Thursday, October 18, 2018

Treasury Leaker Arrested

Federal prosecutors say a high-ranking Treasury Department official has been arrested in connection with information leaked to a reporter. The information being passed along to an unnamed reporter contained details of suspicious activity reported by banks about Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, suspected Russian spy Maria Butina and the Russian embassy.

Law enforcement officials say that Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, 40, a senior advisor at the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has been arrested and charged with leaking confidential banking records. The Washington Post reports that Edwards, who lives near Richmond, was arrested with a flash drive that “appear to contain thousands of SARs (Suspicious Activity Reports), along with other highly sensitive material relating to Russia, Iran and the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” per the complaint.

The flash drive reportedly contained photos of as many as 24,000 SARs that were arranged into folders. The majority of the reports were in a folder named, “Debacle-Operation-CF.” Subfolders were assigned names such as “Debacle/Emails/Asshat.” The complaint notes drily that “Edwards is not known to be involved in any official FinCEN project or task bearing these file titles or code names.”

Suspicious Activity Reports are filed by banks when they spot transactions that could be illegal. The reports “are not public documents, and it is an independent federal crime to disclose them outside of one’s official duties,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said. Banks filed about 2 million SARs in 2017.

Edwards denied wrongdoing when initially questioned by the FBI and then claimed that the documents were related to a whistleblower case that she had filed. When presented with digital evidence that the FBI had obtained from her phone that included hundreds of text messages with a reporter, she confessed that “on numerous occasions, she accessed SARs on her computer, photographed them, and sent the photographs to Reporter-1” using an encrypted phone app. The reporter was not identified or arrested but has been traced by media outlets to BuzzFeed.

The Post also reports that an associate director of FinCEN who is Edwards’ has also been investigated by the FBI. The boss, identified a co-conspirator in the complaint, has not yet been arrested or charged.

Edwards is being charged with one count of unauthorized disclosures of SARs and one count of conspiracy to make unauthorized disclosures of suspicious activity reports. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. A Treasury spokesman said that Edwards has been placed on administrative leave.

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. called Edwards’ actions a breach of the public trust.  “In her position, Edwards was entrusted with sensitive government information,” he said.   “Edwards violated that trust when she made several unauthorized disclosures to the media.  Today's action demonstrates that those who fail to protect the integrity of government information will be rightfully held accountable for their behavior.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Mitch McConnell Is Right About Social Security

Truth is something that we are not used to hearing in the current political climate so it can come as a bit of a shock when a politician blurts out a harsh dose of reality. That was the case yesterday when Mitch McConnell confronted the American people with the bitter fact that the deficit is too large and the only way to cut it is by slashing the sacred cows of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“It’s disappointing but it’s not a Republican problem, McConnell told Bloomberg. “It’s a bipartisan problem. Unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”

While it is not solely a Republican problem, the GOP has done little in the way of deficit reduction recently. This week the Treasury Department revealed that the deficit grew to $779 billion, its highest level since shortly after the Tea Party revolution. After trimming budgets during the Obama Administration, the Republican Congress enacted tax reform that stimulated the economy but slashed corporate tax revenues. At the same time, spending increased due to a larger military budget as well as increased interest payments on the national debt and increased Social Security spending.

The four percent increase in Social Security spending represents a major part of America’s debt problem. While it is tempting to blame foreign aid, military waste, welfare or a number of other programs for America’s mounting debt, the big three entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) together make up a whopping 46 percent of the federal budget per the CBO. The biggest of the big three is Social Security at 23 percent of federal spending.

The entitlement problem is so big that it really doesn’t matter how much cutting we do in other parts of the budget if we don’t reform entitlements. For example, the entire defense budget is only 14 percent of federal spending. The sum total of all foreign aid is only 1.2 percent of the federal budget.

The entitlement programs are at a crisis stage. The Social Security trustee report predicts that in only four years Social Security will begin to pay out more than it takes in. If nothing is done, only 16 years from now in 2034 the Social Security trust fund will be bankrupt.

While McConnell’s truth-telling is a rare act of political courage, it is unlikely that Social Security and other entitlements will be reformed soon. The majority leader’s timing in his truth-telling is less than opportune. Midterm elections are only three weeks away and the Democrats undoubtedly have a pushing-granny-off-the-cliff ad ready to go, just waiting to insert the name of anyone who touches the third rail of American politics.

The truth is that not even conservative voters really want to reform Social Security. Many conservatives have bought into the lie that the Social Security tax that comes out of their paychecks is a contribution that goes into their account. In reality, involuntary Social Security “contributions” go into a trust fund, per the Social Security Administration, from which benefits are paid from the trust fund and the excess “must be invested, on a daily basis, in securities guaranteed as to both principal and interest by the Federal government.” This is another way of saying that the Social Security benefits are paid from current contributions. Any funds left over are loaned to the federal government, which must pay them back with interest.

The plan of using current Social Security taxes to pay current retirees worked well at first. But the architects of Social Security did not foresee the Baby Boom. Now, as Baby Boomers retire in droves, fewer workers are being asked to support more and more retirees. There are only two options to save Social Security: Cut benefits or increase taxes.

Voters seem to be of two minds about Social Security. On one hand, many believe that Social Security is a socialist Ponzi scheme, redistributing wealth from workers to retirees. Nevertheless, the voters also become militant at the very suggestion that benefits might be cut and that they could lose some of their “contributions.”

Even though there is no individual account containing their Social Security savings, American workers have been promised that their taxes will go to fund their retirement. It would be unconscionable for the government to break this promise to those in or near retirement. That is why Republican plans to reform the entitlements would preserve the status quo for retirees and older workers while giving younger workers the option to take part in a plan that has a better chance of being there when they retire.

Mitch McConnell gets credit for facing the tough problem that is America’s entitlement crisis. The majority leader realizes that the deficit crisis cannot be solved without reforming the sacred cow entitlement programs. Unfortunately, admitting that there is a problem is not the same as being able to solve it.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Stormy Daniels' Suit Dropped Like Discarded Stripper Outfit

In a metaphorically appropriate ruling yesterday, porn star Stormy Daniels saw her legal suit hit the floor like a discarded stripper’s costume. A federal judge not only dismissed Daniels’ defamation lawsuit against Trump, but he is also requiring the adult actress and one-time alleged Trump paramour to pay the president’s legal fees in the case.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, had filed suit against the president after he tweeted last April that Daniels’ story about being intimidated by an unknown assailant was a “con job.” Prior to the 2016 election, Daniels had threatened to go public about her sexual exploits with the married Mr. Trump and later claimed that Team Trump had sent the man to silence her.

Federal District Judge James Otero wrote in his decision dismissing the case that “the tweet in question constitutes 'rhetorical hyperbole' normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States. The First Amendment protects this type of rhetorical statement.” The decision also stipulates that Daniels must pay the president’s legal fees in the case.

In a statement to CNN, Trump lawyer Charles Harder gloated, “No amount of spin or commentary by Stormy Daniels or her lawyer, Mr. Avenatti, can truthfully characterize today's ruling in any way other than total victory for President Trump and total defeat for Stormy Daniels.” Harder said that the attorney fees owed by Daniels would be determined later.

A second lawsuit between Daniels and the president is still pending and is not affected by yesterday’s ruling. The second case involves both President Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen and stems from the $130,000 payment that Trump made to Daniels as part of their nondisclosure agreement. The second suit alleges that the NDA is not valid because Trump did not personally sign the contract.

On Twitter, Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti blasted the statement by Harder and called the NDA lawsuit “the main case… due to its allegations of conduct that constitutes a federal crime.” Avenatti said that Trump would owe Daniels “attorneys’ fees and costs in connection with the NDA case that will far exceed any fees or costs awarded in the defamation action.”

Legal scholar Eugene Volokh examined the NDA last March after Daniels filed suit and attempted to clear the murky waters of the agreement. Per Volokh, the law may not require Trump’s signature to make the agreement valid, but there are other issues that may invalidate the contract including the fact that since Trump is now president restraining the speech of an individual may represent a violation of the First Amendment.

But Trump’s legal team may have rendered the NDA lawsuit moot. Last month, Trump agreed not to enforce the NDA or sue Daniels for violating its terms. That leaves the possibility that Daniels and Avenatti may pursue the case in hopes of pinning campaign finance violations on Donald Trump or of winning legal fees in the case.  Michael Cohen has already pled guilty to campaign finance violations related to the payoff to Daniels.

For now, Team Trump can celebrate its “total victory” and some vindication in the weeks ahead of the midterm elections. The second lawsuit and Mr. Avenatti’s presidential aspirations will be put to the test later.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Deficit Reaches Highest Level In Six Years

The economy boomed in the three quarters that followed last year’s Republican tax reform, but economic news has become more mixed of late with a topsy-turvy stock market and Mr. Trump’s tariff war beginning to affect bottom lines and employment. Now comes more news about the deficit that should rankle any fiscal conservatives who remain in Congress or the country at large.

The fiscal year for the US government ended in September and the figures on the federal budget deficit are not good. In fact, even though the US economy is booming, the deficit is the largest deficit run by the government in six years. The deficit for the 2018 fiscal year was $779 billion, a 17 percent increase over the $666 billion deficit in fiscal 2017. The last time the deficit was higher was in 2012 when Barack Obama presided over a deficit of more than a trillion dollars.

The deficit is the difference between what the federal government spends and what it earns. When the federal government spends more than it receives in revenues, as it has every year since 1960 (with the exception of 1998), it must borrow the difference. Each annual deficit is added to the mountain of federal debt which currently stands at more than $21 trillion.

Democrats were quick to blame tax reform for the exploding deficit. A deficit of this magnitude in an economy this strong is historically unprecedented,” Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Democratic administration of President Obama and an economic policy professor at Harvard University, told the Wall Street Journal. “Undertaking permanent fiscal stimulus [through tax cuts] at this stage of the economic expansion is contrary to all sound tenets of economic policy.”

According to Treasury Department statistics, flat federal revenues were part of the deficit problem. Total federal receipts were $3.329 trillion in 2018 compared with $3.316 trillion in 2017. FY 2018 included three months – October, November and December 2017 – at higher tax rates. This means that the 2019 revenue picture looks even worse.

Under tax reform, withholding was lowered in February for individual taxpayers. Despite this, tax receipts from individuals increased by one percent. Tax payments by businesses fell more than 30 percent for the year, however.

Flat revenue was not the only contributor to the rising deficit. Federal spending also increased. Total outlays for 2018 were $4.108 trillion compared to $3.981 trillion in 2017. The spending increases were driven by rising interest costs paid on a greater amount of federal debt as well as increased military spending, which rose by six percent, and Social Security spending which increased by four percent.

Republicans argue that the tax reform is fueling economic growth, which will eventually lead to higher tax revenues. Nevertheless, Kevin Hassett, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, admits that spending and the deficit are big problems.

“The deficit is absolutely higher than anyone would like,” Hassett told Bloomberg last week. “As you watch our next budget come out -- and you’ll start to see things in the next few weeks -- then you’ll see a much more aggressive stance” on spending issues.

For the past half-century, the only combination that resulted in lower deficits was when a Republican Congress put the brakes on spending by a Democrat president. The much-maligned John Boehner led the Republican House to cut the deficit in real dollars between 2012 and 2015 thanks to the sequestration. Interestingly, once Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress in the 2014 elections, both spending and the deficit again started to climb. The same combination of Republican Congress and Democrat president yielded the last budget surplus in 1998.

It is perhaps ironic that the Republican deficit hawks would preside over a blowout in the deficit. It is unsurprising, however. Historically, the only thing the parties have been able to agree on is borrowing and spending at ever higher levels and the problem seems to get worse when one party controls both Congress and the White House.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, the deficit problem seems unlikely to change any time soon. Unless federal revenues can be increased or spending can be cut, the 2019 federal deficit is forecast to be on the wrong side of a trillion dollars once again.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Portland Mayor's Weakness Fuels Violence

Ted Wheeler, the mayor of Portland, has lost control. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that Wheeler has ceded control of his city to Antifa with predictable results.

Portland is normally a hotbed of liberalism, but the city has boiled over in recent weeks. The trouble started with the police shooting of Patrick Kimmons on September 30. In the days after Kimmons’ death, Antifa members rallied to Portland to protest. On October 14, Patriot Prayer, a right-wing group with a history of provocative rallies, staged a counter-demonstration that led to violent clashes between the rival groups. Critics charge that Mayor Wheeler contributed to the violence by ordering police to stand down.  

In the Washington Times, Wheeler said, “I was appalled by what I saw in the video, but I support the Portland Police Bureau’s decision not to intervene. This whole incident will be investigated.”

The video that Wheeler referred to was one of several taken by Andy Ngo and posted to Twitter. It showed black-clad Antifa members directing traffic in an intersection and attacking cars while Portland police looked on. The militants reportedly broke the window of a Lexus driven by a 74-year-old man who did not follow their directions.

“This is the kind of street anarchy that routinely happens where I live,” Ngo said.

The Portland violence resembles the Charlottesville rioting from last year. After Antifa descended on the city, right-wing activists staged a “flash march for law and order,” led by Joey Gibson, a former Republican Senate candidate. Gibson’s Patriot Prayer group included members of the Proud Boys, an alt-right group of brawlers founded in 2016. Like Charlottesville, when police stood down, the two groups mixed with explosive results. Proud Boys were also involved in a New York City clash over the weekend.

Oregon Live reported that participants in the street fighting carried bear spray, hard knuckle gloves, knives and firearms. There were no arrests, but riot police reported intervened to stop at least one skirmish by firing pepper balls at the crowd.  

The mayor argued that he would have been criticized no matter how he had handled the Portland mobs. “This is the story of Goldilocks and the two bears. The porridge is either too hot or it’s too cold,” Mr. Wheeler told reporters. “At any given moment in this city, the police are criticized for being heavy-handed and intervening too quickly, or they’re being criticized for being standoffish and not intervening quickly enough.”

The best solution would seem to have been to uphold the law. When two opposing mobs, neither with a permit for a demonstration, are street fighting in downtown Portland, destroying property and endangering citizens, it is the responsibility of the city government and police to take charge of the situation. Mayor Wheeler’s failure to exercise his authority to protect the city directly contributing to the rioting. It was Mr. Wheeler’s initial lack of response to Antifa that led Patriot Prayer to launch their counter-protest.

Portland is a liberal city and Mr. Wheeler was probably concerned that cracking down on Antifa would hurt his political career. Many of the Antifa protesters and their supporters are likely Portland voters who would exact their revenge on Mr. Wheeler at the ballot box. Still, what the country needs desperately at this moment is an act of political courage. Elected officials need to do their jobs and uphold the law, regardless of the consequences and regardless of the political affiliation of the rioters.

The scene in Portland was reminiscent of street brawling between German communists and Nazis in the 1920s. The comparison is especially apt since one of Mr. Ngo’s photos shows the Antifa radicals carrying a Soviet flag. In Weimar Germany, street brawling by party hooligans helped to undermine the authority of the unpopular government.

It isn’t a question of which group is right and which is wrong. Both are operating outside the law and looking for a fight. Allowing paramilitary fighters free rein delegitimizes the government and strengthens radicals of both sides. The city government should be conducting mass arrests of anyone involved in the street fighting and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law. If the city government cannot control the situation, they should request assistance from the National Guard.

Mayor Wheeler’s lack of response to the violence in Portland is a show of weakness that will only encourage both groups to further violence. Both sides are undermining the authority of the government and contributing to the general atmosphere of anger and fear that seems to permeate American politics. It is up to civic leaders like Mayor Wheeler to earn their pay and secure their cities.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, October 15, 2018

Why Price Gouging Can Be A Good Thing

In the wake of storms like Hurricane Michael, there are often stories of people who flock into the area carrying loads of supplies such as food, clothes, bleach, generators, fuel and batteries. Often these people are on missions of charity, but others are entrepreneurs who truck in provisions to make a quick buck. Although these profiteers are easy targets for scorn, they do serve a useful purpose for the storm-ravaged communities.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, I lived in a small town on the outskirts of the city. While my house was spared serious storm and flood damage, many others in my community were not so lucky. Flooding was extensive and many homes were damaged or destroyed. Even for those who didn’t lose their homes, there were widespread power outages as well as shortages of gasoline and other supplies. When nearly every road is closed, it can be difficult or impossible for stores to get new stocks of food and fuel.

In the wake of the 2016 storm, my family and I volunteered at a FEMA shelter operated by several local churches. We received some supplies from FEMA and the Red Cross, but the majority of the relief items that we received were from individuals and groups around the country. In particular, churches provided truckload after truckload of food and clothes for our local storm victims.

The way the shelter operated was that we would take relief supplies in through the back door and give them away through the front. Donations were unloaded and sorted into categories. We would then use the items to make up donation boxes that were given away. At our shelter, we gave away most supplies to anyone who wanted them, no questions asked.

While this was altruistic and a service to the community, it also made abuse easy. Many locals brought donations to the shelter, but we also noticed some people who would show up every day to pick up food and other items. In some cases, we suspected that they were “shopping” rather than picking up what they needed to survive.

The problem was that when items are given away free, it creates an abnormally high demand. People who might not really need the food would be tempted to get some just because it was free for the taking.

This problem is illustrated by the need for bleach after the hurricane-related floods. In a hot, humid climate like Houston, mold grows quickly. If you have a house that is wet from floodwaters, you need bleach to kill mold in the wet areas before it spreads to other parts of the house. Bleach was in high demand after Harvey.

When shipments of bleach arrived at the shelter, they went quickly. We limited the distribution of bleach, as well as other hard to find items like tarps, to one per family, but there is the possibility that some of these items went to people who didn’t really need them. While charging storm victims for bleach would have seemed cruel, it would also have helped to ensure that the supplies went to the people who needed them most.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, Duracell and other companies have joined relief organizations in shipping truckloads of supplies into affected regions, but with hundreds of thousands of people in storm-damaged areas, how can they make sure that the supplies get to the people who need them? When Duracell gives away batteries, they might well be handing them out to people who have a stockpile of batteries at home. Some might have generators or still have electric service at their home.

There is definitely a place for charity, but there is also a place for the entrepreneurs that people call price gougers. If storm victims can’t find bleach or batteries at a shelter or if the local stores are out of generators, they might be able to get these items from the entrepreneurs who drive in motivated by profits.

Supply and demand are elastic in the wake of a natural disaster. The demand for generators and batteries increases dramatically when the power goes out, especially when it may be out for weeks as one of my friends in Florida expects. If the price doesn’t go up, people will stock up on supplies on the chance that they may need them. In a post-hurricane situation, who knows when the supplies will be available again?

The flip side is that if the price is bid up, buyers who don’t really need the items won’t buy them. If a pack of batteries that generally costs $5 is selling for $20 after a storm, speculators will exit the market and only people that really need batteries will purchase them. There is also an incentive not to waste batteries if you just paid $20 for them.

Natural disasters introduce scarcity and the way that markets deal with scarcity is to adjust prices. Allowing prices to rise after storms seems cruel and selfish, but it helps to ensure that the people who really need supplies are the ones who get them. When prices are not allowed to adjust, shortages often result. Low prices are worthless if there are no products to buy.

God bless the people and the companies like Duracell that are helping hurricane victims, but we should also be thankful for the price gougers. They serve an important role in distributing relief items, but they had better have a thick skin.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Why I Believe In The God Of The Bible

Earlier this year, I had cancer. Thankfully, it was only a stage one melanoma that was easily removed, but to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, the possibility of death concentrates the mind wonderfully. Some of the things that my mind concentrated on were God, the afterlife and whether my own religious beliefs reflected the true path to heaven.

I’ve been a Christian for most of my life and at times it has occurred to me that, for most of us, our religious beliefs are somewhat hereditary. We are Christians or Muslims or Jews or Buddhists because we were raised in families and communities that followed those traditions. For something as important as the final destination of our immortal souls, we should probably look beyond what our family and neighbors believe and seek out the objective truth.

I’m a rational and logical person. Generally, when making decisions and forming opinions, I look for objective facts. Religion is no different. If we base our religious beliefs solely on subjective feelings and emotions, then we can’t be sure that we have the truth. Adherents of all religions feel that they have the truth, but they can’t all be right.

Investigating God and religion is actually a two-stage process. The first question is whether God and the spirit world exists at all. When that question is answered in the affirmative, the second question is which of the myriad religions comes closest to accurately reflecting the true message that God has given us. In my case, I’ve had several incidents in my life that proved the existence of the spirit world beyond my doubt so the question was whether Christianity truly represented God’s plan.

Determining whether writings and beliefs about something as intangible as spirits are true can be difficult, but the Bible actually contains some good and objective advice on how this can be accomplished. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 says, “If the word [of a prophet] does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken.” It turns out that determining truth is actually pretty easy. Just look to seek if prophecies match reality.

Objective research should include listening to both sides of an argument as well as considering alternatives. Objectively, religious claims cannot be used to prove themselves. External, impartial evidence should be used to corroborate religious claims. Not every statement made by religious texts is verifiable, but many are. Differences in language and points of view between the ancient writers and modern readers should be considered as we do so.

For example, there are several statements in the Quran that are at odds with modern science. The Quran claims that the earth is flat and that semen “comes out from between the backbone and the ribs.” The Quran also claims that there are seven planets. Muslim apologists have explanations for these passages, but these claims seem to be irrefutably wrong. Such mistakes seem inconsistent with a book that Muslims believe “exists today in the precise form and content in which it was originally revealed.” Likewise, the historical claims made in the Book Of Mormon fail to match archaeological fact.

With respect to prophetic claims, a list of fulfilled prophecies from the Quran seems very vague and open to interpretation. Another fulfilled prophecy, a great fire “in the land of the Hijaz which will illuminate the necks of the camels in Busra,” occurred some 640 years after Mohammed’s death, but is not actually recorded in the Quran.

In contrast, many of the historical claims of the Bible can be verified by archaeology. “The Bible as History” by Werner Keller is a classic text that describes much of the scientific evidence for the historical books of the Old Testament. King David, long thought by many to be a myth, is referenced in an inscription commemorating the victories of an Aramean king that was discovered in 1993. “Patterns of Evidence,” a 2015 documentary, provides plausible evidence for the Exodus by postulating that scholars were looking at the wrong dates in history.

When it comes to science, there are many claims that the Bible is in error. A representative list can be found here on Rational Wiki. Unlike Islam’s scientific claims, most of the problems have simple solutions. Some purported Biblical errors are due to a literal reading of passages that weren’t intended to be taken literally. For example, in Matthew 13:31-21, Jesus is not making the claim that there are no seeds physically smaller than a mustard seed, but that is the message that some critics get from the verse. Another example is Leviticus 11:20-23 in which the Biblical description of insects differs from the modern scientific definition. This problem is easily resolved by considering the differences in language between the Bible’s writers, later translators and modern readers. Deuteronomy 20:16-18 is held up as an error because DNA studies show that ancient Canaanites survived the Israelite invasion. The Deuteronomy verse shows that the Israelites were commanded to kill the Canaanites, but other verses, such as Judges 3:5-8 show that they failed to do so.

A claim that the Bible violates mathematic law is also dependent on assumptions by the reader. Critics claim that the large bowl described in 1 Kings 7:23-26 could not have existed because the measurements don’t fit the mathematic equation for circumference. If the Bible is right, they claim, pi would have to equal 3.0 instead of 3.14. Leaving aside rounding error and the lack of a standard measurement, the critics fail to note that the description of the brim of the bowl was “a handbreadth thick.” The equation could be thrown off by the difference between the inner and outer dimensions of the brim.

With respect to prophecy, the Bible makes numerous specific prophecies that can be tested against historical records for accuracy. Rational Wiki also provides a list of Biblical prophecies that the authors claim were in error. As even the compilers of the list acknowledge, some of these prophecies were contingent on the behavior of the recipients of the message. The classic example is Jonah’s prophecy that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days. The prophecy fulfilled its intended purpose when the people of Nineveh repented and so the prophecy was never fulfilled. Similarly, some prophecies are end-time prophecies that have not been fulfilled yet.

A more difficult case is the prophecy that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy the city of Tyre in Ezekiel 26. Critics say that the destruction of Tyre never happened and that the city continues to exist today on an island in contradiction to the prophecy. Archaeological evidence, however, suggests that the city of Tyre was primarily a mainland city in ancient days. Nebuchadnezzar apparently destroyed the mainland portion of the city while some survivors escaped to the island, which was later destroyed by Alexander the Great. One view is that fulfillment of the prophecy was begun by Nebuchadnezzar and completed by Alexander. Interestingly, verse 12 sounds like a very specific description of how Alexander used the rubble of the destroyed city to build a causeway to the island and finish Tyre’s destruction.

A few chapters later, in Ezekiel 29:17-20, the prophet talks about the destruction of Tyre as if it has already happened. In the same passage, he says that Nebuchadnezzar will defeat Egypt. This happened in 605 BC at the Battle of Carchemish.  Critics argue that Babylon never completely conquered Egypt, but the prophecy merely says that Nebuchadnezzar would plunder his enemy. Two other passages, Ezekiel 30 and Isaiah 19 are also cited as prophecies that were erroneous. The opinion of many theologians is that these are end-time prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled.

To me, one of the most compelling proofs of the Bible is what Rabbi Jonathan Cahn calls “the anti-witness” in his devotional book, “The Book of Mysteries.” Cahn points out that if the biblical claim that the Jews are God’s chosen people is not true, there would be no reason for the age-old persecution of Jews. Instead, we find that Jews not only have been the subject of attempts at racial extermination throughout history but that they have survived as a genetically and culturally distinct group more than 2,000 years after Judah ceased to exist as an independent kingdom.

A friend recently pointed out to me the historical evidence that God used hostile nations to judge the Jews, but then judged those nations in turn because they attacked his chosen nation. The pattern repeats many times. Egypt, a longtime enemy of ancient Israel, was conquered several times by Assyria, Persia and finally Rome in 31 BC. After the death of Solomon, ancient Israel split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. The kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria around 740 BC. Assyria became the conquered less than 150 years later in 612 BC at the hands of Medo-Persians and Babylonians. Judah was conquered by Babylon in 586 BC. Only 50 years later in 539 BC, Babylon fell to the Persians led by Cyrus the Great. In AD 70, Rome recaptured Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish temple at the culmination of the First Jewish Revolt. Nine years later, Mt. Vesuvius erupted during a festival celebrating Vulcan, the god of fire. This eruption, which destroyed Pompeii and several other cities, still ranks as one of the worst volcanic disasters in history. In 1945, Germany’s extermination of Jews was interrupted by the country’s total defeat at the hands of the Allies. Since World War II, the modern state of Israel is undefeated even against numerically superior Arab forces. Clearly, making war on the Jews can be harmful to your health.

When it comes to determining the truth and validity of the Bible, there is an added complexity. The Bible is not one book but is actually an anthology that is broken into two parts: The Old and New Testaments. While many of the details of the Old Testament can be verified through archaeology, the New Testament largely consists of theological books and the story of Yeshua, a Jewish carpenter better known to the world as Jesus. These themes do not lend themselves to archaeological fact-checking.

Accordingly, some claim today that Jesus never existed and is only a fictional character. This point is easily disproved through ancient writings that reference Jesus as a real person. Validating Jesus’s claims of divinity are more difficult to prove, however.

Even though the New Testament books weren’t written down until long after the death (and alleged resurrection of Jesus), there is evidence that Paul’s letters contain early church creeds that confirm that the message of the books written later was true to the story of Jesus. The evidence is that the content of the New Testament has been unchanged since the first century.

Skeptics also dispute the gospel claims about the death and resurrection of Jesus, the foundation of the Christian faith. The details of gospel story have been thoroughly investigated and found plausible by such one-time skeptics as Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and J. Warner Wallace. I encourage any seeker to read their answers to skeptical charges that the gospel accounts are unreliable.

No matter how much evidence there is, in the final analysis there is no definitive proof for spiritual matters. Ultimately, everyone has to make a decision as to what they believe and how to react to that belief. Belief itself is not enough. James 2:19 points out that even the demons believe in God. Forgiveness and salvation only come when we add submission to God’s authority to our belief (Romans 10:9).

Even though I cannot offer conclusive proof that the Bible is true and that Jesus is the only way to heaven, I have made the choice to believe and accept that truth. This faith is not a blind faith. It’s based on a preponderance of the evidence.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, October 12, 2018

Kanye Is Not A 'Token Negro'... Or A Hero

Once again, Kanye West’s bromance with President Trump has triggered knee-jerk reactions on both sides of the political spectrum. The response from many on the left was nothing short of racist while Republicans once again showed their willingness to overlook a host of bizarre behavior in order to embrace a celebrity who says nice things about Donald Trump.

On one hand, Don Lemon and his guests on CNN treated West shamefully. The rapper was bombarded with racial slurs by several CNN commentators after his Oval Office meeting with the president.

“Kanye West is what happens when negroes don’t read,” said Bakari Sellers, a former state legislator from South Carolina who was a guest on the show.

The worst comments came from CNN correspondent Tara Setmayer, however. Setmayer called West an “attention whore” and the “the token Negro of the Trump administration.” She also said that “black folks are about to trade Kanye in the racial draft.”

The comments about West are racist on their face. It is racist and stereotypical by definition to assume that someone must hold particular political beliefs because of the color of their skin. As of this writing, however, CNN has neither disciplined Lemon or Setmayer nor condemned the comments made on the show.

There is substance to the claims that Kanye has mental problems. West revealed last June that he has been diagnosed with a “mental condition” and has made references to being bipolar. It is, however, reprehensible to equate mental illness with wearing a MAGA hat.

On the other hand, just because West wears a MAGA hat does not make him someone that conservatives should put on a pedestal. Kanye may be a Trump supporter, but that does not make him a conservative. West’s Oval Office monologue may have contained some good points, but it also contained some bizarre ones.

Put simply, Kanye West is a nut. Self-proclaimed to be the “voice of this generation,” West has also claimed that he is “a close high” to the Most High, Jesus Christ. If that lyric left any doubt, the song, from the album “Yeezus,” is called “I Am A God” and also contains the lyric “I am a god” repeated no less than 12 times. The song closes with the line, “Ain't no way I'm giving up on my god.” I would argue that anyone who claims to be a god is incompatible with a party that claims to Christian.

Beyond his love for Donald Trump, West is not even politically reliable. Although his love for Trump and his “male energy” appears genuine, West still says, as recently as his meeting with Trump yesterday, “I love Hillary” and there seems to be little evidence that West holds or even understands conservative political positions.

As if to underscore his instability, after leaving the White House West apparently went to an Apple store in the District of Columbia and climbed up on a table to deliver a “keynote” address. Amazingly, no one seems to have videoed the speech although a reporter for Religion News Service tweeted pictures and a running commentary of the event. Kanye reportedly said that he made a hat for Trump that said “Made America Great,” notably omitting the word “again” from the slogan, and then announced that he was leaving for Africa.

The great Kanye-troversy of 2018 is another case in which both sides make themselves look bad. The liberal attacks on West are a clear attempt to demonize any dissent from ethnic groups that the Democrats claim as their own. The Democratic Party knows that if the bloc of black voters is broken, it will be practically impossible to elect anyone from their increasingly radical and, dare I say it, crazy party.

For Republicans, Kanye is another example of how low the party has set the bar for its idols. The only conservative credential that West has is the fact that he wears a MAGA hat and likes President Trump. When Republicans applaud Kanye West for praising President Trump only a few days after they condemn Taylor Swift for using her celebrity status to stump for Democrats, it makes them look like hypocrites.

The bottom line here is that celebrities have the right to speak about politics, the same as anyone else. The best solution for both sides is let them have their say and then ignore them.  

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Heidi Heitkamp On Civility

As the Democratic Party appears to be devolving into a pitchfork-wielding mob, at least one Democrat official is willing to stand against the rising tide of incivility and violent rhetoric. North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp yesterday rebuked Hillary Clinton’s statement that Democrats could not be civil with Republicans as “ridiculous.”

Earlier this week, failed presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said on CNN, “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about. That's why I believe if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and or the Senate, that's when civility can start again.”

The embattled North Dakota senator responded to Clinton’s comments on Anderson Cooper’s show, also on CNN, saying, “That's ridiculous.  I mean I can't imagine how you get anything done if you don't bring civility back into politics, and that goes for both sides.”

Heitkamp’s newfound ability to speak out against heated Democrat rhetoric may be related to a bevy of bad polls in her reelection campaign. Heitkamp was trailing her Republican challenger even before she announced her opposition to Brett Kavanaugh. Since September, she has trailed by double-digits. Heitkamp’s seat represents one of the best chances for Republicans to flip a Senate seat this November.

To be fair, however, Heitkamp, a red state Democrat, is not a typical liberal. In 2016, Donald Trump reportedly considered her for a cabinet position as Secretary of Agriculture. Since then, she has voted with Trump about half the time and her support for a bill reforming Dodd-Frank earned her a public thank you from the Koch brothers. A GovTrack ranking of senators puts her almost squarely in the middle of the Senate and more conservative than Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Sen. Heitkamp’s call for civility may not be enough to save her seat, but it is nonetheless refreshing to hear. If the North Dakota voters choose to bring her home, the real loser will be the Democratic Party, where moderate voices are becoming increasingly difficult to find.

Originally published on The Resurgent

FBI Foils Election Day Bomb Plot

There has been a lot of talk lately about incivility and the potential for violence in the current political climate. Yesterday, the danger came sharply into focus when the FBI arrested Paul Rosenfeld for plotting to blow himself up on the National Mall in Washington, DC on Election Day.

Per NBC News, Paul Rosenfeld of Tappan, N.Y. was arrested by the FBI after sending text messages and letters to a reporter in Pennsylvania last August and September. In the messages, Rosenfeld threated to publicly detonate a bomb on the mall to kill himself. The reporter notified law enforcement and Rosenfeld was promptly arrested. In a search of his home, authorities discovered a bomb containing eight pounds of black powder. Crating and other components increased the total weight of the bomb to 200 pounds.

Rosenfeld, who was unhappy with the direction of the country, planned the attack to draw attention to his political beliefs. Was he promoting a radical leftist ideology or was he a right-wing militant? Neither, as it turns out.

Rosenfeld believed in sortition. What the heck is “sortition,” you ask? Sortition is a political system in which representatives are chosen by lot rather than by election or appointment. In such a system, a random sample of regular citizens becomes responsible for government decisions. The system was used in ancient Athens to determine members of courts and councils.

Paul Rosenfeld was ready to sacrifice his life because he wanted government representatives to be randomly selected people rather than political elites. If Rosenfeld would give his life for such a belief, how many other Americans would give their lives to stop what they are told is an attempt to destroy their country and their way of life?

Authorities believe that Rosenfeld acted alone. I would also speculate that he may be suffering from some sort of mental illness. Mental illness is also a frequent factor in the mass shootings that seem to plague modern society.

After his arrest, Rosenfeld confessed to the plot and told the FBI that he did not intend to hurt anyone else. He only planned to kill himself.

"Had he been successful, Rosenfeld’s alleged plot could have claimed the lives of innocent bystanders and caused untold destruction," said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney.

The foiled bomb plot underscores the danger present in the current heated environment. Although Rosenfeld’s ideology seems divorced from reality, it is often unhinged radicals who convince themselves to pull the trigger on violence.

As Sen. Rand Paul warned this week, with violent rhetoric common on both sides, “I really worry that somebody is going to be killed and that those who are ratcheting up the conversation ... they have to realize they bear some responsibility if this elevates to violence.”

Thus far, law enforcement has been able to intervene and stop most violent plots but there have been exceptions such as the attack on the Republican baseball team and the white-supremacist car attack on protesters at Charlottesville.

The sheer number of angry activists and people with mental problems in the US means that more political violence and bloodshed is certain to occur. When it does, we should pray that the act does not ignite the powder keg on which the nation is currently perched.

Originally published on the Resurgent

McConnell Says No Republican Senator Will Replace Sessions

There has been a lot of speculation that President Trump will fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the midterm elections. Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has weighed in on the matter of a possible replacement for Sessions.

A replacement for Sessions, McConnell told the AP, is “not going to come from our caucus, I can tell you that.”

McConnell’s objections to losing a Republican senator to the Department of Justice seemed more grounded in political practicality than in an ethical problem related to Trump’s reasons for dismissing Sessions. McConnell cited the Republicans’ slim 51-49 majority as a reason for not referring a Senate Republican to Trump for the job. When rogue Republicans such as Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are considered, the Republican majority often evaporates quickly.

McConnell is undoubtedly concerned about replacing a Senate Republican in the current political climate. When a special election was held for Jeff Sessions’ Alabama seat, Republican voters rejected his appointed successor, Luther Strange, in favor of Roy Moore, who ended up losing in the general election to Doug Jones.

If he waits until after the election to fire Sessions, President Trump may have a hard time getting a replacement confirmed. Current Senate polling suggests that Republicans have the upper hand in the battle for control of the body, but Democrats remain within striking distance. Even if the appointment goes to the current Congress, some Republican senators would likely refuse to cooperate with an attempt to oust Sessions. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said in August that he found it “really difficult to envision any circumstance” in which he would vote to confirm a successor to Sessions.

McConnell did not address any effect that firing Sessions might have on the Mueller probe but did argue that the current Congress has been “extraordinarily accomplished.” He cited tax reform, regulatory reform, changes to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and the appointment of numerous conservative judges to federal courts as well as a bipartisan bill to combat the opioid crisis.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Should Polls Be Trusted?

It’s election season. A time when the fancy of political prognosticators turns to opinion polling. Polls are one of the only objective measures of how a race is looking before the official votes are cast, but there is always a question of whether polling is reliable.

Especially since Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in 2016, many consider polls unreliable. The truth is that the polls in 2016 weren’t off as far as many think they were. The popular vote corresponded almost exactly to the national polls in which Hillary Clinton led by about two percentage points. At the state level, Trump eked out victories in a number of states where Hillary led in the polls, but polling in most of those states showed a very close race. Wisconsin, where polling showed Hillary up by about eight points, is the exception. Data from the American Association for Public Opinion Research shows that much of the error was due to a final-week surge after James Comey released his letter to Congress on Oct. 28, 2016.

As I have written before, polls should neither be believed absolutely nor totally discarded. The best strategy is to take each individual poll with a grain of salt. Rather than focusing on a single poll, look for trends. This is easy to do with sites such as Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight that provide comprehensive lists of polls as well as averaging their results. Another good strategy is to discard outliers, single polls that show a radically different result from the rest.

The best way to judge the accuracy of polls is to compare them to the final election results. Since polls are snapshots that record a moment in time, rather than forecasts, this can be done by looking at the polls taken just before the election. Fortunately, RCP and FiveThirtyEight both keep their polling data posted for past elections.

If we compare polling for the four special elections held so far this year with the actual election results, this is what we find:

Pennsylvania’s 18th district was the first special election held this year. It pitted Democrat Conor Lamb against Republican Rick Saccone for the seat of Tim Murphy, a Republican who resigned due to a sex scandal. RCP showed Lamb leading by two to four points in two of the last three polls, giving him an average advantage of two points. When the results were in, Lamb won by 0.4 points.

Next, Hiral Tipimeni (D) and Debbie Lesko (R) vied for the seat of Trent Franks, a Republican who resigned after being accused of sexual harassment for asking to impregnate female staffers. For this race in Arizona’s sixth district, RCP shows two polls. Lesko led in both by an average of eight points. On Election Day, Lesko won by 5.2 points. The 2.8-point difference is the largest error of the three elections.

In the third special election, the race for Texas’ 27th district, there seem have been no public polls. This is not surprising since the district is reliably Republican and was carried by Donald Trump by almost 20 points.

The fourth election was in Ohio’s 12th district where Republican Pat Tiberi resigned to lead the American Business Roundtable. Democrat Danny O’Connor and Republican Troy Balderson ran to fill the seat in this closely watched race. Polling in the race was mixed, especially in the final days. The last two polls showed each candidate up by one point and the RCP average was a tie. Balderson won by 0.8 points.

While polls aren’t expected to be exact or forecast the exact outcome on Election Day, special election polling in 2018 has been pretty good. Over three separate races, the average error for the average of polls was only 1.7 percentage points. Considering that the polls in some races were taken weeks before the election and late-breaking events, such as President Trump’s visit to Ohio three days before the election, can cause voters to change their minds, the results are remarkably accurate.

Don’t assume that every poll that you see is gospel, but if you want an idea of how elections are going to play out, there is no substitute for a close look at the polls. The bottom line is that if candidates didn’t think polls were valuable tools, they wouldn’t pay for them.

For more information on how to skeptically read polls, read this earlier article from The Resurgent.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Podcast Review: The Other Kennedy Assassination

When you hear the phrase, “the Kennedy assassination,” your mind automatically jumps to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, home of the Texas School Book Depository and workplace of a mousy little communist named Lee Harvey Oswald. Given the outsized place that the death of John F. Kennedy holds in American history, it is not surprising that the assassination of his brother Robert Kennedy is all but forgotten.

For those of you who, like me, are not well acquainted with the murder of RFK, a new podcast provides a fascinating look at the crime, the criminal and the possibility of a conspiracy. The podcast is called the “RFK Tapes” and features an investigation by Zac Stuart Pontier and Bill Klaber into the assassination of JFK’s younger brother.

On June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy, who had served as JFK’s attorney general, was the junior senator from New York and he seemed to be on top of the world. That day he clinched the Democratic nomination for president with twin primary victories in California and South Dakota. Afterward, he went to a celebration at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. A few hours later, he was dead.

The assassin was Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab who was born in Jerusalem to a Christian family. Sirhan was a Jordanian citizen who had come to the US with his family as a child, 12 years before he killed Kennedy. He spent his early years in the West Bank where he was traumatized by violence, including the death of his older brother, from the Arab-Israeli wars. His early years left Sirhan with a deep dislike for Israel that became a motive for the assassination.

There is little doubt that Sirhan was involved in the assassination. Witnesses saw him fire his .22 pistol at Kennedy in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. He was apprehended at the scene by onlookers, who disarmed him after he had emptied his gun. A journal was found at his house where Sirhan had written that “RFK must die” because of his support for Israel. Sirhan even confessed to the police after his arrest and asked to plead guilty to the murder.

Similar to the assassination of JFK, the question became whether Sirhan was the sole perpetrator or whether there was a conspiracy. The main evidence for a conspiracy is the possibility that more than eight bullets were fired during the melee in the hotel kitchen when Sirhan’s gun only had an eight-round capacity. There is also the mysterious “girl in the polka dot dress” who several witnesses claim to have seen. Finally, there are questions about ballistics such as whether Sirhan was close enough to account for powder burns on Kennedy’s body and whether the angle of bullet entry matches Sirhan’s position in the kitchen.

Some episodes of the podcast present seemingly bizarre theories, such as the idea that Sirhan was the victim of hypnosis and mind control. Proponents of this theory argue that it explains why Sirhan today claims that he cannot remember the killing. Sirhan boosted this theory in 2011 when he claimed that the “girl in the polka dot dress” triggered a posthypnotic suggestion that made him draw his pistol and begin firing. The podcast investigates the evidence both for an against a conspiracy and presents an objectively to the listener.

In the wake of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony about Justice Brett Kavanaugh, it is interesting to see how eyewitness testimony changes over the years. When a story changes over the course of 30 or 50 years, is it because memories are not perfect and our minds play tricks or is there a more sinister reason? Especially after several decades, eyewitness testimony cannot be considered reliable without supporting evidence.

Although I remain a skeptic, I have to admit that the evidence for a conspiracy in the RFK assassination is more compelling than it is in the case of JFK. On the question of how many bullets were fired, we will never know the truth for sure because the LAPD destroyed key evidence that may – or may not – have proved that there were two guns. More than eight bullets would be de facto proof of a conspiracy.

Also curious is the way that the LAPD discarded the reports of the “girl in the polka dot dress.” Featured in the podcast are audio recordings of LAPD Sgt. Hank Hernandez browbeating witnesses into recanting their claims of seeing the girl. One is left with the feeling that Hernandez was less interested in finding the truth than in eliminating loose ends.

Whether you’re a skeptic or a true believer, the “RFK Tapes” is a gripping look back at a pivotal time in American history. If Kennedy had lived to become the Democratic nominee, Richard Nixon might never have become president and the latter three decades of the 20th century might look entirely different. As with the death of JFK, it is humbling to think that the course of history could turn on the actions of a single aggrieved gunman. As Rand Paul recently warned, it could easily happen in the current political environment as well.

[If you’re unfamiliar with podcasts, you are missing out. Over the past few years, I have become an avid listener of podcasts, first through my iPod and then with my smartphone. To understand what a podcast is, think of it as an audiobook or a radio serial available on your phone. Podcasts are available through a variety of apps such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or Stitcher and are available on a variety of topics.]

[Photo: Robert F. Kennedy lies mortally wounded on the floor immediately after the shooting. Kneeling beside him is 17-year-old busboy Juan Romero, who was shaking Kennedy's hand when Sirhan Sirhan fired the shots

Originally published on the Resurgent

Rand Paul On Political Violence

“I fear that there's going to be an assassination,” Rand Paul told a Kentucky radio show this week. “I really worry that somebody is going to be killed and that those who are ratcheting up the conversation ... they have to realize they bear some responsibility if this elevates to violence.”

I don’t always agree with Senator Paul, but I think that he’s absolutely correct here. It really isn’t a stretch to think that the current powder keg-like political climate could spark an act of violence that could result in bloodshed. It isn’t farfetched at all because it has already happened.

It was only last year that a crazed Bernie Sanders supporter attacked the congressional Republican baseball team as they practiced at a Virginia ballpark. The attack left Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise badly wounded but alive.

Even before the baseball attack, the leftist Antifa movement held violent protests in several cities around the country. During the 2016 campaign, Trump campaign rallies were the scene of leftist mob violence.

Not all the violence is on the left, however. In August 2017, an alt-right militant drove his car into a group of counter-protesters during a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, murdering 32-year-old Heather Heyer. In August, a Trump supporter from California was charged with threatening to shoot Boston Globe employees because the newspaper was an “enemy of the people.” In 2016, supporters of Ammon Bundy took up arms against the federal government when they seized a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. The incident could easily have become a bloodbath, but Republicans cheered when the conspirators were acquitted.

Rand Paul has even had personal experience with violence. When a neighbor attacked Paul in January 2018, fracturing five of the senator’s ribs, there was speculation that the assault might have been politically motivated. In a plea deal, the neighbor admitted to the attack but said that he was motivated by Paul dumping brush on his property rather than by politics.

If we haven’t experienced a political assassination in recent times, it isn’t for lack of desire. Even before a leftist called for the assassination of Brett Kavanaugh, a British man in the US illegally tried to pull a police officer’s gun at a June 2016 rally to kill Donald Trump. Barack Obama was the target of no less than four assassination attempts at the hands of everyone from white supremacists to ISIS to someone who thought he was the antichrist. Sooner or later, a would-be assassin is going to get it right and the odds are about 50-50 as to which side of the political spectrum will be at fault.

Paul went on to blame inflammatory rhetoric for planting the seeds of violence. “When people like Cory Booker say get up in their face … What he doesn’t realize is that for every 1,000 persons who want to get up in your face, one of them is going to be unstable enough to commit violence,” Paul said.

Recalling previous attacks, Paul said, “When I was at the ball field and Steve Scalise was nearly killed, the guy shooting up the ballfield, and shooting I think five or six people, he was yelling, ‘This is for health care. When I was attacked in my yard and had six of my ribs broken, and pneumonia, lung contusion, all that — these are people that are unstable, we don’t want to encourage them.”

Paul is correct that mentally unstable people don’t need to be encouraged to commit violence but stopped short of criticizing his own side’s words. There is a direct link between President Trump’s rhetorical attacks on the press and the threats against the Boston Globe. When people on the right say that liberals and Democrats are traitors who are trying to destroy America, no one should be surprised when someone commits a violent act against them. Perhaps the biggest surprise is how little violence there has been so far given the heat of rhetoric from both sides.

It’s easy for those of us on the right to criticize people like Corey Booker and Maxine Waters when they call for confrontation. It is much more difficult to call out those on our own side who incite or commit violence. The problem is with radicals on both sides, however, and both sides should police their own.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump's Ethanol Move Is The Opposite Of Swamp-Draining

One of the sacred cow subsidies of American politics is ethanol. The fuel additive is produced in by farmers in the political bellwether state of Iowa. That fact alone makes it difficult for politicians, even staunch free-market conservatives, to summon the intestinal fortitude to call for cuts to federal ethanol mandates.

In 2016, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) became one of the few politicians to stand in opposition to the Big Corn ethanol lobby. Cruz’s opposition almost certainly cost him support in the Iowa caucuses that year, but he still eked out a three-point victory over Donald Trump, who read the political winds and called for more ethanol in gasoline.

Make no mistake, political support for ethanol is an example of crony capitalism, the you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours way of doing business that free-market conservatives and Drain-the-Swampers are supposed to abhor. However, that doesn’t stop presidential candidates from singing the praises of the corn-based concoction as they swing through the Hawkeye State.

That was the case today when President Trump announced an initiative to allow the year-round sales of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol. The E15 blend is typically banned for use during summer because it produces more smog. Gasoline is typically sold with a blend of 10 percent ethanol.

Some may assume that removing federal restrictions on ethanol is a free market move, but, in reality, the ethanol market is largely a creation of federal mandates. The renewable fuel standard was created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and expanded in 2007 by the Energy Independence and Security Act. The federal goal was to reduce dependence on foreign oil as well as cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Today, thanks to the fracking boom, the US has almost broken its addiction to foreign oil, but states like Iowa are still dependent on income from ethanol.

As with federal intervention in the market, there are many competing interests. The most obvious is the farmers who grow and sell the corn that is used to make ethanol. These farmers are championed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who was last seen presiding over the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. Grassley is a strong backer of the ethanol industry and was part of a group of senators that announced a tentative agreement with the Trump Administration last May to allow year-round sales of E15.

Gas stations also benefit from selling ethanol. Marketwatch notes that gasoline retailers earn credits called renewable identification numbers for selling ethanol-blended fuels. These credits can be traded or sold to gasoline refiners that manufacture fuels without enough ethanol to meet federal mandates. In other words, gas station owners make money on both the front end, selling gas to consumers, and the back end, selling credits to refiners.

Losers in the deal include oil refiners, who lose market share to companies that sell ethanol, and consumers, who are pushed by the government to buy an inferior product. Cars using ethanol-based fuels get lower gas mileage than those using unblended gasoline. Worse, engines in cars manufactured before 2001 may be damaged by ethanol-based fuels.   

The timing of Trump’s ethanol announcement is overtly political. Neither of Iowa’s senators is up for reelection this year, but three of its four congressmen are Republicans and they are all in tight races, as is the state’s Republican governor. Iowa’s first district, represented by represented by Republican Rod Blum looks likely to turn blue while David Young in the third district is in a tossup race. Rep. Steve King in the fourth district is holding onto a single-digit lead.

Some of the Republican difficulties can be blamed on President Trump’s trade war. Tariffs have hurt the state’s farmers to the tune of $2.2 billion. This summer, President Trump and the Republicans promised farmers a $550 million bailout to stem the losses. President Trump’s expansion of the ethanol market could be viewed as an additional aid package to farm voters.

Trump’s move could also disrupt farm markets by incentivizing farmers to drop other crops to grow corn. The Wall Street Journal reports that over a third of US corn is already being used for fuel rather than food. Increasing the ethanol market could cause food prices in other crops to rise as demand for corn increases and farmers shift production to take advantage of higher corn prices.

President Trump’s move to expand ethanol-based fuels is an example of the big government interfering in the marketplace. As is normally the case when the government meddles in the markets, the results benefit favored industries in exchange for higher prices for consumers. Rather than draining the swamp, that sounds like business as usual.

Originally published by The Resurgent