Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Elizabeth Warren Is Revolting

Elizabeth Warren is revolting. No, not that way. She's leading a rebellion against moderate Senate Democrats. A partial rollback of Dodd-Frank regulations has enough bipartisan support to give it a real chance of passage and Sen. Warren (D-Mass.) doesn't like it.

Warren sent out a fundraising email attacking the Democrats who supported the banking reform bill. The email led in turn to a contentious meeting of Senate Democrats. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), who doesn't officially support the bill, has not been vocal in his opposition. Schumer reportedly urged Warren to temper her criticism by focusing on facets of the legislation that she opposes rather than engaging in intraparty warfare.

“This is what I said I was going to do,” Warren reportedly told Schumer per Politico sources. “This is why I ran for the Senate.”

The bill, officially titled the “Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act,” but dubbed the “Bank Lobbyist Act” by Warren, has done what Republicans have been unable to to accomplish in other areas: split the Democrat caucus. The bill, which is favored by housing industry groups, counts 12 moderate Democrats among its cosponsors, more than enough to ensure cloture and passage.

The schism between leftist and moderate Democrats could easily lead to an intraparty rivalry similar to what Republicans experienced during the later Obama years. Moderate Democrats may find themselves pitted against the party's left wing and derided as “Democrats in name only” who are not liberal enough. It's easy to imagine Warren, the leftist stalwart, in the role of Ted Cruz, vying for the reins of the party and trying to steer it toward the left and away from compromise.

The problem for Democrats is that a strategy of going left is likely to have disastrous electoral consequences. Doug Jones in Alabama and Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania have demonstrated that moderate Democrats can be competitive in deep red Trump country, especially if Republicans continue to nominate flawed candidates, but the Warren strategy of forcing these moderates to the hard left after they are elected would invariably lead to a Republican wave similar to 2010 and 2014.

Schumer seems to realize this. His decision to allow moderates to work on the bipartisan bill to reform Dodd-Frank may have been made with the upcoming elections in mind. The success of the bill would allow moderates to crow about a positive accomplishment rather than being forced to run on opposition to President Trump.

DNC Chair Tom Perez hinted at a similar strategy in a recent segment on CNN. When asked about a Conor Lamb ad in which the candidate distanced himself from Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Perez replied, “Listen, Democrats are going to do what they believe is best to win their races.”

Dana Bash then asked, “So you don't think that Nancy Pelosi is a drag on Democrats in tough races?”

Perez deflected the question, but the answer is obvious. “San Fran Nan,” who isn't even popular with liberals these days, would be the kiss of death for moderate Democrats in red or purple states.

Democrats hope for a “blue wave” this November, but to make that a reality they will have to nominate candidates that are a good fit for the local electorate. Candidates for swing states will need to be more moderate than the Democratic Party at large and may not fit with the liberal orthodoxy on issues like guns, taxes and especially cultural matters such as gender and abortion. This is a recipe for conflict down the road.

The paradox of winning a majority is that Democrats will find that a larger congressional caucus means that the party is more moderate. While the Elizabeth Warrens of the left may not like this move to the center, to force representatives of swing districts into hard left voting patterns would mean that any majority would be short-lived.

Originally published on The Resurgent

The Deportation of Buba Jabbi Is An Injustice

In a story that is becoming increasingly commonplace, ICE agents deported the father of two young American citizens to the West African nation of Gambia last week. Buba Jabbi, 41, was married to Katrina Jabbi, also an American citizen, who is pregnant with the couple's third child.

It's tempting to for many to say, “Good riddance” to Mr. Jabbi, who entered the country legally in 1995, but overstayed his tourist visa. However, a closer look reveals the broken nature of current US immigration law.

Mr. Jabbi came to the US in 1995 to attend the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and never left. Per USA Today, Jabbi eventually wound up in Wisconsin working as a truck driver. He met Katrina in 2009 and they married in 2013. They currently have two daughters, Nalia, 5, and Aisha, 1.

Jabbi tried for years to become a legal resident of the US. After filing the paperwork incorrectly, he was subjected to removal proceedings, receiving a final order of removal in 2010. His deportation was delayed for years because Gambia refused to provide travel documents for his return. While he waited, he was given orders of supervision and a work authorization. He was required to report to ICE annually. It was on one of these visits that Jabbi was detained last month and subsequently deported.

"We were confident that [Buba] doesn't have a criminal record and that he's working, there is no trouble with our family." Katrina told WAOW News in Wisconsin. "We were confident we would be able to sort this out in the next few years."

Jabbi was not accused of a crime. “Overstaying a visa is not a criminal offense,” wrote Elizabeth Kozycki, an immigration attorney, on The offense is a civil violation and a not a criminal one under current US law.

Nevertheless, points out that current US law does not provide exceptions for illegal immigrants who are married to American citizens. Illegals who have been in the US for more than a year or who have returned illegally after being deported must wait 10 years after they last left the US to apply for re-entry.

Does the penalty of deportation and exile for at least a decade fit the civil offense of overstaying a visa? It does not seem so.

Mr. Jabbi was not a criminal and had no violent history. He was gainfully employed and providing for his wife and daughters who are all US citizens. Mrs. Jabbi is employed part-time. The odds are that she will now need government assistance to provide for her children in the absence of their father.

In deporting Mr. Jabbi, the federal government not only incurred thousands of dollars of legal costs, it deprived the economy of a willing worker who was contributing to the good of the nation as well as his family. Mr. Jabbi's absence will likely add four people who had been part of a self-sustaining family to the entitlement rolls.

The lack of a father figure also leads to bad outcomes for children. Children of absent fathers often make poor life choices that lead to substance abuse and becoming single parents themselves. This perpetuates the cycle of entitlements and adds to growing national debt.

Those who say that immigrants should just “follow the law” and “get in line” fail to understand that the current law is unworkable. Even before the Trump Administration reduced the number of legal visas, wait times for legal immigrants could take decades. The State Department visa bulletin notes that an unmarried Mexican child of a US permanent resident would have to wait 21 years merely to file an application for an immigrant visa. For people who came to the US illegally, there is no clear path to legalization unless they fall within the exceptions granted by the DACA program. The future of DACA is currently in doubt as well.

While the federal government has the right and duty to control its borders and set immigration standards, it is not justice to require illegal immigrants, especially those who have American families, to do the impossible. The United States clearly has a national interest in deporting violent criminals such as members of MS-13, but what is the interest in deporting law-abiding, peaceful family men like Mr. Jabbi?

Jabbi's case is similar to that of Jorge Garcia, the married father of two from Detroit who was deported to Mexico, a country he had not seen in 30 years, in January. Garcia was brought to the US as a 10-year-old, but was too old to qualify for DACA. Garcia, who was employed as a landscaper, had no criminal record. Garcia had been working toward legal status since 2005 and had spent about $125,000 in the process.

Allowing immigrants like Mr. Jabbi to stay with their families would not require an amnesty or pardon for their immigration sins. It would require immigration reform. Reform bills proposed in the past would require illegals to undergo background checks and pay fines and back taxes as restitution for illegally entering the US.

Deportation is not the only way of making right the wrong of illegal immigration. In the case of people like Buba Jabbi, deportation is not the best course for the immigrant, their family or the United States. If conservatives can forgive President Trump for his numerous indiscretions, it seems appropriate to offer some small measure of grace to immigrants who only want to peacefully support their families in the land of opportunity. Hardworking, family-oriented people are the sort of citizens – or residents – that America should welcome.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

AR-15 Ban Would Not Satisfy Anti-Gunners

In the weeks since the Parkland massacre, liberals and anti-gunners have launched a blistering attack on the AR-15. The rifle has been demonized as a weapon of war with no legitimate purpose other than killing large numbers  of people. If only AR-15s could be banned, the anti-gunners argue, mass killings could be stopped. It isn’t that easy and a ban of AR-15s would not satisfy the anti-gun movement.
Contrary to popular anti-gun opinion, the AR-15 is not markedly different from many other types of rifles. It is not a “machine gun.” It is a semi-automatic rifle. For those unaccustomed to gun terminology, that means that it fires only one bullet for each pull of the trigger.

“AR” does not stand for “assault rifle.” It stands for “Armalite Rifle,” a reference to the original manufacturer in the 1950s. The patent for the design has since expired and the gun is now manufactured by a number of companies under different names.

The AR-15 is also not an especially large caliber rifle. Although there are several different versions, most AR-15s are chambered in .223 caliber or 5.56 mm. The caliber refers to the diameter of the rifle’s bore in inches.

There are a number of other rifle calibers that are larger than that of the AR-15. Other popular hunting rifles include .308 and .3006 calibers. The M1 Garand carried by GIs in WWII was a .30 caliber rifle.

Nor is the AR-15 singularly dangerous in terms of muzzle velocity as some anti-gunners claim. Depending on the cartridge, a.223 bullet fired from an AR-15 typically has a muzzle velocity of about 3,000 feet per second. This is faster than a handgun bullet due to the rifling, larger cartridge and longer barrel, but is not abnormal among rifles. Muzzle velocities for the .223 are not markedly different from the .243 or the .3006, two other popular hunting rifle calibers.

Likewise, the AR-15 is not imbued with a mystical quality that turns anyone who holds it into a remorseless killer. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that there are approximately 15 million AR-15s in civilian hands in the US, but they are only rarely used in crimes. Assault rifles account for only about two percent of annual gun deaths noted the Huffington Post.

They also are not ubiquitous in mass shootings. The Virginia Tech shooter used 9mm and .22 pistols to kill 32 people. The Washington Navy Yard shooter used a 12 gauge shotgun and a 9mm pistol to kill 12. The Fort Hood shooter used two pistols of different calibers to kill 14 people.

On the other hand, AR-15s can save lives. An NRA instructor, Stephen Willeford, armed with his AR-15 stopped the massacre at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church and saved the lives of many in the congregation.

An AR-15 ban would not resolve the problem of school shootings and it would not be the end of the gun ban movement. The gun is not markedly different from a large number of other sporting rifles. If AR-15s were banned, these similar guns would soon be in the sights of anti-gun groups. Gun owners know this instinctively.

Fears of broad bans are not unfounded. Many anti-gun politicians have openly stated that an end to civilian gun ownership is their aim. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said of her 1994 “assault weapon” ban, “If I could have outright ban – ‘Mr. and Mrs. America turn in your guns’ – I would have.” Barack Obama advocated laws similar to the ones in Great Britain and Australia that totally banned private ownership of guns and required them to be surrendered to the government. A bill already introduced would ban 205 rifles, pistols and shotguns that the Democrats deem “semiautomatic assault weapons.”

The leftist quest to ban AR-15s is a distraction. Anti-gun groups are using the Parkland tragedy as an excuse to go after popular semi-automatic rifles rather than focusing on ideas that could actually make schools safer. The dishonest rhetoric and overreach contributes to the distrust that gun owners feel and ultimately makes the problem of mass shootings harder to solve.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Democrats Are Their Own Worst Enemy

Democrats assumed that taking on Donald Trump would be easy. That has not turned out to be true. Once it seemed that the Democratic opposition was assured of at least taking control of the House in this year's midterm elections, but the result now seems increasingly like a tossup. There are several reasons for this, but looming large among them is the Democrats' own tendency to overreach and make unforced errors.

The Democrats' first miscalculation was on DACA. Democrats forced a shutdown over DACA in January even though President Trump offered them a sweetheart deal. In the end, Democrats rejected the deal and eventually caved, allowing the shutdown to end with nothing to show for it. It was an ignominious defeat similar to the 2013 Republican shutdown over Obamacare.

In their surrender, the Democrats lost a chance to please their base and split the GOP at the same time. Instead, Democratic leaders angered both progressives and Dreamers. In a stunning turn of events, some DACA recipients have even protested against the Democratic National Committee.

Of course, the risk in accepting the deal would have been to hand Trump a victory on immigration and the possibility of losing their grip on the Hispanic vote. The best course for Democrats would have been not to force a shutdown in the first place while continuing to press for a DACA deal.

The second Democrat error of 2018 was their overreach on gun control. When President Trump extended an offer to help Democrats with their gun control effort, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) literally jumped for joy and the party jumped at the chance.

What emerged from behind the closed doors of the Democrat caucus was a bill that included a laundry list of gun control measures that will likely mobilize gun owners to get out the vote in November. Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) bill includes an “assault weapons” ban, expanded background checks and gun violence restraining orders which would allow family members to get a court order to prevent dangerous individuals from getting a gun. A second bill, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), would ban the “sale, transfer, production, and importation” of 205 semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns that can hold more than 10 rounds.

While President Trump might have embraced a more modest gun control bill, these Democratic bills have almost no chance of becoming law. With Republicans in control of Congress, Democrats would need 11 Senate Republicans to defect in order to get cloture. That won't happen without significant arm-twisting from President Trump, which is unlikely.
The third Democrat error was unveiling a new plan to raise taxes if they win control of Congress. The Democrat plan is a multi-faceted approach with an increase in the top marginal income tax rate, increasing the corporate tax rate to 25 percent (tax reform cut this rate to 21 percent from 35 percent), bringing back the alternative minimum tax (AMT) and restoring the standard deduction for the estate tax (i.e. the “death tax”) to its pre-reform level.

The Democrats' gamble here is two-fold. First, they assume that tax reform has remained as unpopular as it was before passage. In reality, as companies announce expansion plans and employee bonuses in the wake of tax reform, the new tax law is increasingly popular. The New York Times found that a majority of Americans currently approve of the Republican law.

The second gamble is that voters will favor the Democrat plan if it is cloaked in the guise of “soaking the rich.” The proposal seems specifically designed to not directly affect the average voter, but to target “other people's money.” Few voters are in the top income tax bracket or have estates worth more than $5.5 million.

A platform of tax increases and gun control may please progressives, but it is unlikely to inspire the moderate and independent voters needed to sway an election. In fact, the Democrat agenda seems more likely to send Republican voters to the polls with an attitude of “at least they're better than the Democrats” than to win new converts. Paired with the disillusionment of immigration voters in the Democrat base, the results could be disastrous for the opposition party.

A better strategy for Democrats would be to appear nonthreatening and positive, a sane and rational alternative to President Trump. Instead, the current plan seems to be to convince voters that Democrats are coming for their guns and money. That may play well with the Democrat base in deep blue districts, but it will be less effective in the purple heartland areas that Democrats need to win in order to take control of Congress.

To be fair, Republicans, led by President Trump, also seem to be actively trying to avoid becoming too popular with voters. The new tariffs and potential trade war may undermine pent-up economic growth that is already starting to result from tax reform.

With both parties making errors and advocating for unwise policies on a daily basis, a reliable forecast for the midterm elections is impossible. In the end, the outcome of the elections may depend on the news cycle when voters go to the polls.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Explaining Trump's Polling Bump

President Trump's approval rating is on the upswing or so a recent flurry of polling articles would have us believe. CNN and others have trumpeted the news that “Trump's job approval at the highest since taking office.” If even CNN admits that polling shows Trump as more popular than ever, it must be true, right? The reality isn't so clear.

The most obvious caution is that the Marist poll that CNN refers to is a single poll and any individual poll should be viewed in the context of other polls and the historical trends of that particular pollster. The second problem for Trump supporters is that the headline leaves unspoken the fact that the poll shows Trump's approval at 44 percent with 49 percent disapproval. While comparing this poll with previous Marist polls over the past few month does register a positive trend, Mr. Trump is still underwater in every poll listed on Real Clear Politics.

Because polling is not a precise science (see the 2016 election as exhibit A), it is helpful to look at polls in the context of similar polls from other sources. Both Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight have graphs that incorporate the average of all presidential approval polls to aid in this analysis. FiveThirtyEight's average of polls shows Trump's highest approval as president on January 25, 2017 at 47.8 percent. This is the only period when his net approval rating was positive.

When these graphs are examined, we find that Trump's approval has been mostly flat since last spring, but it does show an increase from January to February followed by a sharp dip and recovery in late February. We can examine the news cycle to determine what has impacted President Trump's approval rating both positively and negatively.

The rise in President Trump's approval rating can be traced to December 17, 2017. This was the final stages of the tax reform fight in Congress. Initially, the tax reform bill was unpopular, but as voters came to understand that the bill included cuts for the majority of taxpayers, the bill gained favor. After the passage of the law, the economy picked up quickly with employers offering bonuses and announcing expansion plans. This good news, along with workers finding more money in their paychecks in January and February, obviously helped buoy Trump's approval.

The rise in the president's approval suffered a minor blip in late January. His average approval rating fell about two points from January 17 through January 24. Taking the polling lag into account, this coincides perfectly with run-up to the government shutdown that lasted from January 19 through January 22.

President Trump reached his peak approval in recent months on February 15, one day after the Parkland, Fl. school shooting. Trump's approval again fell two points over the next 10 days until it began to rebound on February 26. What happened around this date to turn things around?

The answer is in Trump's sudden embrace of gun control. On February 21,CNN reported that President Trump announced a de facto executive ban on bump stocks. The next day, Trump tweeted his support for mental health background checks and raising the minimum age to buy a gun to 21 as well as reiterating support for the bump stock ban. On February 26, Trump was in the midst of a series of attacks on the NRA. Although elected as a pro-gun candidate, Trump likely tapped into an upswing in support for anti-gun measures in the wake of the Parkland massacre that included 53 percent support from Republicans for new gun laws.

Trump's surge in popularity plateaued in the first days of March. This immediately followed his February 28 meeting in which he promised his support to congressional Democrats for a laundry list of gun control measures, making Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) giddy with anticipation. It was also at this meeting that Trump said, “Take the guns first, go through due process second,” prompting a backlash from conservative gun owners that could explain the abrupt halt in his rising approval.

At this point, President Trump's overall approval rating has been flat since the beginning of the month. His surprise announcement of tariffs on March 1 did little to move his approval rating in either direction. Polling showed that voters were roughly split into thirds over the plan with 40 percent approving, 35 percent opposing and 25 percent with no opinion. It is ironic given the free-trade and anti-tax history of the GOP that 65 percent of Republicans favored the new taxes on trade compared with 25 percent of Democrats. The real test will come after tariffs are implemented and begin to have an effect on the economy. Reaction from other countries and the possibility of a trade war will also impact Trump's approval.

In spite of the headlines, President Trump's approval rating appears to have recovered from a summer slump and is near its historic average. The reasons for the surge are not necessarily a reason for conservatives to celebrate. Part of Trump's approval is due to the quick success of the tax reform bill, which is a vindication of conservative economic principles. On the other hand, the president also got a quick boost from embracing liberal positions on gun control and the NRA. After discarding his pro-gun position so easily in the face of falling poll numbers, conservatives should be concerned about the future.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, March 9, 2018

Trump's Stealth Appointment of Radical Lesbian To EEOC

President Trump has garnered much praise for his judicial nominations, but another nomination made by the president has largely escaped notice until now. Last December, in the midst of the fight over the tax reform bill, Donald Trump quietly renominated a radical Obama appointee to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

Newsweek reported at the time that Trump's appointment of Chai Feldblum to a second term at the EEOC means that she will keep her job until 2023. Feldblum, a militant lesbian, was appointed to the agency that polices workplace discrimination by Barack Obama in 2010.

During her tenure so far, Feldblum has worked to expand homosexuality as a protected class at the expense of religious liberty. Bloomberg News once referred to her as “Washington’s strongest champion for the idea that anti-gay and anti-trans biases constitute discrimination ‘because of sex.’”

Ben Shapiro at Daily Wire compiled a list of quotes from Ms. Feldblum that should alarm anyone concerned about religious freedom:

  • When sexual orientation and religious freedom come into conflict, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win… Sexual liberty should win in most cases. There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that’s the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner.”
  • “Just as we do not tolerate private racial beliefs that adversely affect African-Americans in the commercial arena, even if such beliefs are based on religious views, we should similarly not tolerate private beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity that adversely affect the ability of LGBT people to live in the world.”
  • “For all my sympathy for the evangelical Christian couple who may wish to run a bed and breakfast from which they can exclude unmarried straight couples and all gay couples, this is a point where I believe the ‘zero sum’ nature of the game inevitably comes into play. And in making the decision in this zero sum game, I am convinced society should come down on the side of protecting the liberty of LGBT people.”
  • “I believe granting liberty to gay people advances a compelling government interest, that such an interest cannot be adequately advanced if ‘pockets of resistance’ to a societal statement of equality are permitted to flourish, and hence that a law that permits no individual exceptions based on religious beliefs will be the least restrictive means of achieving the goal of liberty for gay people.”

Feldblum clearly believes that sexual freedom, which is not mentioned in the Constitution, should trump religious freedom, which is clearly defined in the First Amendment. The obvious question is why President Trump, who claims to be a proponent of religious liberty, would make an appointment that would set up such a clear conflict between two competing freedoms.

So far, there are no obvious answers to President Trump's reasons for keeping Feldblum on the job. The White House had no comment on the appointment in December and seems to have had none since.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Trump Tariffs Are A Solution In Search Of A Problem

President Trump seems determined to press forward with the fulfillment of his campaign promise to enact protectionist tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Many on the right are asking why. The industries that Mr. Trump seeks to protect – and American manufacturing as a whole – are doing quite well.

In contrast to Mr. Trump's tweets claiming that the steel and aluminum industries are “dead” and in need of government revival, official statistics show a different story. Per a Commerce Department report, US steel production in 2017 increased by 3.4 percent. Steel mills were running at 74 percent of full capacity, a slight increase over 2016. At the same time, imports were slightly higher than in 2016, but fell in the last months of 2017.

A look at the long-term history of steel and aluminum production in the US shows that both are considerably above historic lows. Both industries have rebounded since the Great Recession and production appears relatively stable.

While the president has often targeted China with his anti-free trade rhetoric, China ranks eleventh on the list of steel exporters to the US per Marketwatch, making up less than three percent of American imports. Canada and Mexico rank first and fourth with 16 percent and nine percent of US steel imports respectively, yet President Trump has floated the idea of exempting the two NAFTA members from the tariff. With 25 percent of steel imports not subject to the duty, the effectiveness of the protective tariff would be undermined.

The situation is similar with respect to aluminum. At 56 percent, Canada is the largest importer of the metal to the United States per CNBC. It is followed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and China. The fifth place category is “other” at 23 percent of imports. Even though, at six percent, China has a larger share of aluminum imports than steel, the proposed duty on aluminum is 10 percent, far less than the proposed 25 percent on steel.

Even the Aluminum Association, the trade group for aluminum producers, is opposed to the global tariff on aluminum. “We fear that the proposed tariff may do more harm than good,” Heidi Brock, the head of the association, told President Trump in a letter. Brock said that the group favors tariffs targeted toward China, whose overcapacity in the wake of a domestic downturn has led to increased exports and falling prices.

In essence, the proposed Trump tariffs are a mixture of bad possible outcomes. If the tariffs are successful in protecting the steel and aluminum industries, they will hurt other American businesses and consumers and possibly start a trade war in which countries apply tariffs to more and more goods. If the president decides to exempt our NAFTA partners, then the effectiveness of the tariffs will be undercut. Prices will still rise, but the US steel and aluminum companies will see a smaller benefit.

A better solution would be for the US to deal with China directly about concerns that it is flooding the market with cheap steel and aluminum rather than taking a shotgun approach. If it is absolutely necessary to take action against China, then it would be much better to single out Chinese exporters rather than antagonizing allies and larger trading partners.

The entire question of whether cheap imports from China are a bad thing should also be carefully considered. If China is sending us raw materials at a cost below market prices, they are in effect subsidizing American consumers at their own taxpayers' expense. American manufacturers and consumers benefit from China's money-losing strategy.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Pence Is Last Hope Of Free-Trade Republicans

As President Trump's assumed announcement of the implementation of steel and aluminum tariffs draws closer, Republicans are splitting over the issue. The president's mind seems made up, but some free-trade members of the GOP are holding out hope that Vice President Mike Pence can change Mr. Trump's mind.

In public, Pence, the ever-loyal subordinate, has been supportive of President Trump's decision, but Politico reports that behind the closed doors of the White House, it is a different story. Per the report, the vice president is among the members of the faction of White House aides and advisors that has pushed Trump to reconsider.

The proposed tariffs have sparked a backlash by free-trade Republicans. Speaker Paul Ryan was among the first Republicans to speak out, warning against “unintended consequences” of the move at a press conference on Tuesday. On Wednesday, 107 House Republicans signed a letter that cautioned that the tariffs could undermine the benefits of the president's tax and regulatory reforms. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump has been resolute.

Mike Pence's style has been different from the overt-yet-respectful confrontation by other Republicans. The vice president seems to take care to avoid being critical of Mr. Trump or his policies in public, a tactic that may be specifically tailored to a president who seems to value loyalty above all else.

Some view Pence's low-key approach as weakness, but avoiding open confrontation with the president on contentious issues may help preserve the vice president's influence with Mr. Trump. The administration has had a high rate of turnover for people who disagree with the president. Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, recently resigned after President Trump announced the tariff plan over his objections.

For those on Trump's bad side who remain, the president can make it very difficult to do their jobs. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has faced months of withering attacks and insults from the president that stem from his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

President Trump's announcement of tariffs last week was unplanned and caught his staff by surprise. Since the plan had yet to be written, there was still room for free-trade voices within the administration to attempt to the mitigate the economic damage done by the new policy.

President Trump tweeted this morning about a White House meeting at 3:30 p.m. and hinted that the formal announcement for the tariff plan will be made at that time. At that point, the world will find out how much influence Pence and the other free-trade members of the administration have.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Republicans Rebel Against Trump On Tariffs

As President Trump continues to threaten to implement tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, a large number of House Republicans are rebelling against the idea. Nearly half of House Republicans recently joined together to send a letter opposing the new tariffs to the president.

Under the heading of the House Ways and Means Committee, 107 Republican members of Congress signed the one-page letter to the president. Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and David Reichert (R-Wash.), chairman of the subcommittee on trade, topped the seven pages of signatures from House members.

The letter leads off by calling the tariffs “taxes that make US businesses less competitive and US consumers poorer.”

The Republicans applaud President Trump's leadership on the tax and regulatory reform, which they say, “have done much to increase the competitiveness of US companies and restore the United States' position as the best place in the world to do business.”

“We are convinced that the benefits of these tax cuts are just beginning,” the congressmen say, “but adding new taxes in the form of broad tariffs would undermine this remarkable progress.”

The letter writers offer an alternative to President Trump's across-the-board tariff plan. They call for a narrow tariff that allows US companies to petition for duty-free import of products not available in the US. They also ask that existing contracts be grandfathered to exclude the new tariffs. Finally, the representatives call for frequent short-term review of the effects of the tariffs to determine “if a different approach would better serve the interests of our American workers, job creators and consumers.”

The president is expected to formally announce the new tariff plan today. This morning, he tweeted, “Looking forward to 3:30 P.M. meeting today at the White House. We have to protect & build our Steel and Aluminum Industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Amazon's Alexa Is Acting Weird - And Freaking People Out

There's artificial intelligence and then there is artificial malevolence. The latter is what many users of the Amazon Alexa home digital assistant are reporting. Numerous reports indicate that Alexa bursts out with spontaneous laughter at inappropriate times and ignores user commands. While Alexa's behavior is a far cry from that of Skynet in the “Terminator” series, the device's mysterious behavior is freaking out some users.

Alexa is a voice-controlled digital assistant that can be used to control other WI-Fi-enabled devices such as light switches, thermostats and appliances. Alexa is typically triggered when the user speaks a “wake word” such as “Amazon” or “Alexa.”

Users are reporting that their Alexas are waking on their own, however. Buzzfeed cites examples from around the internet of Alexa owners who are disturbed by the device's random behavior.

“Having an office conversation about pretty confidential stuff and Alexa just laughed,” David Sven tweeted. “It didn't chime as if we had accidentally triggered her to wake. She simply just laughed. It was really creepy.”

Another user, Gavin Hightower, wrote, “Lying in bed about to fall asleep when Alexa on my Amazon Echo Dot lets out a very loud and creepy laugh... There's a good chance I get murdered tonight.” Hightower's twitter feed shows a subsequent post so he apparently survived the night.

Alexa is programmed to laugh at certain things and comes with pre-programmed laughs. Users can prompt the laughter by asking, “Alexa, how do you laugh?” Some examples of Alexa's laughter can be heard here, but some frightened users say that their Alexas emit a creepy laugh is not typical.

A Reddit user described what happened one morning when he asked Alexa to turn off his alarm. “Upon the second request she gave us the most chilling witch-like laugh,” he wrote. “I immediately jumped out of my bed as I've never heard such a laugh before. It scared the wife and my five-year-old so badly that we unplugged her [Alexa, not the wife].”

The eerie kicker to this story is that they never heard the same laugh again. “Throughout the day we would request for Alexa to laugh and none of the .wav [audio] files are the same as the first one we experienced.”

Another Reddit user said that he routinely says, “Alexa, off” to turn the device off at night. “Tonight she laughed when prompted off,” he wrote. “It was bone-chillingly creepy. I immediately unplugged her.”

At times, Alexa's problems reportedly go beyond spooky laughter. “I was trying to turn off some lights and they kept coming back on,” one man wrote. “After the third request, Alexa stopped responding and instead did an evil laugh. The laugh wasn't the Alexa voice. It sounded like a real person.”

“I still get chills,” he said.

Amazon has not responded to to queries about Alexa's strange behavior, but there are several possible explanations. One Alexa owner figured out what was causing the strange laughter and refusal to turn off the lights at their home. “Turns out 'patio off' sounds like 'how do you laugh,'” he explained.

“She has about three or four laughs and just happened to use the creepiest one.” he added. “I'm just glad my house isn't haunted (that I know of).”

Hackers are another possibility. As internet-connected devices proliferate, hacking is an increasing threat to privacy, security and peace of mind. There are numerous reports of baby monitors being hacked and parents discovering that strangers were watching – and sometimes talking to – their children over the internet. In 2014, hackers used appliances such as televisions and a refrigerator to send 750,000 malicious phishing emails.

Some models of Alexa have a known vulnerability to hacking. In 2017, Wired reported that an early version of Alexa had a physical flaw that could be used to turn the device into a wiretap. Amazon has fixed the problem on newer models, but hackers may have found other vulnerabilities to exploit.

As more and more appliances are tied in to the internet, users become increasingly vulnerable to hacking. While it isn't clear if Alexa's problems are due to outside interference or something else, owners of Wi-Fi enabled appliances can take several simple steps to protect themselves from hackers, including downloading software updates and creating strong (and different) passwords for both the appliance and the wireless network.

  Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, March 5, 2018

Trump Links Tariffs To New NAFTA Deal

Any speculation that President Trump's talk of tariffs might be gone by today evaporated this morning as the president suggested that removal of tariffs would be linked to a renegotiation of NAFTA. Often, Trump partially walks back particularly outrageous statements after cooler heads in the White House have prevailed, but it does not appear that will be the case on trade.

“We have large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada,” Trump said in a tweet. “NAFTA, which is under renegotiation right now, has been a bad deal for U.S.A. Massive relocation of companies & jobs. Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed.”

“Also Canada must,” the president continued in a second tweet, “treat our farmers much better. Highly restrictive. Mexico must do much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the U.S. They have not done what needs to be done. Millions of people addicted and dying.”

Per Reuters, Canada and Mexico rank first and fourth in steel exports to the US. China ranks tenth.

Shortly after the president's tweets, Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council, appeared to contradict the president's proposal to link the tariffs to a new NAFTA. “I understand if we get a great NAFTA agreement, and (US Trade Representative Robert) Lighthizer is trying to do that, that would be a great thing for the American people,” Navarro said on “Fox and Friends,” “but at this point in time, 25 percent on steel, 10 percent on aluminum, no country exclusions, firm line in the sand.”

The president kept up a trade war of words on Twitter over the weekend with a tweetstorm that threatened tariffs on European cars and said that American “steel and aluminum industries are dead.” A Commerce Department report on the steel industry shows that US steel production increased by almost four percent in 2017 while steel imports fell by 11 percent.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that there was fierce debate in the White House over implementing the tariffs, leaving hope that pro-trade aides and business leaders could persuade the president to change his mind. Even a sharp decline in the stock market after the announcement does not seem to have swayed Mr. Trump.

Business leaders and economists say that the tariffs will hurt the US economy by destroying jobs and lowering the standard of living for American consumers. Some economists have likened tariffs to a wartime blockade. Henry George wrote, “What protection teaches us is to do to ourselves in time of peace what enemies seek to do to us in time of war.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who was a registered Democrat until he was picked by Trump to head the Commerce Department, left little hope that Trump would change his mind about the tariffs, which do not require congressional approval.

“Whatever his final decision is, is what will happen,” Ross said on NBC's “Meet The Press.” “What he has said he has said; if he says something different, it'll be something different.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump's Tariffs Are A Bad Deal For Americans

President Trump announced this week that he would keep his campaign promise to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imported into the United States. Unfortunately, this promise would be better left unkept. Coming on the heels of Mr. Trump’s successful and increasingly popular tax reform, which boosted the economy and put money in the pockets of American voters, his tariffs are likely to have the opposite effect.

While intended to protect the US steel industry, the problem is that Trump’s tariffs will damage other US manufacturers and take money away from consumers. While the steel industry is likely to favor the new rules, other American companies that use steel as a raw material to make other finished products are not happy at all.

Companies that build products from automobiles to aircraft to beer use steel and aluminum as components. Under the new tariffs, they will either be forced to buy from American companies, which may be more expensive than foreign competitors, or pay a 25 percent tax on imported steel. This increased cost will ultimately be passed along to consumers.

In the end, a tariff is a tax and the consumer bears the cost of taxes on businesses. Conservatives instinctively understand that sales taxes and increases to the minimum wage mean higher costs, but the same logic escapes many on the right when it is applied to tariffs, which are nothing more than a tax on trade.

As with an increase to the minimum wage, a higher cost for materials translates into lost jobs. Tariffs may save, at least temporarily, thousands of steelworker jobs, but the cost may be hundreds of thousands of jobs in other industries.

As prices increase due to higher costs for materials, demand for finished goods decreases. If there is less demand for an item, then there is also less need for the workers who produce it. If the price of cars or beer goes up, then companies sell fewer cars and less beer. Those companies slow production and work hours get cut back or workers get laid off.

The tariffs will also hit American consumers directly. Any product that contains steel or aluminum will be more expensive. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that if goods are more expensive, then people must buy fewer things. The standard of living goes down.

Henry George, an economist who inspired Milton Friedman, argued that tariffs hurt the country that imposes them. “Protective tariffs are as much applications of force as are blockading squadrons, and their object is the same — to prevent trade,” George wrote. ”The difference between the two is that blockading squadrons are a means whereby nations attempt to prevent their enemies from trading. Protective tariffs are a means whereby nations attempt to prevent their own people from trading. What protection teaches us is to do to ourselves in time of peace what enemies seek to do to us in time of war.”

President Trump argues that the United States should mirror tariffs that other countries apply to our exports. What Trump fails to realize is that those countries are penalizing their own citizens. The US has one of the highest standards of living in the world. This is largely because of free trade. Chinese companies may benefit from tariffs, but it is at the expense of Chinese citizens who must maintain a lower standard of living.

Some argue that Chinese steel producers are unfairly dumping steel on US markets at artificially low prices. In reality, China ranks tenth among US steel imports. If Chinese steel was really far below market prices, the demand for it would be very high. China’s market share should be much larger than 2.9 percent.

What about the trade deficit that Trump railed against during the campaign? It isn't a bad thing. Milton Friedman explained what he called ”upside-down thinking” about trade deficits.

”The gain from foreign trade is what we import,” Friedman said. ”What we export is the cost of getting those imports. And the proper objective for a nation, as Adam Smith put it, is to arrange things, so we get as large a volume of imports as possible, for as small a volume of exports as possible.”

In other words, imports raise a nation’s standard of living. Exports are the cost of getting imports. Trying to increase the amount of exports is like telling a store clerk that he isn't charging you enough for your groceries.

If President Trump wants to boost the economy and give Americans more purchasing power, he should scrap his plans to implement tariffs. This is especially true since the levies may well be the first round in a trade war that could severely damage the world economy. The Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930 was a prime reason that the 1929 downturn became the Great Depression.

It would be tragic to implement such a damaging trade policy so quickly after the successful tax reform bill. Tax reform giveth, but Trump’s tariffs taketh away.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, March 1, 2018

How Trump Can Change Congressional Math On Gun Control

As President Trump rallies to the gun control cause, many conservatives are relying on congressional Republicans to block any restrictive new gun laws. The problem is that congressional party breakdowns make it more difficult for pro-gun Republicans to stave off new gun control laws under President Trump than it would if Hillary Clinton was in the White House.

If Hillary was president, resisting gun control would be a simple matter. Republicans control the Senate with 51 seats. As long as Republicans remained unified, they could filibuster anti-gun bills proposed by the Democrats. The anti-gun coalition would need 60 votes to break the filibuster, which would be difficult to achieve.

Things are different with President Trump in office, however. For most of the gun control proposals on the table, the Democrats can probably count on unanimous support from their caucus. The 49 votes controlled by Democrats are not enough to pass the bill alone, but, with a Republican president working to bring Republicans across the aisle, gun control has a chance that it would not have with a Democratic president.

Eleven Republican votes for cloture would be needed to advance the bill to a Senate vote. After cloture, President Trump would only have to flip two Republican votes to pass the bill.

In the current anti-gun climate, any number of Republicans might be pressured to vote with the Democrats on a “common sense” gun control bill. Perennial aisle-crosser Susan Collins (R-Maine), who sponsored a bill in 2016 to ban gun sales to people on the no-fly and terrorist watch lists, would be a senator likely to join the effort. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is another Republican moderate to watch. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), Pat Roberts (R-Kans.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have already expressed support for an increase to the minimum age for purchasing rifles.

Other Republicans joining the coalition might come from both blue states and the strong pro-Trump camp. Republicans from states that lean Democrat would feel pressure from their constituents to support the legislation while pro-Trump Republicans would feel pressure from the White House.

A fail-safe for pro-gun Americans is the Republican congressional leadership. With control of both houses of Congress, Republican leaders have a lot of leeway in deciding which bills are scheduled for floor votes and which are pigeonholed away to die a silent death in committee. Having a president of the same party who supports anti-gun legislation weakens this fail-safe by allowing the president to influence his fellow partisans.

The Hill reports that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called on senators to “try to make some progress on the bills we agree on,” in particular bills to enhance background checks and make schools more secure. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the majority whip, is sponsoring a bill with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) that would improve background checks. Cornyn has expressed doubt about the effectiveness of raising the minimum age, but both he and McConnell are undoubtedly under heavy pressure from the White House.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has indicated that gun control may have a more difficult time in the House. Republicans hold a 45-seat majority in the House of Representatives so gun control advocates would need to flip at least 23 Republican votes.

Speaker Ryan told reporters, “We shouldn’t be banning guns for law-abiding citizens, but focusing on making sure that citizens who shouldn’t get guns in the first place, don’t get those guns.”

In the end, the success or failure of the gun control effort will depend largely on Donald Trump. For his part, Trump seems to relish the opportunity to forge a historic bipartisan coalition. The president has engaged in a rhetorical attack on the National Rifle Association in recent days and said that he willing to fight the gun lobby.

“You have a different president now,” Trump said in meeting on gun control in the White House Monday. “I mean, you went through a lot of presidents, and you didn't get it done. But you have a different president, and I think, maybe, you have a different attitude, too. I think people want to get it done.”

Sen. Murphy agrees that Trump is the key. “Mr. President, it's going to have to be you that brings the Republicans to the table on this,” Murphy told the president, “Because right now, the gun lobby would stop it in its tracks.”

I like that responsibility, Chris. I really do,” the president replied. “I think it's time. It's time that a president stepped up, and we haven't had them -- and I'm talking Democrat and Republican presidents. They have not stepped up.”

It would be an unhappy irony for gun owners if Donald Trump, endorsed by the NRA even though he was a former Democrat who had supported gun control in the past, became the Republican president who overcame the gun lobby to enact the first significant gun control legislation since the 1990s. Stranger things have happened.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Feinstein Jumps For Joy As Trump Endorses Her 'Assault Weapons' Ban

It isn't often these days that you get to see a Democrat senator literally jump for joy. This is especially true of Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) who is so unpopular in her own state that California Democrats refused to endorse her reelection campaign. But Mrs. Feinstein got a pleasant surprise when President Trump asked if her “assault weapons” ban could be added to the current gun control bill.

In the televised meeting at the White House, seen here on CNN, President Trump responds to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) by offering to include various Democratic gun control proposals in the bill being written by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and backed by the president.

“Dianne, if you could add what you have also – and I think you can — into the bill,” Trump offered to the anti-gun Democrat sitting beside him.

Feintstein's reaction should make NRA members and gun owners physically sick. Feinstein, who apparently was not expecting the overture from the president, immediately breaks into a broad smile and literally gives a happy little jump.

“Joe, are you ready?” she echoes the president with a huge smile.

Feinstein clasps her hands together in joy and at one point touches Trump's elbow affectionately.

“Joe, can you do that?” Trump asks as Feinstein doubles over ecstatically beside him.

“Some of the things you're not going to agree with,” Trump adds.

“If you help,” Feinstein interjects.

“Well, no, I'll help,” Trump answers.

It has been said that politics makes strange bedfellows, but few are stranger than Donald Trump, the NRA-backed Republican, and Dianne Feinstein, the California liberal whose attempts at “gun-grabbing” have made her infamous in the pro-gun community. Anything that makes Dianne Feinstein this happy should have gun owners watching their gun cabinets closely.

Originally published on The Resurgent