Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Federal Court Strikes Down N.C.'s 'Partisan' Gerrymander

In a blow to North Carolina Republicans, a panel of federal judges ruled on Tuesday that the state’s congressional map is an unconstitutionally “partisan” gerrymander. The ruling gave the state until 5 p.m. on Jan. 29 to submit a new map or the court would take further action.

The unanimous ruling by judges appointed by Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush was the first time that a court has struck down congressional districts for being too partisan notes the Charlotte Observer, but the Wisconsin congressional map is currently on trial before the Supreme Court in a similar case.

In the North Carolina decision, the majority held, “On its most fundamental level, partisan gerrymandering violates ‘the core principle of republican government . . . that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

Once part of the Republican bloc of Southern states, North Carolina has been increasingly purple in recent election cycles.  Only three of the state’s 13 congressional seats are held by Republicans, as are both Senate seats, but those statistics understate the fluid nature of Tarheel politics.

Democrat Kay Hagan was elected to the Senate in the 2008 Democrat wave, but was unseated by Thom Tillis in 2014. North Carolina’s other Republican senator, Richard Burr, took the seat of John Edwards, who retired in 2005 in order to run for vice president.  While the Republican candidate has won North Carolina in three of the last four presidential elections (2008 was the exception), margins have been close. Donald Trump carried the state by less than four points.

The current North Carolina congressional districts date back to 2016. The districts were redrawn to exclude racial data after a court found that the previous districts, drawn in 2011, were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. At the time, Republicans were open about drawing districts to their advantage, a common practice in many states.

“I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with eleven Republicans and two Democrats,” N.C. Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett County) said at the time. Lewis’ comment was the basis for a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause in North Carolina that led to Tuesday’s ruling.

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, blasted the ruling on Twitter saying, “It is incredibly disappointing  activist Judge Jim Wynn is waging a personal, partisan war on North Carolina Republicans.” Woodhouse added that the decision was a “hostile takeover” of the North Carolina General Assembly, which has responsibility for drawing congressional districts.

North Carolina Republicans plan to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, but a delay in redistricting may cause further problems as the 2018 elections approach. Congressional candidates must file to run for office by February 12, scarcely two weeks after the court’s deadline.

If the ruling stands and North Carolina’s congressional districts are redrawn to be less partisan, the new lines could contribute to an already tough election year for the GOP. The loss of safe congressional seats in North Carolina would come at a particularly bad time Republicans as many signs point toward Democrats winning control of the House of Representatives in a possible wave election this year. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Trump Has A Unique Chance On Immigration

Only Nixon could go to China and it may be that only Trump can get immigration reform done.

There have been several attempts at immigration reform over the past two decades. George W. Bush tried to pass a comprehensive immigration bill in 2007 that paired a guest worker program with increased border enforcement. Six years later, in 2013, the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” tried to forge a similar compromise bill. Both attempts failed, largely due to conservative opposition to “amnesty,” apparently defined by many on the right as “anything short of deportation.”

As a consequence of these failures, 16 years after the September 11 attacks, the US border is still not secure. We still don’t have a way of tracking visitors who overstay their visas, as several of the al Qaeda hijackers did. The all or nothing approach to immigration reform by Republicans has effectively kept the border open for a decade and a half.

While Republicans derided reformers as “RINOs,” Donald Trump campaigned on a hard line of immigration policy. Trump’s Wall, deportation proposals and harsh rhetoric earned him an anti-immigrant reputation even though at times he did hint that he was open to compromise.

In August 2016, Trump told Sean Hannity, “No citizenship. Let me go a step further — they'll pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes, there's no amnesty, as such, there's no amnesty, but we work with them.”

Trump’s policy balloon was similar to aspects of the Bush and Gang of Eight proposals. Trump’s idea was quickly retracted, but the candidate was correct that if illegal immigrants pay penalties and back taxes, then by definition it is not an amnesty. “Amnesty” is defined as “an official pardon for people who have been convicted of political offenses.” In contrast, the reform proposals were methods of paying restitution for the crime of entering the US illegally.

A year later, in September 2017, President Trump declared an end to the President Obama’s executive amnesty, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and gave Congress a six-month deadline to act. Congress has had a problem arriving a compromise, however.

The fundamental problem is that neither side has a supermajority and so neither can force its will on the other. For any bill to pass, there must be a working bipartisan coalition, but anti-immigration hardliners on the right insist on no path to legalization and liberals on the far left insist on no Wall. Congress is at an impasse.

In a meeting with members of Congress and the press on Tuesday, President Trump said, “We have something in common. We’d like to see this get done.” Trump called for a “bill of love,” the New York Times reported, that paired new immigration rules with a compromise on DACA.  

Trump rejected Democrat calls to make DACA a part of the government funding bill, but said that an immigration bill could be discussed “the next afternoon.” Trump signaled that the immigration bill could go beyond DACA, telling Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), “If you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat. You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform.”

The question is whether Trump can stand the heat from his base, many of who supported him largely because of his immigration stance. Regardless of whether immigration reform is good policy, the flip-flop would stand as one of the largest betrayals in American political history, akin to George Herbert Walker Bush walking back his promise of “no new taxes” and Barack Obama’s reversal of his position on same-sex marriage.

The question is whether Trump’s base would follow him to a pro-immigration reform position. For a candidate who built his campaign around the idea of a Wall and deportation, comprehensive immigration reform might be a bridge too far. Nevertheless, if the nonideological Trump can move his base to middle and forge a working coalition between Republicans and Democrats, it could breathe new life into his presidency and open many other possibilities for bipartisan cooperation.

President Trump faces the greatest risk in the attempt at finding middle ground. If the president’s base abandons him, he will be left with virtually no support and no defense against a possible impeachment. The immigration gamble could make or break the Trump legacy.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Rise Of The Machines: Sex Robots Are Coming

It sounds like the plot of a bad science fiction movie, but sex robots are real and they are coming to a bedroom near you. A San Diego company that introduced a female sexbot in 2017 now says it plans to market a male version this year.

Female versions of the $15,000 android, which gives new meaning to the phrase “cyber-sex,” are available for preorder from Realbotix according to the Daily Star. The bots, called “Harmony,” will come with an artificial intelligence app and a robotic head on a mannequin-like body.

Realbotix plans to unveil a male version of the bot this year that will be “better than a vibrator” per Matt McMullen, the company’s CEO. McMullen said that the male sexbot will be customizable and that “the sky is the limit” regarding shapes and sizes of at least certain body parts. Users can plug in the male bot, which would allow it to go “as long as you want,” which some women may consider an improvement over flesh and blood males.

Nevertheless, the prospect of more sexual hardware raises important questions about sexual ethics and the effect of mechanical surrogates on relationships. Would sex with a robot be considered cheating? Would people give up the drama and emotion of relationships with other humans for the quick fix from a piece of hardware that can be easily turned off – and on? How many divorces will be caused by a spouse spending $15,000 on a sexbot?

The closest comparison may be to pornography. As pornography has become almost ubiquitous on the internet and in pop culture, porn addiction has spiraled out of control. Substituting porn for healthy relationships causes sexual dysfunction and can make satisfying, real relationships more difficult.

While many view pornography and sexual liberation as harmless, they have contributed to the breakdown of marriage and the skyrocketing number of out-of-wedlock births, which in turn contribute to the growing entitlement state. It is likely that the introduction of sex robots will also have negative consequences for our society that we can only begin to imagine.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Democrats Plan Net Neutrality Vote In Senate

A Democratic bill to reverse the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules now has enough Senate support to guarantee a vote. In a press release, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced that she had become the 30th cosponsor to the measure which would return the nation to the Obama-era internet rules.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), would subject the FCC decision to a vote of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act. Under the CRA, Congress has 60 legislative days to disapprove of new regulations by a simple majority vote. If Congress does not vote to disapprove, the regulations go into effect, but if Congress strikes down the new rules the FCC would be barred from reissuing a rule that is substantially the same. The president can veto a CRA disapproval vote by Congress.

The bill, HR 4585, currently lists 34 cosponsors in the House, all of them Democrats. The 30 senators supporting the bill are also all Democrats.

With Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House, the legislation seems doomed to failure, but the Democrat goal seems to be to force Republicans into an unpopular vote in a tough election year. Since the FCC vote in early December, Democrats and liberal activists have warned that the new rules will mean the end of the internet. Amid the hysteria, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has received threats that forced him to cancel an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“Republicans are faced with a choice,” said Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in a press release, “be on the right side of history and stand with the American people who support a free and open internet, or hold hands with the special interests who want to control the internet for their own profit.”

“Every member of the U.S. Senate will have to go on the record, during a tight election year, and either vote to save the Internet or rubber stamp its death warrant,” said Evan Greer, an internet activist quoted in The Hill.

It was Congress’ failure to address internet regulation that provided an opening for the FCC to introduce net neutrality rules as far back as 2005 and then more onerous rules under President Obama in 2015. When the legislative branch failed to enact a law establishing a national policy on internet regulation, the rules became subject to the whims of successive administrations.

While few Republicans are likely to sign up to support the Democrat bill to reestablish the Obama-era internet rules, some might be persuaded to join a compromise bill that would enact permanent internet regulations. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced a competing net neutrality bill last month, the Open Internet Preservation Act. Blackburn’s bill would prohibit throttling and blocking traffic, but would also ban the FCC from regulating the internet as a utility.

At this point, it is uncertain whether either bill can garner enough support to become law. What is certain is that as long as Congress fails to make internet policy, consumers and companies will be forced to endure regulatory swings from the left to the right and back again.  

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Lawyers Seek To Head Off Presidential Testimony

He may consider Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation a “hoax,” but that won’t necessarily stop President Trump from being called to testify. Sources familiar with the matter say that the president’s legal team is already holding discussions with the FBI that may give Trump alternatives to a face-to-face confrontation with investigators.

NBC News reports that Trump’s lawyers are questioning whether and under what circumstances the president would be interviewed by Mueller’s team. Points of negotiation include when and where the interview might take place, the topics to be discussed and how long the interview might last.

Team Trump is also considering options that would prevent a personal interview of the president from taking place at all. These options might include having the president provide written answers to a list of questions or signing an affidavit denying any wrongdoing. The president also has the Fifth Amendment right not to provide testimony against himself.

A former US attorney and chief of staff for James Comey, Chuck Rosenberg, said that the odds against investigators accepting such a deal are “somewhere between infinitesimally small and zero.”

“Prosecutors want to see and hear folks in person,” Rosenberg, currently a NBC News legal analyst, said. “They want to probe and follow up. Body language and tone are important. And they want answers directly from witnesses, not from their lawyers.”

“I would never let the prosecution interview my client,” said famed defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, “but I don't represent the president of the United States, and presidents don't want to plead the Fifth. So, this route makes sense.”

In June 2017, the reporters asked the president if he would be willing to testify before Mueller’s team. “One hundred percent,” Trump answered. “I would be glad to tell him exactly what I told you.” Since then, however, Trump has become more critical of Mueller and the Department of Justice.

Given President Trump’s penchant for going off-script, the possibility him testifying under oath likely terrifies his lawyers. The appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel can be traced to one such moment after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. In a May 2017 interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt, the president linked the firing of Comey to “this Russia thing” despite the official line that Comey was fired for bungling the investigation of Hillary Clinton. Amid the furor that followed, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the matter and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as an independent investigator.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, January 8, 2018

Stephen Miller and Jake Tapper Duke It Out On CNN

The talk of the Sunday political shows is the explosive interview of Stephen Miller by CNN’s Jake Tapper. The heated exchange culminated in Tapper cutting the interview short the and saying that the senior policy advisor for the Trump Administration had “wasted enough of my viewers’ time.”

The interview, on CNN’s State of the Union, centered around the new book, “Fire and Fury,” that contains a number of quotes by Steve Bannon that Miller characterized as “grotesque.” Miller also repeatedly called President Trump a “political genius” who led a “magical” movement.

The interview went off the rails about halfway through the 12-minute video as Miller began attacking Tapper and CNN for their coverage of the Trump Administration. Miller called CNN’s coverage “salacious” and accused Tapper and others of taking “joy [in] trying to stick the knife in” as well as repeatedly calling Tapper “condescending.”

For his part, Tapper accused Miller of playing to the president, at one point saying, “I’m sure he’s watching, and he’s happy you said that.”

When Miller demanded three minutes to make the case for Trump, Tapper responded, “This is my show, and I don’t want to do that.” CNN Editor-at-Large Chris Cillizza defended Tapper’s response in a follow-up article saying, “And the reason is because that's not journalism. The end.”

The bout ended with a technical knockout by Tapper who abruptly cut the interview short after accusing Miller of mounting a “filibuster” that prevented deeper questioning. “I get it. There’s one viewer you care about right now,” Tapper said, “and you’re being obsequious in order to please him. I think I’ve wasted enough of my viewers’ time.” At that point, Tapper shifted to a headline about Jeff Sessions and Miller’s microphone was apparently cut off.  

Both sides seemed to claim victory in the aftermath. President Trump tweeted, “Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration.”

Tapper responded with his own tweet that thanked Twitter followers for “the kind words” and featured a short gif of Tapper. In the gif, a grinning Tapper toasts his fans with a presumably frosty adult beverage. The drink in question? Colt 45.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Romantic Comedies Are Really About Sexual Harassment

Looking back on 2017’s sexual harassment denunciations and purges, I realized that what Hollywood preaches is not what it puts on screen. Like railing against gun violence while making a mint off violent movies at the same time, what Hollywood movies say about sexual harassment is very different than what Hollywood figures say in the post-Weinstein era.

Under many of the definitions going around these days, the women of romantic comedies are actually victims of sexual harassment. While these women are not physically abused or raped, they are subjected to unwanted attention from men. The EEOC’s definition of sexual harassment includes the phrase “unwelcome sexual advances” which would describe the plot of most romantic comedies.

Think about the romantic comedy genre. These movies typically have a plot where boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, girl can’t stand boy, boy persists despite being rejected by girl and boy finally wins girl. If the man in the movie persists after being rejected and told “no” then isn’t that sexual harassment by definition?

If merely pursuing a woman who doesn’t fall into your arms at first sight is sexual harassment then a great many men – and also a great many women – are harassers. Who knows how many happy marriages are built upon behavior that many now seek to criminalize? I’ve heard many stories of couples who didn’t hit it off at first, but who eventually fell in love and created a happy life together.

There are limits of course. It is clearly wrong for a man in a position of power like Harvey Weinstein to force women to have sex with him in order to work in Hollywood. It’s also wrong to grab the butt of a stranger or fondle someone’s breast uninvited.

When the unwanted activity involves mere words and flirting, the lines are less distinct, however, and even in cases of consensual sex, there can be a gray area. Rebecca Reid of the UK Metro recently wrote that, as a teen, she “had a threesome, also because I didn’t want to be rude.” Many of the women who had sex with Weinstein also gave consent in order to get work. Is consent still consent even if given under duress? Don’t women also have a responsibility to say “no” if they don’t want to have sex? If a woman says “yes” and means “no,” how is a man to know the difference unless he has the ability to read her mind?

There seem to be two solutions to the problem. One way is to criminalize romantic comedies. We could simply make it illegal for people to have any unwanted contact. The result of this strategy would probably be lots of lonely people as men become afraid to woo women for fear of being sued or arrested or having their reputations ruined.

A second solution would be a return to traditional sexual values in which couples wait to have sex until marriage. Without the expectation of casual sex, fewer men would harass women and fewer women would be compelled to have sex out of politeness. It would also help men and women find more fulfilling and longer-lasting relationships.

In spite of jokes about unhappy marriages, for many Americans married life is our Hollywood ending. Rather than going through life alone, we grow old surrounded by people we love. That is our happily-ever-after.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of Trump's First Year

As the new year begins it also marks the final month of Donald Trump’s first year as president. As President Trump’s first year draws to a close some people proclaim him to be the greatest president since Reagan while others say he is tyrant. As usual, the truth is somewhere in between.

In December, the White House issued a list of 81 accomplishments of the Trump Administration. While the list contains many items of fluff (“Trump traveled the world to promote the sale and use of U.S. energy” and “made progress to build the border wall with Mexico”) and economic statistics that may or may not be the result of Trump’s election win (“increase of the GDP above 3 percent,” “saw the Dow Jones reach record highs” and “a rebound in economic confidence to a 17-year high”), the list did include real accomplishments.

President Trump had several legitimate legislative successes in his first year. The crowning jewel of the Trump Administration’s first year is the tax reform bill. The bill slashed the corporate tax rate as well as cutting individual income tax rates. The bill also repealed Obamacare’s unpopular individual mandate. Earlier the in the year, the Republican Congress also passed several bills repealing Obama-era regulations under the Congressional Review Act. A more bipartisan success was a bill reforming the Veterans Administration.

Trump also has made his mark on the federal judiciary. Neil Gorsuch has filled Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court with another conservative, an accomplishment that many said would make a Trump presidency worthwhile. Trump has also appointed 18 judges to lower courts.

Many of the list items relate to Donald Trump’s 55 Executive Orders, which are far more numerous than his legislative successes. With Congress deadlocked for much of the year, the majority of Trump Administration accomplishments relate to executive actions or rulemaking by bureaucratic agencies. Some of these decisions have been good, such as rolling back Obama-era net neutrality rules, reinstating the Mexico City policy and cutting federal regulations. President Trump also signaled his intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate treaty and move the US embassy in Israel to the capital city of Jerusalem.

In other cases, Trump’s executive actions weren’t as good. One of Trump’s first acts as president was to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a move that opened the door for Chinese expansion with their One Belt One Road Initiative. Trump decided against withdrawing from NAFTA, but reopened negotiations with Mexico and Canada. A series of Executive Orders that limited immigration from designated countries were largely upheld by the courts, but are more symbolic than useful in preventing terrorism since many, if not most, recent terrorists have been native-born Americans.

Whether good or bad, the common thread among the Trump Administration’s executive actions is their impermanence. Many of Trump’s executive actions reverse executive actions by Barack Obama. A future president could reverse Trump’s executive actions just as easily.

On foreign policy, Trump’s year has been mixed as well. A one-off missile strike against Syria in May had little discernible effect on the situation in the Middle East. Likewise, Trump’s war of words with Kim Jong Un has not helped to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. President Trump did score an end-of-the-year win on foreign policy with the news that ISIS had lost 98 percent of its territory.

There were several particularly bad spots for President Trump in 2017. Trump’s firing of James Comey ensured that the Russia investigation would continue indefinitely and, although evidence of illegal collusion between Trump and the Russians is doubtful, the probe has already led to a number of indictments of Trump campaign officials and the investigation is an albatross around Trump’s neck.

The failure of the Republicans to repeal or reform Obamacare was the president’s biggest defeat of the year. Trump and the Republican Party had spent years campaigning against the health law only to have even watered-down versions of their own healthcare bill fail to pass. The repeal of the individual mandate in the tax reform bill is a consolation prize that may make matters worse. The repeal of the mandate may drive healthy Americans from the insurance market just as Trump stops making subsidy payments to health insurance companies. The result could be upheaval in health insurance marketplaces for 2018.

Even with the year-end successes by Republicans, Trump approval averages in the 30s and Democrats hold a 15-point lead on the generic congressional ballot as the country heads into a midterm election year. Trump’s twitter rants and feuds with such varied targets as the FBI, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the National Football League and pretty much every media outlet may be a big part of the GOP’s image problem. In a country at peace and experiencing a good economy, Trump’s unpopularity may be unprecedented.

In spite of a year that the White House heralds as a year of “winning,” President Trump has not been able to win over the American people. If he doesn’t do so in the next 10 months, his administration may not last until 2020.

Originally published on The Resurgent