Thursday, May 31, 2018

Trump trade war starts tomorrow

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the US will impose tariffs on steel and aluminum products from Canada, Mexico and the European Union starting on Friday. The close US allies had previously been given exemptions from the tariffs that the president imposed on other countries last March.  

All three trading partners vowed to impose retaliatory tariffs on the US in return. The Wall Street Journal reports that the European Union has prepared a list of $7.5 billion worth of US exports that could begin to be subject to increased tariffs on June 20. Mexico said that it will target US products “up to an amount comparable to the level of damage” that US tariffs inflict on Mexican exports. Canada did not make a specific statement, but had previously vowed to retaliate if the Trump Administration imposed new tariffs.

Canada and Mexico are parties to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the US, which eliminated tariffs on much trade between the three countries. They were exempted from the earlier tariffs as negotiations to revise NAFTA proceeded. It is uncertain how the new tariffs will affect the trade pact.

“Those talks have been taking longer than we had hoped,” Secretary Ross told reporters.

The EU also had a temporary exemption as trade representatives tried to reach a permanent agreement. “We continue to be quite willing and indeed eager to have further discussions with all of those parties,” Ross said.

Additional tariffs on China are slated to go into effect next month. The Trump Administration called a truce to the Chinese trade war in May, but then announced it would proceed with the tariffs. The Chinese government has also vowed to retaliate.

The new tariffs on Canada, Mexico and Europe have the potential to be much more damaging to the US economy than the previous round of tariffs. Canada and Mexico rank first and third respectively in steel exports to the US. The two countries send more steel to the US than the rest of the top five countries combined.

Canada and Mexico also rank second and third, just behind China, as America’s top trading partners. Four European countries, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, are also among the top ten trading partners.

The trade war is already expanding beyond the steel and aluminum industries that Trump originally set out to protect. The Washington Post reports that European retaliatory tariffs include products as varied as Kentucky bourbon and Harley Davidson motorcycles. Mexican duties will be imposed US pork bellies, blueberries, apples, grapes, cheeses and steel.

If the tariffs go into effect, the result could be a slowing economy in the months prior to the midterm elections. This could give Democrats a desperately needed issue with which to attack Republicans. If trade becomes an issue in the election with Democrats embracing free trade and Republicans defending big government tariffs, politics will have officially turned upside-down.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trey Gowdy Blows Up 'Spygate'

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) just undercut President Trump’s claims about “Spygate.” The fiery former prosecutor from South Carolina responded to the president’s accusations of illegal spying on his campaign by saying that the FBI has an “obligation” to follow leads.

“When the FBI comes into contact with information about what a foreign government may be doing in our election cycle, I think they have an obligation to run it out,” Rep. Gowdy said as he discussed President Trump’s accusations about improper conduct by the FBI on CBS News on Wednesday.

“Based on what I have seen, I don't know what the FBI could have done or should have done other than run out a lead that someone loosely connected with the campaign was making assertions about Russia,” Gowdy continued. “I would think you would want the FBI to find out whether there was any validity to what those people were saying.”

Gowdy, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, was one of the congressional leaders briefed by the Department of Justice on the surveillance of Trump campaign associates last week. After the briefing, Gowdy says he is confident that Russia was the target of the investigation and not the Trump campaign itself.

“I think the FBI, if they were at the table this morning, they would tell you that Russia was the target and Russia's intentions toward our country were the target,” Gowdy said. “The fact that two people who were loosely connected to the Trump campaign may have been involved doesn't diminish the fact that Russia was the target and not the campaign.”

In response to a question, Gowdy said that he doesn’t know why President Trump persists in using the term “spy” to describe the FBI informant. In his role as a prosecutor working with law enforcement, Gowdy said that he had never heard the word “spy” used to describe an informant.

“Under cover, informant, confidential informant, those are all words I'm familiar with, I've never heard the term spy used,” Gowdy said.

Rep. Gowdy said that he doesn’t believe that President Trump has enough information about the investigation to understand the true aim of the probe. “I think his lawyers have an obligation to share with him what Devin [Nunes] and Paul [Ryan] and I saw last week,” Gowdy said. “I'm convinced when he sees it, he's going to say, 'you know what, that's what I told [James] Comey I wanted the FBI to do.”

Gowdy said he believes that the president should agree to testify before Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, saying, “He didn't collude with Russia, he doesn't know anything about it, and if anyone in his campaign did, he wants the public to know it, I think that's what he ought to tell Mueller.”

Gowdy also criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe. “If I picked someone to be the country’s chief law enforcement officer and they told me later, ‘oh, by the way, I’m not going to able to participate in the most important case in the office,’ I would be frustrated too,” Gowdy said. President Trump immediately used Gowdy’s comment to attack Sessions.

So far, none of the congressional leaders briefed by the DOJ have backed President Trump’s claims that the FBI acted improperly. It is undisputed that the FBI investigated members of the Trump campaign, the questions are whether there was probable cause for them to do so and whether the surveillance was political in nature rather than a legitimate counterintelligence investigation. To date, the president has not supplied evidence that the surveillance was scandalous rather than necessary.

Claims that the FBI investigation were used to undermine the Trump campaign seem implausible. Even though the Steele dossier was investigated in the summer of 2016, it was not public knowledge until after the election was over. Where the FBI did intervene to affect the election, Comey’s October memo to Congress, it was to Donald Trump’s benefit.

President Trump has a duty to clarify his accusations against the FBI and the Department of Justice. If he has evidence of improper conduct, he should come forward with it. If he cannot provide evidence, he should stop publicly attacking and undermining America’s top law enforcement agency.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Puerto Rico Hurricane Deaths Undercounted By Thousands

It turns out the rumors of a massive loss of life in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria were true. A new study by Harvard University estimates that the official estimate does not count thousands of people who were killed during and after the storm, which hit the island on September 20 of last year.

The new study is not definitive, but it raises serious questions about the accuracy of the official numbers published by the government of Puerto Rice which puts the death toll at 64. Other organizations previously estimated that as many as 1,000 people died as a result of the storm, but the Harvard study puts the estimate much higher at 4,645.

The Harvard study used statistical analysis to arrive at its conclusion. Researchers visited 3,299 household on the island and asked residents several survey questions.

“Statistically, it's like having interviewed the whole island,” Domingo Marqués, one of the report’s authors told CNN.

The survey included questions about deaths in the household, whether related or not to the storm. The researchers then compared the survey data to 2016 mortality data from the island to arrive at an estimate of how many deaths were related to the storm.

The statistical analysis showed that between 793 to 8,498 people died during the storm or in the unsafe conditions that lingered for months afterward. The number cited in the report, 4,645, is the average between the two extremes. While the range of possible deaths is extremely large, even the low end of the range is more than 17 times larger than the official estimate. The exact death toll will never be known.

“The lack of electricity and basic services meant that people couldn't get the help they needed for a long time after the storm," Christy Delafield, a spokeswoman for relief agency Mercy Corps told USA Today. "The elderly, people with health problems and the very young were at particular risk.”

The government of Puerto Rico is not disputing the higher estimated death toll. In a press release, Carlos R. Mercader, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, said, “The Government of Puerto Rico welcomes the newly released Harvard University survey and we look forward to analyzing it.”

Hector Pesquera, head of Puerto Rico's public safety department, said at a press conference that the island’s government did not have a reason to question the Harvard statistics. A George Washington University study on the death toll commissioned by the government is still forthcoming.

The Harvard report also faulted both the federal government and the territorial governments for an inadequate response to the hurricane. A post-hurricane analysis of the FEMA response plan found that they agency did not anticipate the extent of damage and overestimated the ability of local and territorial agencies to respond.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told USA Today, “We have been supportive of Gov. Rosello's efforts to ensure full accounting and transparency, and those who have suffered from this tragedy deserve nothing less.”

Sanders pointed out that the relief effort was the largest FEMA disaster response in history. At its height, more than 19,000 workers from 80 agencies were on the ground in Puerto Rico.

Bonnie Castillo, executive director of National Nurse United, said the higher estimate matched what volunteer nurses reported on the ground. “Our volunteer RNs came back to the U.S. and said again and again, ‘The people of Puerto Rico are dying. Do something!'” she said.

Castillo said that returning nurses told of people “left to die” and that the government relief effort had “failed its own American citizens.” Whether the failure was the result of incompetence or inability to imagine the devastation that a storm like Hurricane Maria could wreak, for the people of Puerto Rico, the result was the same.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why North Korea Won't Disarm

It appears that the on-again/off-again summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un will actually happen. As the world watches, hopes are high for peace on the Korean Peninsula, but it is unlikely that the North Koreans will disarm. Here’s why.

North Korea has a long history of scamming American presidents. Since the North Korean nuclear age began, the country has had several rounds of peace talks – and made several deals – with several presidents. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed a deal in which the US and its allies provided the North with $4 billion in energy aid, including two nuclear reactors that could not manufacture weapons-grade material. In exchange, North Korea was supposed to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Instead, North Korea announced in 2002 that it had nuclear weapons. President Bush, who had called North Korea a part of the “Axis of Evil,” removed North Korea from the state terror list in order to advance the Six Party Talks, which also included South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan. The group came to an agreement in which Pyongyang agreed to give up its nuclear program in exchange for food and energy aid.

Instead, the North Koreans announced in 1996 that they had exploded a nuclear weapon. The Obama Administration applied sanctions in coordination with the UN Security Council. In 2012, Kim Jong Un agreed to halt nuclear tests in exchange for more aid, but the North continued to test both nuclear weapons and missiles.

For more than 20 years, North Korea’s modus operandi has been to rattle its saber and extort aid from the West and East Asian democracies. Over the past two years, they tried the same thing with Donald Trump. To his credit, President Trump did not fall for this tired North Korean gambit.

When President Trump responded to North Korea’s saber rattling with saber rattling of his own, Kim Jong Un proved that he is a rational actor rather than a crazy person. Instead of continuing to escalate the situation, Kim backed off.

This doesn’t mean that Kim Jong Un is willing to bargain away North Korea’s nuclear weapons. It just means that he has shifted tactics. He is no longer playing the unhinged warmonger. Instead Kim is now using flattery and, if Donald Trump’s past behavior is any indication, flattery will get you everywhere. In the past, Trump has shown that he is eager to hit back when attacked, but he is equally eager to return flattery when complimented.

President Trump may also have benefitted from a good timing. The Wall Street Journal reported in April, about the same time that Kim Jong Un’s détente began, that the North Korean nuclear testing site was unusable. The underground testing site collapsed after the last nuclear test there in September 2017, a large explosion that is suspected to have been a hydrogen bomb. It was after this test that Kim announced a halt to nuclear tests. On May 24, the North Koreans destroyed the tunnels to the already-useless nuclear test site, possibly to prevent the release of radioactive material as well as for public relations purposes.

So far, Kim Jong Un has made three concessions. The first was to stop nuclear testing, which Kim said was now unnecessary because the North’s nuclear capability had been “verified.” At the same time, the North suspended long-range missile tests. North Korea would have probably had to suspend testing anyway until a new facility could be constructed. The third concession was the release of three Americans held prisoner in North Korea. It is worth noting that similar promises have been made to previous presidents.

In contrast, Kim Jong Un has already extracted several concessions from President Trump. The first is Trump’s agreement to bilateral talks. In the past, it has been American policy to conduct Six Party talks with all the regional powers rather than bowing to North Korean demands for direct talks. President Trump also agreed to the North Korean summit." without preconditions, something that past Republicans such as John McCain and Mitt Romney sharply criticized President Obama for considering.

President Trump also canceled a B-52 Stratofortress training mission over South Korea  in May after North Korea threatened to withdraw from the summit. Trump previously agreed to postpone another exercise last January in order to “de-conflict the Olympics.”

In the final analysis, Kim Jong Un is willing to meet with President Trump because it offers him prestige and the opportunity to wheedle more concessions out of the US. What Kim won’t do is put North Korean nuclear weapons on the table.

The North Korean regime has one overriding goal and that is survival. The Kim family has survived 70 years of antagonism with the US for two reasons. First, they have the protection of China and, second, the have nuclear weapons. The North Koreans will maintain their nuclear arsenal as a hedge against the possibility that China will sell them out.

The North Koreans have watched several dictators topple over the past 50 years. The Taliban fell in 2002. Saddam Hussein in 2003. Before that there was Manuel Noriega. Kim probably learned a compelling lesson from the case of Muammar Gaddafi, who voluntarily gave up his nuclear weapons program in 2003 and then was killed with his sons less than 10 years later at the hands of rebels backed by European armies. Kim presumably wants to avoid this fate and knows that his nuclear weapons are the biggest obstacle to regime change on the Korean Peninsula.

“What Kim is unclear about is that he has concerns about whether his country can surely trust the United States over its promise to end hostile relations (with North Korea) and provide a security guarantee if they do denuclearization,” South Korean President Moon told ABC News.

Kim has obviously watched President Trump’s numerous flip-flops over the past few years as well as the unfolding rejection of President Obama’s Iran deal. Going back further, President Obama did not honor the security agreement with Ukraine during Vladimir Putin’s invasion. The North Koreans certainly understand that a deal made with one US president may not be honored by the next. Given the national paranoia and the long history of hostility between the two countries, the chances are extremely remote that Kim Jong Un would agree to nuclear disarmament, which would put his regime at the mercy of presidential whims.  

It hasn’t helped that the Trump Administration has openly likened North Korea to Libya. Vice President Mike Pence said, “This will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn't make a deal,” a statement which Kim would obviously interpret as a threat.

Kim Jong Un is caught between a rock and a hard place. He cannot disarm and his threats no longer work. Without nuclear weapons, he cannot keep the world at bay and continue to prop up his regime. Without aid from other countries, his grasp on the country could also become weaker as he struggles to feed North Korea’s population.

With two untenable options, Kim’s plan is to change strategy and use flattery to extract promises of aid from President Trump. It may take years, but, after the summit is over, look for North Korea to restart its nuclear program and missile testing once the heat dies down.

Originally published on The Resurgent

CIA: North Korea More Likely To Open McDonald's Than Give Up Nukes

Since President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un opened the possibility of holding a summit, there has been much speculation as to whether the North Koreans would be willing to give up their nuclear weapons. A newly revealed CIA assessment reportedly shows that the agency considers it unlikely that the hermit kingdom will hand over its nukes, but did suggest the possibility of a surprising concession to President Trump.

The CIA assessment, reported by NBC News and sourced to three US officials, detailed the agency’s belief that North Korea would not voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons any time soon. The CIA did conclude that Kim is interested in a peaceful overture toward President Trump. The report concluded that the North Koreans might be willing to open a McDonald’s hamburger franchise in their capitol city of Pyongyang, citing Donald Trump’s affinity for the fast food chain.

In 2016, Trump said that he would welcome Kim Jong Un to the United States, but that he would not offer him a state dinner. “We should be eating a hamburger on a conference table, and we should make better deals with China and others and forget the state dinners,” Trump said at the time.

The intelligence report contradicted recent statements by President Trump. In an April 22 tweet, the president said that the North Koreans had “agreed to denuclearization.” The president’s tweet may have been based on another NBC News report detailing South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s claim that the North had agreed to “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula without conditions.

Since Moon’s statement in April, there has been no further news of North Korean concessions. The summit was canceled by President Trump, but now appears to be on again. CNN reported this morning that Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, is flying to New York to assist in preparations for the summit. Vice Chairman Kim is the highest ranking North Korean to visit the United States since 2000.

The Trump Administration has not commented on the CIA assessment, but an early morning tweet by President Trump seemed optimistic that that a meeting between the two leaders would go forward. There was no comment on the possibility of a McDonald’s in North Korea in lieu of denuclearization.

Although North Korea is frequently racked by famines and starvation, settling for Big Macs instead of denuclearization would seem to be a disappointment. In the opinion of this writer, if the North Koreans offer the expansion of a corporate franchise as a concession, President Trump should hold out for permission to build a Trump Hotel, Casino and Golf Course in Pyongyang.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Have Democrats Finally Found A Strategy For 2018 Midterms?

So far in the midterm election cycle there are indications that the Democrat blue wave may be foundering on a lack of policy prescriptions and an overreliance on Trump-hate. Generic ballots, which had shown a strong Democrat advantage, in early May showed a narrowing with one poll even showing Republicans up by five points. It seemed as though the combination of a rebounding economy and the lack of a coherent Democratic message may have spared the GOP. Now Democrats are coalescing around a few key messages that they believe will allow them to sweep away the Republican majority. Ironically, the Democratic talking points are stolen from Republican platforms of recent elections.

The biggest issue that Democrats hope to capitalize on is healthcare. Repeal of Obamacare has been a Republican goal since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, but after last year’s failure to pass a reform bill, the GOP has gone silent on the issue. Meanwhile health insurance premiums are increasing both for Obamacare policies and the market as a whole.

Democratic primary winners believe that the solution to the health insurance crisis is to expand Medicare to cover all Americans, a back-door plan to institute a single-payer health care system. Axios reports that Democratic candidates who support varying versions of Medicare-for-all are often winning primaries against candidates backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Although it is tempting for conservatives to assume that single-payer health care would be a nonstarter for most Americans, the idea polls pretty well. A March 2018 poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation found 59 percent of Americans like the idea of Medicare-for-all. When the national health plan was made a voluntary option, the share of those in favor increased to 75 percent, including 64 percent of Republicans.

Perhaps ominously for Republicans running against the idea, 74 percent of independents favored the idea of an optional national health insurance plan. The big question is how voters in swing House and Senate districts will view the idea.

“People are increasingly happy with the Affordable Care Act, but they are increasingly unhappy with the health-care system writ large,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “I think there is a greater willingness to accept a bigger role for public programs in repairing the health-care system.”

Following the lead of Bernie Sanders, most of the potential Democrat candidates in 2020 have also endorsed some form of Medicare-for-all. A pro-single-payer Democrat running against incumbent Donald Trump, who endorsed universal health care in the 2016 Republican primary, could make for an interesting, if uninspiring, race.  

A second plan of attack for Democrats is to blame high gas prices on the Trump Administration. The high price of gasoline is caused by crude oil prices recovering after a four-year slump. Rising oil prices are caused by several factors, some of which can be blamed on the Trump Administration and some of which cannot. President Trump is not at fault for OPEC production cuts, declining oil production from Venezuela or increased demand for the summer travel season, but his policies do affect tensions in the Middle East and with China.

Donald Trump linked gas prices to presidential policy in 2012 when he tweeted, “Gas prices are at crazy levels--fire Obama!” At the time, voters rejected his advice.

Regardless of whether he is responsible, the president gets the credit for good news and the blame for the bad. High gas prices can quickly eat up the savings from last year’s tax cut for lower-income Americans as well as slow economic growth.

In early May, Patrick DeHaan of Gas Buddy told the New York Post that prices were already affected, even before Trump announced the decision to withdraw from the Obama Iran deal. “The market has already baked in that Trump is going to opt out of the Iran deal. Oil is several dollars per barrel higher because of it, DeHaan said.

“It's well known that geopolitical instability drives oil prices, and gas prices, around the world higher and higher,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “The Trump administration's chaotic approach to foreign policy not only served instability around the world, it certainly serves to drive up oil prices higher and higher.”

Neither line of attack is a sure thing for Democrats, but healthcare and gas prices finally give Democrats something other than Donald Trump to talk about. These two pocketbook issues have the potential to win independent voters over the Democratic side unless Republicans can offer a persuasive case against their ideas.

Originally published on The Resurgent

The Federal Government Lost 1,500 Immigrant Children

Sometimes the truth is stranger and more appalling than satirists could possibly imagine. That was the case recently when the news emerged that the federal government had misplaced 1,500 immigrant children.

For the past year, the Trump Administration has implemented a policy of separating children from immigrants who were being held in immigration detention centers. As John Stonestreet noted in Breakpoint, it was not only illegal immigrant families that were being torn apart, but also families who had come to the United States legally to seek asylum.

Earlier this month, CNN reported on the Senate testimony of Steven Wagner, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services. Mr. Wagner revealed that in the last three months of 2017 the government had lost track of an astounding 20 percent of undocumented minors in its custody. In all, Mr. Wagner testified that the Office of Refugee Resettlement “was unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts of 1,475 children.” Another 28 children were known to have run away.

Mr. Wagner was not overly concerned with the 1,500 missing children. “I understand that it has been HHS's long-standing interpretation of the law that ORR is not legally responsible for children after they are released from ORR care,” he told senators.

Stonestreet noted that Obama Administration policy was to detain families of asylum seekers while their applications were being reviewed. The Trump Administration initiated the policy of separating families to discourage immigrants from coming to the US.

Earlier in May, the Trump Administration announced the new policy of referring every person caught crossing the border illegally for federal prosecution. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at the time, “If you're smuggling a child, we're going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don't want your child to be separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally.”

On May 11, Chief of Staff John Kelly told ABC News, “The children will be taken care of -- put into foster care or whatever.”

The policy is apparently being used against legal immigrants seeking asylum as well. In Breakpoint, Stonestreet cited the case of “Mrs. L.,” a Catholic refugee who was detained in San Diego and separated from her daughter without due process. The daughter was sent to a facility in Chicago where their only contact has been a half-dozen phone calls.

When the policy of family separations became news this week, President Trump responded by blaming Democrats. The president tweeted that Democrats needed to be pressured “to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.” The problem is that the separations are Trump Administration policy, not a legal requirement.

While needlessly separating young children from their parents is bad enough, losing 20 percent of the children in federal care is appalling. If the Trump Administration hopes to persuade Americans that the federal government is not competent at even the smallest task, losing more than a thousand children in its care is an excellent way to start.

The hardline policy may backfire on the Trump Administration politically. Americans have consistently been more accepting of immigrants than Republicans have been. Last year, Fox News found that 83 percent of registered voters supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens. Ripping small children from the arms of their parents is unlikely to boost support for strict immigration enforcement.

The policy is likely to make the Republican brand look even worse. An AP poll from March found that most Americans already think President Trump is racist. A policy separating immigrant parents from their children is unlikely to convince people otherwise.

Trump’s policy is also inconsistent with the image of a party that claims to be pro-family and Christian. Republicans have scored recent victories against abortion and Planned Parenthood, but the poorly-implemented child separation policy lends credence to liberal claims that the party only cares about children until they are born.

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” But Christ also gave a warning, saying, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,” Jesus said. “For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

Ripping families apart to make a political point is hard to square with Christian and conservative ideals. It is even more difficult to justify taking so little care that 1,500 little children – 20 percent of the total – could be placed into federal care and simply disappear.  

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, May 25, 2018

McConnell Not Convinced By Spygate Claims

The Department of Justice’s classified briefing on Capitol Hill has not convinced attendees to withdraw support for Robert Mueller’s Russia probe despite White House claims that the FBI improperly spied on the Trump campaign in 2016. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that he still backs Mueller’s special counsel investigation after the briefing on FBI use of an informant who had contacted three Trump staffers, but he also believes the inspector general investigation into FBI handling of the matter is also needed.

“The two investigations going on that I think will give us the answers to the questions that you raise — the [inspector general] investigation in the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation,” McConnell told NPR. “I support both of them, and I don't really have anything to add to this subject based upon the Gang of Eight briefing that we had today, which was classified.”

McConnell added on Fox News that there was “nothing particularly surprising” in the briefing in spite of President Trump’s claims that the revelations of an FBI source inside his campaign represented a major Obama scandal.

The briefing was delivered to a “Gang of Eight” Democrats and Republicans made up of congressional leaders and leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Originally planned for Republican leadership only, the White House expanded the briefing to include Democrats after pushback from both parties. Trump lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Chief of Staff John Kelly were also present at the briefing.

The debate centers over whether the Obama Administration improperly used the FBI to spy on the Trump campaign in 2016. President Trump has adopted the phrase “Spygate” and claimed that the investigation is a political scandal for the preceding administration.

Trump critics argue that the surveillance of Trump staffers was limited to those with links to Russia such as Paul Manafort, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos and did not benefit the Clinton campaign. In contrast to Trump claims that the entire investigation was based on the Steele dossier, the probe apparently began when Australian Ambassador Joe Hockey tipped the FBI that Papadopoulos had claimed in May 2016 that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton from hacked DNC emails.  The Washington Post broke the story last week that an informant inside the Trump campaign had corroborated Hockey’s claim.

There are holes in the president’s argument. Trump has not explained why, if the FBI’s intention was to help Hillary win, the Steele dossier was not leaked until after the election. The president has also failed to account for FBI Director James Comey’s Oct. 28 memo to Congress reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information. The Comey memo is widely believed to have tipped the election to Donald Trump.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the only other attendee to comment on the briefing, was less circumspect than McConnell. Schiff told CNN in a brief statement on behalf of the Democratic leadership, “Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support the allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Ted Cruz Says Media Ignores Santa Fe Aftermath Due To Bias

Have you heard much about the Santa Fe school shooting lately? The furor over the May 18 attack seems to have abated quickly and Texas Senator Ted Cruz says it is because the victims and their families don’t support the media’s gun control agenda.

In an interview with the Daily Signal, Cruz called the murders “horrific” and said, “There have been too dang many of these.”

“Something’s wrong,” Cruz continued. “When we were kids, this wasn’t a part of going to school. You might worry about getting a black eye at school or something, but you didn’t worry about someone, some lunatic coming in and shooting and murdering as many people as they could. That was not part of school.”

When asked what strategies could be followed to stop school shootings, Cruz said that he and Texas Gov. Abbott asked the victims and their families for opinions. “It was really striking,” Cruz said. “Out of a dozen students who just hours earlier had been in this shooting, every one of them said the answer is not gun control. They said, don’t take our guns. They said if you take our guns, it won’t make us safer, it will just mean the killers and murderers have guns.”

Cruz added that many of the students supported metal detectors and armed police guards in schools, two ideas that have been attacked by Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg. The Santa Fe shooting survivors also supported another idea lambasted by Hogg, arming teachers.

The senator told of a student who “said his teacher was a former Marine, who was trained to handle a firearm.” According to Cruz, the student “said he wished his teacher had been armed; he might have been able to stop the killer before he killed so many people.”

Cruz drew a contrast between the Parkland survivors and the Santa Fe students, saying, “It’s fairly striking that, you look at the mainstream media, CNN, after the Parkland shooting, it was round-the-clock coverage of the students calling for aggressive gun control because that happens to be the political agenda of most of the media. In this case, where the students aren’t calling for that, suddenly … the media isn’t interested in covering it.”

Media bias almost certainly plays a role in the lack of continuing coverage of the Santa Fe teens. After Parkland, media outlets made rock stars of Parkland survivors such as David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez while all but ignoring pro-Second Amendment survivor Kyle Kashuv.

Nevertheless, there may be additional reasons that the story was downplayed as well. The Santa Fe shooting had fewer victims than the Parkland shooting as well as the fact that the Parkland shooting had the shock value of being the first in a series. The news was also overshadowed by President Trump’s claims that the FBI spied on his campaign as well as events in Korea.

Cruz is absolutely correct that the Texans from Santa Fe reacted differently from the Parkland victims, however. The Texas Tribune detailed a meeting between Santa Fe students and teachers with Gov. Abbott. Most agreed that more school counselors, armed teachers and school police officers were needed. There was also support for random checks of student bags.

The idea of metal detectors seemed to draw more resistance than arming teachers. Sophomore Tyler Morrison questioned whether the policy would be “treating kids like prisoners” while senior Grace Johnson asked, “Do we push back our education because we need to get 1,500 kids through a metal detector?”

What was absent from the list was support for gun control. In fact, a full-page ad placed by gun control group Everytown in the Houston Chronicle last week was signed by 40 students from around Texas. Although a number of the signatories were from the Houston area, there were apparently none from Santa Fe.

The Texan response can perhaps be summed up best by Jay Horn, the parent of a student hospitalized as a result of the shooting. “This is not a gun thing,” said Horn. “Evil's going to happen with anything.” The comment got a round of applause. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump is the Anti-Obama

Ever since Donald Trump threw his hat in the ring for president in 2015 there has been debate over whether Trump is a conservative. Spoiler alert: He’s not. While not a conservative, we now know that, at least in the short term, Mr. Trump is anti-Obama.

But, David, you may argue, if Obama is a liberal and Trump is anti-Obama, doesn’t that make Trump a conservative? The answer is that while there is a lot of overlap between being anti-Obama and being conservative, the two are not the same.

On policy, being the anti-Obama is obviously pleasing to conservatives. Even conservatives who are not personal fans of Trump will admit that they like many of his policy moves. Like George Costanza on “Seinfeld,” if every instinct that Obama had was liberal and wrong, all Trump would have to do to succeed is do the opposite. We have seen the Trump Administration roll back Obama-era policies on taxes, Iran, climate change, healthcare, and abortion to name a few.

One problem with an anti-Obama ideology is that even though Obama was wrong 99 percent of the time, he did the right thing on occasion. Even a stopped clock is right twice each day.

The most serious error that Trump made in unmaking the Obama legacy was one of his first acts as president: Withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership. Conservatives have traditionally embraced free trade, but Trump has gone to great lengths to grow the government’s ability to pick winners and losers in international trade. That withdrawing from the TPP was a mistake is evident by the fact that the Administration is now considering rejoining the trade deal.

A second example is the Trump Administration’s restrictions on legal immigration. A Trump-era shortage of H-2B visas for migrant workers has led to labor shortages in many industries across the country from seafood processors in Maine and Alaska to crop pickers in Texas and California. The shortage has even affected hotels and resorts such as Mar-a-Lago.

In many cases, it has been easy to erase Barack Obama’s legacy because the former president, when faced with a Congress that was not dominated by Democrats, chose to go his own way with executive actions rather than forging bipartisan coalitions to enact more permanent legislation. Where Obama was able to pass laws, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation, reversing his legacy has been piecemeal.

There are two obvious areas in which President Trump has not departed from President Obama’s legacy. One is in ending Obama’s executive amnesty program, DACA, and the other is Syria.

Last year, President Trump announced plans to end DACA, but called on Congress to pass a law that would extend the program. Earlier this year, Trump offered Democrats a deal on DACA in exchange for funding for his border wall. After Democrats rebuffed the deal, a court order prevented Trump from ending the program, but, given Trump’s ambivalence on ending DACA in the campaign, one must wonder whether he would really give the program the axe if he could.

In Syria, President Trump has largely continued Barack Obama’s policy of airstrikes against ISIS and providing Special Forces advisors to friendly factions. With the exception of two limited strikes on Syrian regime airbases in the wake of chemical weapons attacks, Trump’s Syria policy is very similar to Obama’s. This also applies to his lack of commitment to the region. In recent months, the president has hinted that the US is considering a withdrawal from the region that would be much like Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq.

On matters apart from policy, President Trump is not conservative in any sense of the word. The president is brash and impulsive, seemingly making decisions on the fly. Trump’s private life is more like that of Bill Clinton, Gary Hart and John Edwards than Ronald Reagan or George Bush. Mr. Trump’s relationship with truth and reality seems Orwellian.

The big question is, “Does it matter?”

To a point, the answer is no. Rolling back the Obama legacy is, for the most part, a good thing. The past eight years were filled with bad decisions that stifled American economic growth and allowed dangerous enemies to flourish. Obama’s errors desperately needed to be corrected.  

Ultimately, America needs more than an anti-Obama. The country needs someone who can unite it around a positive vision. We need someone who can build legislative coalitions to pass reforms in Congress rather by executive decree. Even though many of President Trump’s policies have been good, most, like those of Obama, are grounded only in Executive Orders and bureaucratic regulations that can be easily reversed by the next president.

In another similarity to Obama, President Trump’s lack of grounding in free market principles contributes to an uncertain business climate. Businesses never knew what new regulations would be coming down the pike from the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration is much the same. Tariffs are suddenly announced and dropped just as abruptly, only to have a new possible tariff floated the next day. Long-term planning is impossible in such an environment and could erode the traditional support of business groups for Republicans.

There is also the question of what course the nonideological Trump will take when the low-hanging fruit of easy reversals of Obama-era policies have all been plucked. Whether Republicans keep control of Congress or not, there is a limit to what can be accomplished with executive actions and bureaucratic rulemaking. Trump may well tack left to make deals with Democrats if Republicans lose their majority.

Perhaps worse, Trump’s antics are driving young voters away from the GOP. Despite increased economic opportunity, a recent Harvard poll found an impressive 41-point gap in favor of Democrats for young voters. Likewise, the Associated Press found that young Americans disapprove of President Trump by more than two-to-one. Similar polling of young voters in 2004 showed George W. Bush only 10 points behind John Kerry. Donald Trump is good at signing Executive Orders, but he is not good at articulating to the next generation why they should embrace a conservative, pro-freedom ideology.

Donald Trump has done better than expected at reversing eight years of Obamanism, but the president lacks the conservative foundation and legislative experience to complete the reform. Further, Trump’s personal behavior turns off voters to the Republican brand. In the short-term, an anti-Obama president is a good thing, but President Trump has so far been unable to implement lasting legislative reforms and that seems unlikely to change.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Student Anti-gun Ad in Texas Offers No New Solutions

Texas has the reputation of a gun-friendly red state, but even the population of the Lone Star State is not politically homogenous. That became apparent this week when 40 Texas high school students signed a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking the question, “We are dying on your watch. What will you do about it?”

The open letter to the governor appeared in the form of a full-page ad in the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday. The ad follows on the heels of the recent school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas that left eight students and two teachers dead. The letter includes classic examples of myths, misdirection and illogical thinking with regard to guns.

The letter begins with the obligatory attack on the NRA. “Our job is to be good students. Your job is to keep us safe. You have failed at your job,” the students say. “Like so many politicians cozy with the NRA, you have steadfastly opposed any reasonable measures that might protect us from gun violence.”

“Instead,” the letter continues, “you’ve signed dangerous policies to force public colleges in Texas to allow guns on campus and make it legal to openly carry firearms in public. You’ve continued to push the notion that guns everywhere for everyone make us safer. By that logic, shouldn’t we be among the safest states in the nation?”

The fallacy here is that guns are not allowed in Texas public schools any more than they are allowed in public schools anywhere else in the country. The murderer was not deterred by the fact that it was illegal to carry his guns into the school.

In spite of two recent mass shootings, Texas has a relatively low gun crime rate overall. The Lone Star State was 28th out of the 50 states in a USA Today ranking of gun violence. The state ranks 18th in violent crime per Statistia.

The letter then attacks the religious beliefs of gun-carrying Texans: “A few months later, you said that gun violence was happening because of ‘hearts without God.’ Do you think that the children who were shot in class this week died because they hadn’t prayed enough? What about the 26 who were killed while they were worshiping in Sutherland Springs? Do you think they are to blame, rather than yourself and other politicians who refuse to allow even a meaningful discourse on reasonable gun violence prevention policies?”

The logical fallacy here is that it is not the victims whose hearts were the problem. The fundamental problem is that there are rogue killers with evil in their hearts who prey on innocent and defenseless people like the students of Santa Fe and the worshippers of Sutherland Springs. The Bible addresses the fact that the human heart is inherently wicked. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Being godly does not necessarily protect people from evil predators. Cain’s murder of Abel in Genesis was only history’s first example of a predatory murder. The Bible does teach us that only God’s love can tame the evil tendencies of the human heart.

The fundamental question of the gun debate is how to address the problem of people who are so riddled with evil that they decide to become predators and kill their fellow classmates. The students’ offer a typical solution, saying, “We were happy to hear you mention background checks and responsible gun storage when you spoke on Friday. But here’s the thing: Words only matter if they’re followed by action. And you have no track record of fighting for anyone other than the NRA. The majority of gun owners support laws that disarm domestic abusers or require a criminal background check on all gun sales. Do you?”

In the case of the Santa Fe murders, the Remington shotgun and .38 pistol were legally owned by the killer’s father. The father has not discussed how his son obtained the weapons. It is possible that more stringent laws on securing guns would have prevented the shooting, but background checks would have had no effect in this case. Even the argument that gun storage laws would have made a difference is suspect. Most 17-year-olds are savvy enough to find hidden guns and keys when their parents aren’t looking. Keeping guns locked away also makes it more difficult for them to be used for home defense, a primary reason that many people own guns in the first place.

Likewise, the reference to “disarm[ing] domestic abusers” and “requir[ing] a criminal background check for all gun sales” are red herrings. The Giffords Law Center notes that Texas already prohibits the purchase or possession of firearms for five years after release for a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction.

The “all gun sales” is an attempt to require universal background checks for private gun sales, but this seems to be a solution in search of a problem. No mass shootings have been committed with guns that were obtained through private transactions and few other crimes seem to fall under this category. Politifact agrees that most gun crimes are committed by people who possess the gun illegally, rather than a legal purchase.

Next, the students again attack the NRA and lax gun laws, saying, “Why is our safety less important than the check you get from the NRA? We know that common sense gun laws make us safer. Since January 2009, Texas has experienced at least 20 mass shootings—more than any other state in the country. Do you think that a culture of guns everywhere and our lax gun laws might have something to do with that?”

The claim that Texas has more mass shootings that any state in the country could be directly related to the fact that Texas is the largest state in the continental US and ranks second in population. The claim, which is unsourced, is apparently not even true. Statistia data from 1982 through 2018 credits Texas with only eight mass shootings. Texas ranks third on this list behind the gun-control mecca of California (16 mass shootings) and Florida (10).

The final three paragraphs of the letter are an emotional appeal to “let this be your ‘come to Jesus’ moment.” The students say, “We appreciate your thoughts and prayers, but without policy change, this crisis will not end.”

The question is how to end the crisis. There seems to be no one-size-fits-all solution to spree killings. There is no evidence that the measures that the students advocate would have prevented this or any other recent mass shooting.

As recent truck and knife murders in Europe show, removing guns from the equation does not change the human heart. A better solution seems to be to re-introduce training in morality and ethics into schools. The core problem is that we are failing at teach our children to have respect for human life. That is what must change.

Originally published on The Resurgent

DOJ To Investigate the Investigators

Amid allegations of misbehavior by the FBI in the investigation of several members of Donald Trump’s campaign staff in 2016, the Department of Justice has asked the Inspector General to investigate the investigators. The new probe will look into whether FBI agents responding to reports that Trump staffers were attempting to work with Russian agents in 2016 acted inappropriately themselves.

“The Department has asked the Inspector General to expand the ongoing review of the FISA application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election,” a DOJ spokesman said in a statement.

The announcement of the FBI probe comes a day after President Trump demanded in a tweet that the DOJ “look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes [sic].” The president also charged the DOJ with investigating whether members of the Obama Administration made “any such demands or requests.”

The president’s demand follows on news over the weekend that a retired American college professor with deep ties to US and British intelligence was an FBI informant that corroborated other reports about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. The Washington Post reported over the weekend that it had identified the informant, but was not publishing his name. President Trump accused the FBI of planting an “FBI representative” in his campaign for “political purposes,” but the Post notes that there is no evidence that the informant was planted by the FBI.

The informant was subsequently identified by the New York Post as Stefan Halper, a retired Cambridge professor who previously worked for the Nixon, Ford and Reagan Administrations. Halper reportedly met with Carter Page in July 2016. Page had previously been the subject of a FISA surveillance warrant as early as 2014.  In August, Halper met with Trump campaign co-chair Sam Clovis and contacted George Papadopoulos by email.

Supporters of the president charge that the FBI investigation of members of the Trump campaign was politically motivated, but there are several problems with this theory. The first is that Page and Manafort first attracted the attention of counterintelligence agencies long before they joined Team Trump. Second, even though the investigation into the Trump dossier and other Russian contacts by the Trump camp was underway well before the election, the allegations of a Trump-Russia conspiracy were not made public prior to the election, when they would have done the most harm to the Trump campaign. Instead, the Comey memo to Congress on October 28 alleged possible wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton and arguably cost her the election. These facts do not fit the narrative of an attempt by the FBI to sink the Trump campaign.

The Trump Administration’s criticism of the FBI hinges on the assumption that the investigation was political rather than a legitimate counterintelligence probe. So far, there seems to be no evidence to support that claim. If the FBI judged that the reports of an attempt to conspire with the Russians were credible, they would not have been doing their job if they had not launched an investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation, told NBC News, “If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.”

The accusations that the FBI broke the law in investigating members of the Trump campaign are serious and need to be treated as such. President Trump has used the FBI and DOJ as a foil for his frustrations with the ongoing Mueller investigation and accusations that his administration conspired with Putin to throw the election. The president’s claims need to be investigated to avoid undermining public faith in the agency and the government at large.

Given Mr. Trump’s track record of dubious claims, however, he is unlikely to be satisfied with the results. The core problem is that Donald Trump hired campaign staffers who were compromised by the Russians. The president’s own son met with a Russian lawyer because he thought she had information that would damage the Clinton campaign. It is difficult to look at the allegations about Trump’s staffers and say that the FBI should have done nothing.

Originally Posted on The Resurgent

Monday, May 21, 2018

Mueller Investigation To End By Sept. 1

For months President Trump and his supporters have questioned how long Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation would last. As the probe reached its one-year mark, Mr. Mueller has reportedly hinted that there is an end in sight. The New York Times reports that Mueller plans to wrap up his investigation of the Trump team by September.

Rudy Giuliani, who is now the president’s lawyer, said that Mueller informed him two weeks ago that the current timeline shows that the probe of the president’s campaign should be wrapped up by Sept. 1, provided that Mr. Trump agrees to be interviewed. Giuliani added that if the investigation continues beyond that point, Mueller would risk being accused of interfering with the 2018 elections.

The Mueller investigation would not necessarily end completely by September when the investigation into Team Trump concludes. Mueller’s appointment by the Department of Justice instructed him to conduct a “full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.” The investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign were complicit with the Russians is merely one aspect of the larger investigation.

Despite accusations that Mueller is dragging out his investigation, the Russia probe is proceeding quickly. If the investigation into the Trump Administration concludes in September, that would mark approximately one year and three months. Other special counsel investigations have taken much longer. The Reagan-era Iran-Contra investigation lasted more than six years as did the Whitewater investigation of Bill Clinton. The Valerie Plame investigation in the second Bush Administration took three years. The longest special counsel investigation, which resulted in the indictment of HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros for perjury in 1997, lasted nine years.

A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment on Giuliani’s remarks. So far the Mueller investigation has indicted 19 people on a variety of charges and secured five guilty pleas. Thus far no evidence has been made public that shows that members of the Trump Administration successfully conspired with the Russians to affect the outcome of the election.

Originally published on The Resurgent

A Democrat Senate Majority Just Got More Likely

The once-safe Republican Senate majority is starting to look vulnerable. A Democrat takeover of the Senate would almost certainly have to go through the Tennessee seat of the retiring Bob Corker. Although Tennessee is normally a red state, the race for Corker’s seat is shaping up to be a fight.

The Tennessee race is competitive at this early stage largely because the Democrats nominated Phil Bredesen, a popular former governor with widespread name recognition as their candidate. Bredesen is among the Southern Democrats who have not fully embraced the party’s leftward lurches, which helps make him palatable in the conservative South.

It also doesn’t hurt that Bredesen is a multimillionaire who, if elected, would be one of the wealthiest members of Congress. Both candidates have raised about $2 million so far, but Bredesen also has his significant personal wealth to draw on.

Republicans nominated Marsha Blackburn, currently the congressional representative for the state’s seventh district, which encompasses the suburbs of Nashville to the rural areas east of Memphis. Blackburn has served in the House since 2003 and is a frequent guest on Fox News.

Perhaps unexpectedly, current polling shows Bredesen in the lead. Every poll since March has put Bredesen out front with margins from eight to 20 percent. Ms. Blackburn led in only one poll that was taken last January.

Blackburn, who voted with Trump 90 percent of the time, has positioned herself as the pro-Trump candidate and President Trump has returned the favor. The president tweeted support for the “wonderful woman” in April and plans to headline a $44,000-per-couple fundraiser for her on May 29.

Sen. Corker, who has been no stranger to confrontation with President Trump, doesn’t seem to be doing much to help. Corker has praised Bredesen, a longtime friend and political ally, saying he was “a very good mayor, a very good governor, a very good business person.” Corker said he plans to vote for Blackburn, but won’t campaign against Bredesen.

“I think he’s got real appeal — I don’t think it, I know it,” Corker told the Christian Science Monitor. “The question is, in a state like ours that is still a red state, is it enough? I don’t know the answer to that.”

The Tennessee seat is almost a must-win for Democrats if they hope to take control of the Senate. Democrats need a net gain of two seats to win a majority. This is a taller order than it seems since Democrats are defending 26 seats while only nine Republican seats are being contested.

Nevertheless, two Republican seats in addition to Tennessee are considered toss ups by the Cook Political Report. Dean Heller’s seat in Nevada and Jeff Flake’s seat in Arizona, both critics of President Trump, are too close to call. Recent polling shows Heller in a dead heat  at 40 percent with Democrat Jacky Rosen while Democrat Kyrsten Sinema leads all potential Republican candidates ahead of the Arizona primary. Both races seem to be likely possibilities for another Democrat pickup.

Cook has also moved another three Republican seats into competitive territory. The seats of Cindy Hyde-Smith (who faces both Democrat Mike Espy and Republican Chris McDaniel in a three-way special election) in Mississippi, Deb Fischer in Nebraska and Ted Cruz in Texas have all been downgraded to “likely” Republican from “safe” Republican.

For their part, the Democrats also have several vulnerable seats. Six Democrat seats (Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and West Virginia) are rated as toss ups. Another two (Minnesota and Ohio) are considered to lean Democrat.

If, as Democrats hope, the race hinges on Mr. Trump, Republicans could be in for a long night. Of the nine toss up states, Trump’s net approval is at or below zero in all but Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia. A key question is whether voters will separate Mr. Trump’s personality from his increasingly popular policies.

It is more likely that these close races will hinge on local factors and the quality of the individual candidates. In some cases, primary battles have yet to be waged to determine the nominee. In many cases, polling is sparse and unreliable for the state-level elections.

Like many of the individual races, control of the Senate is a tossup at this early date, but Republican chances in some individual races appear to be slipping. Democrat control of the Senate is still a long shot given the dynamics of the election, but the party has made gains over the past month. If the expected blue wave emerges, it could conceivably cause the Senate to change hands as well as the House.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, May 14, 2018

Ted Cruz Says US Taxpayers Funding Authoritarian Nicaraguan Regime

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) says that American taxpayer funds are being used to help prop up the Nicaraguan regime of Daniel Ortega. Thousands of Nicaraguans have taken to the streets over the past month to protest the authoritarian government of Ortega, who many believe is attempting to set up a family dictatorship.

Describing the current situation, Cruz said last week in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, “At the end of the last month, half a million Nicaraguans took to the street to protest the corrupt Ortega regime – many of them students. These protests were sparked due to proposed changes to their national social security program. The Sandinistas predictably deployed their national police force, and the violence escalated. Dozens were murdered. Hundreds were injured, detained, or missing.”

He continued, “The press that tried to cover these crimes has been censored, and reporters have been harassed by agents of the government. Five TV stations have been taken off the air and a Facebook live video has been circulated, purporting to show a journalist being murdered while covering the violence. The police confiscated water, food, and medical supplies from volunteers helping the protesters.”

Cruz says that the Ortega government receives money from organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank. The US is the largest contributor to these institutions. Cruz has sponsored the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act to tie investment in the country to democratic reforms.

“This bipartisan legislation directs U.S. officials to oppose international loans to the government of Nicaragua until the Ortega regime is held accountable for its oppressive, anti-democratic actions and the secretary of state certifies that Nicaragua is taking effective steps to hold free and fair elections,” Cruz said.

“What NICA does,” Cruz said, “is prioritize loans for the promotion of democracy and basic human needs. In order to gain U.S. approval, they would need to show marked improvement on human rights, hold free and fair elections, strengthen the rule of law, and protect the right of political opposition parties, journalists, and human rights defenders.”

For those familiar with the Nicaraguan civil war of the 1980s, the name “Daniel Ortega” might seem familiar. Ortega was the communist Sandinista dictator from 1979 to 1990. When the Sandinistas held free elections in 1990, Ortega lost. He staged a political comeback and was re-elected to the presidency in 2006. Since Ortega regained power, the government has abolished presidential term limits and changed election rules to make it more difficult for candidates to oppose the ruling Sandinistas.

The senator compared the country to Venezuela, saying, “This is a desperate dictator in the style of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez or Nicolás Maduro, grasping for control. He faces the largest uprising since the civil war ended, almost 30 years ago. And as money from Venezuela dries up, the Nicaraguan people are under a morally and financially bankrupt regime.”

“Venezuela’s influence is crumbling along with its economy,” Cruz added. “The reason Venezuela is hurting so much… is the inevitable effect of socialism and communism. But nonetheless the bonds between these radical regimes remain strong.”

Cruz also noted that Central America has a long history of authoritarian strongmen. “This legacy has echoed throughout the Caribbean, throughout Central America, throughout South America, and across the Atlantic to Angola. Socialist strongmen still struggle to hold on to power,” he said. “By the way, if socialism is such a utopia why do you always need a brute squad to oppress the people into accepting it?”

Cruz also saluted the Nicaraguans who are risking their lives by opposing the Ortega regime, telling them, “There will be an expiration date for the Ortega regime. The American people stand with you in your fight for freedom and for the rule of law.”

Originally posted on The Resurgent