Thursday, March 29, 2018

Trump Campaign Aide Communicated With Russian Agent During Election

Robert Mueller's team has drawn the first direct line between the Russian government and Donald Trump's campaign. Court filings by Mueller's investigators allege that Rick Gates, an advisor to the 2016 Trump campaign, was in contact with a known “former Russian intelligence officer” during September and October 2016. Gates was on the staff of the Trump campaign at the time.

The revelation came from the testimony of London-based attorney, Alex van der Zwaan, who said that he was told by Gates that his business associate in the in Ukraine was a “former Russian intelligence officer” with the GRU, Russian military intelligence. The court filings cited by the Wall Street Journal say that van der Zwaan admitted to concealing the fact that he and Gates had been in contact with the Russian just prior to the election. The conversations allegedly concerned the possibility of criminal prosecution in Ukraine for the activities of van der Zwaan and others under the previous pro-Putin regime.

Rick Gates and Paul Manafort worked in the Ukraine for supporters of Viktor Yanukovych from 2004 through 2014. Earlier this year, Gates and Manafort were indicted on charges of money-laundering and making false statements relating to their time in the Ukraine. Gates pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller's investigation.

Paul Manafort was hired to be Donald Trump's campaign manager in the spring of 2016 and Gates joined the campaign at the same time. Manafort was fired in August over his Russia connections, but Gates remained until after the election and worked on Trump's inaugural committee, only leaving as the Russia investigations heated up. The Daily Beast reported that Gates still had access to White House advisors as late as June 2017 without the president's knowledge.

The Russian agent is not named in the court filings and is referred to only as “Person A.” The filings state, “The lies and withholding of documents were material to the Special Counsel’s Office’s investigation. That Gates and Person A were directly communicating in September and October 2016 was pertinent to the investigation. Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that Person A has ties to Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016. During his first interview with the Special Counsel’s Office, van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him Person A was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with GRU.”

The Wall Street Journal has identified “Person A” as Konstantin Kilimnik. The Journal notes that Kilimnik was a language instructor at the Institute of Foreign Languages and has denied being a spy.

Van der Zwaan is a Dutch national and the son-in-law of German Kahn, a Russian billionaire. He currently lives in a hotel in New York. As a member of an international law firm, van der Zwaan worked with Gates and Manafort on matters relating to the Ukraine. His lawyers say that he lied to Mueller to protect his job rather than to hinder the Russia investigation.

Gates' attorneys had no comment on the new allegations.

The filings by Mueller provide a direct link between the Russian government and an active member of the Trump campaign, but the trail does not go all the way to the president. The Daily Beast report on Gates notes that he was not liked by President Trump. One Trump campaign aide called him Trump's “whipping boy.”

Thus far, the court filings fall short of proving collusion or illegal activity relating to the campaign beyond making false statements to the FBI. The contacts allegedly deal with previous activities in the Ukraine rather than the 2016 election.

The new revelation will make it more difficult for President Trump to end the Mueller investigation. With direct links between members of his campaign and the Russian government, it would politically untenable to fire Mr. Mueller, even if the president feels more pressure to do so.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Don't Expect Paul Ryan To Retire

Speaker Paul Ryan is denying rumors that his retirement is imminent. The latest version of the rumor purports that Ryan will retire within 30-60 days and that Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise, currently the Majority Whip, will become the new Speaker of the House.

The new rumor is traced to Nevada Republican Mark Amodei, who told Nevada Newsmakers, “The rumor mill is Paul Ryan is getting ready to resign in the next 30 to 60 days and that Steve Scalise will be the new speaker.”

Amodei undercut his own rumor when he added, “Now that's interesting because nobody has talked to members how they're going to vote, or maybe they've talked to all the members but me, so I don't know.”

While noting that Ryan “wants to play on the national stage in some capacity or another.” Amodei continued, “I'm speculating from at least as far away as you are, and my speculation is this: The White House and Paul Ryan would probably not be a great fit.” He added, “I would be very surprised if there were open arms at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue for 'come on into the administration, Mr. Cheese Guy.'”

Speaker Ryan's office flatly denied the rumor, telling CNN, “The speaker is not resigning.”

A statement from Rep. Scalise's office also expressed support for Speaker Ryan, saying, “Whip Scalise is proud to serve alongside Speaker Ryan, and fully supports him to remain speaker. Our whole leadership team is focused on working with President (Donald) Trump to deliver more conservative wins for the country, and also ensuring we keep the majority so we can continue implementing President Trump's agenda that is getting our economy back on track.”

Rumors of Ryan's retirement first surfaced in December when Politico reported that Ryan would resign after the midterm elections. In January, Ryan, who has not filed for re-election, told CBS News that running for re-election would be a decision he would make with his wife. Candidates in Wisconsin have until June 1 to file for ballot access.

It is common knowledge that Ryan would rather be at home with his family than living in Washington. Ryan never really wanted the speaker job, preferring to work on budgetary policy instead. In the aftermath of John Boehner's resignation, the divided GOP caucus couldn't find another Republican to unify behind.

While Ryan never seemed to be fully on board the Trump train, he has shown an ability to work with the president to advance legislation. Last year's landmark tax reform was a personal triumph for Ryan, the fiscally conservative policy wonk.

If Ryan elects to stay after the midterms, his already tough job will likely get tougher assuming that Republicans are even able to keep control of the House. A wave of retirements, President Trump's unpopularity and the law of averages are likely to combine to evict Mr. Ryan from the speaker's seat. An announcement that Ryan is leaving prior to the midterms would embolden Democrats and make it more difficult for Ryan to raise funds and support other Republican candidates. Whether he would elect to continue in Congress as a rank-and-file Republican is an open question, but any formal announcements of retirement are unlikely to come before the November elections.

Ryan is a man who seems to be driven by duty. His congressional career was based on duty to his country and the next generation to combat the debt and entitlement crisis. It is likely that Ryan's sense of duty won't allow him to leave Congress before he tackles entitlement reform. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Why Anti-Trump Conservatives Shouldn't Root For Democrats

Two weeks after Conor Lamb’s squeaker victory in PA-18, and President Trump's approval of the omnibus spending bill, some Trump critics and former Republicans who have left (or been forced out) of the GOP are celebrating as the Republican Party edges toward an electoral disaster.
Some conservatives want to help this disaster along by voting Democrat. The movement to encourage dissatisfied conservatives to vote Democrat in order to punish the Trumpian GOP is tempting, but it is a bandwagon that I cannot climb aboard.
I do agree with the general assumptions behind the movement. Trump is a disaster who is damaging conservatism and the Republican Party is going to follow him blindly as long it thinks he is “winning.” The idea seems to be to accelerate the process of Trump's inevitable implosion in order to bring about a conservative revival. 
There are a couple of flaws with this line of thinking. First among them is the notion that Republicans want a conservative party. In 2016, there were plenty of conservatives to choose from and Republican voters settled on Donald Trump, a candidate who had the temerity to endorse the idea of universal government healthcare in a Republican debate. Even when it was down to only Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, the conservative did not win. 
If Republicans rejected conservatives before, why should we expect that a post-Trump GOP would be any different? As a former president who is popular within the party if nowhere else, Donald Trump will be a party kingmaker. Does anyone really think he will quietly fade away like other past presidents? Not while Twitter and Fox News exist.
While President Trump’s coattails in general elections have been nonexistent, in many cases it is necessary to be a Trump loyalist to win a Republican primary. Just ask Jeff Flake.
A second problem is that I cannot vote for most Democrats any more than I could support President Trump. Many prominent conservatives voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016. I could not. I viewed both candidates as so flawed (albeit in different ways) that I could not give either my vote and endorsement.
The 2018 midterms are similar to 2016 except that some of the Republican candidates will be real conservatives. I cannot vote against these people even as a possible means to save conservatism from an even greater defeat. As a matter of principle, I cannot give my vote to anti-gun, pro-abortion, pro-tax liberals.
If Democrats win majorities this year, then it is likely that President Trump will help advance their agenda on at least some issues. If the Parkland shooting had occurred  under a Democrat Congress, is there any real doubt that Trump would sign a gun control bill that made it to his desk? How about a gas tax? More deficit spending increases? More restrictive trade policies? Amnesty without border security? A Democrat majority working with President Trump would be an unmitigated disaster for conservatives and the country as whole.
Third, an electoral loss in the midterms wouldn’t necessarily diminish Trump’s stature in the party. Past losses in special elections have been blamed on Never Trumpers, liberals, the media, you name it. President Trump credited Conor Lamb's victory with running "like Trump" and sounding "like a Republican."Republicans could and would easily shift the blame for a midterm disaster, in their own minds at least, to conservatives who stayed home. That line of attack was ready for use in 2016.
A midterm loss wouldn't necessarily persuade Republicans that Trump had led them to disaster. The Tea Party wave of 2010 didn’t dissuade Obama supporters, it reinvigorated them. The same could well be true of Trump supporters in 2020. The bigger problem is that Obama's second term led to even more congressional losses and to Trump himself. A second Trump Administration would give the Democrats four more years to solidify congressional gains.
Unless President Trump disgraces himself enough to lose the support of his party, it is unlikely that Republican voters will rally to anyone who wasn’t a loyal Trump foot soldier. Republicans have yet to abandon Trump in spite of his bad behavior and lack of accomplishments as president. Perhaps it’s because not much was expected beyond filling Scalia’s seat so any successes at all are heralded. More likely it's because Trump says many of the things that Republicans have longed to say for years.
What would it take for Republicans to disavow Trump? The only thing that has come close to doing so thus far is his apparent embrace of gun control and attacks on the NRA and his signature on the omnibus spending bill. Even then, many were reluctant to hold Trump accountable for these actions.
For better or for worse, the Republican Party’s embrace of Donald Trump is not going away. If Trump had lost in 2016, the party could have reversed course and taken a different direction. After four years to leave his indelible mark on the party, there is no going back, any more than Democrats could go back to a pre-Clinton or pre-Obama era. Even if they could, they wouldn’t want to.
If the Republican Party is now a home for populism where conservatives are accused of being liberal when they criticize the president, then there is only one realistic answer. Conservatives need to choose “none of the above” and find a new political home. When good conservatives are pushed aside because they don’t blindly support the president, the choice to separate from the GOP has been made for us.
A first step is to start judging Republican candidates on their merits rather than by party affiliation. Republicans with conservative voting records deserve to be returned to Washington. Republicans who vote in support of progressive policies such as expanded entitlements, tariffs, large increases in deficit spending and gun control do not. Likewise, Republicans should be held to the same high moral standard to which conservatives hold Democrats. The "R" behind a candidate's name should not be reason enough to vote for them.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Why I Bought An AR-15

I wouldn’t consider myself a gun nut. As a country boy, I grew up around guns. I enjoyed shooting, but wasn’t one of the people who headed to the range or the woods for hunting every weekend. I hunted occasionally and enjoyed plinking at cans or paper targets.  

In some ways, I fit the liberal stereotype of gun owners. I’m a white male. I grew up in the South and still live there.

In others, I don’t. Even though I live in the country, I’m not a bumpkin or a redneck. I’m a college-educated professional who is the happily married father of two children. My oldest, a 14-year-old boy, has an interest in guns and enjoys shooting as well.

I’ve never been in the military. My formal firearms training is limited to the Federal Flight Deck Officer program. As a post-September 12 airline pilot, I volunteered for training to protect my flights from potential terrorist attacks. In my capacity as a federal agent, I carried a gun for two years until I left the airlines. I never shot a terrorist - or anyone else for that matter - but I felt like I was a small footnote in the War on Terror.

The reason that I applied to the FFDO program is that I put myself into the shoes of the passengers and crews of the hijacked planes on September 11. It is difficult to imagine sitting on an airplane just waiting to die without any real means of fighting back. If al Qaeda happened to target my flight, I intended to go down fighting.

I have lived most of my life in rural areas where self-defense is a consideration. There were a handful of deputies to cover the entire county. If you were in trouble and needed police help and the deputies happened to be on the other side of the county, it might take them half an hour or longer to respond. Country folks don’t like being defenseless targets any more than airline pilots do.

Even living in the city with constant police patrols doesn’t guarantee a fast response. Like the Broward County deputies at Parkland, police withdrew from entire neighborhoods during the 1992 LA riots and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

My brother, formerly a city cop, told the story of responding to a call about a home invasion in the middle of the night. He went into the house and and arrested the armed perpetrator, who was still inside the house with the residents. For his heroism, my brother had to perform a carpet dance because he did not wait for backup.

I have a lot of respect for the police, but they cannot be depended upon to protect everyone 24 hours per day. People need to be able to protect themselves for at least a little while. In a riot or disaster like Hurricane Harvey, which my family weathered last year, it might be more than a little while. Far more often than they stop a crime in progress, police are there to arrest the perp after the damage has been done.

Even though we live in the sticks, I’ve never had to fight off a burglar. I know that I could if I had to though. Could you? My Boy Scout training, which did include marksmanship and gun safety at summer camp, screams, “Be Prepared.”

What I have done is fight off nuisance animals. I’ve shot vicious little rodents that we call ‘possums (the “o” is silent) that can kill pets and damage houses. I’ve shot venomous snakes that threatened my children. I’ve shot wild hogs that destroyed my land and foxes that preyed on our chickens and ducks.

I already have several guns that are useful in these situations. Why, then, did I decide to buy an AR-15? There are several reasons.

I bought an AR-15 because it looked fun to shoot. It is a cool-looking gun and I found a good deal on one. I bought an AR-15 because people like David Hogg, Dianne Feinstein and maybe even Donald Trump don’t want me to have one.

I bought an AR-15 because I wanted one and could afford it. In a free country, that is reason enough.

Originally published on The Resurgent

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