Friday, September 7, 2018

Why The White House Resistance Is Good For Trump

Most of the talk about yesterday’s anonymous New York Times op-ed in which an author purported to be a senior official in the Trump Administration focuses on the author of the piece. The bigger issue is that the unnamed author confirms a large number of reports from inside the Trump Administration over the past two years.

The author of the piece said that “President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic” and “erratic,” and claimed that a cabal of the president’s advisors is working to “insulate their operations from his whims.”

The sheer volume of similar reports lends credence to the claims in the anonymous piece. The op-ed comes on the heels of blurbs from Bob Woodward’s new book. Among the juicer quotes is one attributed to John Kelly in which the chief of staff reportedly called the president an “idiot.” Although Kelly denied the remark, it is very similar to an alleged comment by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who was reported to have called the president a “moron” last year.

It would take many pages to make an exhaustive list of all the disturbing pictures painted of Donald Trump. Suffice it to say that the president’s public actions also lend credence to the anonymous sources. One of the president’s most recent overreactions was to suggest on Twitter that the author the op-ed was guilty of treason.

Whoever the author is, the claim that insiders are slowing the president’s more disastrous impulses rings true. As James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal asks, in light of the positive Trump economy, “Could it be that Donald Trump is not as crazy and ignorant as Mr. Woodward and his media brethren would have us believe?” The answer in the op-ed has long been my suspicion.

President Trump has been moderately successful despite his actions and not because of them. The best thing about the Trump Administration was that it did install a number of small government conservatives who enacted deregulation and tax reform in Mr. Trump’s name while attempting to limit his destructive impulses. In some cases, such as his “reset” with Russia and his pivot toward gun control, they were successful. In the case of tariffs and his war on the media, they were not.

Contrary to what President Trump and his supporters say, this secret resistance is not undermining his presidency. It is attempting to save it.

And my guess for the author of the piece? If it isn’t a low-level aide, I’d lay odds on Mike Pompeo. Pompeo has been with the Administration from the beginning, first as CIA director and then as Secretary of State. The foreign policy side is where Trump has been more erratic and unable to be checked by Congress. Pompeo would have had to deal with that first-hand.

The piece may well be a hoax, but the White House resistance is almost certainly real.

Originally published in The Resurgent

Thursday, September 6, 2018

GOP Lawsuit Attempts To Kill Obamacare (Season 8 Episode 1)

Congressional Republicans no longer seem to be talking about repeal or replacement or reform of Obamacare, but that doesn’t mean that the effort to rid the country of the onerous health insurance law is dead. The latest attempt on the life of Obamacare comes from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and early indications are that it may have a better chance at success than previously thought.

The lawsuit is based on the facts that Justice John Roberts’ majority decision preserved the Obamacare mandate as a tax and that Republicans later eliminated the tax penalty for not purchasing health insurance, essentially eliminating the mandate. The Republican plaintiffs argue that the Affordable Care Act is now unconstitutional because the law depended on the mandate to make the system work and the mandate has now been removed.

“There is no real true mandate because the tax is eliminated,” Darren McCarty, special counsel for the Texas Attorney General’s office, argued in federal district court. “The ACA is unconstitutional on its face.”

The Texas lawsuit has been joined by 20 states and the Trump Administration Department of Justice. While the state attorneys general are asking for the court to strike down the entire law, the DOJ is only seeking to invalidate certain portions of the law such as those that deal with coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and limits on how much insurers can charge people based on gender and age.

Defense of the law has been picked up by Democrats who argued that striking down the law would harm the millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions.

“The harm of striking down the ACA…would be devastating,” said Nimrod Elias, a California deputy attorney general defending the law.

The case hinges on whether Congress eliminated the mandate by removing the penalty. While the mandate is still technically part of the law, it will be unenforceable when the penalty expires.

Telltale signals from U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor give opponents of the law hope for a friendly ruling. Observers said that O’Connor’s line of questioning often echoed the views of the Obamacare critics. The judge also asked questions about severability, whether other parts of the ACA could remain in force without the individual mandate.

O’Connor, who was appointed by George W. Bush, has ruled against the ACA in the past, issuing a temporary injunction against a regulation prohibiting price discrimination based on age and gender in 2016. Judge O’Connor said that he will deliver a ruling as quickly as possible, meaning that a decision before the midterm elections is likely.

Whether the decision strikes down all or part of the ACA or lets it stand, it could have an effect on the midterms. Democrats are using the threat to the law, which has become more popular since Donald Trump took office, to build support for midterm candidates. For their part, Republicans would use a decision against the law to show their base that they are making progress against government encroachment.

Conservatives shouldn’t get their hopes up. Lawsuits against Obamacare that looked more promising have all gone down to defeat and if O’Connor rules against the law, Democrats are certain to appeal. The case could eventually have the Supreme Court rule once again on the constitutionality of Obamacare.

In the meantime, a ruling against the law could not come at a worse time for Republicans. With GOP candidates already battered by association with an unpopular president, a ruling that allows Democrats to paint Republicans as hostile to people with pre-existing conditions would not help the party’s chances of holding Congress.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Let's Face It: Conservatives Are Not a Majority

The news of Colin Kaepernick’s endorsement deal with Nike came as shock to conservatives. It seemed that Kaepernick was a has-been after his departure from the NFL, but suddenly he’s back with a lucrative deal to be the face of Nike. That should be a wake-up call that conservatives do not represent a majority of Americans.

If conservatives were a majority, then selecting the man whose claim to fame lies in taking a knee during the National Anthem as a spokesman would be an act of corporate suicide. In that case, one would expect that the stock would tank and a meaningful boycott would occur. And that’s exactly what many conservative news outlets were reporting.

The truth is a little different.

The deal was announced on Sept. 3. Nike stock closed on the previous day at $82.20 per share. By the close of trading on Sept. 4, Nike stock had indeed plunged… all the way to $79.60, a loss of a little over three percent. On Wednesday, the stock closed just under $79.92, not far under the 52-week high of $83.68. Trading in Nike was much higher than is the norm. 18,548,800 shares changed hands on Tuesday as opposed to an average volume of 7,073,191.

Nike’s stock declined, but it is only slightly off from prior to the announcement. There were a lot of sellers, but there were also a lot of buyers. That observation says a lot about American politics in general.

What’s more, most conservatives have not heard that Nike received an estimated $43 million in media exposure after the rollout of Kaepernick’s ad campaign. Bloomberg reports that almost half of the exposure was positive. Less than a quarter of the media coverage was negative.

The nature of modern communication is that most of us live in an echo chamber. Conservatives read conservative blogs, listen to conservative radio, watch Fox News and talk to other conservatives on Facebook and Twitter. When we don’t have contact with many – or any – people with opposing viewpoints, we lose sight of the fact that not everyone thinks like we do.

The story goes that Pauline Kael, a film critic for the New Yorker, said after the 1972 election, “I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” The story is somewhat apocryphal. The quote has been paraphrased to make Kael seem more out of touch than she really was, but the sentiment is real.

This week it is conservatives’ turn to say, “I can’t believe they hired Kaepernick. No one likes him.” Two years ago, it was the Democrats. Just substitute Donald Trump’s name.

If conservatives are to be successful in the long term, they need to face some hard truths. The first is that conservatives do not represent a majority of Americans. Close on the heels of that bitter pill is the fact that most voters do not like Donald Trump. Finally, some conservative ideas are popular, but some are not.

We can look back at Gallup’s survey of political ideology to see that, for the 30 years that the poll has been taken, conservatives have never represented a majority. The survey, taken in December 2017, actually shows a slight decline in conservative identification since the Tea Party revolution. About 35 percent of Americans now identify as conservative.

How do conservatives win elections then? The good news is that liberals are actually doing worse. About 26 percent currently identify as liberals. This represents a long slow climb from 17 percent in 1992.

The mathematically astute are probably thinking that liberals and conservatives only represent about half of the people polled. They’re right. The third major group in American politics is the moderates. Weighing in at 35 percent, the moderate group is as large as conservatives and larger than liberals. With neither conservatives nor liberals constituting a majority on their own, moderates are the deciding factor in elections.

The problem faced by both parties is that they need moderates to win, but moderates don’t like extremism from either party. Primary voters, on the other hand, love to vote for the candidates that promise to deliver the most change for their respective ideology.

What happens often is that a party will win an election by a slim margin and then proceed to govern as if they have an enormous mandate. It happened to Barack Obama, who answered a Republican offer of compromise with the words “I won,” and it is happening to Donald Trump now.

The Trump Administration is pushing an agenda that many voters are not happy with, but Republican voters are ecstatic with the “winning.” The problem for the GOP is that rather than winning the hearts and minds of voters, they have pushed their advantage with party-line votes and executive actions while ignoring public opinion. This is basically the same strategy that cost Democrats both houses of Congress and more than 1,000 legislative seats under Obama.

There is a disconnect on several core issues between the Republicans and the rest of the country. The most notable achievement of the Trump Administration is the tax reform bill, but Republicans have not sold the new law to the public. Nine months after passage of the law, numerous polls show that the country is split but the tax plan remains slightly more unpopular than popular.

Opinion on the president’s policy of separating families at the border as a disincentive to immigration is not even close. Numerous polls found that Americans opposed the separations by more than a two-to-one margin. However, the opinion of Republicans was just the opposite with an average of about half of Republicans supporting the plan.

On Colin Kaepernick and the anthem protests, opinion is also split. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken last week before the current brouhaha erupted found that voters felt that taking a knee during the National Anthem was not appropriate by a margin of 54-43 percent. However, a Quinnipiac poll from June showed almost exactly the opposite.

The bottom line here is that the target market for the Nike campaign is not white conservatives. Nike almost certainly test-marketed the Kaepernick campaign before they launched what they had to know was going to erupt into a tornado of fecal material, yet Nike is confident enough that the campaign will make money for them that they did it anyway. The logical answer is that Nike understands that, while millions of people will be angered by the ad, those millions of people are still a minority. In fact, Nike may be banking on conservative outrage to generate more publicity… just as Kaepernick has used the outrage to make his name a household word over the past few years.

The collective clout of American conservatives showing their anger can’t make a mainstream sports apparel company decide against hiring one of the most infamous men in sports because aggrieved conservatives are just one small segment of the population. Nike has apparently determined that angry conservatives don’t buy enough of their merchandise to make a difference. The left learned the same lesson with protests of Chick-fil-a and Hobby Lobby.

What both parties seem never to learn is that in order to propagate real and lasting change, you have to win over the voters in the middle. That isn’t likely to happen by being shrill and calling athletes traitors. If conservatives could find a coherent spokesman for the movement who could reach the moderates in the middle, then maybe one day conservatives will be a majority. Until that day, conservatives do not have the mandate to force their will on the rest of the country. They must remember that or pay the price.

 Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A Tale of Two Treaties

The United States and China are taking a very different approach to international trade. President Trump is intent on renegotiating or canceling American trade treaties such as NAFTA while the Chinese are creating a broad new trade alliance in Asia that excludes the United States.

One of President Trump’s first official acts was to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by the Obama Administration. Trump’s act, which fulfilled a campaign promise, shattered the trade agreement and allowed China to pick up the pieces.

In November 2017, less than a year after Trump’s order withdrawing from the TPP, a summit was held in Manila to negotiate an alternative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP. Talks progressed quickly and the 16 nations are expected to sign an agreement at a November 2018 summit in Singapore. The White House announced this week that President Trump would skip the meeting as well as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Papua New Guinea.

The RCEP includes many of the same Asian nations that would have participated in the TPP. These include Australia, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam. In addition, it adds a host of others such as Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand. The biggest addition to the TPP countries is China.

With the country in a growing trade war with the United States, participation in the RCEP gives China an opportunity to find new markets for exports that would have been sold to the US. President Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods can be at least partially offset by the free trade agreement that encompasses a large swath of Asia and the Pacific.

President Trump is taking a different approach. The president recently threatened once again to withdraw from NAFTA if he cannot get a “fair deal” from Mexico and Canada. In a Sept. 1 tweet, Trump said that there was “no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal” and added, “Congress should not interfere w/ these negotiations or I will simply terminate NAFTA entirely & we will be far better off….”

Last week, the US and Mexico reached a preliminary agreement on a new trade deal, but negotiations with Canada appear to have stalled. Mr. Trump sent a letter to Congress on Friday announcing his intention to sign a deal with Mexico in the next 90 days. The timeline would allow an agreement to be signed before Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico's new left-wing president takes office on Dec. 1.

The Trump Administration is also under pressure to show results before the midterm elections in November. Showing that the Trump approach to trade deals yields results would provide a boost to beleaguered Republican candidates and help to stem chances of a blue wave.

“With goodwill and flexibility on all sides, we can get there,” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said. “For Canada, the focus is on getting a good deal and once we have a good deal for Canada, we'll be done.”

The end of President Trump’s tweet shows the fundamental difference between the Trump approach and the Chinese approach. The president, who last month tweeted that “tariffs are the greatest,” seems to see international trade as more of a threat to the US economy than an opportunity for growth. On the other hand, China sees the opportunity to expand international markets as a way to both bring wealth back home and grow Chinese influence around the world.

The irony is that Donald Trump does not see that his retreat from the world, his building of both literal and figurative walls between America and the rest of the world, does not make America great again. To the contrary, Trump’s trade policies not only hurt American companies and consumers, it also diminishes American influence around the world. That is apparent in the new Asian trade deal that will be written for China’s benefit instead of America’s.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, September 3, 2018

How To Skeptically Look At Polls

It’s election season. The time when a political junkie’s fancy turns to polls, polls, and more polls. With so many polls being released, many of the polls will show results that are contradictory from each other, which one do you believe? Should you believe any of them?

Conservatives have long been leery of polls, but that skepticism reached its height after Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016. Much of this skepticism lies in a misunderstanding of how to look at polls and what they represent. Some of this misunderstanding is fed by media outlets and politicians that misuse polls.

When considering polls, keep a few simple rules of thumb in mind:

Polls are historical, not predictive. They provide a snapshot of public opinion when they were taken. By themselves, they do not forecast the outcome of elections. Polls are lagging indicators that measure public opinion as it was on a given date.

Look at the trend of all the polls. To see which way public opinion is moving, don’t just look at one poll. Look at similar polls taken over a period of time and compare the results. For example, one poll on Donald Trump’s approval rating isn’t very useful, but if you look at the trend of all polls showing the presidential approval rating you can see whether it has improved or declined.

Real Clear Politics is a useful site that acts as a clearinghouse of polls. You can look up individual poll types such as President Trump’s approval, individual races such as Ted Cruz v. Beto O’Rourke, or generic ballots.

RCP shows all the polls of each particular type, which makes it easy to see trends. For instance, the page of Cruz-O’Rourke polls shows 10 polls going back to April. The trend shows a surge by O’Rourke in which Cruz moved from a double-digit lead to a statistical tie.

Discard the outliers. Politicians and the media often trumpet shocking poll results such as the recent Rasmussen poll that showed President Trump’s support among black voters at 36 percent. Polls that differ wildly from other polls are outliers and should be treated with suspicion.

One way of reducing the effect of outliers is to take an average of polls. Both Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight have pages that show the average of polls asking about President Trump’s approval rating that go all the way back to his inauguration. These are useful tools for getting the big picture of the longterm trends in presidential approval.

Look at the nuts and bolts of the poll. Not all polls are created equal. You can get an idea of how reliable a poll is by looking at who it surveyed. The most accurate polls talk to likely voters. Polls of registered voters are less accurate while those that survey adults are the least accurate.

Pollsters also must make assumptions about who will show up to vote. These assumptions are used to weight the data from the poll, but there is no way to test their validity until Election Day when we find out who comes out to vote. Many polls give information about the weighting and the mix of Democrat and Republican respondents if you read the fine print.

Consider the margin of error. No poll is exact because they all represent only a sample of the population. The accuracy of the poll can be calculated and is usually disclosed as the “margin of error.” A large sample size is more accurate and reduces the poll’s margin of error.

The thing to remember is that the closer a poll is, the less it can be used to predict a specific outcome. For example, the most recent Cruz-O’Rourke poll that showed a one-point race had a 4.4-point margin of error. This is known as a statistical tie. The one-point difference is well within the margin of error so the key takeaway from the poll is that the race is currently too close to call, not that Ted Cruz would win the election by one point.

If a poll shows a large difference discrepancy between two viewpoints, you can be reasonably confident that the general breakdown is correct, even if the specific percentages are not. For example, when 72 percent opposed the Trump Administration policy of separating immigrant children from their parent and only 27 percent were in favor in a June CBS News poll, there was little doubt that Americans strongly opposed the policy.

Consider polling difficulties. The smaller the race, the tougher it is to get good polling. National polls are the most accurate, but state and district polls are more questionable. There might be no public polling at all in some House and Senate races.

The root cause of much of the 2016 polling problem was polling at the state level in a few Rust Belt states. By Election Day, national polls were showing a close race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The RCP average gave Hillary Clinton a 3.1 point edge, within the margin of error of most polls. In the final tally, Clinton won the popular vote by 2.1 points which was very close to what the polls showed.

Of course, the popular vote does not decide presidential elections and the predicted outcome of elections in key states turned the Electoral College results. An after-action report by the American Association for Public Opinion Research noted that “eight states with more than a third of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency had polls showing a lead of three points or less” and that “polls on average indicated that Trump was one state away from winning the election.”

The outcome in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin was the surprise for forecasters that turned the election to Trump, yet the polling in both Michigan and Pennsylvania showed a close race. In both states, the last poll before the election favored Donald Trump. The polls were only substantially off in Wisconsin where the last poll favored Hillary by eight points, but Trump won by less than one point.

In the end, most polls did not capture a late surge by Donald Trump in the wake of FBI Director James Comey’s memo to Congress. The lagging indicators were too far behind to include the rapidly changing landscape but did reflect a very close race in most cases. The AAPOR after-action report also faults an overrepresentation of college graduates in many polls that would have favored Clinton.

Polling is not an exact science. Poll results shouldn’t be considered to be gospel, but neither should they be ignored. By looking beyond the headline, you can determine whether a poll is reliable and how it fits into the big picture of the election.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Why It Doesn't Matter That There Were No Hearings For Carter Page's FISA Warrant

Judicial Watch raised the hackles of Republicans this weekend when it announced that the Justice Department had said that no hearings were held prior to issuing the FISA warrant for former Trump advisor Carter Page. Many Republicans took this to mean that something nefarious was afoot with the investigation of Page, President Trump’s former campaign advisor, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

“It is disturbing that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance courts rubber-stamped the Carter Page spy warrants and held not one hearing on these extraordinary requests to spy on the Trump team,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in the press release. “Perhaps the court can now hold hearings on how justice was corrupted by material omissions that Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the DNC, a conflicted Bruce Ohr, a compromised Christopher Steele, and anti-Trumper Peter Strzok were all behind the ‘intelligence’ used to persuade the courts to approve the FISA warrants that targeted the Trump team.”

The Judicial Watch press release fails to tell the whole story, however.

Aside from mischaracterizing surveillance of someone that the first paragraph of the release refers to as “a former Trump campaign part-time advisor” as “spy[ing] on the Trump team,” the obvious question to ask is how many hearings are normally held on FISA applications. The answer is not many, but that is not proof of any wrongdoing on the part of the FBI or the FISA court.

The fact is that search warrants of all sorts are almost always issued by judges without hearings because the law does not require a hearing. If you have ever watched a television cop show, you’ve seen the process. The police gather preliminary evidence to show probable cause and then take this to the judge to get the warrant. The search warrant is then served, or, in the case of a FISA warrant, surveillance is conducted. The search and/or surveillance are then used to gather more evidence to determine whether an indictment, arrest and prosecution are warranted.

Logically, it makes sense that the law would not require a hearing before a warrant for a search or surveillance is issued. Who would take the opposing side in the hearing? If the suspect were invited to defend himself in a hearing to consider whether his property should be searched or he should be monitored, law enforcement would lose the element of surprise. It would be an extremely dense suspect who did not take the warning and clean out any incriminating items or break off contact with people who could implicate him in a crime.

So, who acts on the behalf of the suspect to prevent law enforcement agencies from abusing their power to search and surveil innocent Americans? The answer is that both the Justice Department and the judge act on their behalf.

In Just Security, former FBI agent Asha Rangapappa described the process of obtaining a FISA warrant in a 2017 article titled, “It Ain’t Easy Getting a FISA Warrant: I Was An FBI Agent and Should Know.” To get a FISA warrant, the FBI first must conduct a threat assessment to determine that there is a national security reason for the warrant. Second, the FBI would have to gather evidence to show probable cause that the target of the warrant was knowingly working on behalf of a foreign entity. Mere fraternization with agents of a foreign power would not be sufficient to meet this requirement. Finally, the warrant application is submitted to Justice Department attorneys who verify the claims made by the applicant and determine whether the evidence is sufficient to present to a judge. The application can be returned to the investigator multiple times until the evidence is both strong enough to meet the legal standard and able to be corroborated.

“It’s true that since its inception in 1978, the FISC has approved the vast majority of the over 25,000 FISA applications it has reviewed – some estimates put the number at over 99 percent,” says Rangapappa. He adds, “But that’s not surprising given the extensive process described above.”

This is confirmed by a 2013 letter to Congress from Reggie Walton, the presiding judge of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, in which the process for approving FISA warrants was discussed. The letter does state that in some cases where there is “special legal or factual concern,” the Court may request face-to-face meetings with law enforcement. The “frequency of hearings varies depending on the nature and complexity of matters pending before the Court at a given time, and also, to some extent, based on the individual preferences of different judges,” the letter says. In many cases, problems or questions about applications are resolved with telephone calls or informal contacts.

“FISA does not provide a mechanism for the Court to invite the views of nongovernmental parties,” Judge Walton wrote. “In fact, the Court's proceedings are ex parte [i.e., without a response from the opposing side] as required by the statute… and in keeping with the procedures followed by other courts in applications for search warrants and wiretap orders.”

The 99 percent approval rate for applications, the letter notes, is based only on “final applications submitted to and acted on by the Court.” About a quarter of applications have “substantive changes” before they are approved. The judge noted that the approval rate for wiretap applications in domestic criminal cases is higher than that of FISA warrant applications.

Andrew McCarthy, a writer for National Review and a former federal prosecutor, agrees that hearings are not a part of the process for getting warrants. On Twitter, McCarthy said, “There generally are no hearings on warrants, and you don’t want there to be because the four corners of the warrant application must state the probable cause. If they don’t, the judge should reject the application, not hold a hearing.”

“In nearly 20 years as a prosecutor, and hundreds of warrants, I never had a hearing to get a warrant,” McCarthy continued in a second tweet. “I had judges tell me ‘no,’ or tell me I needed to beef up this or that allegation with more solid evidence. But never a hearing.”

So, it’s true when Judicial Watch says that there was no FISA hearing before the warrant to surveil Carter Page was granted. It’s also true that it is not a big deal that there was no hearing. The law does not require a hearing and hearings are conducted only in rare circumstances. By making a mountain out of a nonexistent molehill, Judicial Watch has done a disservice to people who trust the organization to expose wrongdoing in the justice system. The press release is an overtly partisan attempt to smear the Justice Department and undermine an ongoing investigation.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Three Shocking Developments In the Cruz-O'Rourke Senate Race

The surprisingly hotly contested race between Texas Senator Ted Cruz and his Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke has been shaken up once again. A new poll, a sudden change of heart and an August surprise have upended the race that Cruz had once been assumed to win in a walk.

The first shock came with the release of a new poll on Monday that showed Cruz with only a one-point lead over O’Rourke. The Emerson College poll of 550 registered voters found Cruz with 38 percent and O’Rourke with 37 percent. The race is well within the poll’s margin of error of 4.4 points. It should be noted that the sample size of the poll is small and registered voter polls are less credible than polls of likely voters.

The poll found that voters disapprove of Cruz by 38 to 44 percent. Cruz has only 25 percent approval among independent voters (57 percent disapprove) and O’Rourke leads by 20 points among independents. Cruz is suffering from a generation gap. Younger voters overwhelmingly prefer O’Rourke while older voters favor Cruz by large margins.   

Shockingly, the poll found that 21 percent of voters were undecided. This is not good news for Ted Cruz since he is an incumbent with 99 percent name recognition. As pollster and pundit Dick Morris often points out, undecided voters often break for the challenger. Morris uses the analogy of marriage, saying that if you are undecided about whether to keep your spouse, that’s not a good thing. Being undecided on whether to rehire your senator also likely means that you have a problem with him.

The good news for Ted Cruz is that the other two shocks to the race are bad for Beto O’Rourke. First, O’Rourke announced on Monday that a proposed August 31 debate with Ted Cruz “is not going to happen.” In July, Cruz challenged O’Rourke to a series of debates. O’Rourke accepted the challenge, but proposed revisions to the Cruz schedule.

On Monday, O’Rourke told the Texas Tribune, “Friday in Dallas is not going to happen, but I'm convinced we will debate. I'm convinced there will be a number of debates.”

O’Rourke accused the Cruz campaign of attempting to micromanage the details of the debates, saying, “We're working through those differences, and we're trying to introduce more of a collaborative style to the negotiations than he may be used to. And so we're confident that out of that, we're going to come to something good.”

A spokesman for the Cruz campaign fired back, “[O'Rourke] begged for debates, but when Sen. Cruz invited him to five debates all across Texas, suddenly O’Rourke seemed to get scared” and added that "except for when he has to be in DC for his work in the Senate, Cruz is ready and excited to debate O’Rourke, including this Friday.”

It’s possible that O’Rourke’s reversal on the debate challenge is related to an August surprise published in the Houston Chronicle this morning. A Chronicle investigation confirmed that O’Rourke was arrested in the 1990s for DWI and burglary. O’Rourke was arrested on two separate occasions. The first was in 1995 for “attempted forcible entry” on the campus of the University of Texas at El Paso and in 1998 for DWI. The university decided not to press charges for the first incident and O’Rourke completed DWI school as a result of the second charge.

The O’Rourke campaign said that the candidate has acknowledged both arrests multiple times. In fact, the arrests have been public knowledge since 2005 when O’Rourke’s opponent in a race for the El Paso city council ran an ad describing the incidents. O’Rourke eventually won that race.

In 2005, The El Paso Times quoted O’Rourke’s description of the arrests. “I've been open about that since the very beginning,” O’Rourke said. “I have owned up to it and I have taken responsibility for it.”

With respect to the burglary arrest, O’Rourke said, “That happened while I was in college. I along with some friends were horsing around, and we snuck under the fence at the UTEP physical plant and set off an alarm. We were arrested by UTEP police. ... UTEP decided not to press charges. We weren't intending to do any harm.”

At a campaign stop in San Antonio, O’Rourke called his DWI  a “far more serious mistake,” saying, “I drove under the influence of alcohol. There’s no justifying that.”

In a close race, O’Rourke may regret his decision to bow out of his debate with Ted Cruz. The decision gives the Cruz campaign an opening to attack him and make him look weak and unprepared on the issues. At this point, O’Rourke may well feel that debating Cruz can only slow his momentum.

Likewise, O’Rourke’s arrests may be old news in El Paso, but they will be new to many Texas voters. Even though the arrests happened 20 years ago, they may lead voters to question O’Rourke’s character and fitness for office.

The bad news for O’Rourke at least partially offsets Ted Cruz’s negative approval rating. Polling over the past few months has shown O’Rourke closing slowing on the senator. The Cruz campaign and its surrogates will undoubtedly hope that the revelations about O’Rourke shift the momentum towards Cruz.

In any case, the race is certain to go down to the wire. Texas is still deep red and the race remains Cruz’s to lose. Nevertheless, if the senator returns to Washington for the next Congress, it won’t be because he cruised to reelection.   

Originally published on The Resurgent

John McCain's Touching Farewell Letter to America

When Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) left this life over the weekend, he left a final message for the country that he spent much of his life serving. The letter was read aloud by Rick Davis, McCain’s former campaign manager who is currently acting as a spokesman for the family.

As with many conservatives, I had a love-hate relationship with Sen. McCain. I disagreed with McCain regularly on the issues, but never disrespected the man or doubted his sincerity or his love for his country.

Senator McCain’s devotion to America was written in the blood, sweat and tears that dropped to the floor of the Hanoi Hilton during his almost six years as a prisoner of war. Then-Lt. Cmdr. McCain refused early release when the Vietnamese offered to let him go due to his father’s rank and position in the Navy, choosing instead to remain and be tortured until the Americans captured before him had been released.

Whatever else can be said about John McCain, he was an American hero and he was not a bullshitter. That makes Senator McCain’s last testament to the American people all the more beautiful and touching.

Here is Senator John McCain’s last message to America, as read by Rick Davis, in its entirety:

My fellow Americans, whom I have gratefully served for 60 years, and especially my fellow Arizonians, thank you for the privilege of serving you, and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead.

I’ve tried to serve our country honorably. I’ve made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them. I’ve often observed that I am the luckiest person on Earth. I feel that way even now, as I prepare for the end of my life. I’ve loved my life, all of it. I’ve had experiences, adventures, friendships, enough for 10 satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life in good or bad times for the best day of anybody else’s.

I owe this satisfaction to the love of my family. One man has never had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than I am of mine. And I owe it to America to be connected to America’s causes: Liberty, equal justice, and respect for the dignity of all people brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth were not circumscribed, but are enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.

Fellow Americans, that association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American. We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history, and we have acquired great wealth and power in the progress.

We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down; when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.

We are 325 million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country, we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before, we always do.

Ten years ago I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president. I want to end my farewell to you with heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening. I feel it powerfully still.

Do not despair of our present difficulties. We believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history. We make history. Farewell fellow Americans, God bless you, and God bless America.

Originally published on The Resurgent

How Trump Helps - And Hurts - Republican Candidates

Donald Trump is proving to be a blessing and a curse for Republican candidates this year. Unfortunately for Republicans, we appear to be transitioning from the helpful phase to the hindrance phase.

In the primary elections, President Trump’s favored candidates were tough to beat. Buoyed by 85 percent approval from Republicans (per a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll), Trump-backed candidates have seen a definite Trump bump in the polls while many Republican Trump critics have been defeated or decided that 2018 was a good time to retire.

However, the 2018 elections are now shifting to the general phase where Mr. Trump is looking more like a liability. While Republicans have eked out victories in this year’s special elections, Democrats have overperformed by an average of 16 points. There are many Republican House districts with margins smaller than 16 points.

With the economy doing well, President Trump seems to be the big problem for Republican candidates. The same poll that showed President Trump with 85 percent approval among Republicans found him with only 38 percent approval among the independent voters who decide elections. We don’t even need to discuss his approval among Democrats.

President Trump’s collapse with independents seems to be driven by women voters. A new Fox News poll shows that women disapprove of Mr. Trump by a margin of 60-38 percent The gender gap has returned with a vengeance.

President Trump has placed both the Republican Party as a whole and individual candidates in a conundrum. GOP voters are out of sync with the rest of the country on President Trump. The Republican primary became a loyalty test where candidates argued over who supported the president more. The problem now is that the inability to distance themselves from Trump is likely to hurt Republican candidates in the general election.

Republican candidates are between a rock and a hard place. At this point, most have secured their nominations by pledging to support a president who preempts stories about a booming economy with his daily Twitter tirade and petty squabbles, not to mention a parade of indictments and convictions of Trump campaign staffers and Republican congressmen. If President Trump would sequester himself in the White House without his phone, Republican candidates might recover some lost ground and save some endangered seats. There is little chance of that happening, however.

President Trump’s outspokenness is one of the things that Republican voters love about him. It helped him get elected. It just won’t help congressional Republicans.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, August 27, 2018

Democrats Decide Superdelegates Are Undemocratic

The Democratic Party is continuing to at least make token reforms after its 2016 Hillary Clinton debacle. The Democratic National Committee decided over the weekend that the party would jettison its longtime system of superdelegate votes in primaries.

In the Democratic primary, 712 superdelegates to the convention are free to vote for whichever candidate they want, regardless of how their state votes. The superdelegates, who are typically members of the party establishment, make up about 15 percent of delegates to the Democratic convention and could swing a close primary.

Last Saturday, the DNC voted to eliminate the role of superdelegates in the first round of balloting at the convention. If no candidate is selected on the first ballot, then superdelegates would be allowed to vote on subsequent ballots.

The change was pushed through on a voice vote by DNC Chairman Tom Perez. The measure was largely popular with DNC members, but a vocal minority argued that it would disenfranchise party elites.

The Democrats have used superdelegates since the early 1980s as a way to balance the party’s populist and establishment sides. Prior to 1970, party bosses picked the party nominee. In These Times noted that Hubert Humphrey won that year despite not competing in a single primary. This outraged supporters of the antiwar Eugene McCarthy and threatened to split the party. The solution was to rewrite party rules in favor of primary elections.

After George McGovern and Jimmy Carter lost two of the next three elections in landslides, Democrats went back to the drawing board. The creation of superdelegates, which were first used in 1984, was intended to temper the Democratic voters’ preferences for radicals and unknowns by giving some control back to party elites.

Fast forward to 2016 when more than 92 percent of superdelegates supported Hillary Clinton over the populist sensation, Bernie Sanders. The superdelegate system performed exactly as intended in preventing a grassroots insurgent from defeating an establishment favorite, but the contest left the party divided. Contrary to popular belief, Clinton would have won even without the superdelegates, but the one-sided nature of the battle for the superdelegates made the system seem, well, undemocratic. There is also the deep-seated belief among many Democrats that Bernie Sanders, who did not carry Hillary Clinton’s massive amounts of baggage, could have beaten Donald Trump.

Sanders expressed approval for the change in a statement quoted in The Hill. “Today's decision by the DNC is an important step forward in making the Democratic Party more open, democratic and responsive to the input of ordinary Americans,” Sanders said.

That could be translated to mean that the change could help Democrats nominate an even more transparently radical leftist. The party has become more radical and accepting of socialists since 2016 so the new rules could lead to the nomination of the most radically left candidate that American politics has ever seen in a mainstream party.

Before Republicans prematurely celebrate the nomination of an “unelectable” candidate, they should remember that the last two presidents were both considered unelectable until they were, in fact, elected. The American electorate has whipsawed between extremes in past elections and, given Donald Trump’s persistent unpopularity, it is within the realm of possibility that, if the Democrats nominated a socialist like Bernie Sanders, America could elect its first socialist president.

For better or worse, the change remakes the political landscape for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. The election of 2020 is shaping up to be an interesting one to watch, even if the candidates may be the most unpopular and uninspiring nominees since… 2016.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Mollie TIbbetts' Family Rejects "Racist" Exploitation of Her Murder

Since the arrest of an illegal alien for the murder of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts, the immigration status of her killer has become a hot political topic. Immigration hardliners have used the murder to call for strict enforcement of immigration laws and the deportation of all illegal immigrants. You might expect Mollie’s family to join in the calls for retribution against other illegal aliens. You’d be wrong.

The Tibbetts family has largely remained publicly silent about the immigration debate surrounding their daughter’s death. On Wednesday, the family released a statement through the Iowa Department of Public Safety that thanked the public for their prayers and support and asked that the family be allowed to grieve in private.

The family members who have spoken out on the politics surrounding her murder have been quick to distance themselves from the anti-immigration rhetoric and say that Mollie would not have agreed with what they call “racist fear-mongering,” reports KCCI in Des Moines. Members of the family call it unethical to “use this tragedy to demonize an entire population for the acts of one man.” As The Resurgent discussed last week, statistics show that illegal immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans.

Among the family members who have made public statements are Mollie’s aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, who wrote on Facebook that “evil comes in EVERY color,” and cousin, Sandi Tibbetts Murphy, who blamed the murder on “the toxic masculinity that exists in our society.’

As with Seth Rich, the politicization of the murder of Mollie Tibbetts only serves to add to the tragedy by hurting her family as they deal with their grief and loss. If the activists truly care about Mollie and her family, they will leave the Tibbetts family out of the political arena.

For those who sincerely care about the family and want to honor Mollie’s life and legacy, the family has requested that donations to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital in lieu of flowers. Donations can be sent in care of the Smith Funeral Home, P.O. Box 368, Grinnell, Iowa 50112.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Ben Sasse Won't Support Replacing Sessions

President Trump has had a difficult week. There has been bad legal news on several fronts and the president responded as he often does. In an interview with Fox News, Trump denied Russian collusion and blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his disloyalty in recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

One of Trump’s chief complaints is that Sessions took the job of attorney general without telling Trump in advance that he would recuse himself. In reality, Sessions had no reason to recuse himself until after he was sworn in on Feb. 8, 2017. A few weeks after he took office, it was revealed that Sessions had met with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the 2016 campaign despite stating during his confirmation hearings that he had not had contact with Russians in that time.  After the revelation, Sessions recused himself on March 2 citing Justice Department regulations that “no DOJ employee may participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution, or who would be directly affected by the outcome.”

The renewed spat between the president and the attorney general has rekindled speculation that Trump may fire Sessions. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) speculated that the president is “very likely” to dismiss Sessions after the midterm elections. Now Ben Sasse and other Republican senators are warning the president against removing the attorney general.

“I find it really difficult to envision any circumstance where I would vote to confirm a successor to Jeff Sessions if he is fired because he's executing his job, rather than choosing to act as a partisan hack," Sasse (R-Neb.) said on the Senate floor.

“The attorney general of the United States should not be fired for acting honorably and for being faithful to the rule of law,” he added.

“It would be a very, very, very bad idea to fire the attorney general because he's not executing his job as a political hack,” Sasse said. “That is not the job of the attorney general. The attorney general's job is to be faithful to the Constitution and to the rule of law.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) seemed to agree with Sasse, telling reporters that she didn’t “see the president being able to get someone else confirmed” if Sessions was removed.

Meanwhile, President Trump left no doubt what he wants with a pair of early morning tweets, in which he responded to Sessions’ statement that the “Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”

“Jeff, this is GREAT, what everyone wants,” the president tweeted, before adding unironically, “So look into all of the corruption on the ‘other side’ including deleted Emails, Comey lies & leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr, FISA abuse, Christopher Steele & his phony and corrupt Dossier, the Clinton Foundation, illegal surveillance of Trump Campaign, Russian collusion by Dems - and so much more.”

At this point, President Trump is stuck with Sessions. The attorney general seems to have no plans to leave his post even after more than a year of withering criticism and attacks from the president. If Trump did fire Sessions, there would be little time to pick and confirm a new nominee before the new Congress is seated next year. In any case, the growing revolt from Republicans in the Senate makes it doubtful that a nominee more friendly to Trump could be appointed. In the absence of a new attorney general, control of the Department of Justice would fall to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is not exactly a Trump favorite either. It’s possible that election results might make firing Sessions after the election even more problematic.

Donald Trump picked Jeff Sessions to head the Department of Justice. Sessions is doing his job with integrity and without regard for partisanship. This is obviously what upsets the president since he wants someone who can steer the Russia investigation away from his administration and focus the efforts of the DOJ onto his political enemies. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that Trump will be able to rid himself of Sessions before his term ends in 2021.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, August 24, 2018

Republicans Fail To Defund Planned Parenthood Again

For years, a central pillar of the Republican platform has been defunding Planned Parenthood. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) gave the party another chance to follow through on its commitment to strip federal money from the abortion provider yesterday, but the GOP failed once again to rise to the occasion.

Sen. Paul offered an amendment to a “minibus appropriations package for Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education” that would have stripped federal funding from Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortions. In a press release on his website, Sen. Paul said yesterday that Republican leadership was blocking a vote on the amendment.  Later in the day, Paul took to the Senate floor to accuse Republicans of blocking his amendment, which is already included in the House version of the bill.

“Planned Parenthood ends the lives of 320,000 babies each year,” Paul said. “That’s about 900 babies every day. Planned Parenthood receives over $400 million of taxpayer money. The government, with a wink and a nod, tells us that Planned Parenthood doesn’t spend the money on abortion, but everybody knows that the taxpayer is really cross-subsidizing Planned Parenthood’s abortion mills.”

Last week, before Paul was able to add his amendment to the limited spaces on the “amendment tree” of the bill, the Washington Examiner reported that Republicans who were worried that the controversial amendment would kill the funding bill placed another amend the ent in the last slot that changed funding of a government program by $1.

“Its only purpose was to block Paul,” a Senate insider said.

After Paul attacked the Republican Senate leadership on the floor of the Senate, Republicans relented and allowed a vote on the amendment. Two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined Democrats to defeat the amendment by a vote of 45-48. Four Republicans (Corker, Cruz, Fischer, and McCain) and three Democrats (Hirono, Murray, and Schatz) did not vote.

With midterm prospects looking bleak, the vote may mark the last opportunity for Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood, but even if the amendment had passed defunding the group would have been a long shot. If the amendment had been added to the bill, Democrats would likely have filibustered the spending package since Republicans would have lacked the votes for cloture.

If Republicans really wanted to defund Planned Parenthood, it would be necessary to insert the measure in a budget reconciliation bill that cannot be filibustered. Even then, if Republican leaders cannot pressure Collins and Murkowski to stick with their GOP colleagues, the two rogue senators would be enough to defeat the measure since Democrats always vote in a bloc to protect the abortionists.

In the end, the appropriations bill passed with bipartisan support in an 85-7 vote. The various departments of the federal government will get their money. So will Planned Parenthood.

Originally published on The Resurgent

More Than Half of US Children Are In Households That Receive Government Benefits

The United States has reached a milestone. And not a particularly good one. According to US census data, a majority of American children under 18 are now in households that receive means-tested government assistance.

CNS News reported that 52.1 percent of Americans under the age of 18 live in households where at least one person receives government assistance. This does not necessarily mean that each young person personally receives government assistance. It could be an older or disabled person, but many of the programs are geared toward families with young children.

The means-tested programs include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Medicaid, public housing, Supplemental Security Income, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the National School Lunch Program.

The share of people receiving government benefits decreased as age increased with Americans aged 75 and older being the least likely to receive assistance. Only 18.8 percent of senior Americans received benefits. Even when school lunches were excluded, the under-18 category still led with 44.8 percent receiving assistance.

Historic data shows that the share of children receiving benefits has climbed sharply over the past 20 years. In 1998, only 36.9 percent received means-tested assistance. By 2008, the number has risen to 40 percent. It continued to climb throughout the Great Recession and first reached 50 percent in 2013.

A driving factor may be the increase in unmarried births. Out-of-wedlock births have risen alongside the increased government assistance. For women under 30, more than half of all births now occur outside of marriage. To some extent, government assistance has replaced a spouse’s income in these single-parent families.

The trend of growing entitlement spending will be difficult to reverse, but is vital for the future of the United States. Entitlements are already in excess of 15 percent of GDP and represent about 60 percent of the annual federal budget. Entitlements drive the federal budget deficit and, as entitlement spending grows, it will crowd out other programs such as defense and infrastructure spending.

Equally important is that having a large share of young Americans on the government dole teaches a bad lesson. Rather than teaching the next generation to be self-reliant and prepare their own futures, broad government assistance involves a moral hazard, the risk of teaching children not to build their own wealth or think carefully about life choices because the government will bail you out. That’s not the message that we should be sending to the next generation.
Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Illegal Immigrant Crime Wave Is A Myth

The murder of Mollie Tibbetts was a tragedy. That her killer was an illegal immigrant makes the crime seem even worse and more senseless. Yet, as conservative news outlets focus attention on 24-year-old Christhian Rivera, a Mexican national living and working illegally in the US, it is important to distinguish between fact and fiction in the discussion about the so-called illegal immigrant crime wave.

Despite claims from immigration hawks, the data does not support claims of a crisis level of violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants. In any large group, there will be both good and bad people. The question is not whether illegal immigrants commit violent crimes, it is whether they do so at a rate that is higher than native-born Americans.

Due to the nature of the group being studied, reliable data is hard to come by. Official government statistics about “criminal aliens” from the GAO do not distinguish between legal and illegal aliens. Therefore, some studies, such as John Lott’s 2018 study of Arizona inmates, are flawed because they make assumptions about who is a legal immigrant and who is not. It’s tough to determine how many crimes are committed by illegals if you can’t determine who is an illegal alien.

There are other ways to skin the cat though. A 2018 article in Criminology cited several studies that looked at community-wide crime rates. One compared “gateway” cities with high immigrant populations to “traditional” American cities. Another looked at different neighborhoods in Austin, Texas. Both found no evidence that neighborhoods with high numbers of immigrants had higher crime rates A third study examined federal Uniform Crime Report data from 2000 through 2010. The study found that even though immigration increased during the period, the crime rate decreased.

When the researchers looked at violent crime, the pattern was the same. Far from being the most dangerous places in the country, cities with many recent immigrants had the lowest homicide rates. Murder rates were more closely associated with age and socially disorganized neighborhoods than immigration status. Immigrants, possibly due to their strong family structures, often helped to lower the homicide and crime rates in their neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute also published a study of illegal immigrant crime rates in Texas where crime data distinguishes between illegal and legal immigrants. The Texas data showed that the overall crime rate and the violent crime rate for both legal and illegal immigrants were far below that of native-born Americans.

Cities on the southern border do not rank among the most dangerous cities in the US even though they are in close proximity to the source of much illegal immigration. The most dangerous city in America is Detroit, located near the Canadian border. We might do more to lower the crime by deploying the national guard to Michigan than the Mexican border.

The killing of Kate Steinle by an illegal immigrant, another high profile case, seems fresh because her killer was acquitted less than a year ago. In reality, Steinle died in 2015. If three years pass between such highly publicized murder cases involving illegal immigrants, it is de facto evidence that such cases are hard to find. If the immigration hardliners could find more cases to sensationalize for their cause, there is little doubt that they would do so.

Despite the headlines about crimes committed by immigrants, it makes logical sense that immigrants commit fewer crimes. The vast majority of immigrants, both legal and illegal, come to the US to work. They have a powerful incentive to stay out of trouble and steer clear of law enforcement. If they get into legal trouble, they not only lose their income, they can be deported. Their entire way of life is at risk if they commit even a small crime and attract the attention of police.

There are violent immigrants, such as members of MS-13, the infamous criminal gang, but even this is exaggerated. There are an estimated 10,000 members of MS-13 in the US, but most are American citizens and not immigrants. Even if the gang was made up entirely of illegal immigrants, it would represent a tiny fraction of the estimated 12 million illegals living in the US.

If the family of Mollie Tibbetts does not take comfort from data that shows that immigrants are more law-abiding that US citizens, that is understandable. However, good policy decisions are not made in the heat of the moment based on an emotional reaction to a tragedy. That is as true with crimes committed by illegals as it is after mass shootings when victims and their relatives often clamor for a quick solution. As H.L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” As citizens of a republic, we pay our elected officials to dispassionately consider the facts and enact policies based on the right solution rather than impractical, feel-good policies.

In fact, the anti-immigrant chorus in the wake of Mollie Tibbetts’s murder sounds a lot like the anti-gun crowd after a mass shooting. In a great many cases, the phrase “illegal immigrant” in Republican rhetoric can be interchanged with the word “gun” in Democratic rhetoric after a mass shooting. Granted, Mollie Tibbetts would still be alive if there were no illegal immigrants, but there would also be no mass shootings if there were no guns. Neither argument contains a practical solution. Deporting all illegals is no more workable than banning all guns.

For conservatives, a practical solution to the problem of illegal immigrant crime should fit the problem. The conservative solution should keep government growth to a minimum, it should keep costs to a minimum (including both direct expenditures and costs to the economy from removing people from the workforce) and it should minimize disruptions to families. Conservatives should keep in mind that many illegal immigrants have family members, often dependents, who are American citizens with the same constitutional rights as any other American.

Considering the fact that most illegal immigrants are peaceful contributors to the US economy and their local communities, the best solution seems to be to focus on illegals with a propensity for violence rather than wasting limited law enforcement resources on people who are here to earn a living. Border security is needed to control who enters the country, but so is reform for the legal immigration system. Fewer migrant workers will cross the border illegally if the wall has a big door with a welcome sign.

The murder of Mollie Tibbetts was a horrible crime, but it should not be used to unfairly demonize all illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration is a crime, but there is a huge difference between crossing the border to work without authorization and committing a brutal murder. Any conservative solution must recognize the difference.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Even The Hospital Doesn't Know What Your Surgery Will Cost

Last week I bought a car. I don’t know how much the car cost yet. I gave the dealership a down payment and they will send me bills for the balance. I’ll get separate bills for the engine, the body, the tires, the radio and the other separate components and send a monthly payment to each supplier until I pay it off. Until I pay all the bills, I won’t know if my new car costs $10,000 or $100,000 or somewhere in between.

If you are thinking, “That’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this works,” then you’re right. Anyone who bought a car under these terms would be an idiot. That’s not how the market for new cars works at all, but this is the way we buy health care without thinking twice.

We go to the doctor and pay our copayment or deductible, but we know that this is not the entire cost of our care. The insurance companies exclude some services from the copayment and even after paying the deductible we are responsible for a percentage of our healthcare expenses until we reach an out-of-pocket maximum. When we leave the doctor’s office or hospital, we have no idea how much money we have just spent.

It isn’t that health care providers are keeping the cost of care a secret. It turns out that they don’t know how much their services cost either. The Wall Street Journal recently cited the example of Gunderson Health System in Lacrosse, Wisc. The hospital administrators had increased the price of knee surgery by about three percent per year for a decade until the list price approached $50,000.

As with most car dealerships, only suckers pay the list price. The sticker price is a starting point for negotiations. As the car lot, the buyer negotiates directly with the seller, but in the case of health care, the haggling is done between the provider and insurance companies and Medicare.

When the insurers complained about the cost of Gunderson’s knee surgeries, the hospital conducted an 18-month review of their pricing. The review included an efficiency expert, cost of materials and a tally of the time that nurses, doctors and physical therapists spent with the patient. In the end, it turned out that Gunderson’s knee surgeries cost $10,550 at most, about one-fifth of the list price.  

A big part of the problem with American health care is lack of price transparency. If hospitals don’t know how much a procedure costs, how can patients? When you don’t know what something costs, it is impossible to compare prices and shop around. When you only see the insurance copay before the procedure, there is no incentive to compare prices.

Knee surgery, the most common procedure in the US outside of childbirth, would be a good case for price shopping if the data were available to consumers. High-priced hospitals spent about twice what lower-priced hospitals spent on the procedure, but there was little difference in the quality of the work.

“It’s a standard procedure” that doesn’t vary much between hospitals, said Professor Robert Kaplan of the Harvard Business School. “Carve out the old knee and put in a new joint.”

Gunderson went further than just finding out what its costs were. It took steps to cut them. The hospital took steps to improve efficiency while improving the quality of its care. A generic brand of bone cement was substituted for the higher-cost brand used previously. Now physical therapy is started much more quickly. This reduces pain for the patients and speeds up the recovery time, making hospital stays shorter. These and other changes lowered costs by about 18 percent to $8,700.

The American health care system is one of the best in the world when it comes to quality. The biggest problem with American health care is its high costs. Lack of transparency in pricing means that there is little competition based on price. Inefficiencies at the local level boost costs for some hospitals, but the lack of transparency prevents patients from seeking out lower cost alternatives.

The current pricing system is not working well. Even after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, health care costs have continued to rise. Reuters reported that health care costs are projected to increase by more than five percent in 2018 while CNBC pointed out that annual health care costs already exceed $10,000 per person. Health care spending is approaching 20 percent of GDP and will go higher as Baby Boomers continue to age.

In the end, it is the consumers who are hurt most by the lack of competition and transparency. When the bills that insurance doesn’t cover start rolling in, the patient may contract a serious case of post-op sticker shock. Even those who don’t have surgery pay for the inefficiencies in the system through constantly rising insurance premiums.

Originally published on The Resurgent