Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Tom Steyer Pours Millions Into Liberal Candidates As Kochs Close Spigot For GOP

Billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer plans to spend at least $100 million on leftist politics in 2018. Rather than just giving directly to Democratic candidates and organizations, Steyer is building a parallel structure that could give his preferred candidates an important boost as the Koch brothers, deep pocket Republican donors are scaling back their support for the Trump-era GOP.

Politico reports that Steyer is pouring his cash into organizations such as NextGen America, Need to Impeach and his For Our Future PAC as well as individual candidates and clean energy ballot initiatives in Arizona and Nevada. Steyer’s main two organizations have almost 1,000 staffers and another 2,000 volunteers.

The groups have the potential to sway close elections. Need to Impeach has already identified nearly 700,000 infrequent voters in the 63 most competitive House districts from its email list. The list totals more than 5.5 million people.

“Our list is bigger than the NRA’s — and we’re going to make sure that it votes that way in 2018,” said Kevin Mack, the group’s lead strategist.

Steyer’s focus on impeachment runs counter to the conventional wisdom. Internal polling found that only 32 percent of Democrats wanted candidates to avoid talking about impeachment while 59 percent were in favor of using the possibility of impeachment as an election issue. Democratic leaders feared a Republican backlash if Democrats campaigned on impeachment, but Steyer’s polling of Republicans showed that only 21 percent were worried that a Democrat-controlled House would impeach Trump.

These numbers may be explained by the fact that Democrats are far more likely to take control of the House than the Senate. House Democrats could impeach Trump, but a Republican Senate would be unlikely to remove him from office. If Trump was removed from office, Vice President Pence would become president, arguably giving congressional conservatives a boost.

“There’s all this concern in Washington that impeachment is going to rile up Republicans, but our numbers show the opposite. … It’s time to get past the establishment talking points and get to what’s really going to win elections,” Mack said, noting that the “21 percent of Republicans… aren’t going to vote for us anyway.”

As Steyer’s spending ramps up, the largest Republican donors are closing their wallets. The Koch brothers announced over the weekend that they regretted supporting some candidates who were disappointing in their support for the brothers’ libertarian principles.

“We're going to be much stricter,” Charles Koch said. Koch added that their network of organizations would also “hold people responsible for their commitments.”

The Kochs had previously planned to invest $400 million in the 2018 election cycle, but Mr. Koch hinted that those plans might change, saying, “Where we invest is where we find an opportunity where our capabilities can make a difference, and so we'll engage in politics to the degree in which it's really moving our overall agenda. If we don't see that, then we'll go into these other areas.”

Even more troublesome for Republicans, Koch said that his network would consider supporting moderate or conservative Democrats.

“What I'm OK with are policies that will move us toward a society of mutual benefit, equal rights, where everybody has the opportunity to realize their potential,” said Koch. “So, I don't care what initials are in front or after somebody's name.” He added, “We would love for there to be more Democrats who support these issues.”

Already, Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-backed group, has publicly praised Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D) for supporting a Dodd-Frank reform bill and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) for agreeing to meet with President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

President Trump responded to the Koch announcement in characteristic fashion. In a series of tweets, the president called the Kochs “a total joke” with a “highly overrated” network. The president says he “never sought their support because I don’t need their money,” but other Republican candidates who are not independently wealthy will certainly miss the Koch money.

Originally published on The Resurgent

North Korea is Building New Missiles

If at first you don’t succeed, it’s back to the drawing board. According to a new report by US intelligence agencies, that is what North Korea is up to.

The Washington Post reported that the US has evidence, which includes satellite photos, that show work on new missiles at the factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States. The findings show that as many as two missiles are being constructed at the Sanumdong plant near Pyongyang. The report notes that there is presently no evidence of an expansion of North Korean capabilities, but does indicate that the North Korean weapons programs are still active months after President Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un.

Earlier in July, The Diplomat reported that North Korea’s secret enrichment facility at Kangson was almost certainly still enriching uranium. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress last week, “Yes, they continue to produce fissile material.”

On the other hand, there are also recent reports that North Korea is dismantling some equipment at a at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. The New York Times reported that a rocket engine test stand and a rail-mounted assembly building for space vehicles were being taken apart.

While there was widespread belief that Chairman Kim was proceeding with denuclearization after the Times report, the evidence from other sites shows that the situation is much more complex. The evidence from other sites shows that the North Korean nuclear and weapons programs are proceeding long after President Trump tweeted, “ There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

It is not clear why some North Korean facilities are being dismantled while work is proceeding on uranium enrichment and new missiles. It is possible that the test facilities are being modernized, moved or are no longer needed.

President Trump and Chairman Kim signed a very vague and general statement, but diplomacy is ongoing with North Korea on more detailed agreements. South Korean generals met with their Northern counterparts on Tuesday for what was termed a “meaningful discussion,” but one that did not produce an agreement. The last report on talks between the US and North Korea was on July 7 when a North Korean statement called a two-day visit by Mike Pompeo “gangster-like” and “regrettable,” saying it had increased the possibility of war.

It seems increasingly likely that the North Koreans are back to the drawing board and continuing with their nuclear and missile programs. President Trump also needs to return to the drawing board with increased sanctions and an acknowledgement that the North Koreans are not dismantling their nuclear weapons program.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, July 30, 2018

Trump Wants To Meet Iranian President

Fresh from his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un, President Trump is anxious to add another entry to his passport. The president said today that he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “whenever they want.”

“I would certainly meet with Iran if they wanted to meet,” Trump said during a joint news conference at the White House in response to a question about President Obama’s Iran deal. “I do believe that they will probably end up wanting to meet. I'm ready to meet whenever they want to.”

“No preconditions," he added. "They want to meet, I'll meet, whenever they want.”

Trump’s meetings with Chairman Kim and President Putin were also without preconditions and apparently without agendas. In both cases, the president met privately with only the other leader and translators in the room.

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama’s suggestion that he would meet the leaders of renegade countries without preconditions was roundly criticized by both Republicans and Hillary Clinton alike. Trump’s unscripted meetings have been widely backed by the GOP despite a lack of progress from North Korea on denuclearization and an embarrassing press conference with Putin. Mr. Trump has also faced criticism that his meetings serve to legitimize anti-American dictators.

Mr. Trump’s offer of a sit-down comes after a warning last week from Rouhani. “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said, echoing a statement from former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who could not be reached for comment.


Earlier this year, President Trump decertified President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Cancelling the deal allows Trump to restore the sanctions against Iran that Obama had suspended. The president may hope that the prospect of sanctions will force the Iranians to the table.

So far, the Iranians have not responded to the offer.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Saturday, July 28, 2018

President Trump: 'Without Trade, We'd Save A Hell Of A Lot Of Money'

“Our trade deficit ballooned to $817 billion,” Donald Trump told steelworkers in Granite City, Illinois, this week. “Think of that. We lost $817 billion a year over the last number of years in trade. In other words, if we didn't trade, we'd save a hell of a lot of money.”

When I heard the clip from the president, the first response that came to mind was that of the high school principal played by James Downey in Billy Madison:

What you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Downey’s comment may be extreme, but President Trump’s soundbite is one of the most astonishingly ignorant things I have ever heard a sitting president utter.

Sure, sitting presidents have misspoken. Barack Obama had his “57 states” gaffe. The Bushes were no strangers to mush-mouthed soundbites either. One of my favorites was when Bush-41 tried to say, “Nitty Gritty Dirt Band” and it came out “nitty ditty nitty gritty great bird.” Even a polished actor and politician like Ronald Reagan was not immune to a slip of the tongue. The Gipper’s jokes are sometimes taken for gaffes, but when he said, “We are trying to get unemployment to go up, and I think we're going to succeed,” it probably was not intentional.

Those gaffes were good for a laugh, but no one really thought that they didn’t know the real number of states, the real name of the band or wanted unemployment to increase. In the case of President Trump, however, it seems likely that he really does believe what he says about international trade. After all, he's been saying the same things for years.

There is so much wrong with the president’s one remark, never mind the entire speech, that it is hard to address the entirety of his error within a short article. To begin, his figure on the size of the trade deficit is factually incorrect. The Bureau of Economic Analysis put the 2017 trade deficit at $568 billion. President Trump seems to have pulled the $817 billion figure from where the sun does not shine.

It is also astonishing that President Trump seems to consider money spent on trade to be “lost.” Is money lost when you spend it on groceries or when you buy a new car or house? International trade is no different. The idea that trade money is “lost” is nonsensical.

Trade is a voluntary exchange. No one has to enter into a trade deal that they don’t believe is to their benefit. If the price of milk is too high, don’t buy it. Go to a different store. It’s no different with international deals to buy Chinese steel, German cars, Mexican tequila or Saudi oil. If it’s a bad deal, go to a competitor.

The president’s statement that “if we didn't trade, we'd save a hell of a lot of money” is technically true, but also nonsensical. If we didn’t trade, we would have lots of dollars, but we can’t eat dollars or live in them or drive them to work. (Perhaps you could wear them if you stitched them together into clothes, but I digress.)

There would be pros and cons to hoarding cash and not engaging in trade. The downside to stockpiling a houseful of green paper is that you don’t have other things that you may want or need. It would be a case of “no phones, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury” as a famous ballad put it. On the plus side, you could use all that cold, hard cash to play Scrooge McDuck (hat tip to the Cato Institute’s Scott Lincicome) or reenact the sex scene from Indecent Proposal, but that would probably get old after a while - like when you got hungry - and I suspect that rolling around on piles of  currency really isn't as comfortable as television would have us believe.

President Trump may actually believe that not trading with foreign countries would Make America Great Again. After all, if there were no international trade, there would be no trade deficit and the trade deficit has been Mr. Trump’s bogeyman for years. With no trade, zero equals zero and we have trade equity.

Mr. Trump doesn’t address the problem of comparative advantage. Not all products are made in the United States just as any country doesn’t make every conceivable product. Some countries have a comparative advantage on low-skilled labor that makes them more efficient at building simple products. On the other hand, the US has highly skilled workers that are among the best and most efficient in the world when it comes to high tech products such as aircraft, industrial machines and pharmaceuticals. We also have an abundance of oil and farmland, resources that other countries lack, that allow us to export food and energy products.

With no trade, you’d probably pay more for many commonly imported items, from avocados which come from Mexico to mobile phones assembled in China and South Korea, if you could get them at all. For instance, the US grows avocados domestically, but not enough to meet the demand of 600 million pounds annually. If US farmers shift production to grow more avocados, they would have to stop growing other crops.

But that’s okay since US workers would have less money to spend anyway. Workers in jobs related to imports and exports would face massive layoffs. Those in other industries would also face job and wage cuts as the world slipped into a recession.

The core problem with Mr. Trump’s logic is that a trade deficit is not always bad, and a trade surplus is not necessarily good. Few conservatives would want to emulate Venezuela, but the socialist South American basket case of a country has been running trade surpluses since 1997.

What do trade surpluses and deficits really mean? The legendary economist Milton Friedman, whose humor and eloquence made economics understandable to the masses, once explained that most people, President Trump included, think about trade in a way that is exactly backwards:

When people talk about a favorable balance of trade; what does that term taken to mean? It's taken to mean that we export more than we import; but from the point of view of our well-being that's an unfavorable balance. That means we're sending out more goods and getting fewer in. Each of you and your private household would know better than that. You don't regard it as a favorable balance when you have to send out more goods to get less coming in. It's favorable when you can get more by sending out less.

In other words, the US trade deficit means that Americans are getting more “stuff” from other countries than they are sending abroad. In any other situation, getting more than you are giving in a deal would mean that you are “winning,” to use President Trump’s (and Charlie Sheen’s) phrase. But somehow, we have convinced ourselves that, when it comes to international trade, sending lots of stuff to other countries and getting very little back is a good thing.

I don’t blame the Granite City steelworkers for leaping to support Donald Trump’s protectionism of their industry. I was laid off twice and know how gut-wrenching it can be for the head of a household to suddenly lose his income, but, as Friedman explained, the big government protectionism of steel makes new victims in other industries. Most people just don’t see the jobs being lost because they are dispersed throughout the country rather than concentrated in steel mills.

The steel mill workers can’t be blamed for their self-interest in protecting their jobs, but President Trump can be blamed for a view on trade that is not grounded in reality. Any president, regardless of party, should be expected to have a basic understanding of economics. Republicans rightly criticize Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when they say outlandish and ignorant things. Republican leaders, especially the president’s advisors, have a duty to confront and educate the president about economics when he starts sounding more like Senator Sanders than President Reagan.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, July 27, 2018

GDP Boomed In the Second Quarter, But Will Trade Fears Kill Growth?

The initial estimates of second quarter GDP growth are in and the economy is booming. The economy grew at 4.1 percent despite fears of a trade war fueled by President Trump’s tariff policy. The April through June growth was powered by consumer spending, exports and business investment.

The 4.1 percent growth rate was the best in four years. The last time that the GDP - the total value of goods and services produced across the national economy – grew more rapidly was in the third quarter of 2014 when the US posted 4.9 percent GDP growth. The second quarter numbers were significantly better than the first quarter growth rate of 2.2 percent.

“We're on track to hit the highest annual growth rate in over 13 years,” President Donald Trump said shortly after the Commerce Department announcement. “And I will say this right now and I will say it strongly, as the deals come in one by one, we're going to go a lot higher than these numbers, and these are great numbers.”

Trump also claimed that that the economy under his administration grew at a rate ten times faster than under Presidents Obama or Bush. The Wall Street Journal notes that this claim is false. Those presidents each had four quarters of economic growth that was greater than 4.1 percent. President Obama’s best showing was the second quarter of 2014 when the economy posted 5.1 percent growth, the best numbers posted since the 2008 recession.

Consumer spending accounted for more than two-thirds of the growth. This increase “was more powerful than anticipated and speaks to the impact of an increasingly tight labor market and strong job growth on consumer income and households’ confidence,” said Brian Coulton, chief economist at Fitch Ratings. Coulton added that the “numbers really bring the possibility of 3% growth for 2018 as a whole into the frame.”

The big question about continued GDP growth deals with Trump’s trade policy. Exports rose strongly in the second quarter and contributed 1.06 percent to the overall growth rate. The boom in exports was largely due to tariff-targeted nations such as China ordering US products like soybeans before export taxes kick in. Regardless of the outcome of the trade discussions, US export levels are likely to return to historically lower levels.

If the trade war continues to heat up to the point where American businesses dependent upon international trade lay off workers and cut wages, consumer spending could also take a hit in future quarters. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index has already reported that consumer confidence is down slightly for July based on “consumers who had negative concerns about the [trade] tariffs [and] voiced a much more pessimistic economic outlook.”

For now, however, President Trump and the Republicans can bask in the strong numbers in the run-up to the November midterm elections. They can justifiably point to tax reform and deregulation as factors in the current economic boom. The problem will be in convincing voters that President Trump’s trade policies won’t lead to a bust.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Democrat Bill Would Outlaw Fake Election News

It seems that President Trump regularly makes the news for his rhetorical attacks on the freedom of press and journalists. Now some Democrats, apparently eager to prove that they are ambivalent about the First Amendment as well, want to criminalize certain types of speech about elections.

The Huffington Post reports that Democrat Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Doug Jones (Ala.) and Patrick Leahy (Vt.). plan to introduce legislation that would make it a federal crime to knowingly spread false information about voter registration and qualifications or the time and place of elections. Democratic Reps. A. Donald McEachin (Va.) and Jerry Nadler (N.Y.) will introduce companion legislation in the House.

“Misinformation campaigns intended only to suppress the vote and disenfranchise Missourians are crimes that run counter to our democratic values, and the punishment for those actions should fit the crime,” Sen. McCaskill said in a statement.

The Post cites several examples of election hoaxes from recent elections. Flyers in Maine in 2016 falsely told college students that they had to “pay to change your driver’s license to Lewiston” and “pay to re-register” their vehicles if they wanted to vote locally. The Republican mayor of Mansfield, Ga. posted a message to his Facebook page that read, “Remember the voting days: Republicans vote on Tuesday, 11/8 and Democrats vote on Wednesday, 11/9.”

Of the two examples, the first seems to be a serious attempt at voter suppression while the second is an obvious joke. I’ve heard the same joke in more elections than I can remember and no one ever seemed to take it seriously. It seemed funny when I first heard it about 20 years ago, but now seems as tired as, “That was no lady, that was my wife.”

In either case, the First Amendment defender in me argues that the best reaction to false speech and fake news is not criminalizing speech that we don’t like it, but in countering it with more speech that is good and true. There are ample opportunities for political groups to educate voters on the real election and voter registration rules in their state.

There is also the question of how effective such a “fake speech” law would be. The speech police might snare jokesters like the mayor of Mansfield, but it is less likely that they would catch the anonymous culprits who printed the flyers in Maine. Flyers printed cheaply on a home copier or printer would be hard to trace unless police nabbed someone in the act of handing them out.

When it comes to fake news, the Democrats need to remember that the First Amendment prohibits the government from making any law “abridging the freedom of speech.” It does not include exceptions for fake speech, hate speech or things that people find offensive.

Republicans should remember that the same guarantees apply to the freedom of the press as well. The last thing that proponents of small government should want is for government bureaucrats to determine what is true and what is fake or unfair.

In the end, it is a voter’s responsibility to register and educate themselves on candidates and elections. When there are real and serious attempts to mislead potential voters, these reprehensible acts make it more difficult to exercise the right to vote, but no one ever said that democracy was easy. One of the most difficult aspects of maintaining democracy may be guarding against well-intentioned but poorly thought out laws that erode our basic constitutional rights.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Analysis: GOP House Map Is Toughest Since 1930

With just over three months until Election Day, the question on everyone’s mind is whether there will be a blue wave or, as some Republicans suggest, a red wave. Perhaps the tsunami will simply peter out and preserve the status quo in Congress. A new analysis from the Cook Political Report offers Republicans the disquieting news that the House electoral map is their toughest in almost 100 years.

“With 102 days to go, Democrats remain substantial favorites for House control,” David Wasserman writes. “A big reason: Republicans are defending 42 open or vacant seats, a record since at least 1930.”

Republicans are defending 42 open seats this year. Of those, eight are in districts won by Hillary Clinton and another 13 are in districts in which President Trump received less than 55 percent of the vote.

“History is working against the GOP in many of those seats,” said Wasserman. We found that since 1992, in situations when a president's party was stuck defending an open seat two years after the president failed to carry it, that party has batted zero for 23 keeping it in their column.”

The current party breakdown in the House is 236 Republicans and 193 Democrats (with six vacancies). The 43-seat Republican margin means that Democrats need to win 22 seats to take control of the lower chamber. If, as history suggests, Republicans lose the eight seats in districts carried by Hillary, that would carry Democrats a third of the way to a majority before any other factors are considered.

Wasserman also points out that another ongoing trend within the Republican primary is to purge candidates who have shown insufficient loyalty to President Trump. Many Trump critics have chosen this year to retire, but some, such as Rep. Mark Sanford in South Carolina’s first district, have been fired by Republican voters in elections where support for the president is a “dominant theme.” The purge of non-Trumpers could come back to bite Republicans in November.

The loyalty test puts Republican candidates in a similar position to Democrats during the Obama Administration. Recent headlines have trumpeted the president’s recent rise in approval ratings, but the buried lede is that Mr. Trump’s approval is still in the low 40s per the FiveThirtyEight average of polls, similar to Barack Obama’s approval in the last six years of his presidency.

Even though both Obama and Trump are immensely popular within their own parties, they are unpopular with voters at large. This meant that Democrats had to run close to Obama in the primary and then distance themselves from him in the general election. The fact that Republicans won control of both houses of Congress (as well as many statehouses) during the Obama years shows how difficult this is to accomplish. This year, Republicans face the same challenge of proving loyalty to President Trump in the primary and then facing an electorate that disapproves of the president.

Republicans candidates also face a fundraising gap, Wasserman notes. The leading Democrat raised more than the Republican in 20 of the 42 Republican open seats between April and June. This was not only true in all but one of the districts carried by Hillary, but also in 13 of 34 districts carried by Trump.

As noted previously in The Resurgent, Republican super PACs are expected to make up some of the fundraising difference. The down side, however, is that PAC money may be spread thin due to the large number of vulnerable Republicans.

Donations to candidates are a measure of voter excitement as well as financial strength. The fact that Democrats are outraising Republicans, including some incumbents, at the district level is indicative of an enthusiasm gap that could spell disaster for the GOP in November.

In all, the current Cook analysis shows 37 tossup seats, 34 of which are Republican. Another 53 Republicans seats are rated as “likely” or “lean” as opposed to 11 Democrat seats. Cook rates 153 Republican and 181 Democrat seats as “solid.”

The next race to watch is the special election in Ohio’s 12th district on August 7. The race for an open Republican seat pits Republican Troy Balderson against Democrat Danny O’Connor in a district that Trump won by 11 points. Cook currently rates the race as a tossup even though Balderson led in two June polls. If Balderson is unable to muster a strong win in this solidly red district, it could be a bellwether for other Republican candidates with less favorable circumstances.

There are many pieces of evidence that point individually to a looming Republican disaster. No one of them is conclusive evidence of a blue wave, but, when taken together, they paint a picture that should make the GOP very uneasy.

Nevertheless, all is not lost for Republicans. Good candidates can overcome financial disadvantages and bad ones can blow an easy opportunity, something that Republicans should have learned in the Obama years as well.

“If you really want to track 2018, do yourself a favor,” Wasserman said on Twitter. “Go beyond fancy models/big data. Get to know the people running.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Did President Trump Just Win The Trade War?

President Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker backed away from the brink of trade war yesterday. In an apparent victory for Trump’s hardline trade policies, the two leaders agreed to put new tariffs on hold and to reopen talks in hopes of reaching a permanent agreement.

The precise details of the preliminary agreement are not known, but Mr. Trump said that the EU had agreed to buy “a lot of soybeans” and increase imports of liquified natural gas from the US. There was also an agreement to meet further and seek a resolution to Mr. Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum. There was no timetable set for future talks.

While the reprieve from the trade war – one of them at least – is welcome, the extent of Mr. Trump’s trade victory is uncertain. While trade d├ętente seems to be in favor with Europe, the European Union is only one of the markets with whom President Trump has threatened to launch a trade war. Talks seem to still be stalled with Canada, Mexico, China and others.

There is also the looming question of steel and aluminum. The trade crisis began when President Trump imposed protective tariffs on imports of those metals and that issue has yet to be resolved. The Wall Street Journal reports that there is no timetable or agenda for further talks and notes that any agreement must include a consensus with all 28 members of the EU. A permanent written agreement most likely won’t be reached anytime soon and the truce could fall apart at any time.

The truce may reflect a political calculation by President Trump. A few hours before the announcement of the deal, CNBC reported that Republicans in Congress were openly critical of the president’s moves on trade. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) called the tariffs “basically taxes” while Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “We've been arguing aggressively that this is the wrong path for us.”

If past performance is any indication, it seems likely that President Trump and his supporters will declare victory in the trade war and then move along to other priorities. This occurred in June when the president said he had “solved that problem” of North Korea’s nuclear program after meeting with Kim Jong Un. After the meeting, North Korea faded from the headlines and there seemed to be no progress on more substantive talks.

Nevertheless, the tariff truce with Europe could give American companies the break they have been hoping for. Europe is America’s largest export market and ranks second in imports to the US. Neither country would benefit from a trade war. American companies from Coca-Cola to Whirlpool have been hit by the tariffs already. If the deal encourages President Trump to declare victory and end his tariff offensive, American business would breathe a sigh of relief.

And that is the real value of the deal between Presidents Trump and Juncker: It gives the president a way out of the trade quagmire in which he has become embroiled. What appear to be token concessions by the EU give Mr. Trump the opportunity to save face and claim a victory for his base and then reverse his potentially ruinous tariff policy.

President Juncker reportedly came to President Trump bearing a gift in addition to the EU’s trade concessions, a picture of the US military cemetery in Luxembourg where Gen. George Patton is buried. The picture was inscribed with the words, “Dear Donald, let’s remember our common history.” If the EU deal leads to both sides standing down, other trade partners may follow suit when they find that small concessions and flattery go a long way when dealing with President Trump.

Regardless of the outcome of the new trade talks with Europe, it must be remembered that the crisis, which has already hurt American companies and led to layoffs of American workers, was entirely avoidable. When the headlines of an agreement are written, they should read, “President Trump solves trade crisis caused by President Trump.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, July 23, 2018

Four Key Takeaways From The Carter Page FISA Application

If you’ve been out of the news loop over the weekend you may have missed the long-awaited declassification of the FBI’s application for a FISA warrant to conduct surveillance on former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. The heavily censored document was unveiled in a rare Saturday afternoon information dump and left both sides scrambling to mine the report for favorable talking points.

The declassified application does not answer all questions about the FBI surveillance of Page. Entire pages are blacked out by the DOJ censor and unreadable, giving the impression that the agency declassified only the portions of the application that had already been reported in the media. Nevertheless, there are four key takeaways from the portions of the document that are legible.

First, the most serious allegations of the much-ballyhooed Nunes memo from February are proven false or without context. In its first point against the FBI, the Nunes memo stated:

Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.

In context, the application does not mention Hillary Clinton or the DNC, but neither does it mention Donald Trump. Most individuals and organizations named in the document are deidentified. Donald Trump is referred to as “Candidate # 1” while Clinton is “Candidate # 2.”

In contrast to Nunes’s claim that the application did not disclose the political background of the intelligence from “Source # 1,” Christopher Steele, the application says, “The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person [who hired Steele] was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate # 1’s [Trump's] campaign.”

“Notwithstanding Source # 1’s reason for conducting research into Candidate # 1’s ties to Russia,” the application continues, “based on Source # 1’s previous reporting history with the FBI, whereby Source # 1 provided reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes Source # 1’s reporting herein to be credible.”

In a footnote, the FBI went into more detail. “Source # 1, who now owns a foreign business/financial intelligence firm, was approached by an identified US person, who indicated to Source # 1 that a US-based law firm had hired the identified US person to conduct research regarding Candidate # 1’s ties to Russia (the identified US person and Source # 1 have a long-standing business relationship). The identified US person hired Source # 1 to conduct this research. The identified US person never advised Source # 1 as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate # 1’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified US person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate # 1’s campaign.”

The application makes it abundantly clear that the intelligence obtained by Steele was political research. Nunes supporters are reduced to claiming that the memo was correct because the FISA application did not name the DNC, Hillary Clinton or Glenn Simpson, the principal of Fusion GPS and the “US person” who hired Steele even though this was not Nunes’s original claim. This is a classic logical fallacy called moving the goalposts. Even without specifically naming Clinton, it would be obvious to anyone with a minimal knowledge of US politics that the most likely organization to hire someone to discredit Donald Trump would be the Democrats.

Republicans conceded the existence of the footnote shortly after the release of the memo, but now some are belaboring the point once again. The unredacted portions of the application show that the FBI gave far more details about the origins of Steele’s intelligence than Nunes led Americans to believe.

An additional claim by Nunes undercuts itself:

Steele was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations—an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI in an October 30, 2016, Mother Jones article by David Corn. Steele should have been terminated for his previous undisclosed contacts with Yahoo and other outlets in September—before the Page application was submitted to the FISC in October—but Steele improperly concealed from and lied to the FBI about those contacts.

The memo claimed that the FBI should have terminated Steele in September for unauthorized media contacts, but, by Nunes’s own admission, Steele concealed the transgression from the FBI. Logically, the FBI could not fire Steele if they didn’t yet know that he had broken the rule. That the FBI did later fire Steele is a point in favor of the FBI’s credibility.

The second major point made by the FISA application is that it undercuts President Trump’s claims that the FBI had “wiretapped” Trump Tower and members of his campaign. The exact date of the FISA application was redacted, but the “October 2016” is visible. This is important because Carter Page stepped down from his role as a foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign in September 2016. Page was not a member of the Trump campaign when he was under FBI surveillance.

Page was also the subject of an earlier FISA warrant in 2014 based on his contacts with Russian intelligence officials. The earlier surveillance was ended prior to Page joining the Trump campaign in March 2016.

Third, the Nunes claims that the FISA warrant was based solely on Steele’s intelligence remain unverified. In particular, Nunes cites a September 23, 2016 article in Yahoo News that was sourced back to Christopher Steele, the same informant who provided information directly to the FBI. This claim is impossible to verify because of the large amount of information that is still classified.

The prominent position of Steele as “Source # 1” does lend credence to the argument that his information was very important, but it is impossible to know what other information was provided that has not been declassified. The picture above is a screenshot of page 19 of the application and gives an idea of how much information the FBI has held back.

The fourth point is the warrant was not a partisan hit job. The four FISA judges who signed off on the warrant were all appointed to the federal judiciary by Republican presidents. Two were George W. Bush appointees, one was appointed by George H.W. Bush and one dated back to the Reagan Administration. All four were appointed to the FISA court by Chief Justice John Roberts, also a Republican and a conservative.

The FISA application leaves a lot of unknowns, but it does answer a few questions. Unfortunately for President Trump and Devin Nunes, the answers given show that Republican claims about the FBI’s corruption are not on the level. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review: 'The President Is Missing' By James Patterson And Bill Clinton

You may have seen James Patterson and Bill Clinton making the rounds on the talk show circuit to promote their book, “The President Is Missing.” The news centering around the interviews has mainly involved the former president having to defend his sexual misbehavior in the #MeToo era. The message of the book has largely escaped media notice on both the right and the left.

I didn’t intend to read the book. Normally anything that involves the Clintons pegs low on my interest meter and despite being a lifelong bookworm I had never read anything by James Patterson. I picked up the book out of curiosity when my son pointed it out at our local library. After perusing it for a few minutes, it piqued my interest enough to check it out.

To those who would argue that my conservative credentials are suspect because I read a book coauthored by Bill Clinton, I say that it isn’t healthy to wall yourself off from all opposing viewpoints. The insular echo chambers of social media in which we hear only a distorted view of the other side’s beliefs are a major problem of modern American life. Besides, I checked the book out from a library so no Clintons were enriched by my reading of the novel.

To my surprise, “The President Is Missing” is a very good book. It is a fast-paced and very believable thriller that is difficult to put down. Despite fears to the contrary, the book does not preach about the liberal point of view any more than average Hollywood movie and probably less so. There are references to traditional Democratic talking points, but that is to be expected from a book that centers around a president who assumed to be a Democrat.

The central character of the book is the president, who tells the story from his point of view. Although a Democrat, the president seems to be a moderate and the character is likable. Like a few modern Democrats from the real world, he is a veteran of Desert Storm. Unlike many from both sides of the aisle, the fictional president puts partisanship aside to act in the best interests of the country at great personal risk to himself.

The plot involves the reliance of modern America on electricity and the internet, a threat that I have been concerned about for years. For a long time, I was concerned that a rogue state such as North Korea or Iran could launch an electromagnetic pulse attack. In such a scenario, a nuclear weapon would be detonated high over the central US and the resulting EMP would fry the electrical grids and devices for most of the country. Such an attack could lead to mass starvation and the collapse of the economy.

More recently, I’ve realized that it would be much easier for cyber attackers to simply switch off the electrical grids and lock out the “white hat” hackers defending them. Given the ubiquitous nature of the internet in modern life, malware and viruses could infest everything from household appliances to defense computers and cause havoc.

If you think it can’t happen, it already has… at least on a smaller scale. Russia has launched cyber-attacks on Ukrainian power plants that caused extensive blackouts as far back as 2015. In 2014, a botnet hijacked 100,000 internet-connected devices including a smart refrigerator and used it send 750,000 spam emails. In October 2016, a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack crashed the sites of such internet giants as Twitter, CNN and Netflix. At about the same time, Russian hackers were attacking numerous state and local election administration sites.

The possibilities for nefarious internet schemes with catastrophic outcomes are limited only by the imaginations of cyber terrorists, but there are many defensive strategies as well. One of the most obvious is limiting exposure. Just because something can be connected to the internet doesn’t mean it should be. Is it really in our best interests to have our refrigerators and toasters online? When it comes to voting, paper ballots, even with all their problems, seem immeasurably more secure than a computer-based voting system.

“The President Is Missing” was a quick and enjoyable read. If you like political thrillers and want to escape the crazy news of the day to a world where problems can be wrapped up in 500 pages, don’t be put off by the former president’s name on the cover. Check it out at your local library and you won’t even have to feel guilty.

Originally published on The Resurgent

FBI Releases Carter Page FISA Warrant

On Saturday, the FBI released a heavily redacted version of the FISA warrant application for Donald Trump's former campaign advisor, Carter Page. President Trump and other Republicans had charged the FBI with illicit spying on members of the Trump campaign.
The document (available here), which is 412 pages, is heavily censored with entire pages blacked out. The application was from October 2016, but even the exact date was redacted.
”The FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian Government, ” the application says and then continues after a redaction, “[to] undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election in violation of criminal law.”
“Page has established relationships with Russian Government officials, including Russian intelligence officers,” the application states, but the evidence supporting these claims is censored.
”Source # 1” appears to be Christopher Steele, the author of the controversial Steele dossier. Republicans had alleged that the FBI did not disclose that the dossier was commissioned by Democrats as opposition research into Donald Trump.
In contrast to these claims, the application states, ”The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person [who hired Steele] was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate # 1’s [Trump's] campaign.”
”Notwithstanding Source # 1’s reason for conducting research into Candidate # 1’s ties to Russia,” the application says, based on Source # 1’s previous reporting history with the FBI, whereby Source # 1 provided reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes Source # 1’s reporting herein to be credible.”
The uncensored parts of the application detail the allegations from Steele that Page had been told by the Russian government there was ”kompromat” on Candidate # 2, Hillary Clinton. The application says that the kompromat could possibly be released to the Trump campaign.
The application also contains background material on Page’s prior connections to Russia and cites several media reports that detailed alleged meetings between Page and representatives of Vladimir Putin's government. There is a reference to a letter written by Page to then-FBI Director James Comey. In the letter, Page, who was fired from the Trump campaign in September 2016, denied wrongdoing and called the allegations against him ”completely false media reports.”
Nevertheless, the FBI said that there was ”probable cause to believe that Page [redacted] knowingly engage in clandestine intelligence activities (other than intelligence gathering activities)” for a foreign power.
The redacted application strikes a blow at Republican claims that the FBI did not disclose the political nature of the information from Christopher Steele to the FISA court judge who issued the warrant. Less clear is how much evidence the FBI already had against Page before the warrant was issued. The Steele dossier and news reports were previously known, but a large part of the application is still classified.
Carter Page has not yet been indicted by the Mueller investigation even though he was questioned extensively in June 2017. This raises the possibility that either the surveillance did not uncover any criminal acts by Page or that he has been cooperating with investigators.
Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Food Stamp Use Remains High Long After The Recession

The economy is growing and unemployment is decreasing, but one thing hasn’t changed since the Obama era and that is historically high levels of food stamp use. While enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is down from its 2013 peak, participation in the program is near levels that were last seen just after the end of the Great Recession.

Government figures show that SNAP enrollment fell to 39.6 million in April, which is near 2010 levels. USDA tables show that the enrollment in the program reached its height in 2013 at 47.6 million. Prior to 2008, SNAP enrollment was below 27 million.

SNAP is available to families below 130 percent of the poverty level. For a family of four, that works out to $2,665 per month or $31,980 annually.

In the aftermath of the recession, the Obama Administration increased welfare state programs dramatically. In 2012, CNN admitted that “spending on income-based programs, such as food stamps, has increased by one-third to $900 billion under Obama” after Newt Gingrich called Obama the “food stamp president.” Part of the post-recession growth was due to states expanding eligibility for SNAP, which led to more enrollees and increased costs. In 2016, the New York Times reported that states were returning to pre-recession eligibility requirements.

Another reason that SNAP enrollment is still higher than pre-recession levels is that many workers who left the work force never returned. Despite recent drops in the unemployment rate, the labor force participation rate is still far below 2008 levels. The rate has not yet changed from the Obama era levels despite the growing economy.

House Republicans have proposed stricter work requirements to further trim food stamp rolls. The SNAP provisions in the 2018 farm bill have led to a significant dispute between the House and Senate. The two chambers have not yet agreed on a final version of the bill.

Food stamp usage is declining, but it may be years before it returns to pre-recession levels, assuming it ever does. The Trump Administration’s trade war could very well lead the economy into a new recession that increases SNAP enrollment once again.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Democrats Have A YUGE Fundraising Advantage Over House Republicans

One of the big questions of 2018 is whether the Democrats hoped-for “Blue Wave” will materialize this November. President Donald Trump’s unpopularity has not necessarily translated into a boost for the Democrats, however. Generic party preference polls have been up and down with Republicans even leading at times. New Federal Election Commission data shows that donors are already voting with their wallets and it paints a bleak picture for the GOP.

Politico analyzed FEC filings for the second quarter and found that Democrats in 56 House districts outraised their Republican opponents. In 16 cases, House Republicans finished the quarter with less cash on hand than their Democrat challenger while there were no cases in which House Democrats had less money than their Republican challenger.

In battleground districts, many contested due to retiring Republicans, more than two dozen Democrats led the Republican in fundraising. In 19 of these tossup districts, the Democrat had more cash on hand than the Republican.

In all, 22 Democrats running in Republican districts raised more than $1 million over the past three months, a difficult accomplishment for challengers, many of whom are relatively unknown. These Democrats received large one-time contributions from liberal organizations such as Daily Kos and Swing Left in addition to donations from online sources, Democrats around the country and donors within their districts. Only three Democrats earned more than $1 million purely from their own donors.

While several sitting Republicans raised more than $1 million, other GOP incumbents are lagging. Among the vulnerable incumbents are Dana Rohrabacher in California and Dave Brat of Virginia.

The Democrat fundraising advantage is partly offset by large donations to the Republican super PAC that is backing House candidates. The Congressional Leadership Fund received a record $51 million in the second quarter to add to the more than $70 million already in the bank, but many analysts argue that the lack of giving to specific Republican candidates points to a problem at the district level.

The Republican fundraising picture is looking worse than the Democrats in 2010 prior to the Tea Party wave. In the second quarter of 2010, 44 incumbent Democrats trailed Republicans in fundraising and eight Republicans had more cash on hand than their incumbent opponent. In that election, Republicans gained 60 House seats.

Campaign money does not necessarily translate into votes. In past races, Democratic fundraising has not always helped their candidates win the seat. For example, in 2017 Democrat Jon Ossoff set fundraising records for a special election in Georgia, but ultimately lost the election.

Nevertheless, campaigns flush with cash have an easier time getting out their message and motivating voters. In local races, name recognition can count for a lot and campaigns with money can blanket the airwaves and street corners with the candidate’s name and picture. Campaign contributions are also a measure of the level of support for a candidate.

“From a money standpoint, it’s scary. From a turnout perspective and what all this money means for intensity [in November], that’s even scarier,” said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster who focuses on House races.

“This is shaping up to be the Democratic equivalent of the 2010 Republican year, and a lot of these members have never seen this or run in a cycle like it before,” Bolger added. “But the list of outraised candidates is getting longer, not shorter.”

The Congressional Leadership Fund’s executive director, Corry Bliss, said that the PAC money will blunt the Democratic advantage, but seemed to acknowledge that some Republican seats will be lost.

“Those who are not willing to help themselves should not complain when outside support does not come their way,” Bliss said.

Chris LaCivita, a Republican consultant agreed that the fundraising problems spell trouble for Republican incumbents despite the Republican advantage in PAC money.

“If you allow yourself to be outraised, then you are inviting trouble,” LaCivita said. “In a midterm election with your party in power, trouble generally equates to defeat.”

“These guys need to wake up and take a look in the mirror and decide — do they want to be reelected?” he added.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Why Trump’s Russia Retraction Falls Flat

Scarcely more than 24 hours after his triumphant press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump walked back some of his criticism of American intelligence agencies. Trump’s comments had been rebuked by many Republicans and been ridiculed around the world.
During their joint press conference, President Trump answered a question about Russian hacking during the 2016 election, saying, “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the [hacked DNC] server. But I have — I have confidence in both parties.”
By Tuesday afternoon, President Trump was backtracking, saying that he “realized there is some need for clarification.”
"In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,' " the President said, explaining that he had reviewed a transcript and video of his remarks.
"The sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia,' " he said. "Sort of a double negative."
There are several problems with this explanation. First, the furor should have been immediately apparent to the presidential staff. It should not have taken 24 hours to make such a simple correction.
Just a few hours before the retraction, Trump tweeted that the meeting with Putin was “even better” than his “great meeting“ with NATO. Only the “Fake News” saw it differently, Trump said. If the problem was a simple misstatement, a quick tweet could have resolved the issue much earlier.
Second, the retraction fails to address the other equivocations from President Trump. In the same answer, Trump began by falsely claiming that the FBI had not examined the hacked servers from the DNC then compared Putin’s denial with the claims of US intelligence.
“With that being said, all I can do is ask the question, Trump said. “My people came to me — [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others — they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.”
Trump then riffed on Hillary’s missing emails, saying again that Russia could probably find them before returning to the theme that Putin’s denial was as convincing as what he heard from US Intelligence.
“So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump continued. “And what he did is an incredible offer; he offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”
Trump claims that he misspoke on one phrase, but what he said was consistent, not only with the rest of the press conference, but also his message of the past few years. Trump has expressed admiration for Putin for years and has denied that he believes Russia was involved in hacking the election since 2016.
Finally, there was another tell that indicated Trump’s lack of sincerity. In another passage of his retraction, Trump added an unscripted remark that indicated what he really thought.
”I have a full faith and support for America's great intelligence agencies," Trump said. "I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place — could be other people also."
“Could be other people also."
With those weasel words at the end of the sentence, the president negated almost everything that had come before. The evidence points toward Russia. Either the president believes the evidence or he believes Vladmir Putin. Who he actually believes is obvious.
President Trump does not back down often. The only other instances that come easily to mind are his abortive flip-flop on gun control and a series of flips on immigration, most recently backing down on family separations. These instances show that the president has the political instinct to retreat from unpopular positions, especially when his base begins to crack. His Russian retraction seems to be another political retreat rather than any real reversal of opinion.
Originally published on The Resurgent