republicans were over-riding his vetoes on labor and tax legislation.

Not only did Vandenberg work with Truman directly, he had very cordial working relationships with Secretaries of State Stettinius, Marshall and Acheson and the very influential Under-Secretary Robert Lovett. So important was Vandenberg’s role was the Truman placed him on the U.S. delegation to the founding United Nations conference in San Francisco in 1945. Truman clearly did not want to make Wilson’s mistake by failing to appoint any Republicans to Versailles conference a quarter of a century before. At the conference Vandenberg was the author of Article 51 which enabled defensive military alliances outside of the United Nations. That article paved the way for the Rio Pact in 1947 and, more importantly, NATO in 1949.

What Truman and Vandenberg wrought was the United Nations in 1945, the Greek Turkish Aid Act of 1947 which was a direct product of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan of 1948 and NATO in 1949. All of this was accomplished as the United States policy makers were coming to grips with a very aggressive Soviet Union in the early phase of the Cold War. Both Truman and Vandenberg recognized that Britain was done as a major power and only the United States had the ability to protect Europe and its periphery. Having the power is one thing, having the will is another? The alliance Truman and Vandenberg forged provided the will. Furthermore Vandenberg not only provided policy ideas, he shepherded the necessary legislation through the Congress.

The bipartisan era ended with China falling to the Communists in 1949 and the Korean War that followed in 1950. By then McCarthyism was on the rise and Vandenberg was dying of cancer. A return to bipartisanship would have to wait for Eisenhower’s arrival in 1953.

The lessons for today are obvious as Haas points out. With the United States under President Obama engaged in a strategic retreat from the world, there is no power present to take its place. When Britain retreated the United States was there. Thus without the United States’ will to act the world has become a more dangerous place. Where are a Truman and a Vandenberg when we need them again? I would recommend this book to all of the members of Congress and those who are now running for President. I don’t know whether it would help, but it is worth a try.

For the full Amazon URL see:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

My Article on Zocalo: "The U.S. Can no Longer Remain an Island of Economic Tranquility"

How’s the economy?
We have so many indicators to measure, you’d think the answer to that question would be as straightforward as the answer to the question of “How’s the weather?”
It never is, of course, for a number of reasons. The “economy” in the aggregate covers many activities and sectors, some of which can be booming while others are in a rough patch. Similarly, some individuals suffer economic hardship in supposedly good times, while some people manage to thrive in down times, so one’s feelings about “the economy” don’t always correlate with the latest macro statistics and headlines.
But there is a more novel reason for the confusion surrounding how people feel about the economy: the perceived seesaw relationship between the U.S. economy and the rest of the world. For the past decade, our fortunes and those of nations beyond our shores haven’t been moving in tandem. Even more worrisome, in the political realm the two are increasingly described as being in a zero-sum, adversarial relationship.
Go to URL above for the full article.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Hard Political Truth about Carried Interest

Liberal Democrats have wailed for years about the ability of hedge funds and private equity partners to convert ordinary income into capital gains. They are the villains of the piece. However the use of carried interest is far broader than in canyons of Wall Street and the leafy suburb of Greenwich.

Two key Democratic constituencies also water at the trough of carried interest. They are the venture capitalists of Silicon Valley and the arts community of Hollywood/Broadway. How do you think start-ups get financed? Answer: Venture Capital Partnerships. The same goes for Broadway productions and more than a few movies.

So next time the issue comes up you should look to the money bags of Silicon Valley and Hollywood to ante up. We will see if the Democrats will gore their own oxen.

Monday, April 18, 2016

My Amazon Review of Adam Hochschild's "Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939"

La Sangre de Espana (The Blood of Spain)

Adam Hochschild’s beautifully written, if somewhat biased book, tells the story of the Spanish Civil War though the eyes of several of its participants mostly on the Republican side.  It is clear where his biases lie, but then again, it is hard to cuddle up to Franco and his henchman. It is not what he leaves in, but rather what he leaves out. Although he discusses the role of the Soviet NKVD in Spain he doesn’t give full treatment to its perfidious role. As I have written elsewhere many of the participants in the civil war were pawns in a larger geopolitical struggle.

That said there is no question about the heroism of the Republicans he portrays. His heroes are Robert and Marion Merriman, American communists who go to Spain to fight against the growing fascist menace. In the lingo of the day, they were premature anti-fascists. Merriman is the model for Hemingway’s hero Robert Jordan in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Merriman would ultimately lead the Lincoln Brigade and die in a fire fight towards the end of the war. Unlike, “Hotel Florida” which deals with the comings and goings of the journalists covering the war, Hochschild focuses in on the war fighters and the daily tribulations they suffered from.

The villain of the piece is Texaco chief Torkild Rieber who turns his company into an oil depot for Franco. It was Texaco aviation fuel that powered the German bombers over Guernica. And it was Texaco personnel throughout Europe who alerted Franco of incoming supply ships to Republican Spain.

A failing of the book for all of the leading personalities he discusses, he leaves out Steve Nelson, an American Communist who was the political commissar of the Lincoln Brigade. To see the world through his eyes and the purges that were undertaken both in Spain and later in Moscow would have offered a much greater insight into the day-today role of the Russian security services in the war.

Hochschild ends his book by discussing a counterfactual where the Republicans win the war. Would European history be fundamentally different, Hochschild generally thinks not and he doesn’t believe that Spain would have become a Soviet satellite given its inability to occupy the country. However, Cuba proves that the Soviets could have a satellite without military occupation.

My own counterfactual is what would have happened if Franco won quickly in late 1936 or early 1937. Had that happened there probably would have been no story, Hitler would not have been able to test his weapons in combat, there might have been less fear of aerial  bombardment in London and maybe a million Spanish lives would have been saved. Or alternatively it would have been another signpost that fascism was on the march and the Western democracies had better get out of the way.

All told Adam Hochschild has written a terrific book that takes you back to an era when politics meant something.

For the Amazon URL see:

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Donald Trump and the "Enviro-Liberals"

I was in Los Angeles earlier in the week for the UCLA Anderson Forecast and an audience member brought up the lack of affordable housing in Southern California and what it means for the regional economy. One of my colleagues argued the problem was intractable because amenity-rich Southern California will always suffer from excess demand.

I then chimed-in with the comment that Donald Trump wants to keep people out by building a huge wall along the Mexican border. In in Southern California and other places the "enviro-liberals" are far more subtle. They have convinced government to impose strict zoning and environmental regulations to limit the supply of housing that have the same effect as Trump's would be wall. Simply put the regulations work to keep people out.

The only difference between Trump and the "enviro-liberals" is intent. To the liberals their intentions are good and Trump's are bad. No matter, the results are the same.