Thursday, June 14, 2018

IG Report Says Comey Was Wrong, But Not Politically Biased

The report by the Department of Justice's inspector general is out and Republicans are not going to be happy with the findings. The report faults former FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the Clinton email investigation, but did not attribute his actions to political bias.
Per Bloomberg, the report, which will be made public later today, says that Comey did not follow FBI protocol when he held a press conference to announce the FBI findings in July 2016 and then reopened the investigation with a memo to Congress in October. Comey was also criticized for not keeping DOJ superiors, including then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, informed about the investigation.
"While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in the report’s conclusions.
The Washington Post reports that the report will also contain previously unseen text messages between FBI Agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Page wrote to Strzok.
“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok responded.
The inspector general condemned the texts, but said that there was no evidence that they affected the FBI's work.
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed,” Horowitz said in the report . “The conduct by these employees cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation.”

The full report will be released to the public on Thursday afternoon.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Russian Lawmaker Warns Against World Cup Sex

As soccer fans head to Russia for this year’s World Cup, a member of parliament is warning Russians against engaging in that other recreational activity that is popular when throngs of strangers congregate in a city far from home for an exciting and (dare we say?) intoxicating event. To be precise, Russian women were warned against engaging in casual sex with foreigners. While Russian women should welcome World Cup visitors with open arms, a Russian legislator says that they shouldn’t be as welcoming with other parts of their bodies.

Tamara Pletnyova, head of the family, women and children's affairs committee in the Russian parliament, said that Russian women should not have “intimate relations” with World Cup visitors per a report in The Telegraph. Pletnyova said that she is concerned that children of foreigners would ultimately be taken abroad.

“Even if they get married, they'll take them away, then she doesn't know how to get back,” Ms Pletnyova said on Moscow radio. “Then they come to me in the committee, girls crying that their baby was taken away, was taken, and so on.”

“I'd like people in our country to marry for love, no matter what nationality as long as they are Russian citizens who will build a family, live peacefully, have children and raise them,” Pletnyova continued.

The MP also warned against biracial sex, saying, “It's good if it's one race, but if it's another race, then they really did. We should have our own babies.”

Making babies is not something that Russians are doing well these days. In 2017, Russia’s birth rate dropped by a staggering 10.7 percent over one year. The Russian birth rate is below replacement level. The country’s population peaked in 1992, the year the Soviet Union broke up, and has been declining ever since per Radio Free Europe. The problem is exacerbated by Russia’s long history of legal abortion and the fact that terminating a pregnancy is five times as common as in the United States. The crisis spurred President Putin to create a government initiative to increase births earlier this year.

Despite the low birth rate, ethnic Russian nationalism means that biracial children are welcome. After the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and international festivals that hosted large contingents from Africa, the Middle East and South America, biracial children were often referred to as “children of the Olympics” or “festival children.” Less than one percent of Russia’s population is black and biracial people often face harsh discrimination.

Fraternization between the races or exhibitions of homosexuality could be dangerous in Russia. During the World Cup, cities will be patrolled by Cossacks, right-wing vigilantes sometimes put on the government payroll to help crack down on opposition protests, illegal immigrants and other undesirables. The Cossacks have been known to whip crowds and brawl with protesters.

Leaving aside the racial component to Pletynova’s comments, not engaging in casual sex and becoming a single parent is good advice. Raising children is difficult with two parents. Providing both adequate supervision and financial security is difficult or impossible for many single parents. Even in households that are not poor, as Slate acknowledges, children raised by single mothers are at increased risk for a variety of bad outcomes ranging from increased juvenile delinquency to a greater chance of teen pregnancy.

Given the vodka-infused Russian culture, it isn’t clear how many Russians will take Ms. Pletynova’s comments to heart. Decisions made in the moments of passion, especially when fueled by copious amounts of adult beverages, often lead to problems later. At least the World Cup baby boom may help increase Russia’s birth rate.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Salutes the Norks

If there was any doubt which side “won” the Trump-Kim summit this week, the North Koreans just scored a knockout punch against Donald Trump. North Korean state media just dropped a nonnuclear bomb on the Trump Administration with a behind-the-scenes photo of President Trump saluting a North Korean general in Singapore.

The photo, retweeted by CNN’s Jason Morrell, shows the American president with his right arm moving downward, obviously completing a salute to an unidentified North Korean general dressed in a Soviet-style uniform as Kim Jong Un looks on. The general’s right arm is also moving downward and is at a lower position than Trump’s, indicating the general broke the salute first. CNN also has a video of the moment.

The moment is reminiscent of President Obama’s 2009 bow to Saudi King Abdullah. Republicans, including then-private citizen Donald Trump, criticized Obama’s deference to a foreign leader and the White House denied that Obama had bowed at all.

It is difficult to justify an obvious salute to a soldier representing a hostile foreign power although Trump partisans are certain to find ways to do so. American presidents are not required to salute anyone. Even saluting American soldiers is optional, since the president is a civilian.

The Army Study Guide states that military members are required to salute when a foreign national anthem is played and when they meet the officer of a friendly foreign country. Under these guidelines, even President Trump’s Marine guards would not salute a North Korean general.

The disturbing photo of President Trump saluting an enemy soldier underscores how ignorant the president is about his job. Donald Trump simply does not understand the requirements of his position and, even after almost two years on the job, has not taken the time to learn.

To put it simply: American presidents should never bow to foreign leaders or salute enemy soldiers. Ever.

Just as alarming as the photo are President Trump’s own comments about Chairman Kim since their meeting. President Trump has heaped praise upon Kim and rationalized away the dictator’s brutal murders of political opponents and relatives, calling him a “tough guy” and saying “we understand each other.”

At the same time, the president has angered America’s traditional allies. Trump stormed out of the G-7 meeting in Canada after calling for Russia’s inclusion and objecting to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plans to implement retaliatory tariffs.

Fawning over dictatorial regimes while pushing away America’s traditional friends is not the way to Make America Great Again.

Originally published on The Resurgent

From commenter:
Theoretically, a U.S. President can salute whoever the hey he wants. That said, proper protocol is that it's forgivable though not recommended for Trump to salute ALLIED brass, never the soldiers of our adversaries. As for commissioned and non commissioned officers, saluting foreign military members--friend or foe--will get your butt kicked at least, never mind any official punishment.

The optics of Trump's salute is as appalling as the picture of his shaking Kim's hand in front of American flags standing cheek-by-jowl with those of N. Korea's murderous regime. Still waiting for Trump fans to defend this...

Pompeo: No Sanctions Relief Until Denuclearization Complete

A day after President Trump’s vaunted summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, North Korean state media was reporting that the United States had committed to security agreements and an end to sanctions as well ending joint military exercises with South Korea. The North Korean claims prompted a response Thursday morning from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

At a press conference in Singapore with his opposite numbers from Japan and South Korea, Secretary Pompeo said that sanctions would not be lifted until there was complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the North Korean regime. Pompeo acknowledged that there was no agreement on denuclearization yet and that talks could still break down.

Mr. Pompeo’s statements seem to contradict President Trump’s tweet from Wednesday which said, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” The secretary of state said that the president’s tweet was made with “all eyes open” to the fact that North Korea is still a nuclear power and that a full agreement for denuclearization has not been reached.

In the agreement signed by President Trump and Chairman Kim, North Korea “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The wording is not defined, but echoes the longtime North Korean condition that American nuclear weapons must also be withdrawn from the Korean theater. The North Koreans may also insist on the withdrawal of US ground forces, something that President Trump has already said may be a long-term goal of his administration.

When asked by a reporter what made the current talks different from previous North Korean promises of denuclearization, Pompeo said, “The sequence [of providing aid and sanctions relief too early] will be different this time.”

“Chairman Kim understands the urgency of the timing of completing this denuclearization,” Pompeo stated. “Sanctions relief cannot take place at such time until we can determine denuclearization is complete.”

At this point, denuclearization has not even started. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

What Will President Trump Put On The Table For An Agreement With Kim?

Fresh from angering allies during and after the G-7 meeting in Quebec, President Trump is heading to Singapore for a historic meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. In the wake of the Canadian meeting, Trump feuded with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, withdrew US agreement from a planned communique, and then abruptly proposed a tariff-free G-7. The question is which Trump will show up in Singapore, the hardnosed negotiator or the conciliatory dealmaker, and what the president is willing to put on the table for Kim.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters ahead of the Singapore summit that the US is committed to North Korean denuclearization and a verifiable agreement. “In light of how many flimsy agreements the United States has made in previous years, this president will ensure that no potential agreement will fail to ultimately address the North Korean threat,” Pompeo said, adding that the "ultimate" U.S. objective remains "the complete, and verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

For its part, “denuclearization” to the Koreans has historically meant the removal of US forces and American nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula. Kim Jong Un doubtlessly understands that the one thing that prevents his regime from being toppled is his nuclear arsenal. However, Pyongyang’s arsenal is also something that endangers the regime as well.

Kim is painfully aware of the fate of Moammar Gadhafi, who voluntarily gave up his nuclear program in 2003. Less than 10 years later, Gadhafi was dead at the hands of a coalition of Libyan rebels and NATO air forces. Just in case Kim missed the lesson, Vice President Mike Pence explicitly laid it out for him in May.

Kim is between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, he faces the military might of the United States that can destroy him. On the other, Kim faces the possibility of a weakened regime that could invite a popular uprising. Kim also must consider the possibility that a non-nuclear North Korea could invite an invasion by South Korea and the United States.

Kim’s best choice would seem to be to preserve the status quo. His regime can survive sanctions, even if his citizens suffer. The US won’t risk a nuclear war that could involve China by launching a preemptive strike on North Korea. If Kim can offer some vague promises and win aid from the outside world to feed his people, it would represent a win for his regime. Kim has already improved relations with China simply by negotiating.

If Donald Trump is determined to win a meaningful agreement with North Korea, he must be prepared to up the ante. The likely price for verifiable disarmament would be very high, but nevertheless it could be a price that Donald Trump, alone among US presidents would be willing to pay. The price for denuclearization could be bringing American soldiers home from South Korea.

The withdrawal of US troops from Korea would be a nonstarter for any other president. Not so for Donald Trump. President Trump is not only the only president willing to withdraw from South Korea, he may be actively looking for an excuse to do so. As a candidate interviewed by the New York Times, Trump considered the possibility of ending military alliances if they did not seem to be in the interests of the United States. NBC News reported that Trump considered removing troops from Korea prior to the Winter Olympics, but was persuaded otherwise by John Kelley. In March, Trump threatened a troop withdrawal for leverage on trade deals with South Korea. The New York Times also reported in May 2018 that President Trump had requested options for reducing US troop strength in South Korea.

Reducing the US international role, especially at its own expense, was a big part of President Trump’s campaign in 2016. The US has 35,000 troops in South Korea who have been there more than 50 years. There are an additional 40,000 American soldiers and sailors in Japan. South Korea currently pays just under $900 million, about half of the total cost of basing US troops in the country.

President Trump and his base might well view a deal in which North Korea gave up its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of US troops from South Korea as a win-win. The US would save almost a billion dollars in military costs and could claim that Kim would be defanged. Treaties in which the US agrees to protect South Korea could be honored by troops deployed to other US bases in the region such as those in Japan and Guam.

There are some problems with this strategy. US forces would have to be retained in the region so most basing costs would simply be shifted to other areas. Responding to a rapid ground invasion of South Korea would be problematic if the US had to transport in its own ground troops. The defense of South Korea would become even more dependent upon air support and the American nuclear umbrella.

Secretary of State Pompeo hinted that the US is willing to make concessions to get an agreement. “President Trump recognizes Chairman Kim's desire for security and is prepared to ensure a North Korea free of weapons of mass destruction is also a secure North Korea,” Pompeo said. He added that the US is “prepared to take actions that will provide [North Korea] sufficient certainty that they can be comfortable that denuclearization isn't something that ends badly for them.”

Given that President Trump has shown that agreements entered into by one president won’t necessarily be honored by the next, making North Korea “comfortable” is problematic. Kim is unlikely to be reassured by anything short of a US withdrawal.

President Trump and Kim Jong Un will be meeting privately with only their interpreters. If President Trump decides that he can trust Kim enough to promise a US troop withdrawal, there will be no opportunity for discussion with his staff. Politico reported that the US had not held national security planning meetings ahead of the summit.

“I think I’m very well prepared,” Trump said in response. “I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s about attitude, it’s about willingness to get things done.”

President Trump, who seems to be looking for ways to reduce US troop deployments abroad, is about to hold a closed-door meeting with the dictator of North Korea. President Trump has shown that he is willing to anger allies and walk away from existing agreements. The possibility of historic agreement is real. The big question is what President Trump is willing to give up.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Administration Won't Defend Obamacare In Court

The Trump Administration has announced that it will no longer defend the Affordable Care Act in court, claiming the Obamacare law is unconstitutional. The move mirrors a decision by the Obama Administration to end government legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2011.

The Supreme Court upheld most provisions of the ACA, but 20 states filed a new lawsuit against the Obama-era health insurance law earlier this year. The new suit alleges that when Congress removed penalties for violating the individual mandate last year it made the rest of the law unworkable. 

“I am at a loss for words to explain how big of a deal this is,” Nicholas Bagley, a University of Michigan law professor and former Justice Department attorney, told USA Today.

“The Justice Department has an obligation to defend the law and it has refused to do so because it dislikes this particular law,” Bagley said, adding that the Trump Administration’s “dislike for the Affordable Care Act outweighed its respect for the rule of law.”

Ironically (or hypocritically), Bagley defends the Obama Administration’s decision to stop legal defense of the DOMA because President Obama disliked that particular law. “Refusing to defend a law that countenanced overt discrimination against a disfavored group is different from refusing to defend one that regulates health insurance,” Bagley wrote in March, “But that’s the thing about precedent. It can be stretched.”

The Trump Administration move does not mean that Obamacare will lose the lawsuit by default. As with the DOMA, the courts have approved private attorneys to step in for the DOJ. Axios notes that a group of Democratic attorneys is being allowed to defend the ACA in court.

The DOJ does not join with the states in the full lawsuit, but is arguing that the ACA’s provisions regarding pre-existing conditions should be invalidated. In a letter to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.), Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Otherwise individuals could wait until they become sick to purchase insurance, thus driving up premiums for everyone else.”

The future of the Obamacare lawsuit is uncertain. The makeup of the Supreme Court has not changed materially since the previous decisions upheld the law. A different outcome would most likely require Chief Justice John Roberts to change his vote.

The Trump Administration policy may also affect the midterm elections. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found healthcare to be the top concern of registered voters. Voters have long favored protection for pre-existing conditions.

Having failed to reform or replace Obamacare, Republicans are now dependent upon the courts to kill the failed health insurance law. With Congress in a stalemate, both parties are increasingly looking to the courts to bypass the legislature and break stalemates. While this is not the role that the founders envisioned for the courts, if Democrats don’t like the Trump Administration’s decision, they have only Barack Obama to blame.

Originally published on the Resurgent

Friday, June 8, 2018

Democrats Propose Gun Registry Bill

We’ve noted before that both parties seem to be making calculated moves in an attempt to become less popular with voters in advance of the midterm elections. Now two Democrats, who were apparently worried that some gun owners might not vote Republican, have proposed a national gun registry.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) introduced the Blair Holt Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act in the House and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced a companion bill in the Senate. The Washington  Examiner reports that the bill would make it illegal to own an unlicensed gun and would require a firearms license and federal background checks for all sales and transfers of guns. The bill would also require the attorney general to create a federal system to record gun purchases.

The bill is one of several gun control proposals named for Chicago honor student, Blair Holt, who was murdered in 2008. Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws in the country as well as one of the highest crime rates.

Rush’s office claims that the gun registry would protect the public from “unreasonable risk of injury and death” from private gun sales. Second Amendment advocates would also point out that a gun registry would make gun confiscation easier in the event of a ban. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Cal.) proposed such a ban just last month.

Gun owners have nothing to fear from the Democratic proposals. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, most gun control bills are dead on arrival. An exception would be the bump stock ban being pushed by President Trump and many Democrats.

Even a large number of Democrats from conservative-leaning states would oppose strict new gun laws. It’s fitting that the new anti-gun proposals originate with members of Congress from California and Illinois, two of the states most out of touch with the rest of the country with respect to gun rights.

In spite of the recent school shootings, guns registered a distant third on a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll behind health care and jobs/economy. Only 13 percent of voters considered guns the most important issue. There was no breakdown between the pro- and anti-gun factions in the poll.

The largest impact of the Democrat bill will be to mobilize gun owners to resist the attempt to erode gun rights. Democratic proposals that confirm the worst fears of gun owners will drive Second Amendment voters to the polls where defending Donald Trump might not.

Originally published on The Resurgent