Thursday, June 14, 2018

IG Report Says Comey Was Wrong, But Not Politically Biased

The report by the Department of Justice's inspector general is out and Republicans are not going to be happy with the findings. The report faults former FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the Clinton email investigation, but did not attribute his actions to political bias.
Per Bloomberg, the report, which will be made public later today, says that Comey did not follow FBI protocol when he held a press conference to announce the FBI findings in July 2016 and then reopened the investigation with a memo to Congress in October. Comey was also criticized for not keeping DOJ superiors, including then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, informed about the investigation.
"While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in the report’s conclusions.
The Washington Post reports that the report will also contain previously unseen text messages between FBI Agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Page wrote to Strzok.
“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok responded.
The inspector general condemned the texts, but said that there was no evidence that they affected the FBI's work.
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed,” Horowitz said in the report . “The conduct by these employees cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation.”

The full report will be released to the public on Thursday afternoon.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Russian Lawmaker Warns Against World Cup Sex

As soccer fans head to Russia for this year’s World Cup, a member of parliament is warning Russians against engaging in that other recreational activity that is popular when throngs of strangers congregate in a city far from home for an exciting and (dare we say?) intoxicating event. To be precise, Russian women were warned against engaging in casual sex with foreigners. While Russian women should welcome World Cup visitors with open arms, a Russian legislator says that they shouldn’t be as welcoming with other parts of their bodies.

Tamara Pletnyova, head of the family, women and children's affairs committee in the Russian parliament, said that Russian women should not have “intimate relations” with World Cup visitors per a report in The Telegraph. Pletnyova said that she is concerned that children of foreigners would ultimately be taken abroad.

“Even if they get married, they'll take them away, then she doesn't know how to get back,” Ms Pletnyova said on Moscow radio. “Then they come to me in the committee, girls crying that their baby was taken away, was taken, and so on.”

“I'd like people in our country to marry for love, no matter what nationality as long as they are Russian citizens who will build a family, live peacefully, have children and raise them,” Pletnyova continued.

The MP also warned against biracial sex, saying, “It's good if it's one race, but if it's another race, then they really did. We should have our own babies.”

Making babies is not something that Russians are doing well these days. In 2017, Russia’s birth rate dropped by a staggering 10.7 percent over one year. The Russian birth rate is below replacement level. The country’s population peaked in 1992, the year the Soviet Union broke up, and has been declining ever since per Radio Free Europe. The problem is exacerbated by Russia’s long history of legal abortion and the fact that terminating a pregnancy is five times as common as in the United States. The crisis spurred President Putin to create a government initiative to increase births earlier this year.

Despite the low birth rate, ethnic Russian nationalism means that biracial children are welcome. After the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and international festivals that hosted large contingents from Africa, the Middle East and South America, biracial children were often referred to as “children of the Olympics” or “festival children.” Less than one percent of Russia’s population is black and biracial people often face harsh discrimination.

Fraternization between the races or exhibitions of homosexuality could be dangerous in Russia. During the World Cup, cities will be patrolled by Cossacks, right-wing vigilantes sometimes put on the government payroll to help crack down on opposition protests, illegal immigrants and other undesirables. The Cossacks have been known to whip crowds and brawl with protesters.

Leaving aside the racial component to Pletynova’s comments, not engaging in casual sex and becoming a single parent is good advice. Raising children is difficult with two parents. Providing both adequate supervision and financial security is difficult or impossible for many single parents. Even in households that are not poor, as Slate acknowledges, children raised by single mothers are at increased risk for a variety of bad outcomes ranging from increased juvenile delinquency to a greater chance of teen pregnancy.

Given the vodka-infused Russian culture, it isn’t clear how many Russians will take Ms. Pletynova’s comments to heart. Decisions made in the moments of passion, especially when fueled by copious amounts of adult beverages, often lead to problems later. At least the World Cup baby boom may help increase Russia’s birth rate.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Salutes the Norks

If there was any doubt which side “won” the Trump-Kim summit this week, the North Koreans just scored a knockout punch against Donald Trump. North Korean state media just dropped a nonnuclear bomb on the Trump Administration with a behind-the-scenes photo of President Trump saluting a North Korean general in Singapore.

The photo, retweeted by CNN’s Jason Morrell, shows the American president with his right arm moving downward, obviously completing a salute to an unidentified North Korean general dressed in a Soviet-style uniform as Kim Jong Un looks on. The general’s right arm is also moving downward and is at a lower position than Trump’s, indicating the general broke the salute first. CNN also has a video of the moment.

The moment is reminiscent of President Obama’s 2009 bow to Saudi King Abdullah. Republicans, including then-private citizen Donald Trump, criticized Obama’s deference to a foreign leader and the White House denied that Obama had bowed at all.

It is difficult to justify an obvious salute to a soldier representing a hostile foreign power although Trump partisans are certain to find ways to do so. American presidents are not required to salute anyone. Even saluting American soldiers is optional, since the president is a civilian.

The Army Study Guide states that military members are required to salute when a foreign national anthem is played and when they meet the officer of a friendly foreign country. Under these guidelines, even President Trump’s Marine guards would not salute a North Korean general.

The disturbing photo of President Trump saluting an enemy soldier underscores how ignorant the president is about his job. Donald Trump simply does not understand the requirements of his position and, even after almost two years on the job, has not taken the time to learn.

To put it simply: American presidents should never bow to foreign leaders or salute enemy soldiers. Ever.

Just as alarming as the photo are President Trump’s own comments about Chairman Kim since their meeting. President Trump has heaped praise upon Kim and rationalized away the dictator’s brutal murders of political opponents and relatives, calling him a “tough guy” and saying “we understand each other.”

At the same time, the president has angered America’s traditional allies. Trump stormed out of the G-7 meeting in Canada after calling for Russia’s inclusion and objecting to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plans to implement retaliatory tariffs.

Fawning over dictatorial regimes while pushing away America’s traditional friends is not the way to Make America Great Again.

Originally published on The Resurgent

From commenter:
Theoretically, a U.S. President can salute whoever the hey he wants. That said, proper protocol is that it's forgivable though not recommended for Trump to salute ALLIED brass, never the soldiers of our adversaries. As for commissioned and non commissioned officers, saluting foreign military members--friend or foe--will get your butt kicked at least, never mind any official punishment.

The optics of Trump's salute is as appalling as the picture of his shaking Kim's hand in front of American flags standing cheek-by-jowl with those of N. Korea's murderous regime. Still waiting for Trump fans to defend this...

Pompeo: No Sanctions Relief Until Denuclearization Complete

A day after President Trump’s vaunted summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, North Korean state media was reporting that the United States had committed to security agreements and an end to sanctions as well ending joint military exercises with South Korea. The North Korean claims prompted a response Thursday morning from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

At a press conference in Singapore with his opposite numbers from Japan and South Korea, Secretary Pompeo said that sanctions would not be lifted until there was complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the North Korean regime. Pompeo acknowledged that there was no agreement on denuclearization yet and that talks could still break down.

Mr. Pompeo’s statements seem to contradict President Trump’s tweet from Wednesday which said, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” The secretary of state said that the president’s tweet was made with “all eyes open” to the fact that North Korea is still a nuclear power and that a full agreement for denuclearization has not been reached.

In the agreement signed by President Trump and Chairman Kim, North Korea “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The wording is not defined, but echoes the longtime North Korean condition that American nuclear weapons must also be withdrawn from the Korean theater. The North Koreans may also insist on the withdrawal of US ground forces, something that President Trump has already said may be a long-term goal of his administration.

When asked by a reporter what made the current talks different from previous North Korean promises of denuclearization, Pompeo said, “The sequence [of providing aid and sanctions relief too early] will be different this time.”

“Chairman Kim understands the urgency of the timing of completing this denuclearization,” Pompeo stated. “Sanctions relief cannot take place at such time until we can determine denuclearization is complete.”

At this point, denuclearization has not even started. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

What Will President Trump Put On The Table For An Agreement With Kim?

Fresh from angering allies during and after the G-7 meeting in Quebec, President Trump is heading to Singapore for a historic meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. In the wake of the Canadian meeting, Trump feuded with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, withdrew US agreement from a planned communique, and then abruptly proposed a tariff-free G-7. The question is which Trump will show up in Singapore, the hardnosed negotiator or the conciliatory dealmaker, and what the president is willing to put on the table for Kim.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters ahead of the Singapore summit that the US is committed to North Korean denuclearization and a verifiable agreement. “In light of how many flimsy agreements the United States has made in previous years, this president will ensure that no potential agreement will fail to ultimately address the North Korean threat,” Pompeo said, adding that the "ultimate" U.S. objective remains "the complete, and verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

For its part, “denuclearization” to the Koreans has historically meant the removal of US forces and American nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula. Kim Jong Un doubtlessly understands that the one thing that prevents his regime from being toppled is his nuclear arsenal. However, Pyongyang’s arsenal is also something that endangers the regime as well.

Kim is painfully aware of the fate of Moammar Gadhafi, who voluntarily gave up his nuclear program in 2003. Less than 10 years later, Gadhafi was dead at the hands of a coalition of Libyan rebels and NATO air forces. Just in case Kim missed the lesson, Vice President Mike Pence explicitly laid it out for him in May.

Kim is between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, he faces the military might of the United States that can destroy him. On the other, Kim faces the possibility of a weakened regime that could invite a popular uprising. Kim also must consider the possibility that a non-nuclear North Korea could invite an invasion by South Korea and the United States.

Kim’s best choice would seem to be to preserve the status quo. His regime can survive sanctions, even if his citizens suffer. The US won’t risk a nuclear war that could involve China by launching a preemptive strike on North Korea. If Kim can offer some vague promises and win aid from the outside world to feed his people, it would represent a win for his regime. Kim has already improved relations with China simply by negotiating.

If Donald Trump is determined to win a meaningful agreement with North Korea, he must be prepared to up the ante. The likely price for verifiable disarmament would be very high, but nevertheless it could be a price that Donald Trump, alone among US presidents would be willing to pay. The price for denuclearization could be bringing American soldiers home from South Korea.

The withdrawal of US troops from Korea would be a nonstarter for any other president. Not so for Donald Trump. President Trump is not only the only president willing to withdraw from South Korea, he may be actively looking for an excuse to do so. As a candidate interviewed by the New York Times, Trump considered the possibility of ending military alliances if they did not seem to be in the interests of the United States. NBC News reported that Trump considered removing troops from Korea prior to the Winter Olympics, but was persuaded otherwise by John Kelley. In March, Trump threatened a troop withdrawal for leverage on trade deals with South Korea. The New York Times also reported in May 2018 that President Trump had requested options for reducing US troop strength in South Korea.

Reducing the US international role, especially at its own expense, was a big part of President Trump’s campaign in 2016. The US has 35,000 troops in South Korea who have been there more than 50 years. There are an additional 40,000 American soldiers and sailors in Japan. South Korea currently pays just under $900 million, about half of the total cost of basing US troops in the country.

President Trump and his base might well view a deal in which North Korea gave up its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of US troops from South Korea as a win-win. The US would save almost a billion dollars in military costs and could claim that Kim would be defanged. Treaties in which the US agrees to protect South Korea could be honored by troops deployed to other US bases in the region such as those in Japan and Guam.

There are some problems with this strategy. US forces would have to be retained in the region so most basing costs would simply be shifted to other areas. Responding to a rapid ground invasion of South Korea would be problematic if the US had to transport in its own ground troops. The defense of South Korea would become even more dependent upon air support and the American nuclear umbrella.

Secretary of State Pompeo hinted that the US is willing to make concessions to get an agreement. “President Trump recognizes Chairman Kim's desire for security and is prepared to ensure a North Korea free of weapons of mass destruction is also a secure North Korea,” Pompeo said. He added that the US is “prepared to take actions that will provide [North Korea] sufficient certainty that they can be comfortable that denuclearization isn't something that ends badly for them.”

Given that President Trump has shown that agreements entered into by one president won’t necessarily be honored by the next, making North Korea “comfortable” is problematic. Kim is unlikely to be reassured by anything short of a US withdrawal.

President Trump and Kim Jong Un will be meeting privately with only their interpreters. If President Trump decides that he can trust Kim enough to promise a US troop withdrawal, there will be no opportunity for discussion with his staff. Politico reported that the US had not held national security planning meetings ahead of the summit.

“I think I’m very well prepared,” Trump said in response. “I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s about attitude, it’s about willingness to get things done.”

President Trump, who seems to be looking for ways to reduce US troop deployments abroad, is about to hold a closed-door meeting with the dictator of North Korea. President Trump has shown that he is willing to anger allies and walk away from existing agreements. The possibility of historic agreement is real. The big question is what President Trump is willing to give up.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Administration Won't Defend Obamacare In Court

The Trump Administration has announced that it will no longer defend the Affordable Care Act in court, claiming the Obamacare law is unconstitutional. The move mirrors a decision by the Obama Administration to end government legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2011.

The Supreme Court upheld most provisions of the ACA, but 20 states filed a new lawsuit against the Obama-era health insurance law earlier this year. The new suit alleges that when Congress removed penalties for violating the individual mandate last year it made the rest of the law unworkable. 

“I am at a loss for words to explain how big of a deal this is,” Nicholas Bagley, a University of Michigan law professor and former Justice Department attorney, told USA Today.

“The Justice Department has an obligation to defend the law and it has refused to do so because it dislikes this particular law,” Bagley said, adding that the Trump Administration’s “dislike for the Affordable Care Act outweighed its respect for the rule of law.”

Ironically (or hypocritically), Bagley defends the Obama Administration’s decision to stop legal defense of the DOMA because President Obama disliked that particular law. “Refusing to defend a law that countenanced overt discrimination against a disfavored group is different from refusing to defend one that regulates health insurance,” Bagley wrote in March, “But that’s the thing about precedent. It can be stretched.”

The Trump Administration move does not mean that Obamacare will lose the lawsuit by default. As with the DOMA, the courts have approved private attorneys to step in for the DOJ. Axios notes that a group of Democratic attorneys is being allowed to defend the ACA in court.

The DOJ does not join with the states in the full lawsuit, but is arguing that the ACA’s provisions regarding pre-existing conditions should be invalidated. In a letter to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.), Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Otherwise individuals could wait until they become sick to purchase insurance, thus driving up premiums for everyone else.”

The future of the Obamacare lawsuit is uncertain. The makeup of the Supreme Court has not changed materially since the previous decisions upheld the law. A different outcome would most likely require Chief Justice John Roberts to change his vote.

The Trump Administration policy may also affect the midterm elections. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found healthcare to be the top concern of registered voters. Voters have long favored protection for pre-existing conditions.

Having failed to reform or replace Obamacare, Republicans are now dependent upon the courts to kill the failed health insurance law. With Congress in a stalemate, both parties are increasingly looking to the courts to bypass the legislature and break stalemates. While this is not the role that the founders envisioned for the courts, if Democrats don’t like the Trump Administration’s decision, they have only Barack Obama to blame.

Originally published on the Resurgent

Friday, June 8, 2018

Democrats Propose Gun Registry Bill

We’ve noted before that both parties seem to be making calculated moves in an attempt to become less popular with voters in advance of the midterm elections. Now two Democrats, who were apparently worried that some gun owners might not vote Republican, have proposed a national gun registry.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) introduced the Blair Holt Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act in the House and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced a companion bill in the Senate. The Washington  Examiner reports that the bill would make it illegal to own an unlicensed gun and would require a firearms license and federal background checks for all sales and transfers of guns. The bill would also require the attorney general to create a federal system to record gun purchases.

The bill is one of several gun control proposals named for Chicago honor student, Blair Holt, who was murdered in 2008. Chicago has some of the toughest gun laws in the country as well as one of the highest crime rates.

Rush’s office claims that the gun registry would protect the public from “unreasonable risk of injury and death” from private gun sales. Second Amendment advocates would also point out that a gun registry would make gun confiscation easier in the event of a ban. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Cal.) proposed such a ban just last month.

Gun owners have nothing to fear from the Democratic proposals. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, most gun control bills are dead on arrival. An exception would be the bump stock ban being pushed by President Trump and many Democrats.

Even a large number of Democrats from conservative-leaning states would oppose strict new gun laws. It’s fitting that the new anti-gun proposals originate with members of Congress from California and Illinois, two of the states most out of touch with the rest of the country with respect to gun rights.

In spite of the recent school shootings, guns registered a distant third on a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll behind health care and jobs/economy. Only 13 percent of voters considered guns the most important issue. There was no breakdown between the pro- and anti-gun factions in the poll.

The largest impact of the Democrat bill will be to mobilize gun owners to resist the attempt to erode gun rights. Democratic proposals that confirm the worst fears of gun owners will drive Second Amendment voters to the polls where defending Donald Trump might not.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Trump And Pelosi Are Both A Drag

At first glance, Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi don’t seem to have much in common. The San Francisco liberal and the New York populist seem about as different as you can get. One is the pinnacle of political correctness while the other has made a career of flouting societal norms. They do have at least one thing in common, however. New polling that isn’t exactly shocking shows that neither of the two party leaders is popular and that substantial portions of the electorate may show up to vote against them.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found both good news and bad for Republicans. The upside is that six in ten registered voters are satisfied with the economy and most give credit to President Trump, whose approval is up to 44 percent.

The bad news for the GOP is that 48 percent say that they are more likely to support candidates who would be a check to President Trump while only 23 percent say they are less likely to back anti-Trump candidates. Fifty percent wanted a Democrat-controlled Congress versus 40 percent who preferred the GOP. The poll also found an enthusiasm gap with Democrats showing a higher interest in the upcoming midterm elections by 16 points.

Democrats should not take much comfort from the poll’s findings, however. In numbers similar to those of President Trump, 45 percent say that they would be less likely to support a House candidate who supports Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. Only 21 percent would be more likely to back congressional candidates who would vote for Pelosi.

The poll also found that Americans are split on the issue of impeachment, but pluralities believe that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and support the Mueller investigation. The top issue for voters was health care at 22 percent, followed closely by jobs and the economy at 19 percent. Guns was a distant third at 13 percent.

As with 2016, the election is shaping up to be an unpopularity contest. The question for many voters will be which party’s leaders they dislike the least.

One advantage that Democratic candidates may have is that it is easier to distance themselves from Ms. Pelosi than it is for Republicans to disavow Mr. Trump. In May, Pelosi said she didn’t care if Democrats opposed her.

“I think if they have to do that to win an election ... I'm all for winning,” she said at a Politico event.

Some Democrats are doing just that. In Pennsylvania’s special election in its 18th district, Conor Lamb won after vowing to oppose Pelosi as speaker. At least four other Democrats have also lined up against Pelosi.

On the other hand, Donald Trump takes politics personally and tends to attack Republicans whose support for him is less than enthusiastic. In many districts, support for Donald Trump, who still has 87 percent approval among Republicans, has become a litmus test for Republican candidates. In Alabama, Rep. Martha Roby, a Trump critic, was forced into a runoff with a former Democrat.

There are many variables at play for the upcoming elections. The economy is good, but the trade war may change that in the coming months. President Trump is personally unpopular, but many of his policies are preferred over those of the Democrats. In the wake of the failure to reform Obamacare, health care looms as the primary concern of many voters.  

With both parties unpopular, the outcome of the election is likely to hinge on local issues and the news cycle in the weeks leading up to the midterms. Democratic challengers may have an important advantage in their ability to run as outsiders who oppose both Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

No, The Canadians Did Not Burn The White House

In yet another example of the surreal nature of the Trump Administration, a misunderstanding of the War of 1812 was reportedly used by the president to justify his tariffs on Canada. A 200-year-old incident came up in a conversation with the Canadian prime minister last month prior to President Trump’s imposition of tariffs on several allied nations.

According to a report from CNN, the moment came in a May 25 phone call with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in which the two leaders were discussing Trump’s new policy targeting Canadian imports of steel and aluminum. Per CNN’s sources, Trudeau asked Trump how he could justify applying tariffs, which US law permits the president to do for reasons of national security.

“Didn't you guys burn down the White House?” Trump is reported to have replied.

Umm, no. As a matter of fact, they didn’t.

The only time that the White House has burned was in 1814 during the War of 1812. The burning was carried out by British redcoats, not Canadians. In fact, Canada would not exist as an independent country until 1867, some 50 years later.

The War of 1812 began, appropriately enough, in 1812. The cause of the war was the British policy of “impressing” American sailors. British ships would stop American ships on the high seas and kidnap sailors, forcing them to serve in the Royal Navy.

War hawks in the US were anxious to annex the British colonies in present-day Canada, also the subject of a failed campaign in the American Revolution. President James Madison approved a three-pronged assault on our neighbor to the north and the invasion got underway in July 1812. The three assaults quickly failed and American forces lost Detroit and Fort Dearborn, present-day Chicago, in the process.

The following year, the Americans tried again. This time, the American army burned the British fleet on Lake Erie, recaptured Detroit and conquered York, Ontario, burning several government buildings there. Eventually, the US Army was forced to retreat after a failed campaign against Montreal.

By 1814, the end of the Napoleonic wars in Europe allowed the British to send reinforcements to North America. A British invasion of the United States reached Washington, D.C. where the redcoats burned the White House as a reprisal for the American burning of York the previous year.

Since 1814, American have fought alongside British and Canadian troops in several conflicts. The three nations were primary members of the coalition that defeated Germany in World War I and again with  Japan in World War II. They stood together against the North Koreans and Red Chinese in the Korean War. Both Canada and the United Kingdom also came to America’s aid after the September 11 attacks. Both countries supplied troops to aid in the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

Given the long, peaceful relationship between the United States and Canada, it is absurd to consider the nation a national security threat based on events 200 years ago. This is especially true since Canada did not even exist as a country at that point.

It is unlikely that President Trump really wanted to use his tariffs as a retaliation for the burning of the White House. It is far more likely that he used the burning of the White House to justify tariffs that he wanted to implement for other reasons.

In April, Canada promised to address Trump’s claims that Chinese steel was being dumped in the US after being shipped to Canada. Even after this concession, the Trump Administration imposed the tariffs.

President Trump’s decision to impose national security tariffs is reminiscent of President Obama overstepping his legal authority. Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 permits the president to impose tariffs against imports that threaten national security, but it is a stretch to claim that Canadian imports do so. Instead, Trump seems to be using the tariffs as a negotiating ploy to try to rewrite NAFTA.

If President Trump gets an “F” for history, he also deserves a “D” for economics. The hefty tariffs that he imposes on steel and other products will not be paid by foreign countries or corporations. Like any tax, tariffs are paid by the end consumer. In the case of Trump’s tariffs, that is American citizens and businesses.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Why the Masterpiece Cakeshop Ruling Is Bad For Conservatives

While Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop can rest a little easier after this week’s ruling, the Supreme Court decision may not bode well for the larger issues of religious freedom and freedom of speech. The narrow ruling avoided the question of how religious freedom and personal sexual freedom can be resolved and instead hinged on the anti-religious attitude of several members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The Court did not rule on the central question in the case, the question of whether the government has the right to compel private citizens to act against their sincerely held religious convictions. In the ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed to stress that, since same-sex marriage was not the law of the land in 2012 when actions in the case occurred, there was leeway for Phillips that a future defendant might not have.

In the decision, Kennedy acknowledged, “State law at the time also afforded storekeepers some latitude to decline to create specific messages they considered offensive.” Kennedy also noted that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had concluded “on at least three occasions that a baker acted lawfully in declining to create cakes with decorations that demeaned gay persons or gay marriages.”

Kennedy said that Phillips’ claim “that using his artistic skills to make an expressive statement, a wedding endorsement in his own voice and of his own creation, has a significant First Amendment speech component and implicates his deep and sincere religious beliefs.” However, the justice goes on to say that Phillips’ “dilemma was understandable in 2012, which was before Colorado recognized the validity of gay marriages performed in the State and before this Court issued United States v. Windsor, 570 U. S. 744, or Obergefell.”

Per Justice Kennedy, Phillips “was entitled to a neutral and respectful consideration of his claims in all the circumstances of the case.” He continues, “That consideration was compromised, however, by the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case, which showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection.”

The decision of the Court was not that the Colorado law produced an undue burden on Phillips or that the state had no compelling interest in forcing bakers to violate their religious principles. Instead, Kennedy wrote, “the official expressions of hostility to religion in some of the commissioners’ comments were inconsistent with that requirement, and the Commission’s disparate consideration of Phillips’ case compared to the cases of the other bakers suggests the same.”

The opinion of the Court, as written by Justice Kennedy, hinged on the fact that the members of the Colorado commission expressed hostility rather than neutrality. The Court’s decision was not a decision based on objective law or the merits of legal arguments. It was a decision based on the emotions exhibited by the commissioners.

Further, Kennedy’s decision hinted that even this legal loophole might not be open to future plaintiffs. Part of Phillips victory hinted at the fact that same-sex marriage was not legal in Colorado at the time. Kennedy seems to believe that Phillips’ “deep and sincere religious beliefs” would not be so “understandable” in a nation where same-sex marriage has been established as the law of the land.

While the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling is a clear victory for Jack Phillips, it is hard to see the ruling as a victory for religious freedom or freedom of speech. It is likewise a defeat for the objective rule of law at the hands of what Antonin Scalia once called “the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.” The message to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission is that government officials should act tolerant in public in order to appear objective before making their rulings eviscerating the First Amendment rights of Christians. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Democrats Reach Out To Clintons

Sometimes people sabotage themselves. They try so hard to succeed, but are unable to see that their best efforts are undermining their own efforts. Lately, it is the Democrats who are showing many signs of self-defeating behavior.

The latest example of Democrat self-sabotage is the party’s welcome to Bill and Hillary Clinton to get involved in the 2018 elections. The Clintons, of course, are the Democrat power couple whose incompetence at running the last election led to what can surely be called the most unexpected and humiliating defeat in the history of the Democratic Party.

When asked whether the party would welcome support from Ms. Clinton and former President Obama, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, answered, “We welcome support from everybody who wants to help, including Secretary Clinton and President Obama.”

When pressed as to whether Democrats would welcome former President Bill Clinton, Van Hollen answered, “Yes. As the head of the DSCC, we welcome those individuals and everybody that wants to help.”

Van Hollen added that the final decision on assistance from the Clintons and Obama would be up to the individual candidates. “Those are not decisions the DSCC gets involved in,” he said. “Those are decisions that are left to every campaign and they can talk to anybody who wants to help and decide who should come to the state and when.”

Republicans should hope that Democratic campaigns embrace the Clintons. Even though Donald Trump’s approval rating is underwater with an average of 41 percent approval according to the FiveThirtyEight index, Hillary Clinton’s popularity is worse. A Gallup poll showed Ms. Clinton at 36 percent approval in December 2017. A Wall Street Journal poll from April 2018 found that she had sunk even lower to 27 percent.

Bill Clinton, who was always more popular and better campaigner than his wife, is a liability in the #MeToo era. Even the left has finally started criticizing his treatment of women, albeit 20 years too late. The former president found himself in hot water again this week after trying to claim victim status because he left the White House with $16 million in legal fees after fighting impeachment.

Think about what the Democrats would be getting if they embrace the Clintons again. As with Hillary in 2016, the party would get a couple under investigation. The FBI launched an investigation into corruption at the Clinton Foundation in January 2018. After the 2016 debacle, it should be evident that people being investigated by the FBI should be held at arms length.

Democrats would get a couple that was so arrogant and incompetent that they flouted the law with a private email server instead of using secure government email systems. The only logical explanation for this decision was to shield illicit emails from preservation in the national archives. It was this decision that led to Hillary’s downfall as it contributed directly to James Comey’s October 2016 memo that swung the election in Donald Trump’s favor.

The Democrats would be welcoming back the people who undermined their own primary system. Donna Brazile, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, admitted that the Hillary campaign had stacked the DNC with its own people even before the 2016 primary. Brazile also admitted to leaking debate questions to Hillary’s campaign to give her an unfair advantage.

The Clinton infestation of the DNC eventually led to the election of Donald Trump. Without Hillary’s stacked deck, it is possible that Bernie Sanders would have been the eventual nominee. No one knows for sure what would have happened in a Sanders-Trump matchup, but Sanders consistently polled better than both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It is possible, even likely, that America would have a socialist president, something that would thrill most Democrats, were it not for the Clinton’s underhanded dealings with the DNC.

Finally, what Democrats get if they decide to welcome Hillary back into their camp is the one candidate in the country who was so bad that she could not defeat the most unpopular major party candidate in history. The vaunted Clinton machine fell to a man in his first political campaign ever. Hillary was just an awful, uninspiring candidate who was toxic on the campaign trail.

On the other hand, President Obama would be a better surrogate. The 44th president has so far not been inclined to re-enter the political arena, but Gallup found in February 2018 that 63 percent approve of the way that Obama handled his job as president. Considering that President Trump has spent much of his time erasing Obama’s legacy of executive actions, the former president could be a powerful voice for Democratic candidates.

In the wake of the 2016 election, Democrats seemed poised to put the Clinton era behind them for good. Two years later, the Clintons are trying to creep back in, but they really have nothing to offer Democratic candidates. If Democrats are smart, they will quash the Clinton resurgence now in order to avoid a repeat of 2016.

Originally published on The Resurgent

McCarthy Flips On Free Trade

It has long been said that it is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. Apparently the same applies to prospective Speakers of the House.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a presumptive favorite to succeed Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House, defended President Trump’s decision to implement tariffs on US allies such as Canada, Mexico and the European Union.  McCarthy’s statements represent an evolution on the trade issue.

“I believe there is a better way of solving a problem than getting into a trade war,” McCarthy told reporters last December.

On Sunday, the congressman denied that President Trump’s unilateral application of national security tariffs on American allies represented a trade war, even as US trading partners unveiled retaliatory tariffs on American products from steel to crops to motorcycles.  

“We are in the middle of a trade discussion. Nobody wants to be in a trade war. Nobody wins a trade war,” McCarthy said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But we are standing up for the process of where we're moving forward that we have fair trade.”

“A word that I would not use to describe it is ‘a trade discussion,’” responded Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

McCarthy did not define what would constitute a trade war in his view.

Rep. McCarthy’s flip-flop on free trade was not sudden. In March, he told Fox Business that tariffs could be a good thing. Shortly after President Trump made his initial announcement of aluminum and steel tariffs, McCarthy said, “Standing up and putting a different perspective on this will turn out to be a very positive aspect.”

Farmers from McCarthy’s home state are less enthusiastic about Trump Trade than he seems to be. New Chinese tariffs on almonds, pistachios and wine hit the California counties that supported President Trump. Even though Trump cannot count on California’s electoral votes, if his supporters become disillusioned with his trade policies, it would be bad news for California’s already-shrinking Republican congressional delegation.

“Is the administration going to get us a better deal? How long will it take to get that better deal?” asked almond farmer David Phippen. “We have sustainability, but it’s limited.”

At the moment, the outlook for California farmers and the American export industry appears as if it will get worse before it gets better. Whether the current situation is a trade war or a trade discussion, the effect on American exports is the same. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, June 4, 2018

Where In The World Is Melania Trump?

Melania Trump has not been seen in public in more than three weeks and her disappearance is fueling speculation. This is especially true after the Trump Administration announced that Melania will not be attending the North Korea summit in Singapore or the G7meeting in Quebec. The Huffington Post even posted picture of a milk carton with Melania’s picture on the side. Theories range from Melania simply staying out of sight to take care of Barron to the tinfoil hat idea that she is being imprisoned to prevent her from testifying for Robert Mueller.

The First Lady last appeared in public at an event on May 10 greeting three returned prisoners from North Korea. A few days later, Melania checked into Walter Reed National Medical Center on May 14 for a kidney procedure. CNN reported at the time that she was expected to remain in the hospital for “the rest of the week.” Even though Melania was reportedly recovering well, she has not appeared in public, either with the president or by herself, since.

Perhaps most curious, the First Lady did travel with the family to Camp David for a weekend trip on June 1. Donald, Jr., Tiffany, Ivanka and Jared Kushner visited the presidential retreat with President Trump over the weekend without Melania.

On May 30, just prior to the Camp David weekend, Melania’s twitter account did post the message, “I see the media is working overtime speculating where I am & what I'm doing.  Rest assured, I'm here at the @WhiteHouse w [sic] my family, feeling great, & working hard on behalf of children & the American people!”

Mrs. Trump is scheduled to attend a reception Monday night for Gold Star families, but the event is not open to the public or press. The closed nature of the reception means that it is unlikely that it will erase speculation about why Melania is avoiding the spotlight.

While no one seriously claims that Melania’s disappearance is the result of foul play, there is speculation that her absence may be the result of health problems or marital difficulties. The fact that her absence began after her hospital stay could indicate problems with the recovery.

Melania’s absence from both official and family events may also be related to problems with the president. In the months since the revelation broke about Donald Trump’s affair with stripper Stormy Daniels shortly after Melania gave birth to Trump’s youngest son, Barron, there have been signs that the relationship may be rocky. In April, the First Couple attracted national attention when Melania seemed to resist holding hands with the president. A People report from early May quoted a friend of the family who said, “They [the president and First Lady] spend very little to no time together.”

Melania’s absence and subsequent reports that she will not accompany the president on the big diplomatic trips to Singapore and Quebec lend credence to the reports that the First Lady is not happy with the president. Who could blame her? Dealing with marital infidelity is difficult for any couple, but having the affair and subsequent coverup splashed across national news would make it many times worse. This is especially true for a private person like Melania Trump.

No one outside the Trump family and White House workers knows for sure why Melania is missing or how long her public absence will last. What is certain is that a missing First Lady is very unusual and presents an awkward public relations situation for the Trump Administration.

Originally published on The Resurgent