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Despite the Ukraine war, low unemployment and a receding Covid pandemic, President Joe Biden is struggling in the polls. There is a widespread sense among Americans of an executive struggling with competency issues whether it is tackling inflation or responding to liberal concerns like gun control or protecting abortion rights. While Covid cases rise and fall, deaths and hospitalization numbers are steady and low, but US voters have “moved on” and are giving little credit to the administration. 

Biden is reportedly “rattled” by his approval ratings, genuinely mystified how he scores below President Donald Trump’s at his lowest. On June’s weighted poll average gave Biden an approval rating of 39% and a disapproval rating of 55.5%, his worst ever numbers and a mirror opposite of Biden’s numbers at the start of the year.  Recent polls with higher ratings for procedure and accuracy, such Ipsos, Trafalgar and Quinnipiac, give the president an approval rating in the 33-36% range. 

An NBC News story described a president unhappy with his staff. “Biden is pressing aides for a more compelling message and a sharper strategy while bristling at how they’ve tried to stifle the plain-speaking persona that has long been one of his most potent assets.” Biden believes his team hasn’t “landed on a winning midterm message” and is “putting a lot of pressure on people to figure out what that is.” He is looking for ways to restore an image of “sure handed leadership.” A major Democratic donor is quoted elsewhere as saying that all he was hearing is “Why can’t you get anything done?”  One reason Biden was able to defeat Donald Trump was the claim his long years in government would mean a restoration of administrative efficiency. “Biden is frustrated. If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said one person. 

White House chief of staff Ron Klain may be the most prominent victim of the administration’s present malaise. Among the possible successors: Anita Dunn, a Biden confidante to whom the president has turned to in other moments of crisis; Steve Ricchetti, counsellor to the president; and Susan Rice, his domestic policy chief. Dunn or Rice would be the first women and first people of colour to be chosen for the position.

Biden is especially displeased at his staff’s tendency to undermine his own statements. “He makes a clear and succinct statement — only to have aides rush to explain that he actually meant something else.” When Biden, during a speech in Poland, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” he found his aides walking back his comments, saying US policy was unchanged. An angry Biden told his staff he had meant what he had said.

A flurry of articles have come out, even from liberals, questioning whether Biden deserves a second term or, improbably, should be replaced midterm. The Republicans want to impeach the president if they win both houses of Congress in November, a largely symbolic action as they will not have the numbers to complete the process. The progressive left of the Democrats have also become increasingly critical of the president, arguing he was not radical enough, unable to stem right-wing political victories in issues like abortion. But they have made it all that more difficult for him to govern and hold on to socially conservative minority groups like Hispanics and Arab voters. Centrists argue the opposite, saying Biden should have been more incremental in his approach and has been too much taken by a vision of pushing through a modern New Deal.


The White House has been wrong-footed repeatedly by the country’s number one problem: inflation. Prices began rising late last year, but the administration believed the effects were temporary, that inflation would peak in April and would cease to be a problem by summer. The unexpected 8.6% consumer price index increase in May, the highest such figure in 40 years, proved a turning point. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen publicly admitted the administration had gotten it wrong and the US Federal Reserve began raising interest rates to try and bring prices under control. Biden is now looking at the prospect of inflation continuing well into the third quarter, ensuring it will be a dominant issue in the November midterm elections. Polls show that prices trump mass shootings, Ukraine and abortion rights among voters as their greatest concern. 

The White House has begun holding numerous meetings with US government agencies to find ways to bring down prices. Biden has privately blamed the legacy of President Trump while internally and publicly admitting inflation is the “bane of our existence”. With an eye on the electoral calendar, the White House made a new push to recast how it is fighting rising costs. The administration is seeking to ensure wage increases are higher than the inflation rate. At present the latter is three percentage points higher. A plan to provide cash rebates for petrol purchases fell apart when it was found that issuing so many debit cards was impossible given the present global shortage of chips.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Biden was defensive. “If it’s my fault, why is it the case in every other major industrial country in the world that inflation is higher? You ask yourself that? I’m not being a wise guy,” he responded to a question on the issue. Admitting Americans were really “down,” the president insisted “we’re in a stronger position than any nation in the world to overcome this inflation” and insisted the US would “own the second quarter of the 21st century.” He also said a recession was not “inevitable” — presumably in response to US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s contradictory prediction.


In a widely expected decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that the extent of abortion rights were a matter left to state governments to decide. The decision, which sparked protests across the country, overturned the landmark 1972 court decision in the case of Roe vs Wade that had concluded abortion was a constitutional right. It also marks the end of a nearly half-century domestic consensus on abortion, one which the Republican Party was very much part of. The decision largely echoes a draft opinion by conservative Justice Samuel Alito jr that was leaked to the media in May. The judgment is the most striking evidence of the conservative shift in the Supreme Court following the appointment of judges during the Trump administration and the failure to do so during the Obama years. The decision was carried out with a 5-4 majority. “We hold that Roe and [1992’s Planned Parenthood vs.] Casey must be overruled,” said the ruling. “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Caseynow chiefly rely — the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

President Biden announced plans to pass legislation restoring a nationwide right to abortion, belatedly seeking to fill in a gap on the issue of abortion: namely that it rested on two court decisions but was never followed up with legal codification. “This fall Roe is on the ballot,” Biden said, “The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk.” Republicans immediately promised to push for bans on all or late-term abortions in every state and anti-abortion legislation at the federal level if they do well in November’s midterm elections. 

It is not clear how the issue will play out during the November midterm elections or that it will be able to push aside economic issues. Republicans have tended to downplay the issue in the past because of support for abortion rights among independent voters.  Democrats say a number of swing votes, like New Hampshire, Arizona and Nevada, have large pro-abortion populations. Both sides claim the judgment will help mobilize their base. noted that “many Americans will have to decide, perhaps for the first time in their lives, how they actually feel about legal abortion” after having taken it for granted for a half-century. 

Polls show that a majority of Americans support early stage abortion. Late-term abortion is legal largely in the states of the Northeast and the Pacific coast. States like California said they would allow out-of-state women to use abortion facilities on their territory while large firms ranging from Meta to J.P. Morgan said they would pay for employees to go to protected states to have abortions. However, these are unlikely to be of much help to women from low-incomes or marginal groups who will be the primary victims of the ruling. The US recently experienced an increase of 7% in its abortion rate from 13.5 abortions per 1000 child-bearing aged females in 2017 to 14.4 per 1000. The country overall had 930,160 abortions in 2020. 

A number of commentators have noted that the judgment reflects the weak statutory legs on which the original abortion policy stood – a single court ruling without any follow-up legislation. Liberal commentary has argued the ruling is the culmination of a well-funded and highly organised right-wing campaign by conservative Christians and other groups who over the past few decades were able to, first, overturn the Republican Party’s support for Roe vs Wade and then, second, ensure like-minded judges were appointed across the court system. The New York Times showed how, after 2010, Republicans were able to capture over 1,000 state legislature seats in a red wave that helped pave the way for the Supreme Court’s rightwing shift. 

One unfortunate fallout is that modest gun control legislation passed by the lower house following a mass school shooting in the Texas town of Uvalde is unlikely to be taken up by the Senate.

The previous issues of USA Review are available here: LINK

(The views expressed are personal)


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President Joe Biden’s administration and the Democratic Party are already preparing for the midterm elections in November. The midterms, when the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate go before the voters, are generally bad news for the White House incumbent. A Republican Congress would hamstring Biden, who has razor-thin majorities in both houses, in the last two years of his term.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and rising inflation have meant Biden’s campaign message will be “strength and stability,” his team has told media. The administration will talk up police and military spending increases. Inflation means earlier talk of radical deficit spending to pay for major welfare and infrastructure spending will be replaced with promises to reduce the deficit by increasing taxes on the super-rich. Biden will position his administration, and by reflection his own party, as centre-left and moderate.

Democratic polling indicates they are vulnerable to Republican criticism on crime fighting and inflation. Overall, the view is that Biden’s competency ratings need to be improved as they have been sagging for the past half-year. Biden wants to rally Democratic votes to push existing climate and social spending programmes. He also hopes to benefit from his massive infrastructure act and other laws boosting innovation and competitiveness, among the few where he received bipartisan support. The president made recent trips to Iowa and North Carolina to highlight his administration’s actions on reducing consumer prices and job creation but was able to pick up only a few local headlines. Inviting Barack Obama to the White House seemed only to underline how much more charismatic the ex-president is compared to the incumbent. 

Biden’s repositioning to the centre will attract the ire of the progressive left of his own party. They are already unhappy with the administration’s increases in defence spending and shift away from left-oriented welfare reforms. “Political reality just didn’t support the expansive view of progressive possibilities,” said Bill Galston, ex-Clinton administration official at the Brookings Institution. “If you put an ideological template on it, you have to say the correction is to the center.”

One group preparing aggressively are the Democratic Party’s Blue Dogs, the shrinking centrist ranks of the party. The fear is Blue Dogs may lose dozens of their members, which is why the coalition is already building up staff strength, raising funding and strategizing how best to support moderate liberals who face re-election challenges. Says Representative Kurt Schrader (Democrat-Oregon) leads the Blue Dog political arm, “We need a moderate to replace a moderate because those seats are not winnable by some of those folks further left of the spectrum of our party.”

The Blue Dog and the affiliated NewDem Action Fund are already throwing their support behind certain members in the Democratic primary elections, where candidates for the lower house midterms are selected. “Certainly we understand this is going to be a difficult cycle,” said Representative Ami Bera (Democrat-California), an Indian-American and senior member of the New Democrat Coalition. Centrists have already issued 11 endorsements, the vast majority in safe seats where Biden won by double-digits. But after the last election cycle, when all nine of their endorsed candidates lost, they are playing safe.

While the midterm losses of 2006, 2010 and 2014 point to a pattern of incumbent parties losing heavily, the longer historical record shows that a neutral or even successful midterm is not unheard of. In 1998 and 2002, for example, the incumbent party actually increased seats thanks to a booming economy and the 9/11 terrorist attack helped ensure a pro-incumbency outcome. What Biden’s team will look at the most are the elections of 1962, 1970 and 1990 when the incumbent party lost only a handful of seats or offset losses in one chamber with gains in another.

One complication for Democrats in the midterm is the unusually large numbers of Democratic legislators who are hanging up their gloves. Already 31 Democratic legislators, mainly from the lower house, have announced they will not seek re-election. Only 18 Republicans have done the same. An incumbent legislator normally has an advantage over a challenger in US politics so retirements make it easier for an opposition challenger. Biden’s stagnant approval rating and ideological fighting within the Democratic Party makes the likelihood of these seats being switched even higher.


The US unemployment rate hit 3.6 per cent, with 431,000 jobs added during March alone, but this is not translating into positive polling numbers for the Biden administration. One reason is perception: surveys show 37% of the US public believe that there has been a net loss of jobs over the past year, only 28% think employment has improved. The sense of less jobs was ten percentage points higher among Republicans. In reality, the jobless rate was 6.4% when President Joe Biden was elected to office. 

The public focus seems to have shifted to inflation. With consumer prices up 8.5% over the past year, well above wage gains of 5.6%, this has been the dominant economic theme in US media and commentary. Inflation, year on year, is the highest it has been in the US since 1981, driven largely by food and energy prices. The National Republican Congressional Committee is already exploiting this, running over 90% of its 30 unique digital aid campaigns on the subject of price rises. Explained a Republican communications director, “Republicans are talking about people encountering rising prices every minute of every day versus Democrats talking about bridges that might be built in three years.”

One issue on which Democrats continue to struggle is how to handle illegal immigration across the US’s southern border. This political thorn was handed over to Vice-President Kamala Harris at the start of the administration but she has failed to make a mark on the problem. A Title 42 public health order had been imposed by President Donald Trump to tighten controls on immigration, but the Biden administration announced it would lift the order in May. Democratic Party members were caught by surprise but the larger problem is the continuing lack of a unified message on immigration and border policy. Republicans have run 80 television ads in March alone on the issue, trying to portray the Biden administration as complicit in allowing unrestricted and chaotic migration from Mexico and Central America. Already over a dozen legislators, half of them Democrat, have joined hands to pass a bill that would stop Biden from abolishing Title 42.

An early April Reuters/Ipsos poll showed President Joe Biden's public approval rating rising to 45%, largely because of stronger support among registered Democratic Party supporters. However, overall disapproval of the president’s job performance remains at 50% in part because of high inflation but also because of geopolitical concerns over the Ukraine war. Biden has struggled to keep his approval rating above 50% since August last year. The website, which weights different polls by their credibility, concluded that Biden’s rating remains unmoved at about 42%. A Los Angeles combination of four national polls, however, concluded Biden was stuck in 39% approval rating rut.


Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was appointed and confirmed as the first black woman Supreme Court judge and first Democratic appointee to the Supreme Court in nearly 12 years. Her appointment will not affect the conservative 6-3 majority on the bench, but still marks a success for liberals who have let control of the highest court slip away. Democrats believe that Republicans used illegitimate tactics to secure their appointees. For example, blocking President Barack Obama from appointing Merrick Garland in 2016 and then pushing through Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 in record time to ensure President Biden would not get the chance to choose a judge as soon he was sworn in. 

Liberal-left activists fear the Supreme Court will overturn or look the other way at state and federal governments’ moves to undermine abortion rights, civil liberties and environmental standards. They cite conservative judges’ statements about the need to curb central government regulatory bodies and the growing number of right-wing state governments who are making it harder for the poor to vote or putting restrictions on abortion.

Attempts to get President Biden to appoint additional justices, using the US Constitution’s failure to specify the exact number of Supreme Court judges, have received little support. One reason is that the activists’ fears are not shared by Democratic voters as a whole is because there has still been little in the way of tangible shifts in judicial stances by the Supreme Court though the tenor of the rhetoric may have changed. If the court decides undermine or overturn the long-standing Roe vs Wade judgment on abortion in June, as is widely speculated, that passivism could end.


Ukraine, not unexpectedly, has become the overriding foreign policy issue for the Biden administration to the point it is allowing other foreign policy highpoints to be neglected. Among the most striking decisions was the decision to cancel the latest US-ASEAN summit, originally scheduled for March 28-29, a lacunae immediately filled in by China which announced a four-day mini-summit of the four foreign ministers of Southeast Asia and China. The White House then announced a new ASEAN summit would be held in Washington on May 12-13. The US president did  hold a meeting with the Singapore Prime Minister in Washington but there have been obvious questions raised about the US’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific. Biden was immediately attacked by Republican politicians. Senator Marco Rubio said, “While President Biden struggles to get a grip on his schedule, the Chinese Communist Party remains focused on undermining U.S. interests around the world.” 

The Biden administration made it a point, on the other hand, to hold a 2+2 foreign and defence ministers’ meeting with India and a virtual talk between the president and Prime Minister Narendra Modi despite the war in the Ukraine and unhappiness at India’s neutral stance over the war. However, Biden may have to look for a new ambassador for India. With a second Republican senator imposing a hold on his confirmation as US ambassador to India, Eric Garchetti is looking increasingly unlikely to get his nomination passed by the Senate. Accusations of sexual harassment have been made against Garchetti’s deputy of chief of staff when he was Los Angeles mayor, though none of the claims impugn Garchetti directly. Democratic leaders already question whether they can muster the necessary 51 senate votes from their own ranks and assume they will get none from the Republicans. Garchetti was nominated eight months ago. 

The US president also postponed his planned second global Covid-19 summit, which was to have been co-hosted with Germany. Originally planned for March, it was pushed to April and is now being considered for May. On the other hand, the summit might have thrown an embarrassing spotlight on the US Congress’s decision to slash $ 5 billion of funds for global Covid-19 funding.

Washington has also compromised on the Biden administration’s human rights agenda to garner support for its larger strategy to defeat Russia. This has included outreach to Venezuela and trying to fast track the nuclear negotiations with Iran, moves done with an eye on their crude reserves and a US need to provide alternatives if sanctions start to reduce Russian energy production. Even more striking has been the administration’s increasing willingness to re-engage with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. The crown prince has been on Biden’s blacklist for his involvement in the murder of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the two have yet to communicate with each other since Biden was elected. However, Saudi Arabia’s massive excess oil production capacity means that compensating for any large-scale drop in Russian oil production is impossible without Riyadh.

Unsurprisingly, the Ukraine war has led a huge swing in US public opinion against Russia and President Vladimir Putin. A Pew Research Center poll has found the number of Americans who said Russia was an enemy had jumped from 41% in January to 70% in late March. Twenty-four percent described Russia as a competitor of the United States, while just 3% said it was a partner. Dislike of Putin is one thing that unites Americans of all stripes with 72% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans describing Russia as an enemy. This is a striking difference from the days when many Republicans were ambivalent if not admiring of Putin, helped along by President Donald Trump’s lavish praise for the man.


US Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh was praised by the New Yorker as the man behind the unusually tough financial sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, including sanctioning the country’s central bank. A former Obama official was quoted as saying, “The architect of these sanctions was Daleep Singh.” Singh, a former Goldman Sachs executive, had helped put together the 2014 sanctions that were used after the Russian takeover of Crimea. He realised that many Russian entities were overexposed in terms of debt and crafted policies that exploited this weakness. Subsequently, Moscow began piling up foreign exchange reserves and moving much of it into gold in what economists termed a “Fortress Russia” approach. Again Singh identified the weak point: the currency trade. However much Russia stockpiled funds, the ability to use them depended on a currency network that was dominated by the dollar and, therefore, US institutions. As he realised, “The real obstacle was diplomatic. The more countries that cooperated, the more comprehensive the sanction.” As the intelligence came in indicating that an invasion was imminent, the US began working with the Group of Seven countries to join what was to prove an unprecedented sanctions hit against a major economy. “You know, we can play chess, too,” Singh said. “It was important for us to show that the fortress could come crumbling down.” The article does not mention that Singh is also the great grand-nephew of the first Asian-American to be elected to the lower house of the US Congress, Dalip Singh Saund.


In a new memoir Growing Up Biden, the US president’s younger sister, Valerie Biden Owens, writes, "I remember his eyes. I wish I didn’t" while describing the moment when her brother Joe Biden, then a barely 30 newly-elected senator, was informed his wife and baby daughter had been killed in a car accident. The book details the night Biden's first wife, Neilia, and daughter, Naomi, died. Biden was sworn in as senator in the hospital where his two sons Hunter and Beau were still recovering from the crash. Biden’s sister and brother Jimmy, and a few other senators, had to intervene to persuade Biden to continue with the swearing-in and not give up his position. "Watching him, I struggled with a confused, displaced sense of pride: my brother, the Senator, assuming his role amid ruins. The whole scene felt like a ghoulish parody of our dreams and ambitions."


The previous issues of USA Review are available here: LINK


(The views expressed are personal)


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Last year ended dismally for United States President Joe Biden with a single senator blocking a $ 1.7 trillion part of the Build Back Better programme that would have transformed the US welfare system and funded an ambitious green energy transition. The legislation had already passed the lower house, but needed all 51 Democratic senators to get past the Senate. On December 19, centrist Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia declared he would not be able to support the bill because of fiscal concerns.

The Biden administration indicated it would pick up the threads in 2022, possibly after shrinking the ambit of the law or cutting it into smaller parts. A White House spokesperson said, “We will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honour his prior commitments and be true to his word." However, President Biden’s governance record inevitably enters the new year further battered. The progressive left wing of the Democrats attacked the White House for not tying the law to an earlier, more politically non-controversial infrastructure bill.

The legislation was always going to the most difficult part of Build Back Better as it provided large scale funding for education, health care, climate change and introduced tax reforms that were all an anathema to the Republicans. Manchin was not incorrect to argue the legislation would cost more than envisaged. Many of the law’s programmes only had funding for one year: the unwritten assumption being they would become too popular for Congress to let them lapse. 

Some have argued Manchin was as, if not more, concerned at the $ 580 billion funding earmarked for green energy. Almost all of the money would have been spent on solar and wind energy, storage and electric vehicles with little or nothing for nuclear or natural gas.  Manchin, whose state is a major producer of coal and natural gas, had been sceptical of overdependence on weather-dependent renewables. “The main thing that we need is dependability and reliability,” he said. “If enacted, the bill will also risk the reliability of our electric grid and increase our dependence on foreign supply chains." The last being a reference to Chinese made batteries and solar power components.

Opinion polls showed broad public support for the contents of the legislation but not for the law itself. A Morning Consult/Politico polls found 47% of registered voters supported the bill, seven percentage points more than opponents. The healthcare provisions of the bill were particularly well-received – including increased government healthcare funding and subsidised medicines – attracting 70% plus levels of support. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz was among the voices on the left who argued he bill’s passage would drive growth for decades, compensating for waning fiscal stimuli and improving the US’s decrepit infrastructure along the way.

With the appointment and confirmation of a slew of regulators and ambassadors, the Biden administration will be better equipped to overhaul the US financial and tech sectors and carry out diplomacy. Among the ambassadors confirmed is the new US envoy to India, former Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti.

The Biden administration has an ambitious agenda to create a new regulatory framework for digital assets including cryptocurrencies and unsupervised fintech sectors, especially online lending platforms. A number of prominent South Asians, including Rohit Chopra of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Pakistani-American Lina Khan of the Federal Trade Commission, are among the new regulators who will spearhead these efforts. Chopra has already indicated his intention to push through open banking reforms which would allow consumers to access their own financial data from lenders and financial firms. The Biden administration will also seek to regulate cryptocurrencies and related assets, an issue facing other governments as well.

Just before the year-end break, the US Senate confirmed 30 ambassadors, partly ending an impasse between the administration and Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz had blocked ambassadorial appointments, demanding the administration reconsider its approval of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. A compromise, and the threat of forcing the Senate to meet through through the Christmas period, resulted in about half the ambassadorial appointments receiving approval. At one point in mid-December, only nine of Biden’s 77 ambassadorial appointments had been confirmed by the Senate and nearly half of the US embassies of the world were headless.


Latino voters are seen as the most important swing voters in US politics. While they skew Democrat, they are less partisan than other ethnic minorities. They surprised many in 2020 by increasing their support for Donald Trump. This is a major concern of the Democratic Party whose future depends on a coalition of white liberals and ethnic minorities. Equis Research, a Democratic Party research firm, released a lengthy report analysing the “Latino shift”. “The simplest story remains the most powerful,” Equis Research’s co-founder Carlos Odio wrote. “The economy and its intersection with Covid became voters’ top priority.”

Trump’s anti-immigration stance in 2016 cost him Latino support, but he deliberately toned this down in 2020 when the economy and Covid became the community’s main concerns. The economy was a big plus point for Trump. Between 2016 and 2019, Latino families enjoyed faster economic growth than their black or white counterparts and the community’s unemployment fell to a historic low. Trump’s investment in Covid vaccines received a 74% approval rating among Latinos. The study also shows favourable majorities for his push to reopen the economy (66%) and emphasis on living without fear of Covid (55%). Latino voters, while seeing Democrats as the party “that cares more about you” and representing “fairness and equality,” put the two parties on par when it came to supporting the “American Dream,” believing in hard work and traditional values. There is also a clear political divide between Latino Protestants and Catholics with the former having views similar to white Protestants, including opposing illegal migrants and supporting Trump. About 55% of Latinos are Catholic and 22% Protestant.

An Economist/YouGov analysis of polling shows a sharp drop in support for President Biden among US adults below 30, with only 29% approving his job as president and 50% expressing disapproval. The analysis says this is the worst net rating of any age group. When the administration was first elected, young Americans rated Biden 32 points higher than their elders did. The analysis indicates perceived failures on climate change, health care and student debt are among the main sources of disaffection. In a Twitter exchange, however, Data for Progress disagreed with the analysis, arguing Biden’s drop in support among youth was largely in line with other demographics and not an outlier.


President Biden’s most curious foreign policy action in December was to hold a virtual two-day Summit of Democracy with the leaders of 110 countries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, when asked why certain authoritarian regimes were included and other flourishing democracies were not, said the summit was about democracy and not of democracies. Pakistan was invited but declined to join, presumably to not anger China.

While Biden was fulfilling an election promise, the summit reflects a strong personal belief that the growing divide between his country and China and Russia is about a larger global struggle between autocracy and democracy. In his speech at the summit, he confessed US democracy was not in great shape, and cited reports that half the world’s democracies were guilty of liberal backsliding but underlined democracy’s capacity for self-correction. Democracy’s greatest challenge, he said, were autocrats claiming their systems were more efficient at tackling problems. Said Biden, “And perhaps most importantly and worrying of all — most worrying of all, by increasing the dissatisfaction of people all around the world with democratic governments that they feel are failing to deliver for their needs. In my view, this is the defining challenge of our time.”

The summit generated little of substance, but it seems to be largely about not conceding an ideological space to China. Beijing and Moscow openly attacked the summit. China was especially unhappy that Taiwan attended. China issued a lengthy “State of American Democracy” white paper that spoke of the dysfunctionality of US politics, the entrenched role of money and the country’s problems with race and inequality.


The strongest indication that former president Donald Trump remains interested in another election run is the tight grip he has retained over the Republican Party. As of December 7, in the runup to the 2022 midterm congressional election cycle, Trump has endorsed a remarkable 46 candidates for Republican primaries. He has also endorsed candidates for three secretaries of state, the seniormost election official at the state level and generally too low-level for an ex-president. The Trump endorsements are three times more than the number he issued by December-end in 2019.

Trump is both dissuading his opponents in the party from running and ensuring only those who virulently support him are likely to be elected to Congress. The secretary of state endorsements seem to reflect his continuing belief Biden’s victory was fraudulent and that he was betrayed by Republican office-holders who certified key election results. The Washington Post reported in October that Trump nearly announced his intention to run again during the debacle of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan but was dissuaded by his aides who argued the focus should be on midterm elections. This led him to shift to a strategy of political “winks and nods” to maintain control of the Republican Party and deny the Democrats control of Congress. He retains considerable support with the party rank-and-file with two-thirds of Republican supporters saying they want Trump to remain active in US politics.


Last year ended with US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts having the highest approval rating among US federal leaders with a 60% approval rating. He was one of the few who had bipartisan support with a nearly equal number of Democrats and Republicans saying they liked how he had handled his job, said Gallup Poll.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci also scored well, but their support was largely on party lines. Powell had a 53% approval rating, but his support among Democrats was more than double his support among Republicans. Fauci had an overall 52% approval rating, but only 19% of Republicans versus 85% of Democrats gave him a thumbs up.

President Joe Biden held the middle with a 43% approval rating, while Vice-President Kamala Harris scored one point higher – the best she has done in several months. Both of them trailed Secretary of State Anthony Blinken who scored 49%. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell received the lowest, with only 34% rating, with even Republican support down to 46%. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scored a mere 40%, but at least had high numbers among Democrats.

The previous issues of USA Review are available here: LINK

(The views expressed are personal)


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The administration of President Joe Biden is on the cusp of passing two of the biggest chunks of his Build Back Better programme. One is a $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and the other a $ 1.75 trillion social welfare bill that, though smaller than his original proposals, will represent the most sweeping changes to the domestic role of the US government since the passage of affordable healthcare by President Barack Obama.

Biden’s primary struggles have been navigating between the right and left of his own Democratic Party, both of whom exploited his razor thin majority in both congressional houses to force the bills to accommodate their respective agendas. The Democratic right, represented by Senators Joe Mancin and Krysten Sinema, have been able to halve the size of the welfare bill. On the other side, Representative Pramila Jayapal has emerged as the voice of the 100-strong Congressional Progressive Caucus. She successfully blocked the bills in September and ensured that even if funding is reduced, the social welfare bill will still cover the left’s core agenda: climate, healthcare expansion, childcare, paid leave and affordable housing. The last mile battle is over prices of prescription drugs. 

The Biden administration has accepted it will have to do with less money spread over a broad agenda, even though this will make the programmes less effective. Presumably it calculates that once the bills start working they will prove so popular that it can secure funding from the Congress later. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ambitiously said she hopes to get the legislation passed by November 2nd with most players on board. Jayapal is believed to be insisting that the Senate, where the two conservative Democrats have yet to endorse the bills and could demand last minute changes, vote first. With the ruling party hostage to just a handful of votes, a large number of lobby groups and individual congressmen are trying to add their special interests to the bills.

In their present form, the two laws will still pave the way for a major overhaul of the US physically and socially. Over a half billion dollars of the infrastructure bill, for example, will be spent on greening the economy. The welfare bill will introduce limited paid family and medical leave, universal pre-kindergarten and child tax credits. While these are commonplace in Europe, this will be the first time they are mandated by federal law in the US. While the fight with his own party members has not helped Biden’s domestic standing and weakened him in the runup to the Group of Seven summit in late October, he hopes that once the benefits start to trickle down the US voter will take a different view of the administration. Much of what the bills promise attract strong bipartisan support among the wider public. A number of Republicans have said they will vote in favour of the infrastructure bill.

Donald Trump is inadvertently helping Biden by insisting Republicans put his personal desire to get his 2019 presidential election loss legally overturned at the top of their agenda. Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, and others have publicly argued the party should concentrate on widespread public unhappiness over the Biden administration’s performance. There has been no evidence, despite repeated legal challenges and investigations, that the election results were in any way the consequence of fraud. Trump’s continuing hold on his party’s base has meant few Republican leaders are willing to challenge him publicly. The few that do are personally targeted by the former president, including McConnell, and a number of moderate Republican legislators have decided to not seek reelection next year because of Trump’s hostility.


Even as President Biden is close to passing one more historical piece of legislation, his support among American voters has continued to fall. His numbers are not unprecedented. The approval ratings of two of his predecessors, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, were the same or worse after their ninth month in office. What worries the US president is that such poor ratings often lead to a poor party showing in midterm congressional elections. If this happens to him next year, accomplishing the rest of his legislative agenda will be a struggle.

Biden has seen his support fall most dramatically among independent voters and Hispanics. Among independents his approval rating has fallen by half, indicating the president is losing the political centre. This is dangerous in an already polarised environment. The numbers indicate independents are most unhappy with the administration’s handling of the Covid epidemic. A YouGov poll also showed the number of Democrats and Republicans calling themselves independents is rising but the former are doing so at nearly twice the rate of the former. Some argue these Democrats may feel their party has moved too far left, largely over the administration’s huge social spending. Others believe it is a lack of enthusiasm for Biden. The Economist carried an article titled “No one loves Joe Biden.” However, even with these shifts self-identified Democrats still outnumber Republicans by eight percentage points.

Biden has seen his support sag across all demographics, even among registered Democrats and black Americans. The most precipitous drop is among Hispanics where his approval rating has fallen from nearly 70% to less than 50%. The single largest ethnic group in the US, they have been wooed extensively by both Republicans and Democrats. Hispanics have been disapproving of the administration’s handling of the pandemic, the economy but also immigration. Only 23% of Hispanics support the president’s handling of the last issue.


Biden is trying to pass some of the most socially transformative legislation in recent US history, inviting comparisons to the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson. While he has accomplished some surprising victories, his lack of a solid legislative majority means the passage of every bill has been a tortuous affair. Scholars say Biden otherwise comes from the same school of “pragmatic progressive pluralism” that Roosevelt and Johnson arose from. It is an ideology that believes that the way to build a popular consensus is to simply get things done on the ground and not worry too much about theatrics, that eventually policy action will move the political needle in your favour.

This thinking believes that long-term social engineering, as opposed to obsessing about winning the next election, can change the political landscape in favour of a party for generations. This is backed by a large amount of political science research but is unpopular with politicians who have to win elections. Much of the flagship legislation being passed by the Biden administration has the potential to force such changes but is deliberately sold as non-ideological.

Some Democratic strategists argue that bread-and-butter economic policies is how the Biden administration can ensure a long-term tilt in US politics in favour of their party. They are wary of putting too much stress on racial and identity policies. The first wins the support of working class whites and minorities alike, the latter alienate white and some minorities. The leftwing of the Democratic Party, however, feel these issues re a necessary part of any transformation of US society. They also reflect the far greater sensitivity towards racial and inclusion issues that exists with Democratic Party supporters, a sentiment that has hardened over the past decade. Polls also show that on identity issues, independent voters have also move leftward opening a significant gap between the centre-left and the right. The New Yorker ran an article looking at the new grassroots, youth-driven activism being seen on the Democratic left, arguing that it harks back to the inclusiveness and welfarism of the New Deal and directly seeks to challenge the more market-friendly centrist positions taken by more recent Democratic presidents like Bill Clinton.

Nonetheless, a Populace survey found that for all the animosity between Biden and Trump supporters, their disagreements are over overblown in their minds and limited to only a few partisan issues such as immigration. They found Americans of all stripes share a common view on healthcare, community safety, infrastructure modernisation and criminal justice reform. They also privately believe that restoring respect for one another is needed and do not worry too much about national unity as an end in itself.


The increasing influence of the leftwing Congressional Progressive Caucus has greatly boosted the prominence of the first Indian-origin female congresswoman, Pramila Jayapal. A member of the House of Representatives for six years, her policies and background made her a forerunner to the more publicised “Squad” of leftist Democratic female legislators.

In the battle over Biden’s infrastructure and welfare bills, Jayapal led progressive moves to ensure conservative Democrats did not slash the bills in both size and scope. National Democratic leaders have criticised her, arguing that by holding up the infrastructure bill she could cost the party crucial gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey. Her supporters believe Jayapal has successfully fought off mainstream, “corporate funded” Democratic politicians and preserved their agenda. The left-leaning Nation said of her, “the striking skills of CPC chair Pramila Jayapal have come to be broadly recognised – even by those who have not always agreed with the Democrat from Seattle.”

Jayapal has been one of the most ardent supports of open immigration policies and easier paths to citizenship, which wins her points from the Indian-American community. She has also been a public critic of what she claims are the anti-minority policies of the Indian government. There have been charges she is less liberal with her own staff, often sacking people without severance pay and has among the highest employee turnover rates among legislators because of a penchant for “unrealistic expectations.” 

Vice-President Kamala Harris, until recently the most prominent Indian-American female politician, continues to struggle to get traction. This is not unusual for a vice-president, but significant given the possibility of a future Harris vs Trump presidential battle. Political analytics website has already begun running a poll of Harris vs Trump. The polls shows Harris largely tracks the popularity of Biden, but one or two percentage points lower. Her approval rating is presently holding steady at 42-43%. Harris saw her numbers drop after she began handling the US’s illegal migrant problem in June. She also faces some discrimination over her race and gender going by her high unfavourability among white men. Her biggest liability is that most US voters, when asked, admit they have no idea what the vice-president does. 

The Los Angeles Times pointed out that Harris and Biden are involved in less and less events together. In January and February, according to their official schedules, the two were together in three-quarters of their activities. By September and October this had fallen to a fifth, of which one-third were the two jointly receiving the President’s Daily Brief, the regular US’s classified intelligence rundown. Reports speak of friction between the Biden and Harris staff, though not between the two of them personally. It doesn’t help she's been given difficult assignments such as immigration and voting rights that will not produce results in the short-term. Not being seen with the president also means far less media attention.

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The administration of Joe Biden has experienced the good, the bad and the ugly during the seven-month of its existence. The good was the passage of a $ 1 trillion infrastructure plan, the latest in a series of massive expenditure bills by which the US president hopes to economically and socially revive the US. The bad was a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the country largely caused by the Delta variant sweeping through the roughly one-third of Americans who have resisted vaccination. Biden had expected to be on top of the pandemic by now, instead the US case count is the highest it has been since January. The ugly and least expected was the lightning fast takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the subsequent Kabul evacuation crisis, and the deaths of 13 US soldiers and dozens of Afghan civilians in a suicide bomb attack at the airport. 

The Covid surge began to drag down Biden’s otherwise stable domestic poll ratings as early as May, but Afghanistan pushed the ratings off a cliff in the last few weeks of August. Going by’s poll of polls, weighted by the credibility of the surveys, Biden’s net approval rating fell from a positive 10 percentage points as late as July to just 0.1 points. Sudden shifts in the polls are rare in the US’s polarised political environment. An Emerson College poll indicated that in an election today, former president Donald Trump would edge Biden in the popular vote by one point.

There remains strong support among Americans for the withdrawal of US forces but nearly three-quarters opposed the nature of the withdrawal – a number that has increased following the deaths of US soldiers. However, it will be the administration’s handling of Covid, overwhelmingly still considered the US’s number one problem, that will determine whether the president can claw his way back in the polls. The 60% plus approval ratings Biden experienced up to April now seem a distant memory and some feel he can only hope to get back to the low 50% points that prevailed until July.


Biden has repeatedly and publicly said he would end the US’s “forever wars” in Afghanistan and West Asia, as did his last two Oval Office predecessors. His administration believes the US needs to reorient itself to solving its many domestic ills or face the prospect of electing another rightwing populist like Donald Trump. The infrastructure act will refurbish the US’s sagging highways, modernize its ageing water systems and provide nationwide broadband internet. To secure Republican support for the bill, Biden dropped sections of the bill aimed at decarbonising large parts of the economy. In the end, 30 Republican senators voted for the bill and it has been well received by voters across the political spectrum. His next economic push: an even more ambitious $ 3.5 trillion social welfare bill that would help the elderly and disabled, and subsidise childcare. This bill is before the Senate. Biden has no expectation of Republican support, but he is struggling to ensure centrist Democrats are on board as well. A handful oppose the bill, largely over the higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations needed to raise the needed funding.

One clear sign of how far Biden administration was prepared to go regarding Afghanistan was the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance issued in March. The guidance described Afghanistan as the type of conflict the US “should not, and will not, engage in”. Equally striking was Central Asia’s absence from the list of US strategic priorities, putting it below even Africa in importance. The president’s decision to pull out so quickly was influenced by his experience of the US bureaucracy’s subversion of the phased pullouts announced by Presidents Barack Obama and Trump.

The US president has strongly defended the decision to withdraw and believes that, in time, the electorate will support the decision. During his defence of the withdrawal, Biden said the US was bringing an end to “an era of major military operations to remake other countries.” This is seen as a refutation of the US foreign policy establishment’s addiction to foreign interventions and regime change. Biden’s personal biases – he opposed the US invasion of Iraq, Libya and reportedly even the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden – have merged with Middle America’s weariness with being a global policeman. An inevitable blame game has broken out, with the Pentagon and intelligence agencies saying the State Department dragged its heels and Foggy Bottom noting the White House set the pace. A congressional inquiry seem inevitable. So far Biden has refused to admit any error which would indicate no senior staff members will be punished.

The shambles of the withdrawal and the evacuation of over 130,000 Afghan refugees have inevitably become fodder for Republican attacks on Biden. While a few Republicans have argued the US should have stayed on in Afghanistan, most of the criticism has focussed on the loss of military lives, stranded US citizens and the many administrative errors. As the Afghans arrive in the US, small but growing anti-immigrant noises are also being heard. Fifteen US states declared they did not want to host any of the Afghans. Biden’s present unpopularity has energised Republican presidential hopefuls. Trump is overwhelmingly the party’s first choice say polls. Florida Governor Ron De Santis comes in number two though surging Covid cases have brought down his state ratings. Former Vice-President Mike Pence comes in third with Indian-American Nikki Haley a weak number four.


On July 27th, President Biden also announced US troops would end their combat role in Iraq by year-end. This is largely symbolic as the US presence has already been pared down to a 2,500 counterterrorism and training force and the soldiers there have seen almost no action in the past year. The Islamic State Iraq and Syria presence, described by a United Nations report as an “entrenched insurgency” in the region, remains strong enough to make full withdrawal unlikely. But the US has begun shifting other assets out of West Asia. Eight Patriot missile batteries, hundreds of soldier and several fighter squadrons have been moved out of Iraq, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It has also shut three of its facilities in Qatar. Michele Flournoy, who nearly became Biden’s Pentagon chief, has said this represents a larger shift in America’s defence posture. “We’re probably overinvested in the Middle East,” she said. “Despite discussions of prioritising the Asia-Pacific, we haven’t actually shifted all that much of our weight in that direction.”

One reason for this change is the Western Sustainment Network, a new logistic system developed by the US military. The network has led the US military to move much of its West Asia supply network away from the Persian Gulf. The idea is to make supplies less vulnerable to a Straits of Hormuz blockade or Iranian missile attacks. The network consists of smaller but scattered facilities along a periphery stretching from Jordan to western Saudi Arabia. US Joint Chiefs of Staff vice-chairman, General John Hyten laid out the strategic logic, “We have to …deal with the threat to the Middle East in a different way, with a smaller footprint, so we can divert more of our body on threats in China and Russia."


Before the Kabul debacle, a number of analysts argued that the elements of a “Biden doctrine” were now evident. The defining theme of the new administration is a belief the world is caught in a struggle between democracy and autocracy with China and Russia spearheading the latter. The US president seems to genuinely believe the world is, to use his words, at a “tipping point” that will determine the ascendancy of one or the other political systems. One of his advisers was quoted as saying they sought a “strengthening of the multilateral, rules-based order, in which the United States takes a role to make sure authoritarian states don’t undermine those rules”. Biden, in other words, sees the struggle with Beijing in a far more ideological light than Donald Trump who concentrated on trade and technology issues. It also means there is no interest in trying to reach out to Russia. If anything, the administration is seeking to tighten sanctions against Moscow.

Biden’s team seems to see three types of threats facing the free world. One are the authoritarian rivals. Another are global threats, most notably climate change. The third is the “decay of democracy” from within and the need for democracies to refurbish their own credentials, political and economic, on the home front. General Hyten recently said, “I can tell you that the primary risk to this nation, long-term risk, is China. Maybe the nearer-term risk is Russia. And we have to make sure that we focus our attention on those.”

Sceptics have pointed to the missing parts of this worldview. One is the Biden non-embrace of global or even regional trade policy. Though Washington is working hard to create a series of technological alliances with different sets of countries to ensure independence from Chinese supply chains. The other is the lack of a clear military strategy. There was no effective increase in US defence spending in Biden’s first budget. But a global posture review is on and the US has begun working on a new and revolutionary military strategy that moves away from giant, manned platforms. Another is how will the US handle the weakening of liberal norms in countries like Poland and India, even though the US needs to work with them geopolitically.


In October the Pentagon carried out a major wargaming exercise in which the US military used its existing warfighting doctrine to wage a full-scale war with an enemy that used 21st century systems like long-range smart missiles and cyber attacks. In an August speech, General John Hyten,] said the warfighting concepts that had been used by the US for decades “failed miserably.” He said, “An aggressive red team that had been studying the United States for the last 20 years just ran rings around us.” At least one of the wargame scenarios included a battle for Taiwan.

The wargame showed that the traditional military strategy of concentrating platforms like ships, planes and submarines so they reinforced each other’s firepower made them extremely vulnerable to modern defence technology. “In today’s world, with hypersonic missiles, with significant long-range fires coming at us from all domains, if you're aggregated and everybody knows where you are, you're vulnerable,” Hyten said. The blue team was also blinded when it lost access to its networks. “We basically attempted an information-dominance structure, where information was ubiquitous to our forces…Just like it has been for the last 20 years, just like everybody in the world, including China and Russia, have watched us do for the last 30 years,” Hyten said. “Well, what happens if right from the beginning that information is not available?.” 

The Pentagon has begun a massive reworking of the US warfighting doctrine, scrapping formulae that go back decades. The new Expanded Maneuver concept is “aspirational” but the defence department to make it fully operational by 2030. It will include new ideas like transferring basic logistics like fuel using cargo spaceships rather than slow moving airplanes or ships. The Pentagon will seek to develop networks that are hacker proofed. “The goal is to be fully connected to a combat cloud that has all information that you can access at anytime, anyplace.” Combined firing will now be done virtually or coordinated through networks so that individual platforms can remain physically far from each other. General Hyten admitted this concept, dubbed “joint fires,” would be ”unbelievably difficult to do.”


The most prominent Indian-American member of the Biden administration, Vice-President Kamala Harris, has been under a cloud the past two months. Media articles, sourced from within her team, described a dysfunctional staff structure and a Harris struggling with the tasks being handed to her – most notably the thorny issue of immigration. Alarmed, a team of high-level female Democratic Party advisors met in early August to discover the best way for Harris to fight back against the negative press. Harris has seen her poll figures drop sharply. Her overall positive approval rating is only 43% among all US voters. Her numbers with young voters are particularly abysmal: only 36% approve of her.

She remains popular enough with the Democratic base to be the party’s second-best fund raiser, trailing only Biden himself. Her real electoral test will be her contribution to the 2022 battle for the House of Representatives. Traditionally, incumbent governments lose heavily during midterm elections. Harris needs to turn her poor poll numbers before she begins campaigning for next year. An attempt to boost her image, a tour of Southeast Asian countries and some hard-hitting speeches against Chinese “intimidation” and “coercion,” was overshadowed by the Kabul evacuation.

Her identification as an Indian-American continues to be a source of debate. Some argue her success not only reflects the political clout of the Indian-American community but is helping inspire the outsized number of Indian-Americans who have entered US politics. A new book on her and the Indian-American community edited by journalist Tarun Basu notes that she has tended to downplay her South Asian background. This reflects her mother’s strong assimiliation into US culture but also Harris’s political identification with the black American community.

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The chief financial officer of the Trump Organisation, Allen Weisselberg, was indicted on July 1st for grand larceny and scheme to defraud. It was alleged he had received $ 1.7 million in off the book compensation in a 15-year-long tax fraud that included other executives of the Trump family firm. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and is unlikely to agree to cooperate with the authorities. The investigation was denounced by former president Donald Trump at a rally in Florida two days later as “prosecutorial misconduct.” The indictment is the opening chapter in an expected series of legal moves designed to undermine Trump. The former president is reported to have told confidantes he will run again for the White House if his health holds up. Some legal observers find the charges “underwhelming”.

Despite some early attempts by the traditional Republican Party leadership to assert control of the party, Trump remains firmly in charge. Republican activists increasingly define their conservative ideology as support for the ex-president and use the same yardstick when rating other rightwing politicians show surveys. This is a key reason why Republican congressmen rejected a negotiated bipartisan bill to set up a commission to study the January 6th storming of the Capitol Building by Trump supporters. Though the bill received 54 out of 100 Senate votes, it failed to breach the 60 vote supermajority needed under the filibuster rule. Polling says two-thirds of Republican voters consider President Joe Biden an illegitimate winner of the 2020 election. Half of Republican voters also support changes to voting rules that would ensure Republican victories, evidence the rank and file have internalised voter suppression tactics.

The expectation is that Biden, after an initial run of legislative success, will find the going tougher in coming months. His multi-billion dollar infrastructure-building America Jobs Plan and the welfare-oriented America Families Plan are gridlocked in Congress. He is working to find a version of the bills that would attract bipartisan support or get the two most conservative Democratic senators to support his version. Without the latter Biden lacks even the simple majority needed if he declares the bills as budget reconciliation bills exempt from the filibuster rule. One of the major sources of friction over the infrastructure bill is the inclusion of green energy and climate related spends. Another is Biden’s desire to increase corporate taxes to help pay for it all. Biden is starting to see his approval rating sag, largely because of frustrated Democrats who fear he will end up accepting watered down versions of both bills. They are also frustrated Biden is unlikely to get a new voting rights bill through, an act designed to counter state-level Republican efforts to make it more difficult for marginal voters to cast ballots.

A flurry of reports have been highly critical of Vice-President Kamala Harris’s office environment. Her chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, is described as having cut-off Harris from all but a small circle of staffers and been unwilling to listen to differing opinions from others on the team. She has even snubbed major donors. A number of staffers have left. “Harris’s team is experiencing low morale, porous lines of communication and diminished trust among aides and senior officials,” said a report in Politico. The vice-president has been assigned the difficult policy issue of immigration which has made her a target of extreme Republican criticism. She has been accused of poor administrative skills in the past as well, including when she ran as a Democratic presidential candidate against Biden, a campaign that was described as “managed chaos.” But her office is notable for its prominent South Asian staffers, some of whom have been profiled.               

One development that will come as a relief to Biden is that though six of the nine members of the bench were nominated by Republican presidents, the Supreme Court has shown itself to be quite independent minded. In June, it gave a 7-2 vote in favour of Obamacare, the health care law passed by President Barack Obama after the third right-wing legal challenge against the policy. The Supreme Court also gave a mixed response to some Republican attempts to make it more difficult for voters to cast ballots. Of the past 50 cases heard by the bench as of June 23rd, only four decisions have been along strictly ideological positions. Nearly half have seen unanimous rulings which would make the present judicial term the most consensual in five years. The six conservative judges seem to be internally divided with the two Trump appointees inclined to a middle of the road path.


De facto segregation. Studies show the US has become racially segregated to the point that black and white Americans have independent social networks. About three-quarters of white Americans do not have a non-white friend. When asked to estimate the black versus white wealth gap, most Americans put it at 40 to 80% smaller than the reality. Individual or corporate interventions to overcome racial divisions are often superficial or reflect these biases. A survey of the tech industry found companies that made statements of solidarity after George Floyd’s murder, a death that sparked race riots in many US cities, had one-fifth less black employees than those that kept quiet.  At the individual level, raising such racial issues may elicit empathy but the effect generally fades within 24 hours. “The nature of segregation in the US means that we only end up seeing and learning about what our own groups experience, making it hard to understand the lives of people outside of our own group,” writes one analysis of the present de facto segregation.

Social media empowers. Blacks are the most likely group of Americans to use social platforms like Twitter to advocate a cause and say social media changed their views. A Pew survey showed that 48% of all black social media users says they posted to promote a social or political issue whether on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or some other site. Only 33% of white users and 37% of Hispanics said the same. Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to post a hashtag related to a social or political issues.
Republicans, who increasingly feel mainstream media and such platforms are hostile to their point of view, are turning to more partisan TV, print and audio outlets. Social media mobs attacking rightwing commentaries and technology firms censoring extreme rightwing views are feeding this tendency. Mexican Americans and Native Americans, on the other hand, were more likely to turn to Instagram and TikTok for information because they don’t feel their ethnic-cum-class group is represented on network or cable television. Even the Hispanics who make it on television are not seen as being of the right class or background.

New culture wars. The culture wars in the US today are less about secularisation and more about a fear of cultural extinction, says James Davison Hunter, the author of the 1991 book Culture Wars that popularised the expression. In the 1990s the battles were over abortion, gay rights and school prayer. Today “you rarely see people on the right rooting their positions within a biblical theology,” nowadays “it is a position that is mainly rooted in a fear of extinction,” a perceived existential threat to a way of life.
In addition, instead of just being a cultural clash within the confines of the white middle class as was the case in the past, today is more a class-culture conflict. The 2008-09 recession was a turning point as it accentuated a growing division between white working class and white middle class, defined largely on the basis of education. Class division was laid on top of a cultural division and the result has been the polarisation of America today. The American left has come to speak of the working class in terms of race, gender and ethnicity rather than just income which is one reason poor whites do not necessarily align themselves with them.
Culture war are also more dangerous. “The very idea of treating your opponents with civility is a betrayal. How can you be civil to people who threaten your very existence?...You can compromise with politics and policy, but if politics and policy are a proxy for culture, there’s just no way.” The problem the US faces, Hunter argues, is that “culture wars always precede shooting wars. They don’t necessarily lead to a shooting war, but you never have a shooting war without a culture war prior to it, because culture provides the justifications for violence.”

Ideology gap. Over the past five years, says a survey, the gap between US conservatives and US liberals over what constitutes national identity has widened sharply and much more than similar divides in other Western countries like Britain, France or Germany. US liberals have shifted much more to the left, sometimes even more than their European counterparts, but US conservatives have not moved at all, unlike mainstream European right-wingers.
The gap between US conservatives and liberals on whether speaking the dominant language, for example, is part of being “truly American” has become much greater than among Europeans. US conservatives stand out in the belief that being native born is an important part of belonging. Asked which is worse - people not recognizing discrimination or people seeing discrimination where it does not exist, the ideological gap in the US is twice that of the three European countries. A similar difference exists over the issue of preserving “traditions and ways of life” as opposed to being open to changing them. One reason the US is so different is its greater religiosity. White US Christians, in particular, identify strongly with rightwing positions to a greater degree than those in Europe. US conservatives take positions which are more in line with far-right European groups like Alternative for Germany or France’s National Front.
The changing nature of Christianity in the US has accelerated this politicisation of the faith. The traditional denominations have been declining in strength, to be replaced with a more heterodox set of beliefs. A third of self-declared Christians in the US, for example, believe in reincarnation. The Economist argues that political beliefs in the US are becoming increasingly like a religion. White evangelicals who backed Donald Trump did so because of cultural reasons like his anti-immigration stance or law and order language rather than any faith-based issues. White Americans who self-identify as Christians, even while not attending church, do so as a proxy for ethno-nationalism. A similar pseudo-religious development is taking place among European Christian nationalists, many of whom are atheists. The emphasis on “purity and atonement” is also a growing attribute of the US liberal middle-class, often more dominant than an actual interest in measurably reducing discrimination.


Joe Biden won the US presidential elections not because he was able to mobilise the Democratic base but because he won over traditionally moderate or conservative constituencies, most notably married men and military veterans. Detailed studies by Pew and Democratic data firms like Catalist show that the original belief that Biden was able to get out the vote better than Donald Trump or win over more women were incorrect or exaggerated.
Trump won married men by 54 to 44%, a sharp drop from his earlier 62 to 32% victory in 2016. He saw his margin of victory with military veteran households slide 14 percentage points. Both of these are traditionally conservative leaning demographies. Biden also made double digit gains among white Catholics.
Belief among Democratic analysts that Trump had reached the limits of his support were also incorrect. The former US president ensured Biden failed to improve the margins enjoyed by Hillary Clinton, the 2014 Democratic candidate, among youth, women, blacks and urban voters. Trump positively surged among Latinos. The Democratic candidate was saved by support among white moderate and conservatives that he wrested back from Trump. Trump was able to defeat Biden when it came to turnout as well. About 73% of Trump supporters went to the booths, while 68% of Biden supporters voted. The gap had been only two per cent when Clinton ran against Trump.

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•   Blockbuster Budget
•   Legislative Slowdown
•   Migration Pains
•   Defence Priorities
•   Technology Push
•   China and Covid

Blockbuster Budget

United States President Joe Biden released a $6 trillion budget request in May-end that combined his ambitious spending plans into one massive proposal, including mammoth investments in highways, child care and climate change.

The long-delayed document assumes a federal budget gap of more than $1 trillion for the next decade. Among its priorities is lifting the middle class, expanding the social safety net and boosting US global competitivenes. The budget combines Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, his $1.8 trillion families proposal, and $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending to fund federal agencies for the upcoming fiscal year.

Biden's request also signals to Democrats that they should use the special budget reconciliation process to get this all passed rather than waiting for Republican cross-over votes. The Democrats have exactly 51 votes in the Senate, the barest of majorities. By invoking the budget reconciliation process, similar to the concept of a finance bill in the Indian parliamentary system, they can pass the $1.9 trillion pandemic aid plan in March avoiding the 60-vote supermajority required under the Senate’s filibuster rule.

Negotiations are still on between the White House and the Senate Democrats to see if some Republicans can be won over, but the Biden team has indicated if these talks fail, it will take the budget process path. The administration claims that its huge outlays can be paid within 15 years through tax increases and would not increase the budget deficit in the long term, a claim met with some scepticism.

Legislative Slowdown

After a number of quick legislative victories, President Joe Biden has begun to face increasing push back from Republican senators against some of his proposals. One of them, the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the mob attack on the Capitol Building by Trump supporters on January 6, failed to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster.

The second piece of legislation was the $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure fund, one of the cornerstones of the Biden administrations plans for economic recovery and job creation. Republicans have opposed the legislation on fiscal grounds and that parts of it, like a national broadband system, are paid for by higher corporate taxes. Biden has since come out with a $1.7 trillion version and the opposition a $ 900 billion plan. Biden has since moved to incorporate the fund into his budget, indicating he may be giving up on winning any Republican support.

Other legislation hanging fire include a national policing standards bill that would, among other things, expand the grounds on which citizens can sue police officers. Presently, police enjoy a degree of legal protection against being sued. The House of Representatives has passed a version of the bill, but Republicans have invoked the filibuster to block its passage. President Biden had hoped, and failed, to get the bill passed by May 25th, the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by a police team, a killing that triggered nationwide race riots.

The increasing signs of legislative gridlock have also revived talk of doing away with the filibuster rule and its 60-vote supermajority. This in turn would require unity among all the Democratic senators but two of the most conservative blue senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have insisted this can only be done if it receives the support of some Republicans.

The Biden administration has more domestic legislation planned, but these will be even more difficult to pass. These include measures to counter rightwing attempts at the state level to make it more difficult for minorities to vote, place curbs on arms buying to reduce the US’s perennial problem of gun violence, and major immigration reforms that would make it easier for H-1B visa holders to become citizens. Biden’s American Families Plan which would put billions of dollars in pre-schools, child tax credits and “human infrastructure” has become part of his budget proposal.

The administration continues to seek a bipartisan agreement on some of these, but finds this increasingly difficult given the degree to which the Republican Party remains under the thumb of former president Donald Trump. One sign of this was Trump’s ability to force out the third ranking Republican party official and long-standing critic, Liz Cheney. Polls show nearly half of Republicans believe the Capitol Building attack was done by leftists or has been exaggerated while 60% believe the 2020 elections were rigged. Going it alone would require some legislative gymnastics given the slender one vote majority the Democrats have in the Senate.

These circumstances have helped make Manchin the most important swing vote in the upper house. A Democrat in a state that voted strongly for Trump, he is one of only six senators able to buck the voting trend of their state in the last presidential elections. This means he is not beholden to his party leadership, cannot be challenged from the left, and is more careful to cater to the conservative instincts of his constituency and himself.

Migration Pains

In a major boost for the Indian software industry, the Biden administration lifted a regulation of the Trump administration that sought to narrow the definition of “speciality occupation” under the H1B visa programme. The Indian IT sector is the primary beneficiary of such visas. The Trump rules also changed the way wage rates were calculated, reduced the validity period of such visas if employed at third party jobs sites, and increased compliance requirements among employers. The administration’s decision was backed by a federal court ruling against the Trump regulation on the grounds it had been enacted in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

However, Biden’s polling numbers are the worst when it comes to immigration, a policy area where he is under severe attack from both right and left. The progressive wing of the Democrats are demanding the president move faster to dismantle the anti-immigrant legacy of Donald Trump, especially the resurrection of a 1944 rule allowing US authorities to reject refugees on public health grounds. Conservatives say Biden’s unstructured embrace of immigration is resulting in a flood of illegal migrants along the border with Mexico.

A Quinnipiac University poll found only 35% of adults approved of Biden’s handling of immigration issues, nearly half the figure he gets for handling Covid-19 and well below his job approval rating. While disapproval of his immigration policies is unsurprisingly high among Republicans – over 90%, less than 50% of independents give him a thumbs up.

But the immigration policy path may become easier once the Biden team has laid out clearer policies and is able to show it has greater control of the situation. Either because Trump was seen to be taking tough action against illegal migrants or despite it, support among Republicans for immigration actually increased during his term. Polling shows that during the Trump term, Republicans became more likely to support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (from 37 to 50%) and support for deporting immigrants dropped (from 45 to 34%). But conservative voters still characterise immigration as a critical threat, holding steady at about 60%.

Defence Priorities

The Biden administration sent its first defence budget to the Congress for approval. The $715 billion budget, after inflation, is a modest three per cent increase on last year’s request. More telling is how funds are being redirected within the budget. Washington plans to reduce investments in traditional weapons systems like fighters and warships, spending more money on high-tech weapons aimed at countering China.

The proposal reduces planned increases for F-35s, cuts funds for ground weapons like tanks, reduces ships like coast guard cutters and littoral combat ships, and keeps troops numbers flat. It also calls for cancelling the F/A-18 Super Hornet – a plane India has been considering for its carriers and air force. The money saved is to be spent on hypersonic missiles, newer generation warships, space-related projects and modernizing the US nuclear arsenal. “To defend the nation, the department in this budget takes a clear-eyed approach to Beijing and provides the investments to prioritize China as our pacing challenge,” said Deputy Defence Secretary Kathleen Hicks. China, she said, “has become increasingly competitive in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.” She said the new budget will lay the foundation for new capabilities in “hypersonic missiles, artificial intelligence and 5G.” The administration has touted the budget’s research and development budget, the largest in US history.

The Pentagon is also asking for $ 5.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative which is a special fund designed to help pay for the continuing US “pivot to Asia.” The budget remains vague about future expenditure plans for the Indo-Pacific Command, presumably as this is still being determined. The budget underlines the US’s declining interest in West Asia with a 40% reduction in funds to support anti-Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq and plans to abolish the Overseas Contingency Operations account used for US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The budget will face much opposition in Congress. Many of the reductions will affect congressional districts who depend on these contracts for jobs. Republicans have criticized the relatively small increase in the budget, though it is largely in line with increases during the Trump administration. Progressive Democrats have been particularly harsh about the $ 2.6 billion upgrade of the nuclear arsenal and the failure to slash defence expenditure overall.

The Biden administration clearly hopes to persuade other partner countries to share the US defence burden. Cutting US funds for its military posture against Russia by $800 million is a message to Europe to pony up. During the summit between President Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the US announced the termination of the Revised Missile Guidelines which were put in place to limit the capabilities of Korean missiles. With this, Seoul is free to develop and deploy any number of conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with payloads and ranges of its choice.

Technology Push

One major piece of legislation working its way through Congress with a very good chance of passage is the $ 250 billion US Innovation and Competition Act, often described as a response to China’s increasing technology influence in the world. The act pours money into research and development across a number of cutting edge technology fields like artificial intelligence, green energy and robotics. In an attempt to expand the US’s technology base away from Silicon Valley and Seattle, $10 billion will be used to transform a number of other US cities into “technology hubs” on the basis of national competition to be overseen by the Department of Commerce. The Senate voted recently to end debate on the legislation, ending attempts to attach unrelated amendments to the bill, and its passage seems more than likely. Another bill, the CHIPS for America Act, is at an earlier stage of legislative development but would seek to provide $ 50 billion in subsidies to expand the US’s semiconductor manufacturing capabilities and attract semiconductor investments to the country.

China and Covid

The Biden administration’s foreign policy messaging and actions continue to show a strong and steady commitment to the Indo-Pacific and to countering the challenge of China. On May 26 President Biden opened up a new front against China by publicly taking up the cause of investigating the origins of the Covid-19 virus after new information has come up supporting the idea that the virus was the result of artificial manipulation of its genetic material. The new information, provided by the intelligence service of a third country, claimed workers at the Wuhan virology lab had been hospitalised with Covid symptoms as early as November – a strong indicator that a lab leak had taken place. Biden called for US intelligence agencies to provide a report on the matter in 90 days.

Earlier on Biden, during his first press conference as president, had spoken of Chinese leader Xi Jinping as “a smart, smart guy” but a firm believer that “autocracy is the wave of the future and democracy can’t function” in the complexity of the modern world. “This is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies,” he said. “We’ve got to prove democracy works.” This is a crucial reason behind for the Biden administration’s enthusiasm for the Quad and the idea of the Quad working groups tackling issues like vaccines, strategic technology and climate. The US president has said he proposed to British prime minister, Boris Johnson, that the democracies band together to form an infrastructure fund and provide an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

There is a strong commitment to do things differently in the administration and try to adhere to these changes. “If the past 70 years of the post-World War II world order have been like classical Greek architecture—the straight lines and neat columns of the Parthenon—then the future will look more like Frank Gehry: unexpected angles, a mix of materials, and experimentation,” explained National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in a recent article.

Despite the recent flare-up between Israel and Hamas, the Biden administration deliberately allowed Egypt to take the lead in brokering a ceasefire and the president has steadfastly refused to appoint a special envoy or talk of launching a peace process for the region. So far, the White House has held to his stated intention to reduce the US’s involvement in West Asia and allow itself to put more eggs in the Asian and European baskets. While Biden gave full support to Israel, in keeping with his long-standing support for the country, the strong criticism both he and Israel received from the progressive Democrats is evidence of a diluting US foreign policy consensus on Israel.

A similar sense of refocusing US foreign and security policy resources drives the Biden administration’s determination to pull out of Afghanistan. While a complete withdrawal by the announced September deadline still remains unlikely, the US will certainly slash the funds and troops it commits to Afghanistan. But Biden has more leeway there than is commonly believed, argues Richard Fontaine of the Centre for a New American Security. While polls show a majority of Americans want the troops to come home, there are no demonstrations or mass protests making this demand. Congressional majorities in both houses continue to believe the US should remain – even voting to restore cuts in defence spending for Afghanistan after the then president, Donald Trump, tried to reduce US troop presence.


(The views expressed are personal)


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•   Biden's Big Bucks Revival Plan
•   Economic Boom
•   Climate Focus
•   Migrant Migraine
•   Republicans Struggle
•   Biden Republicans

Biden's Big Bucks Revival Plan

At the start of April, Joe Biden unveiled a $ 2 trillion infrastructure plan that would not only mean better roads and bridges but would drastically green the United States energy sector and pour money into future scientific research and development. “In 50 years, people are going to look back and say, this was the moment that America won the future,” he said while announcing the American Jobs Plan. If fully implemented and tax credits and incentives are also included, the plan could lead to spending in the region of $ 4 trillion.

The administration will launch a second spending plan of about $ 1 trillion which will focus on human development. All of this comes on top of an initial relief package that sought to alleviate the economic distress caused by the pandemic.

The scale of Biden’s plans and the changes he is advocating have led to comparisons with previous US presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, author of the New Deal, or Lyndon Baines Johnson, author of the Great Society programmes. He seems to have similar thoughts. Biden invited a number of prominent historians to the White House, including Walter Isaacson and Michael Beschloss, in late March and spent two hours discussing the ways and means of past US leaders noted for their accomplishments. The jobs plan and welfare elements like affordable child care are attracting approval ratings of over 70% plus indicating support among independents and even some Republicans.

While Biden has repeatedly spoken about his desire to re-establish a spirit of bipartisanship in Washington, when it comes to his domestic agenda the president outreach to his Republican opponents has been cursory. This reflects deep anger among the Democratic base at the no-holds-barred ways of the Donald Trump administration and a belief the Republican Party remains beholden to the ex-president. Also, with midterm elections coming next year, Biden may feel uncertain about the future of his legislative majority.

The $ 2 trillion will be spent over an eight-year period. Half of the amount would be spent on traditional infrastructure such as transport, clean water but also universal broadband. The other half will be climate-related, with an eye to making US electricity production completely green by 2035 and the entire US economy decarbonised by 2050. Electric mobility will be allotted $ 174 billion and public transport $ 165 billion. Subsidies would be used to retrofit buildings for energy efficiency, build power lines to help carry renewable energy, and promote technologies like off-shore wind and carbon capture and storage. The last would receive $ 185 billion. The plan is being described as the “most far-reaching climate bill ever enacted.” Some of the more interesting proposals include a civilian climate corps which would hire former miners and put them to work capping abandoned mines.

Biden’s second spending plan has attracted criticism on expected lines. Republicans, unhappy this will be funded by ending Trump's corporate tax cuts and unenthusiastic about non-market green energy promotion, have sworn to oppose most if not all of the plan. Progressive Democrats have grumbled the outlay is half the size of the “Green New Deal” promised during the campaign. While Biden has repeatedly said he wishes to work in conjunction with the Republicans it is expected he will have to use the Democrats’ one-vote majority in the Senate to get the bill passed. He will probably also use the budget reconciliation process which, similar to a revenue bill in the Westminister parliamentary system, disallows the opposition from using the filibuster rule and requiring the administration to muster a 60-40 supermajority. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has indicated she hopes to get the infrastructure plan passed by early July.

Economic Boom

The sheer size of the spending bills being passed and proposed by the Biden administration, record low interest rates and the US governments steady progress in controlling the spread of Covid-19 cases has led economists to forecast robust growth for the US economy in the coming year. Most forecasts predict 6% growth in 2021 with new jobs accruing at the rate of one million a month. Questions remains as to how many US businesses will go under and the job losses this will entail. So far this seems unlikely with commercial bankruptcies in 2020 actually 15% lower than the year before thanks to generous government support. The figures for 2021 remain unknown. Another concern is a mutation of the virus negating the present successes in vaccinations.

Biden’s plans to increase the corporate tax rate to 28% which, combined with state levies, would mean a combined 32.3% corporate tax for US firms. This would be the highest such tax among the developed countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The tax increase is expected to raise about $ 700 billion a year. Economist Larry Summers has said that the historically low cost of capital would mean most US firms would not be affected by the tax increase.

The Democrats make no secret of their hope the three financial packages will also tilt the electoral landscape in their favour during congressional midterm elections in late 2022. With razor-thin majorities in both houses and a tradition of ruling party seat losses, these elections could spell the end of radical policy-making for the Biden administration. But the more they rush through these large bills, the less likely they will be able to get the necessary votes to pass legislation on immigration and gun reform. The other issue is that, despite its size, many of the elements of the infrastructure package are unlikely to create jobs or generate wealth for a number of years.

The third proposed financial package, with its focus on universal pre-kindergarten, free community college and liberal family leave regulations, will be especially difficult as it will probably require a tax increase on high-income individuals and an unusual expansion of governmental authority, both of which Republicans and even some Democrats will be uncomfortable with. Congressmen already speak of a degree of “spending fatigue” on Capitol Hill.

Nearly half of Americans now believe their economy is on a positive trajectory. While 46% of Americans believe this, it is skewed heavily towards Democrats (58%) compared to 35% among Republicans and 37% among independent voters. The partisan bias is even more pronounced when asked to evaluate the economic relief package passed by the Biden administration with Democrats supporting the measure three times more than Republicans. With only 31% of Americans saying the administration was spending too much, there is clearly public support for a greater economic role for the state. Wall Street also believes a strong economic boom is on the horizon with JP Morgan Chase arguing the billions being laid out by the US will power high rates of global growth until 2023, virus permitting.

Climate Focus

The difficulties expected in building a climate-friendly electric grid serves as an example of how difficult implementation of the Biden plan may become. Experts say this grid will likely take years to lay out because of the many regulatory and legal problems the construction of transmission lines face in the US.

A green energy grid would have to extend to parts of the US where it would make sense to build solar farms or wind turbines but which presently lack transmission. The Competitive Renewable Energy Zones project in Texas successfully built 2300 miles of new lines and led the state to become a frontrunner in wind energy. Much of the present US energy grid is fragmented, highly localised and is designed around fossil fuel power sources. However, building new transmission lines has been extremely difficult in the US. Local communities often campaign against them over health fears or simply because they would ruin scenic views. Most regions of the US have little expertise in long term grid planning, let alone green energy integration. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has said it now intend to make transmission planning a policy priority. 

The Biden administration plans to commit, say reports, as much as $ 20 billion in climate finance over the next four years to developing countries. The US president has already allotted $ 1.5 billion in his recent budget outlines for the United Nations Green Climate Fund. This is partly compensation for the Trump administration’s freeze on such payments and the overall failure of rich countries to come through on their climate summit pledges of $ 100 billion to help developing countries. The larger commitment will be announced during Biden’s virtual climate summit on April 22-23 and is designed to encourage similar large commitments from other countries. The Green Climate Fund contribution is to complete an earlier US promise, only half completed, to donate $ 3 billion to the fund.

Domestically, Biden is mulling drastically increasing the existing US carbon pledge, laid down by President Barack Obama, of reducing carbon emissions by 26 to 28% by 2025 to a steeper 50% reduction by 2030. He has pledged a more aggressive US climate stance at home to various world leaders. But climate has the least amount of partisan convergence of almost any policy issue in the US Congress with even a few Democrats wary of carbon cuts. Biden will struggle to pass legislation and will need to use executive orders which are easily overturned by any Oval Office resident.

Migrant Migraine

The Biden administration is struggling with the issue of immigration. His comprehensive immigration plan is stuck in the lower house, where it still lacks votes for passage because of resistance from within his own party.

The plan increases the number of employee-sponsored H-1B temporary work visas, the majority of whom are Indians, from 55,000 to 80,000 a year and loosens the country quotas that presently governs H-1Bs. Dependents of H-1B visa holders would also again receive work permits. Biden initially said he would not raise the 15,000 cap on refugees imposed by the Trump administration – a historic low for the US. But under pressure from progressives and evangelical groups he has since agreed to an increase, the number is unspecified but it will be lower than the 62,500 limit he promised during his campaign. 

The immigration plan would also provide a gateway for the US’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to become legal. About a half-million are believed to be Indians. Immigrants who have been in the US before January 1 would be allowed to apply for temporary legal status after passing background checks and become eligible for green cards in five years.

On the politically most sensitive migration issue, illegal migration from Central America, Biden has been foundering. The president wants a long-term solution to the problem. This would include providing economic assistance to the migrants’ countries of origin and addressing corruption issues. The new administration has abandoned some of the Trump administration’s responses including disallowing asylum applicants from living in the US until their applications are processed and “building a wall” along the border. But the new government has been slow to put in place an alternative. Critics argue Trump’s policies were working well by end 2020 with a pathway for asylum seekers but strong deterrents against illegal movement. Biden cancelled Trump’s immigration agreements with the Northern Triangle states of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala that allowed asylum seekers to file applications in their home countries. But it then negotiated new agreements with two of these countries and Mexico to position 18,000 security personnel along different borders, arguably a less salutary solution.

The numbers of Central American migrants crossing the border has surged. In March, a 171,000 illegal border migrants were apprehended, the highest number since 2006. There has also been a fourfold increase in the number of unaccompanied minors attempting to cross. US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas admits the situation is “a challenge” but refuted Republican charges the country faces a crisis.

Vice-President Kamala Harris has been placed in charge of finding a solution and has been called the country’s “Border Czar”. The vice-president is reportedly spending hours at the White House Situation Room speaking to experts and studying reports in an attempt to put together a long-term solution. Political analysts say this could help cement Harris’s credentials as a successor to Biden in the White House – or wreck her trajectory given the issue’s high-risk, high-reward nature. Harris has said, “We all know most people like being at home. . . So we have to ask, ‘Why do people leave that?’ And usually they leave because there is a lack of opportunity or it is just not safe. And so my area of focus on the Northern Triangle is to deal with some of those issues.” Immigration is an issue on which Biden gets among his lowest approval ratings, NPR/Marist poll conducted in March gave him only 34% approval on immigration.

Republicans Struggle

Plans by the Republican mainstream leadership to move the party away from Donald Trump’s brand of nativist populism have so far failed. Trump remains extremely popular with the base of the party. And the ex-president remains a loose cannon. At a Republican National Committee meeting at Trump’s new Florida home in early April, Trump went off script to make personal attacks against his vice-president, Mike Pence, and the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell.

The base of the Republican Party remains strongly committed to Trump. About two-thirds of registered Republicans, fuelled by alternative media and social media platforms, continue to believe Biden was illegally made US president. But Trump supporters, about a third of the electorate, are too small to put a Republican back in the White House though they can be crucial in local or congressional elections.

Because the party is unable to broaden its base it has pursued policies designed to limit voting rights for minorities, curb the ability of the Biden administration to regulate swathes of the economy, and ensure legal immunity for religious conservatives and their agenda. This is partly being done through state legislatures, the Georgia state government’s restrictions on voting access being an example, and is expected to also be pursued in the conservative-dominated Supreme Court. This and inaction on other issues, like climate, has led to surprisingly public criticism of the Republicans by one of their long-standing supporters – Big Business. A number of major companies, such as Georgia-based Delta Airlines, have publicly denounced the new voting laws. 

A few traditional Republicans continue to seek to free the party from Trump’s grip. The party’s number three official, Liz Cheney, has been among the few who have publicly turned on Trump. The former president has promised to ensure she is unseated from her congressional seat in 2022 but Cheney seems to believe his influence has peaked. Others have been more careful. Indian-origin governor Nikki Halley has said she will not run for the presidency if Trump decides to run again. Pence has begun preparing the ground for a presidential run – so far without Trump’s endorsement. A number of commentators have argued that politicians like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are more likely contenders, combining Trump’s combativeness and establishment-bashing language with governance skills and traditional conservative policies.

Biden Republicans

Prominent US political pollster Stanley Greenberg has argued that Trump’s single-minded focus on white identity issues and immigration scaremongering has led to the creation of a new political swing group, what he calls the Biden Republicans. These are white Republican voters who are college-educated, suburban and “supportive of diversity.” Turned off by Trump, they shifted their allegiance to Biden, a Democrat they see as centrist, last November but do not see themselves as Democrats.

He says there is a battle within the Republicans mainstream “between Reagan Democrats—who voted for Reagan, came back to vote for Bill Clinton, some voted for Obama—and a whole new set of voters brought in by Trump.” Trump’s supporters and their white nationalist concerns have driven the Biden Republicans into the Democrats’ fold. Besides the affluent suburban college educated Biden Republicans, he says, there are other Biden Republicans who are working class. For these, economic concerns such as a welfare state that addresses globalisation concerns are more important than race. Biden deliberately appealed to both and helped move many into the Democratic ledger. Many of his policies are targeted at these groups.

John Boehner, the Republican House Speaker for five years during the Barack Obama years, released his memoirs. Much of the book describes the process by what he terms as the rightwing’s “crazy caucus” began taking over the party by using media outlets like Fox News or platforms like YouTube to whip up the base and pressure mainstream conservatives like himself to change their stances and give them positions of influence.

(The views expressed are personal)


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•   Biden Releases Strategic Guidance
•   Coming of the Techno-Alliances
•   Indo-Pacific Missile Gap
•   Climate Coalition
•   US Public and China

Biden Releases Strategic Guidance

The new United States administration is rapidly rolling out policies on the domestic and foreign policy front even before it has completed the process of confirming many of its senior personnel. Domestically, it was able to pass a $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package designed to ameliorate the economic damage of the Covid-19 pandemic. The bill also incorporated some major reforms of the welfare system.

Focussing on foreign policy, what has been striking is President Joe Biden’s tough stance on China. The signalling has been strong: Taiwan’s representative invited to the inauguration, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken saying Donald Trump was right to take an aggressive stance against China, carriers sent in response to air intrusions near Taiwan, and Biden raising human rights in his first formal phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

A set of more tangible responses to the China challenge are in the offing. At Biden’s request, the Quad will for the first time hold a summit at the level of heads of government sometime in mid-March. The meeting will be virtual. Pentagon chief, General Lloyd Austin, will visit India and other countries in the Indo-Pacific probably next week. Over the next few months, Washington plans to begin negotiations for a number of technology-based alliances with the idea of reducing dependence on and eventually competing against Chinese technological products and services.

The US issued an Interim National Security Strategic Guidance on March 3, the first formal foreign policy doctrinal statement by the Biden administration. The guidance is blunt in its assessment that China represents the US’s primary strategic challenge and how the US needs to develop collective responses.

In a related speech, Blinken explained the guidance “gives initial direction to our national security agencies so that they can get to work right away while we keep developing a more in-depth national security strategy over the next several months.” He said the guidance lay “out the global landscape as the Biden administration sees it, explains the priorities of our foreign policy – and specifically how we will renew America’s strength to meet the challenges.”

Most of the document’s themes lead ultimately to China. The need to refurbish alliances and partnership is about deterring “Chinese aggression and counterthreats to our collective security.” Blinken laid out why China was “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century...China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system – all the rules, values, and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to.”

Both Blinken’s speech and the guidance stress the need for a foreign and trade policy that assists and benefits common Americans. The guidance repeatedly says “the most effective way for America to out-compete” China is investing in restoring the US’s economic lead and democratic structure.

The guidance warns Beijing’s responses are likely to be tough and the US must be ready to respond. “China’s leaders seek unfair advantages, behave aggressively and coercively, and undermine the rules and values at the heart of an open and stable international system. When the Chinese government’s behaviour directly threatens our interests and values, we will answer Beijing’s challenge." Blinken admits the US and China have to collaborate in many areas as well. Whether competing or confronting, with China he said, “the common denominator is the need to engage China from a position of strength.”

The document prioritises the Indo-Pacific. “Our vital national interests compel the deepest connection to the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Western Hemisphere”. It speaks of “right-sizing” the US presence in West Asia and mentions Africa. “We will deepen our partnership with India and work alongside New Zealand, as well as Singapore, Vietnam, and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations.” But it argues the US “will work to responsibly end America’s longest war in Afghanistan” even while seeking to ensure it doesn’t become a safe haven for terrorists aimed at the US.

Blinken iterated the role of foreign policy in domestic revival. “We will fight for every American job and for the rights, protections, and interests of all American workers.  We will use every tool to stop countries from stealing our intellectual property or manipulating their currencies to get an unfair advantage.” Trade policies must “answer very clearly how they will benefit all Americans, not only those for whom the economy is already working.” He said “distinctions between domestic and foreign policy have simply fallen away.  Our domestic renewal and our strength in the world are completely entwined.”

He stressed that the US could not afford to stop playing a global role. “The world does not organize itself.  When the US pulls back, one of two things is likely to happen: either another country tries to take our place, but not in a way that advances our interests and values; or, maybe just as bad, no one steps up, and then we get chaos and all the dangers it creates we need countries to cooperate, now more than ever. Not a single global challenge that affects your lives can be met by any one nation acting alone.”

Coming of the Techno-Alliances 

The Biden administration is pressing forward for plans, proposed during the election campaign, to set up an alliance of “techno-democracies” to counter China’s hold over global technology. The policy is under discussion in the White House and State Department, but has the backing of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. A State Department official said the alliances would be about “setting the rules and shaping the norms that govern the use of technology” and pushing back against China and other “techno-autocracies.”

The US, like India, has been concerned at the security implications of the Digital Silk Road, supply chain dominance in electronics, and Chinese investment in future areas like artificial intelligence and green technologies. The US believes it has to ensure democracies are at the forefront of such technologies and that they can produce them efficiently and with better safety and security.

The interim strategic guidance also says US policy will be about “shaping emerging technology standards to boost our security, economic competitiveness, and values…we will partner with democratic friends and allies to amplify our collective competitive advantages. We will join with like-minded democracies to develop and defend trusted critical supply chains and technology infrastructure, and to promote pandemic preparedness and clean energy. We will lead in promoting shared norms and forge new agreements on emerging technologies, space, cyber space, health and biological threats.”

The present global shortage of semiconductors, partly a consequence of Chinese hoarding, has meant these electronic chips are, according to the Wall Street Journal, “at the top of the administration’s list.” The core countries for a semiconductor alliance would probably be Japan, South Korea and Taiwan but might also include the Netherlands, one of the three largest makers of semiconductor fabrication machines. The various reports do not put India at the centre of this policy, partly because of the country’s poor research and development contribution to such technologies and partly because of its perceived reluctance to join explicit anti-China coalitions. But the Biden team sees India as an important place to relocate parts of supply chain production and a software contributor in some technologies.

Like Trump, Biden will pressure allies against buying Huawei’s 5G telecommunications systems. The difference is that Biden also wants to actively promote alternatives. “That might mean investment in cross-border joint ventures with competitors such as Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung…a common embrace of new technologies such as open radio access networks, or O-RAN, a software-based approach to 5G networks,” says a Washington Post analysis.

Some of the other areas that are seen as ready for such alliances are export controls, technical standards, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and surveillance technology rules.

With some European and Asian governments nervous about joining explicit “techno-alliances” against China, the US will weave such coalitions around existing multilateral structures like the Group of Seven, the Quad and various Atlantic Alliance groupings. “The trick will be keeping the U.S. economy open enough that it continues to draw the world's most talented people, even as officials move to protect America's lead in key technologies.” Some of the alliances will be informal, some may even be unannounced, and the idea will be to keep them flexible.

US commentators say their government needs to embrace a technology-driven but state-supported industrial policy and put aside the standard Washington preference for market solutions. For example, a recent report commissioned by the government and headed by Google’s Eric Schmidt recommends the US government lay out $ 32 billion to support artificial intelligence research and funding by 2026. The report also calls for a “coalition of like-minded” nations to move forward on such technologies.

The US Senate is working on legislation to “outcompete” China that would not only include large investments in US infrastructure, education and innovation but also provide incentives for investments in US allies and partners in Southeast Asia, Europe and including India. Among this raft of legislation is the Endless Frontiers Act and the Chip Act which are about investing in key technologies like semiconductors. Many of these bills have bipartisan support. In February alone, nearly 20 anti-China pieces of legislation were on the US congressional agenda.

Indo-Pacific Missile Gap

The latest attempt at a pivot to Asia by Washington is a budget request to the US Congress for an additional $ 4.7 billion for 2022 by the commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Phil Davidson. This is part of a larger $ 22.8 billion request over the next five years. “The greatest danger we face in the Indo-Pacific region is the erosion of conventional deterrence vis-à-vis China,” Davidson said at a conference recently. “We must convince Beijing that the costs to achieve its objectives by military force are simply too high.” 

One part of the new budget is a buildup of precision-guided intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the western Pacific to counter China’s missile dominance. The US was banned from deploying such missiles under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement but that was scrapped by the Trump administration. But this temporary Chinese missile superiority gives it a six-year window during which, says Davidson, it could be tempted to change the status quo along the “first island chain” running from Okinawa to Taiwan and down to the Philippines. The Pentagon’s own budget analysts are asking questions about some elements of his request, including whether existing destroyer-based missile defences would be as effective as the new land-based Aegis Ashore missiles he wants to use to defend Guam.

Climate Coalition

On March 5, US special envoy on climate change John Kerry said the US had put together a “small consortium of several countries” prepared to help India achieve its ambitious target of producing about 450 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030. Kerry said, “It’s a great goal but they need about $ 600 billion to be able to help make that kind of a transition.” In a recognition of India’s new National Hydrogen Mission, Kerry said he was looking at how the US could help in that cutting-edge fuel. “I’ve talked to industrialists in India and government leaders who are focused on the potential of creating India the hydrogen economy as a future,” he  said. Kerry said the US could help India with technology that would make it more competitive against China in the making of solar cells and modules. It could also help in making hydrogen in a manner that was less energy-intensive than it is today. Details about this coalition, however, remain scant.

US Public and China

A majority of US adults support a more assertive stance on bilateral relations with China across a range of issues, according to a new Pew Research Center survey that collected data in February. Some 48% think limiting China’s power and influence should be a top foreign policy priority for the US, up from 32% in 2018. Roughly nine-in-ten consider China a competitor or enemy, rather than a partner. Americans were particularly concerned about four issues regarding China: cyberattacks, the loss of US jobs, China’s growing military power and its policies on human rights.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans have “cold” feelings toward China, up from 46% who said the same in 2018. While negative feelings toward China have increased among both Republicans and Democrats, the size of the partisan gap has also grown since 2018. Today, 62% of Republicans feel “very cold” toward China – up 31 percentage points since 2018. In comparison, 38% of Democrats report “very cold” feelings, up 21 points over the same period. 

When thinking about economic and trade policies with China, more Americans want the US to get tougher with China (53%) rather than to focus on building a stronger relationship (44%). Americans also support more focus on human rights: 70% say the US should try to promote human rights in China, even if it harms economic relations.

A little over half have confidence President Biden will be able to deal effectively with China. Still, among six issues tested, this is the one in which Americans have the least confidence in Biden, though there is a huge gap on this between Democrats and Republicans.

(The views expressed are personal)


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•   Biden's First Fortnight
•   Foreign Policy Signals
•   American Techno-Politik
•   World Approves
•   Democratic Blues
•   Indians Fund Indians

Biden's First Fortnight

Joe Biden officially became the 46th President of the United States on January 20. His inaugural address, coming in the wake of the January 6th mob attack on the Capitol Building, stressed the need for unity in his deeply divided country. The new administration is faced with multiple pressing challenges. The most important is the continuing Covid-19 pandemic which has ravaged the US more than any other country with nearly 26 million cases, over 430,000 deaths and about 160,000 new cases a day. Biden began his presidency by revoking over a dozen executive orders passed by Trump and issuing over two dozen of his own on an array of issues ranging from the Paris climate treaty, working rights for H1-B visa holder spouses, racial inequality, and stopping oil and gas leases on federal land.

The US Congress began moving to impeach Trump for inciting protesters who stormed the Capital in a quixotic attempt to overturn the election results. The Democratic Party-controlled House of Representatives voted for impeachment, making Trump the first US president to be so censured twice. But the move looks set to founder when the Senate eventually votes for a conviction. This requires a minimum of 17 Republican senators to vote against Trump, something that would require a small miracle to take place. An indirect Senate vote on the constitutionality of the impeachment process only garnered five Republican votes, a measure of Trump’s continuing grip over the base of his party.

Republican leaders, after some assertiveness against Trump, have begun seeking to mend fences with him. Biden’s legitimacy continues to be held in question by most Republican voters. Polls show nearly two-thirds of Republicans question November’s election results with even 42% of independents raising questions as well. Biden has not invested much in the impeachment process, feeling the Congress should get on with urgent legislative tasks. His chief of staff, Ron Klain, released a memo outlining four major crises that the new administration has to tackle:  “The COVID-19 crisis, the resulting economic crisis, the climate crisis, and a racial equity crisis.” The new president will be helped by relatively low expectations: only half of the US believes he has a chance of uniting the country.


The indications are that the Biden administration will move decisively leftward when it comes to domestic policies, possibly the most left the country has moved since the Great Society of Lyndon Baines Johnson. For example, the new president has embraced government-based health insurance and halted almost all undocumented immigration deportations – both policies that President Barack Obama felt went too far. Biden has also indicated he will stress livelihoods over the size of the fiscal deficit, abandoning the financial conservativeness of Bill Clinton. Biden’s call for tax-supported abortions, his $ 2 trillion green energy push and plans to reduce defence spending are much more liberal than stances he took as a senator.

Biden seems to have moved leftward during the campaign because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. Also the foreign policy challenge of China requires a greater and more intrusive role for the state.  “In the Biden administration, there is one clear, dominant ideological view — left of Obama in 2016, not as left as [Elizabeth] Warren now,” as one analysis noted. He has already sent a strong signal in choosing the most demographically and racially diverse cabinet and senior administration in US history.

Foreign Policy Signals

Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, in their nomination hearings, spoke at length about Asia and China. Blinken said, “There is no doubt [China] poses the most significant challenge of any nation-state to the United States.” He also said the Trump administration was “right in taking a tougher approach to China” and Trump’s “basic principle was the right one” but that he differed on the tactics need to take on China. He also said “genocide” was the right description of Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs. He seemed to have avoided attacking the Chinese Communist Party, a common target of his predecessor Mike Pompeo.

Austin labelled China the major “pacing threat” facing the US. He promised a “laser-like focus” on retaining the US’s competitive edge over China’s military and ensuring military parity between the two “never happens.” The defence secretary avoided any change to the US’s “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan, iterating the standard policy of ensuring Taiwan can defend itself. In the Pentagon, China hand Ely Ratner will be special assistant to the secretary of defence, while Michael Chase will be deputy assistant secretary (China) both of whom are seen as relatively hawkish. Kelly Magsamen, another Asia hand, will be Austin’s chief of staff. Interestingly, concerns about China were also mentioned by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines during their nomination hearings, indicating a possible “whole of government” approach to China by the Biden administration.

Yet there is an overall expectation of a Biden administration that will practice a minimalist foreign policy, compensating for its focus on domestic issues with a lot of coalition and alliance building. Also, it will seek to practice a foreign policy that connects with the interests of middle-class Americans rather than seek to lay out grand strategies and project members of its team as statesmen.

Biden’s National Security Council is largely in place, with Jake Sullivan in charge. The departments dealing with the Indo-Pacific are the most important insofar as India is concerned. Kurt Campbell has been appointed Indo-Pacific Coordinator, a new position that encompasses both East and South Asia. The China team is headed by Laura Rosenberger, but includes Rush Doshi and Julian Gewirtz. The South Asia desk is headed by AlbrightStonebridge partner Sumona Guha. Interestingly, the Russia and Central Asia directorate will also be brought under the Indo-Pacific. The NSC has already begun to reflect this administrative change with the staff strength of the Asia directorates being beefed up and the West Asian sections being downsized. 

Before the election, Sullivan wrote and spoke extensively about the post-Trump foreign policy that he believes the US needs. He has been nuanced on China. He once wrote the “ ‘responsible stakeholder’ consensus in the American strategic community, premised on integrating China into a US-led order, has come apart.” However, the emerging theme of “strategic competition” may be a move too far. “It has been disorienting to watch the pendulum swing so fast from a benign view of China to a dark one.”

He stresses multilateral cooperation is a must, “required to tackle climate change, pandemic disease, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and the risk of another global economic crisis.” When it comes to collective action, “the motivating theory for many in the foreign policy community may actually be closer to classical republicanism—with its emphasis on institutions, interdependence, and the rule of law—than to classical liberalism.” 

Where U.S. Foreign Policy Should—and Shouldn’t—Go From Here

The Case for a National Security Budget

Campbell’s new position has elicited considerable interest in Washington. In his pre-election writings, he outlined a view that the Indo Pacific required a balance of power, an order the region’s states recognize as legitimate, and a coalition to address China’s challenge to both. “Such an approach can ensure the Indo-Pacific’s future is characterized by balance and twenty-first-century openness rather than hegemony and nineteenth-century spheres of influence.” US policy should seek to “modernize and strengthen” parts of the present system. He argues for a military response that follows the same asymmetric capabilities being adopted by Beijing, a greater dispersion of US forces across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, and a wider range of “military and intelligence partnerships between regional states.” On the economic side of the coin, the Indo-Pacific must also “revolve around supply chains, standards, investment regimes, and trade agreements.” While the US will re-shore sensitive industries and pursue a “managed decoupling” from China, it has to reassure regional states that “moving supply chains out of China will often mean shifting them to other local economies.”

Campbell envisages a future of many coalitions in trade, technology, supply chains, standards and values – the latter similar to the “Democracy-10” that will meet at the G-7 summit in London and includes India. In the military realm, he says an expansion of the Quad makes sense while infrastructure investment could be done with Japan and India. He also posited a human rights coalition built around those countries which had openly criticized China over Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Campbell elsewhere says that if “Washington is to reckon with China’s predatory economic practices,” the US may need an “office that can consolidate information on industrial capacity, supply chains, economic bottlenecks, and import dependence.”

Laura Rosenberger, the NSC’s Senior Director for China, has written democracies need to understand “their values are their principal competitive advantage, and to use them as the source of strength.” She argued the contest between “democracies and autocracies” takes place in the” political, economic, technological, and information spaces,” and less and less in the military sphere.

How America Can Shore Up Asian Order

The China Challenge Can Help America Avert Decline

China Is Done Biding Its Time

Democratic Values Are a Competitive Advantage

American Techno-Politik

A running theme among the Biden appointments is the belief a global technological contest between democracies and autocracies is unfolding. The underlying difference is the autocracies’ use of new digital technologies to place their populations under unprecedented surveillance and strongly limit space for protest and dissidence. China and, to a lesser extent, Russia are the key digital dictatorships and they are now seeking to export their model. Blinken, during his secretary of state nomination hearings, spoke of “an increasing divide between techno democracies and techno autocracies.” Which of these two competing groups of countries define how technology is used in the world “will go a long way toward shaping the next decades.”

Andrea Kendall-Taylor, the NSC senior Director for Russia and Central Asia, has been commented extensively on this issue. In one article she discussed how led by China “today’s digital autocracies are using technology—the Internet, social media, artificial intelligence (AI)—to supercharge long-standing authoritarian survival tactics.” In particular, the Chinese are using the digital dark arts to counter “the most significant threat” to authoritarianism today: mass anti-government protests. Such autocracies have grown much more durable over time. She has noted the “Chinese Communist Party collects an incredible amount of data on individuals and businesses” and then uses AI to analyze this information “to set the parameters of acceptable behaviour and improve citizen control.” The US response must become the world leader in AI and shape global norms so that such technologies are deployed in line with democratic values. She has also argued that in this and other issues the US should begin treating Russia and China as being a combined geopolitical entity.

The Digital Dictators

A Russian-Chinese Partnership Is a Threat to U.S. Interests

The new deputy secretary of defence, Kathleen Hicks, similarly has a past record stressing the importance of treating technology in a more holistic, more strategic manner. For example, she argues the US may need to adopt a “civil-military fusion” for its technological development, one where the state plays a larger role in terms of funding and direction. The US should consider “embracing a top-down approach to developing cutting-edge technologies with military applications” not dissimilar to what China practices today. “Direct federal investment is vital to progress in quantum computing, synthetic biology, semiconductors, and military-use artificial intelligence.” The Pentagon needs to restructure how it handles technological development, including streamlining budgeting and promoting innovation. She also questioned the Trump administration’s decision to clamp down on visas for Chinese students and researchers who have no military or intelligence ties as this would only “undermine US competitiveness.”

Can China’s Military Win the Tech War?

Getting to Less: The Truth About Defense Spending

World Approves

More than 60% of respondents in France, Mexico, India, and Indonesia said they approved of Biden as the new US president. Germany, a country that received more criticism than most from Donald Trump, gave the US president a 73% approval ratings. Damagingly for Biden and his domestic policy focus is that only half of his fellow Americans expressed approval for him. One saving grace: Trump approval rating was down to 34% when he left office. The country that has the lowest view of Biden? Russia, with a 23% approval rating.

Democratic Blues

The Democratic Party assumed the rising numbers of minorities and increased urbanisation would ensure a permanent majority among the US electorate. This was confirmed by its consistent edge over the Republicans in the popular vote. Only the electoral college sometimes thwarted its candidates. There was an assumption Trump’s embrace of white supremacy and open racism would only accelerate this process. All of this was rudely shaken up by the 2020 elections.

Trump increased support among black men and Hispanic voters in key swing states, while maintaining a grip on white non-college educated voters. The Democratic Party saw its majority in the House of Representatives shrink sharply. The November polls also saw the disappearance of split-ticket voting, a problem for Democratic legislators in Trump-friendly states. The Democratic Party, as one analyst noted, needs to win 54% of the popular vote for successive election cycles to ensure control of the legislative process.

A part of the Democratic Party’s problem lies in the other wing of its social base – college-educated urban white liberals. Concentrated in big cities, the media and institutions they depend on are out of touch with the rest of the country. Media coverage and even some polling missed out on the movement among chunks of the Hispanic voters towards Trump, despite warnings from Latino leaders. Even the white rural vote surge in favour of Trump was underestimated. “The joke is that the GOP is really assembling the multiracial working-class coalition that the left has always dreamed of,” says David Shor, a Democratic polling and data expert who was part of the Barack Obama 2012 campaign.

The US media matrix is being further distorted with Trump supporters feeling the rightwing Fox News channel is too moderate while mainstream liberal outlets like the New York Times are seen insufficiently woke by the liberal-left. In the US, Twitter has been dubbed a “mass reality distortion field” for liberals while Facebook places a similar role among conservatives. YouTube is ecumenical in providing a biased canvas for both sides. Videos endorsing election fraud were viewed 138 million times during the first full week of November on YouTube.

Thanks to the controversies surrounding the last US elections there are currently 106 pending bills across 28 states restricting access to voting, according to the Brennan Center. Last year, there were only 35 such bills. More than a third of the bills sought to restrict voting by mail, a voting method that Republicans have treated with suspicion despite the lack of any evidence of fraud. Fourteen proposals are pending in Pennsylvania, the largest of any state. Seven bills seek to limit opportunities for election day registration. On the bright side, there are 406 bills in 35 states that sought to expand voting access with New York and Texas each having 50 such proposals.

Indians Fund Indians

South Asian political candidates in the US, at the start of their careers, depend heavily on raising funds from their community. Such funding does not guarantee success but it reflects the newness of the South Asian community and their lack of largescale institutional networks in the country. South Asians, mostly Indians, have become increasingly active in US politics: only two candidates ran in 2000 while 40 ran in the past two election cycles. Most of the candidates tend to be Democrats. analysis indicates nearly 25% of the money donated by Americans with South Asian names was given to South Asian-origin candidates.

Some well-known Indian-American politicians like Ro Khanna, Ami Bera and Pramila Jayapal have become less dependent on money from their community over time. While they all hail from the liberal state of California, this funding trend may explain why some of them are openly more critical of the Indian government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is popular with at least half of Indian-Americans. Legislators who are dependent on Indian-American funding tend to be more willing to share platforms with rightwing Hindu activists. Raja Krishnamoorthi, though a Democrat, is among this category with 54% of his election funding coming from Indian-Americans – a dependency that is increasing. One unsuccessful Republican candidate, Bangar Reddy Aaloori, in Texas was notable for receiving all of his funding from Indian-Americans.

(The views expressed are personal)

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•   Biden Government Takes Shape
•   New Old Cabinet
•   Russian Hacking
•   Hunter Problem
•   Books On Trump

Biden Government Takes Shape

The cabinet of United States President-elect Joe Biden is largely in place barring a few positions, including the attorney-general and the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. He has placed record numbers of women and minorities in the cabinet, but Biden has been careful to choose people who align with his policy priorities. These include a more nationalist trade policy, a manufacturing-oriented industrial policy and a cautious foreign policy vision. As of mid-December, Biden has chosen 19 cabinet members, of whom 11 are people of colour and 10 are women. If they are all confirmed, Biden’s will easily be the US cabinet with the largest number of women. 

President Donald Trump’s quixotic quest to overturn the results of the US presidential election is on its last legs. Biden won the electoral college, 306 to 232, on December 14 and now has only one last constitutional step, a symbolic approval of the electoral college results by the US Congress on January 6, before officially becoming the next president. 

Trump and his allies have launched over 60 legal challenges, at the federal and state level, all unsuccessful. Even judges appointed by the outgoing president have declined to support him. Trump reportedly continues to discuss with a shrinking circle of aides ever more absurd ways to get even local results annulled, but the Republican Party leadership is already preparing for handover. However, Trump has succeeded in ensuring his base is firmly sceptical of the results. The number of Republicans who believe the elections were not free and fair has risen from about 40% in October to 68% today. 

Biden’s first governance issue will be handling the Covid-19 pandemic which had claimed 315,000 lives as of December 18 and continued to register 250,000 plus cases a day in the US. The good news for the president-elect was that the first vaccines, by Pfizer and Moderna, have begun to be distributed across the country. With more such vaccines being approved, the national psyche is expected to be much less apprehensive when Biden takes his oath of office next month. Equally uplifting for the national psyche is the passage of a $ 900 billion stimulus package for the pandemic-affected US economy.

New Old Cabinet

A set of sketches on the most senior Biden appointees, many of them drawn from the Barack Obama administration, and what they tell us about the goals of the new administration.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will seek to put into practice Biden’s call for a “foreign policy for the middle class.” Sullivan has argued for a foreign policy that is less ambitious in its reach, less tied to neoliberal principles like free trade, and much more integrated with the economic needs of the wider US population. He is expected to oversee a national security council with more representation from the economic ministries than usual. 

In the years before the elections, Sullivan was part of a bipartisan team that travelled across the country and met a wide swathe of Americans to get a sense of how much American view of their engagement with the world had change. It found Americans did not mind playing a global role, but wanted their foreign policy to address their local and individual economic insecurities. Many felt US policy should lower the “risks of living in a more open and integrated world,” risks caused by technology and trade. The report warned, “There is no evidence America’s middle class will rally behind efforts aimed at restoring US primacy in a unipolar world, escalating a new Cold War with China, or waging a cosmic struggle between the world’s democracies and authoritarian governments.” A new US policy agenda should focus on pandemics, cybersecurity, protecting critical supply chains and developing means to help US workers adjust to a changing global economy. The report called for a national competitiveness strategy that would closely link US foreign and domestic priorities.

Biden has called for creating jobs in infrastructure and “Buy American” government procurement strategies. But the report differs here, saying the future lies in middle-class jobs coming out of the digital economy and low-carbon technologies. However, it warns against shutting down oil and gas facilities or slashing defence expenditure drastically given how badly this would effect rural areas and small towns. 

One strand of Sullivan’s past is the key role he played, on the ground, in negotiating the original US-Iran nuclear agreement, often flying to Tehran on secret missions to talk to Tehran’s mullahs. There is an expectation that issues like trade and immigration would be among the new national security areas where Sullivan would be influential.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken will be the next US secretary of state at a time when Biden will seek to repair what the president-elect sees as the damage done to US foreign policy by four years of Trump. Among his priorities will be to reposition US as a multilateral player by rejoining the Paris Accord and the World Health Organisation, reviving the Iran nuclear deal and restating US support for NATO and other alliances. “Blinken has been described as having a ‘mind meld’ with Biden on a range of issues that will be important in his early tenure,“ said one commentary. Biden also appointed a career Foreign Service officer, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, as US ambassador to the United Nations, the only ambassadorial position that has cabinet rank in the US system.  

Blinken is seen as pragmatic and prudent, with good consensus-building skills at a time when the US will find major diplomatic action difficult thanks to distractions at home and much-reduced influence abroad. A number of US analysts have argued the US will have to work out arrangements with its major rivals, notably Russia and China, with areas of convergence and differences staked out. Blinken will also be inhibited by the fact one major policy area, climate change, will be dominated by the president’s special envoy, John Kerry. 

Much of the new secretary of state’s initial work will be about restoring the morale and staff strength of the State Department. 

Blinken shares the view of Sullivan and others in the Biden team that foreign policy is today more deeply interwined with economics and technology than before. He also supports the view that tackling China, for example, will require the US government to invest more in domestic industrial and technological revival. Ensuring Beijing will not be left unchecked while Washington is busy fixing things at home will be Blinken’s key task. The new administration’s solution is to leverage US diplomacy and its alliances. Biden has said, “The best China strategy, I think, is one which gets every one of our allies on the same page.” Blinken is no supporter of a full economic decoupling which he has called “unrealistic” and “counterproductive.”

Secretary of Defence General Lloyd Austin’s appointment as Pentagon chief, supplanting other favourites for the job including Michelle Flournoy, is partly a consequence of public pressure on Biden to appoint more black Americans to senior cabinet positions. However, it is also evident Austin strongly shares Biden’s views on the future of US defence policy. The points of convergence include a deep scepticism about US interventionism in West Asia and a belief alliances must be revived as an anchor of US diplomacy. Biden was reportedy attracted to Austin’s use of the phrase “strategic patience” – a critical response to those who have argued for the US to take a harder line against competitors like China. His wariness on confronting China head-on has been the primary source of criticism of his appointment though a few have mourned the lost opportunity to appoint a female head of defence for the first time in US history.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai is not a public name and this has led some to say Biden will not place much emphasis on trade. Others, however, note she has an unusually strong record as trade lawyer and congressional trade staffer of handling China. Tai, a Taiwanese-American, speaks fluent Mandarin and worked in China for six years. While working as a congressional staffer she helped put in labour provisions into the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement. More recently, she was part of a team that worked out trade sanctions against China over the use of forced labour in Xinjiang. Before that she was chief litigator for Chinese trade cases in USTR where she helped put together the case at the World Trade Organisation against China’s export restrictions on rare earths. 

What seems more important is that Tai represents a new Democratic view on trade that argues for the US to pursue an industrial policy attitude towards strategic economic sectors. She has criticized the Trump administration’s use of tariffs as not “strategic” enough and argued tariffs were, at best, a “defensive” instrument. “Her experience successfully litigating trade disputes with China is unmatched. She intimately understands the challenge to the global trading system posed by China, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the WTO as a tool to advance US interests,” said Lauren Mandell, a trade lawyer with law firm Wilmer Hale. However, in an interview in the New York Times, Biden indicated tariffs on China would not be lifted in a hurry.

One understated element of Biden’s international economic agenda, and one that is a good fit with the Indian government’s policies, are international agreements against corruption and tax evasion. While the US has been a world leader in acting against corruption and pushing transparency in cross-border business in the past, under the Trump administration it began moving in the opposite direction. Biden has said he will seek multilateral action against companies seeking to use offshore tax havens and shell companies to evade paying taxes. The US Congress is presently considering the passage of a bill that would end the domestic use of opaque shell companies to hide ownership. In 2017, the US withdrew from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global effort to reduce corruption and bring improved governance to the oil and mining sector. It is assumed the Biden administration will seek to rejoin this initiative.

Climate and Energy In appointing John Kerry special envoy for climate change and Jennifer Granholm energy secretary, Biden placed two politicians at the helm of US climate policy. A special envoy helps underline the chief executive’s personal commitment to a policy. Choosing former Michigan governor Granholm, a person with strong ties to the US automobile industry, signals his equal determination to put the US on a green energy and mobility path. 

Kerry has been a vociferous climate advocate as chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee. As secretary of state he served as lead negotiator for the Paris Accord and the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The Kigali agreement seeks to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas. Kerry has already called for countries to look beyond the Paris agreement but is also expected to push for the US to honour its financial commitments to the UN Green Climate Fund. India’s former special envoy on climate, Shyam Saran, in a recent article mentions Kerry’s past hostility to the idea developed countries have a responsibility for their historical carbon emissions. Others have noted Kerry’s zealotry regarding climate makes him prone to seek engagement with China, irrespective of Beijing’s behaviour in other areas.

Granholm has considerable experience with the US automobile industry, much of it headquartered in Michigan, which will prove crucial if Biden is to fast track the rollout of electric vehicles and charging stations in the US. She has positioned herself as a person who can help the industry and its workforce transition to a green energy future. She wrote in an op-ed, “The private sector needs greater support and political will from our policymakers to help us fully realize the potential of a zero-carbon future…The economics are clear: The time for a low-carbon recovery is now.”

A former US energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, co-authored an article calling on the Biden administration to “create the political space” to resume US-Russia engagement down to the “scientist-to-scientist” level based on a recognition of shared interest in preventing the use of nuclear weapons. He wrote the new administration must “confront the sobering fact that the potential for nuclear weapons use shadows more of the world’s conflicts than ever before. A single accident or blunder could lead to Armageddon.” While the US and Russia represent 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, seven other nuclear powers “share the stage” today.

Russian Hacking

A massive hacking of dozens of US government agencies and US corporations this month by what is suspected to have been the Russian external intelligence agency, the SVR, has led Biden to promise a strong response to cyberattacks. Trump, downplayed any Russian role and said the attack may have been by China. Dozens of US media reports, however, cited US intelligence and other sources as pointing the finger to Moscow. The attack included the non-classified email systems of the US Treasury, the National Nuclear Security Administration which oversees the nuclear arsenal, and US firms like Cisco and Microsoft. While Biden referred to the hack as a cyberattack, US intelligence experts said it was closer to an act of espionage as information was stolen but not destroyed. They also admitted it was the sort of activity the US National Security Agency also carries out. The hack may have been a response to the October charging of six Russian military intelligence officers, dubbed the Sandworm team, who carried cyberattacks between 2015 and 2020 including against the South Korean Olympics, the US and French presidential elections.

Hunter Problem

Hunter Biden, the president-elect’s son, announced he had been officially notified he was under investigation by federal prosecutors over the finances of several overseas business dealings, especially a number involving Chinese firms. The investigation does not implicate Joe Biden in any way. Hunter Biden said he was confident the investigations would clear him of criminal charges. Among the more prominent cases are his role as a member of the board of a Chinese investment management firm called BHR from 2013 to 2019 for which, Hunter Biden claims, he never received any compensation. The second charge is that in 2017 he worked to get a Chinese energy firm, CEFC, to invest in some US companies during which he received a 2.8 karat diamond from CEFC’s CEO. Hunter Biden does not deny the gift, but said he did not keep the diamond. Last year, his laptop was seized by the FBI as part of their own investigations. Since the final decision on his investigations may end up with the next attorney-general, who his father appoints to that position will be an unusually sensitive decision.

Books On Trump

Some 1500 books have been written about Donald Trump, his administration and his political rise. So many that the Washington Post’s nonfiction book critic, Carlos Lozada, wrote a book titled What Were We Thinking about the 150 Trump books that he read and the different points of view they represented. Many of the volumes describe the unusual character of the Trump administration. Lozada believes two books, The Unmaking of the Presidency by Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessy and The Fifth Risk, by Michael Lewis, “put the other Chaos Chronicles in proper context; they get at the meaning and the consequences of the disorder the others detail.” He also recommends political scientist  Jennifer Silva’s We’re Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America to understand how racism and white working class angst came together to form the base of Trump’s support.

(The views expressed are personal)

Read more…


•   Advantage Biden
•   State Of the Battleground
•   Surprises that may happen
•   Pollsters believe they are right
•   Ballots and Booths

Advantage Biden

With less than a fortnight before the United States voter goes to the polls, Joe Biden holds a narrow but steady lead among the battleground states that will determine who will be the next president. Biden and President Donald Trump held their last television debate on October 22nd. The debate was less ill-tempered than the first but, going by snap polls, has not changed voter attitudes.

As of October 25th, CNN’s poll of polls gives Biden, the Democratic Party candidate, a solid 10 percentage point lead over Trump nationally, gives Biden a lead of 9.1 points while has him up by 8 points. Each gives different weightage to a poll depending on its quality.

Biden is ahead thanks to two constituencies. One is minority voters with whom he enjoys a wide margin of support. The other is the backing of a large chunk of middle-class whites – especially women. Trump’s support base remains the same: the white working-class.

Biden has been wooing working class whites in battleground northern states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and wavering southern states like Florida and North Carolina. He has had some success with working class women. Trump’s desire to win back female voters was probably behind the restraint he showed in the final debate. Otherwise, his strategy is inspire a massive turnout among his charged-up supporters and overwhelm Biden’s larger social coalition. But 93 to 94% of supporters in both parties say they are highly motivated, one reason the election may see a turnout not seen in a century.

One sign of Biden’s support is funding. The Democrats’ online funding platform, ActBlue, has received a record $ 1.5 billion from 6.8 million donors over the past three months. This is the highest total in the platform’s 15-year-old history. Even Democratic state legislative candidates have seen contributions triple in size. The Republican counterpart, WinRed, has raised $ 623.5 million over the past quarter.

"There are more known unknowns than we’ve ever had at any point,” says Tom Bonier, CEO of Democratic data firm TargetSmart. “The instruments we have to gauge this race, the polling, our predictive models … the problem is all those tools are built around quote-unquote normal elections. And this is anything but a normal election.”

If there is a single electoral statistic that differentiates Biden from Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated in 2016, it’s the support of white women. Trump led Clinton by nine percentage points among white women. In the 2018 midterm congressional elections the two parties split their votes in half. This election, Biden is leading among them by six percentage points.

Women have been the most disturbed by the president’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, his willingness to exacerbate racial tensions, and find his misogyny and personal character distasteful. Trump recognises the problem, recently imploring female voters at a rally, “Can I ask you to do me a favour, suburban women? Will you please like me? Please.”

Within this demographic, Trump is experiencing less support even among working class white women. This is a huge drawback.  Non-college educated white – education is used to define working class in the US – are the foot soldiers of the president’s “Make America Great Again” movement. Clinton fell behind Trump with working class whites by 25 percentage points. Thanks to women and the elderly, Biden has halved this gap.

The Democratic Party, say some, is becoming the natural party of women. Female voters are more likely to favour an “activist role for government” and more concerned at the overall welfare of the country. Men place greater salience on economic issues and are warier of state support.

State of the Battleground 

Pollsters differ on what exactly constitutes a battleground state. ​​​​​ tracks Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and North Carolina.’s “tipping point states” includes these six but adds Minnesota, Nevada, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Georgia and Texas.’s analysts are coming to feel Biden’s margins in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin mean that only Georgia, Texas, Iowa and Ohio are going to the line. Democratic super-political action committee, Priorities USA, believes there are just six core battleground states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina.

Biden’s margin of support in the upper Midwest has slowly but surely increased through September and October. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan polls show his lead widening to 7-9%. Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida are for Biden by 3-5%, hovering above the statistical margin of error. The real surprise is a cluster of southern and Midwest states like North Carolina, Texas, Iowa and Ohio which were seen as pink to crimson before the pandemic but are now competitive.

Trump having to spend precious days campaigning in Florida and Iowa, states once seen as in the bag is a bad sign for him. Biden, on the other hand, is swinging by Ohio and North Carolina because he feels he can push these now purple states on to his side. No candidate can be certain about a dozen states. Biden may be ahead in all of them, but his lead is half or less of what he has at the national level.

Trump’s problem:  the number of battleground states has increased but all the new ones are traditional red states. The electoral college math, normally a Republican advantage, now skews against him. For example, Iowa and Ohio voted for Barack Obama but have become more conservative. Georgia voted against Obama but has shifted towards the liberal end of the political spectrum. All three went with Trump but Republicans struggled there in the 2018 midterms. Today, Biden and Trump are in a statistical dead heat in Iowa, Georgia and Ohio.’s presidential forecast says the Democratic candidate has a 50:50 or 49:50 chance of winning any of these states.

Biden doesn’t need an Ohio or Georgia to win. But presidential and senate results tend to go in tandem. A strong Biden showing in some of these states could help the Democrats secure crucial senatorial seats. If Biden is able to win Georgia or Florida, combined with likely victories in Virginia and North Carolina, it would also be a sign the Republican’s iron hold on the South is crumbling.

Pennsylvania has been dubbed by analysts as the closest thing to a bellwether state in this election. It is a must state for Trump. Without Pennsylvania his chances of winning are vanishingly small. Both parties have lavished the state with visits and money. Priorities USA has placed Pennsylvania as the most important tipping point state. More paths to victory by Biden run through this state than any other. Biden leads Trump by 5.1 percentage points as of October 24, according to poll of polls, but this is a drop from an over seven point lead he held 12 days earlier. CNN’s polls of polls, which does not include polls of poorer quality, gives Biden an eight point lead.

Again, white women and elderly are proving Trump’s weakness. Half of Pennsylvania’s white female vote went to Trump in 2016. Polls say that support is down to 37% or worse. A similar slump is evident among elderly whites. Gloria Lee Snover, chair of Pennsylvania’s Northampton County Republican Party, said, “When I look on Facebook, the women that support Biden are a lot of middle-aged suburban white women who are talking about Covid constantly and their fear of it…They’re obsessed with Covid.”

Surprises that may happen

Trump’s seeming strategy of energizing his white working class base to turn out in record numbers has a basis in the numbers of non-voters. Millions of potential white working class votes are never cast in almost every US elections. They are especially sizeable in Pennsylanvia and the upper Midwest states on which the election is pivoting. In Pennsylvania (population 12.8 million), for example, eligible non-college educated whites eligible who did not exercise their franchise in 2016 numbered 2.289 million. Smaller but still similar numbers exist for states like Michigan (1.56 million), Wisconsin (819,000) and Minnesota (786,000). Pennsylvania even had 600,000 absent middle-class white voters. The numbers for some southern battleground states: Florida (2.565 million), North Carolina (1.1 million) and Georgia (1.17 million).

Early dissections of postal ballots by the Democratic research group Hawkfish show that it can work both ways. Democrats are receiving unusually high numbers of ballots from traditional non-voters and low frequency voters. Biden has hoped large numbers of minority non-voters will come out thanks to hatred for Trump. Pennsylvania had nearly 700,000 such non-white no shows. Among the southern states, the non-whites who didn’t vote in 2016 are extremely large: Texas (4.27 million), Florida (2.56 million) and Georgia (1.3 million).

Seven states, including battlegrounds like Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Carolina, allow same-day registration which means hundreds of thousands of non-registered voters from either side could arrive at polling booths – if suitably mobilised enough.

Trump’s appeals to a hard-edged nationalism, his noise on “law and order,” and economic record is helping him increase margins with Republican-leaning minority groups. Many black and Latino men believe the Democratic Party takes them for granted and are unmoved by Biden. Trump’s support among young black voters, attracted by his anti-establishment language, has increased from 10 to 21% since 2016, though this will be offset by the landslide of pro-Biden sentiment among older blacks. The Republican candidate has done better among young Latino voters, attracting 35% of this group versus 22% in 2016. Biden remains ahead of Trump among Latino voters overall, but lags the kind of support Clinton had with this group.

There is scattered evidence that middle-class white men are breaking for Biden. These group is instinctively supportive of Republican candidates, largely over issues of economics and values. But they do not like Trump, especially those in the northern swing states. Republicans carried this demographic by only 4 points in the 2018 midterms. Some political analysts argue there could be a hidden vote against Trump – middle-class conservatives who will vote against the president behind the curtain but not express their intention in public. Says Tim Alberta of, after crisscrossing the country and interviewing hundreds of voters, “That’s the story of this election: All across America, in conversations with voters about their choices this November, I’ve been hearing the same thing over and over again: ‘I don’t like Trump.’” Even Trump supporters admitted to their candidate’s inappropriate behaviour.

Pollsters believe they are right

Pollsters predicted the national results of the 2016 US presidential elections correctly – Hillary Clinton won by three percentage points. However, they went wrong on the state results that decided the electoral college. A survey of 15 pollsters found them more confident. The main change: greater weightage being given to the level of education of a voter, in other words class distinctions. The polls flopped in 2016 because Trump supporters generally lack a college degree and they were underrepresented in sampling. Other issues also affect polling strategies including poor responses to phone calls and the rising costs involved in high-quality surveys. Some pollsters, like Ipsos and Pew Research Center, are weighting for education within a racial group believing white working class voters are even more slanted in favour of Trump. Not all pollsters are convinced. Even if they went back and included education, some pollsters found they would still have gotten 2016 wrong.

Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and NBC News/Wall Street Journal said they were including urban, suburban and rural residency as a determinant. Others are moving away from random-digit dialing and moving to methodologies that looked at addresses or sampling of voter registration lists. More cellphone outreach versus landlines, more texting versus voice calls are other changes. Only one pollster worried about a “hidden Trump vote” any more. The main concern was the impact of the pandemic on voter turnout and other disruptions such as mass disqualification of mail-order ballots.

Ballots and Booths

Trump’s refusal to promise a peaceful transition of power or even accept a negative vote will make this an unusually tense US election day. More election-related lawsuits have been filed this year than in the last two decades, says the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project. Most have been filed by Democratic activists to counter Republican disinformation campaigns, fight complicated absentee ballot rules, discriminatory poll booth locations, electoral roll purging and other attempts at voter suppression. The bulk of these are aimed at reducing black and Latino turnout. Britain’s Channel 4 reported that in 2016 the Trump campaign had used data-based voter suppression against 3.5 million black voters.

Covid-19 has meant enormous numbers of postal ballots in this election. Most are cast by blue supporters as they take the virus more seriously than their red counterparts. The battle over postal ballots has become a side story of its own. Trump’s attacks on the US postal service and the credibility of such ballots has meant Republicans are four times more likely to believe postal ballots are susceptible to fraud. Then there is the sheer diversity of rules regarding postal ballots. Such rules are set by states and can be broken up into four broad categories: Everyone can vote by mail, and ballots are automatically mailed to voters; everyone can vote by mail, and mail-ballot applications are automatically mailed to voters; everyone can vote by mail, but nothing is automatically mailed to voters and you can vote by mail only if you have a valid excuse – and the pandemic is not a valid excuse. An example of how this can baffle voters is Pennsylvania which ruled postal ballots must be inside an envelope-within-an-envelope. Some reports say this may result in 100,000 ballots being disqualified.

The good news is that state election officials have worked hard to build in resilience and security into the process. As one analysis concluded, in handling viral contamination and cyberattacks, “the American electoral system is far likelier to dispense with these twin threats than it was just four years ago.” Postal balloting is also more widespread than before. Polling stations have considerable backup and higher levels of staffing. Said one report, “2020 will in many respects be the most secure election the US has ever had.”

Handling voter intimidation will be more difficult. Republicans have called for their supporters to visit poll booths in Democratic areas and enforce “ballot security measures.” Trump also cancelled a decades-long consent decree barring such practices. While federal, state and local laws are strict regarding any form of intimidation it is uncertain how well they can be enforced. Both sides are marshalling armies of lawyers. Close counts in battleground states are likely to be strongly contested, resulting in delayed vote counting or complicated court-ordered recounts. There are minimal judicial precedents for many of the possible legal issues including executive certification of electoral slates or electoral college vote casting – because they have not been issues in the past.

Polls show two-thirds of Americans expect the results will be delayed. Social media platforms like Twitter have already put bans on false declarations of election results. In-person votes are normally counted first. As these are likely to be Republican there is an expectation of a red wave in first few hours. Postal ballots are often counted later in which case a reverse blue tide will kick in later. There is already speculation Trump may declare victory halfway through and demand postal ballots not be counted. He lacks the authority to do so, but the consequences could be widespread violence.

(The views expressed are personal)

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•   US election race is tightening
•   Republican campaign strategy
•   Race not the card it was 
•   Covid and the undecideds
•   Two party conventions
•   Indians as future faces
•   Intra-party Battles

US election race is tightening
After months of showing US Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, comfortably ahead of President Donald Trump, the opinion polls show Biden’s lead in most swing states starting to shrink.’s aggregate numbers of local polling in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona show Biden’s lead shrinking from 6.3% in late July to 3.3% in early September.

Other pollsters label Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia, Texas, Arizona and Georgia as battleground states as well. Once solidly conservative states like Texas, Georgia and Virginia have been leaning increasingly blue since 2016 going by local election results. Minnesota and Wisconsin, however, are shifting in the other direction. But all of them remain too close to call with Biden’s or Trump’s lead within the statistical margin of error. State-level polling is infamously poor in quality with sample sizes as small as 400 voters and margins of error of as much as 4%.

This tightening is less evident at the national level. Biden’s 9 plus percentage point lead in late July is a still healthy seven per cent. However, the national vote is less important than state-by-state results because of the US’s electoral college system. Democratic candidates have traditionally had their support overly concentrated in large, urbanised states which ensured they handily won the national vote. They would lose the electoral college as it is weighted in favour of less-populated states in the Midwest and South.  This gives the Republicans, my some calculations, a built-in two percentage points advantage in their meta-margin – the margin of votes needed to swing elections.

Both candidates launched their physical campaigns in the first week of September and have targeted swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Wisconsin is particularly volatile following riots in the town of Kenosha triggered by the police shooting of an unarmed black American, Jacob Blake.
Minnesota is a template of battleground state politics in the present US election. Trump lost the state by a mere 45,000 votes and is known to be obsessed with how close he came. He publicly says he would have won if he had made “one more speech” there. The state has voted a record 12 election cycles for the Democrats but poor education levels and declining income among its white working class has meant non-urban Minnesota has turned increasingly Republican. Biden’s lead in the state is just one or two percentage points. It was the murder of George Floyd by police in the state capital Minneapolis that sparked the present wave of urban unrest and laid the basis of Trump’s law and order election platform.
Republican campaign strategy
Republican Party campaign managers say their strategy is to draw attention away from the pandemic and economic recession and instead focus on a “narrow set of cultural issues.” The president has hammered away at liberal-left “cancel culture” and the reinterpreting of large portions of US history and tradition. He and his party have hinted a Biden administration would mean uncontrollable racial riots across the country, the imposition of socialist economic measures and an authoritarian political system. Biden and his vice-presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, are portrayed as radical leftists. Facebook ad spending by the Republicans between May and August show the bulk of the advertising has been on the themes criminal justice, defunding the police, fake news and socialism.

With some difficulty there is an attempt to portray Trump as less divisive and more decisive. He had a number of minority speakers at the Republican convention to reassure educated whites that he is not racist. Of particular importance are “wobbly Republicans” who are unhappy with Trump but reluctant to vote Democrat. One of his strengths is that a majority of voters have a greater confidence in his ability to handle the economy than there have in Biden’s. 

But many rightwing commentators believe Trump will simply double down on his “disruptive” presidential style and try to persuade voters that this is the right response to the pandemic, China and economic recession. This reflects a view that it is impossible to change Trump’s idiosyncratic ways so it is best to convert them into an asset. As a dissection of the Republicans noted, “Trump’s party is the very definition of a cult of personality. It stands for no special ideal. It possesses no organizing principle. It represents no detailed vision for governing. Filling the vacuum is a lazy, identity-based populism that draws from that lowest common denominator.” If this mobilizes the base of the party and enough moderates can be made to question Biden’s competence, say supporters of this strategy, Trump should squeak through.
Race not the card it was

President Trump’s wants to play the race card but he will find it has less resonance with the US electorate than in the past. One, public opinion on race relations and police misconduct has moved leftward. Sixty percent of white Americans admit racism is a “big problem” in their society, three times more than a decade ago. Two in three say incidents like Floyd’s death reflect broader problems in US law enforcement.  A CNN/SSRS poll in June showed voters saying race relations would be a more important factor in deciding their vote than the economy, health care and the pandemic – albeit by a slender margin.

Two, though opinion has hardened against the protestors, the public remain largely supportive. In June, 88% of white Americans felt peaceful protests were justified. By August this figure had fallen by about 15 to 20 percentage points, but remained a plurality. There was also an increase in the numbers of people who felt the protests had gone “too far,” especially after the violent protests in Wisconsin, but only by five or six points.  

Three, most US voters believe Biden would be better able to handle race relations than Trump. Polls in August and September were consistent in giving the Democratic candidate a 20 percentage point lead over Trump on this point. Biden even led Trump by about 10 percentage points when voters asked who had the better law-and-order policy and who would better handle the criminal justice system.
Large scale shifts among suburban voters, especially among suburban women, have made re-election more difficult for Trump. Suburban women were a group who helped put Trump in the White House. Their turning away from the Republicans helped the Democrats capture the House of Representative in 2018. The suburbs have become both larger and more diverse over the past several years making talk of “soccer moms” more difficult. The recent spate of race riots has led Trump to position himself as the “law and order” candidate to appeal to suburban women’s concerns about family security. But this important voting bloc sees the president as having exacerbating the racial divide and shown poor leadership.
Covid and the undecideds

Trump has received a boost from the Covid-19 virus. US cases peaked in late July and so did concerns among voters ,show data by Morning Consult. Positive views about the president’s handling of the pandemic have begun to turn northward. Between July 23 and August 21, the share of voters who say the virus is a severe health risk fell from 66 to 59%. In February Trump’s approval/disapproval rating regarding his handling of the virus was 36/59%. This moderated last month to 40/54% with the trend expected to be good news for the president. Trump has been marginally helped by agreeing to wear masks in public since end-July.
Ten percent of prospective US voters, with three months to go until the election, are still "undecided". They haven't made up their minds between the Republican and Democratic nominees, currently back third-party candidates or just don't care. Analysts say there are fewer undecideds this year than in 2016, when a surge of last-minute converts to Trump among them helped decide the election. But it's still a sizable enough —particularly in battleground states—to potentially determine the 2020 result. Who are the undecideds? They tend to be under 40, more likely to be female, half are white but Hispanics are disproportionately represented, and they are less likely to have a college degree than the typical registered voter.
Two party conventions
The Democratic and Republican party conventions were both virtual. The Democratic convention saw the selection of Kamala Harris as vice-presidential candidate, the first person of either Indian or African origin to be so chosen in the US. Neither Biden nor Trump received a sustained bump in the ratings following the conventions. Biden’s speech carefully avoided mentioning Trump once, spoke largely about the need to bring the country together but avoided talk of his economic plans. Trump’s speech mentioned Biden 40 times and sought to portray the rival candidate as an ideological extremist. The historical record shows incumbent president’s rarely rise above their post-convention rating. The last person to do so was George H.W. Bush in 1992 and his ratings were insufficient to ensure victory.
The New Yorker ran a lengthy history of the party convention, noting that no presidential candidate even showed up at the conventions until 1932 and it was not until 1968 that the state-level primaries actually got to decide who the candidate was.
Indians as future faces
The Republican Convention had prominent speaking roles for Nikki Haley, the Indian-origin former US ambassador to the United Nations and ex-governor of South Carolina, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Both praised Trump, highlighted his foreign policy successes and then spoke about their own diplomatic careers.  “Both of them have an eye on 2024,” said Mark Groombridge, who served as a Republican political appointee at the United Nations. Republican insiders say both Haley and Pompeo are both contenders for the Republican presidential ticket. Haley also spoke of the racism she had faced as a child of Indian immigrants and defended the Republican Party against claims it was institutionally racist. Pompeo may return to domestic politics after the present election while Haley, if Trump is victorious, is expected to join the cabinet, possibly as secretary of state.
Haley used the convention to advertise herself to Trump’s support base but laid out a more moderate rightwing stance with a reminder of her Indian origins and her removal of the Confederate flag as South Carolina’s state symbol.
Another convention speaker was a black American, Senator Tim Scott. Scott is the first black American to be Southern senator since the Reconstruction, the period just after the American Civil War. That he should represent South Carolina, a state historically seen as steeped in the culture of slavery and racism, was a telling sign of Haley’s influence. Both Scott and Haley, in turn, were helped by a revolt against the Republican political establishment by the so-called Tea Party movement over a decade ago.
Kamala Harris has attracted an enormous amount of coverage. She also represents a newer and more flexible concept of race in US politics. Harris has made no bones that she identifies as a black American. “I’m black. And I’m proud of being black. And I was born black and will die black,”she has said. But she is also explicit about her Indian origins but insists she prefers to be called simply “American.” In her interviews she has emphasised that racial identity in the US has moved beyond a black-white binary. University of California Riverside political scientist Karthick Ramakrishnan, a specialist on race and politics, has argued, “What she calls her Indian heritage is more intimate, private and familial. Her black identity is more community and more political. This is true of all of us. People have very complex dimensions to their identity.”
Intra-party Battles
Besides the presidency, the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate seats will also be up for election in November. And each of these contests has required primary races to choose the candidates for either party. Until this election, an incumbent congressman was almost guaranteed to be given his party’s ticket. This year has been marked by remarkable intra-party campaigning, with a younger more ideological generation running against the establishment candidates of both parties.
Left-liberal candidates, backed by the Progressive Caucus and other such groups, have promoted a number of successful challenges to long-standing congressional leaders. Progressive representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been endorsed a number of challengers who have led to the unseating of long-standing congressional leaders like Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee. The Democratic establishment has responded with Speaker Nancy Pelosi unusually declaring her support for a challenger to Senator Ed Markey. Similar instances have been seen among the Republicans with different party leaders backing different candidates in the primaries.
This breakdown of congressional electoral culture means candidates with stronger ideological messages will become more prevalent than before. Republican insurgent Matt Gaetz was quoted as saying, “The old ways of Washington empower leadership through money. But we’re starting to see that the message and movement may be more important than money.” Social media, crowd funding and the fragmentation of institutions are making it harder for establishments to shield incumbent candidates.


(The views expressed are personal)

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USA Review

About the Author

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Editor, Hindustan Times, and Distinguished Fellow & Head, Strategic Affairs, Ananta Aspen Centre

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri writes on political, security, and economic issues. He previously wrote for the Statesman and the Telegraph in Calcutta. He served on the National Security Advisory Board of the Indian government from 2011-2015. Among other affiliations, he is a member of the Asia Society Global Council, the Aspen Institute Italia, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and the Mont Pelerin Society. Pramit is also a senior associate of Rhodium Group, New York City, advisor to the Bower Group Asia in India, a member of the Council on Emerging Markets, Washington, DC, and a delegate for the Confederation of Indian Industry-Aspen Strategy Group Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue and the Ananta Aspen Strategic Dialogues with Japan, China and Israel. Born in 1964, he has visited over fifty countries on five continents. Mr. Pal Chaudhuri is a history graduate from Cornell University.