Wednesday, April 17, 2019

April 17th, 2019 Bernie Is The Big Winner In Democratic Fundraising

The fundraising reports are in for the first quarter of 2019. The big news was the $30 million raised by President Trump’s re-election campaign, but the fundraising stats from the plethora of Democratic candidates could shed some light on who donors consider to be a viable candidate. Fundraising numbers also provide access to an important platform for Democrats. Only candidates with at least 65,000 individual donors will qualify to participate in the first Democratic primary debate in June 2019.

Candidate reports from the first quarter, which are available on Open Secrets, show that Bernie Sanders is the undisputed money leader in the race so far. Sanders raised more than $18 million, not counting transfers from previous campaigns. More than $15 million of Sanders’ take was from small donors, reflecting his extensive grassroots network. This bodes well both for Bernie’s ability to continue to raise money and his ability to tap into his donor network to find volunteers to work his campaign.

Kamala Harris was in second place with a $12 million take, which also excludes transfers. In contrast with Sanders, Harris received more than half of her donations, $7.6 million, from large donors. Harris has shown a better ability to raise money than to garner support, averaging about eight percent in polling.

In third place was Beto O’Rourke with $9.3 million. As with Bernie, Beto raised more money from small donors, but about 40 percent of his donations also came from large donors. This shows a good mix of grassroots and wealthy backers.

Pete Buttigieg was the surprising fourth-place finisher with more than $7 million. Buttigieg, who averages about five percent in polling, also performed well with both small and large donors.

A quartet of congressional figures make up the next four finishers. The campaigns of Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand were boosted by transfers from prior campaign coffers but none seem to have gained traction either in the polls or with donors. Warren is the only candidate of the four to raise a significant amount ($4.2 million) from small donors. The others don’t seem to have much grassroots support.

When it comes to cash on hand, Bernie Sanders is the leader once again. The Sanders campaign has more than $15.6 million in the bank, which is significantly more than Elizabeth Warren, who was in second place with $11.2 million.

The next four on the list were boosted by transfers from previous campaigns. John Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland, has the third-largest war chest with $10.5 million. Gillibrand, Harris, and Klobuchar follow in order with accounts ranging from $10.1 to $6.9 million.

In the seventh and eighth positions are newcomers Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg. O’Rourke held $6.8 million while Buttigieg had $6.4 million. Both of these candidates have strong fundraising numbers and will likely see their bottom lines increase sharply in the coming months.

Rounding out the top-tier candidates is Cory Booker. The New Jersey senator had just over $6.1 million in his bank account at the end of the first quarter.

Obviously, the big winner in the fundraising race so far is Bernie Sanders. His strong fundraising among small donors reflects a veritable army of dedicated grassroots supporters that will present a formidable opponent for the other Democratic hopefuls.

Other winners include Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg. The newcomers both had surprisingly strong showings that will enable them to get their names and messages out to primary voters. Fox Business reported that average donation for the Buttigieg campaign was $36.35. Simple math shows that this would almost certainly give the recently unknown candidate a place in the first debate.

Kamala Harris was also a winner. As the second-place fundraiser, her campaign is bringing in enough cash to keep going for the foreseeable future despite a poor showing in the polls.

The big loser was Elizabeth Warren who had very disappointing fundraising numbers. Her previous frontrunner status stands in stark contrast to her current status as a has-been who has generated little interest. Warren has a large war chest, however, so don’t look for her to drop out any time soon.

Everyone else was also a loser. The group of Washington insiders, Klobuchar, Booker, and Gillibrand, also had disappointing results, in terms of both polling and fundraising. Large war chests will enable these candidates to stay in the race at least until the first debate.

The plethora of other candidates may not be so lucky. The numerous small and unknown candidates may start dropping out soon. If they don’t start to gain enough traction to get a seat at the debate, there will be little reason for them to stay in the race.

The wild card is Joe Biden. Biden is not reflected in the fundraising numbers despite leading in the polls because he does not have an active campaign yet. If Biden is serious about running, he is working to prepare potential donors to start giving as soon as he makes his announcement. The former vice president and senator is an experienced politician with an extensive network from his previous campaigns. He will hope to outraise the $6.1 million raised by Beto and the $5.9 million garnered by Bernie in the first 24 hours of their campaigns to affirm his status as the frontrunner.

Finally, Republicans should not feel too confident despite Donald Trump’s $30 million haul. While this is more than any Democrat, it should be noted that Democratic fundraising is splintered among a crowded field and many Democrat donors may be waiting for Joe Biden to enter the race. Despite Trump’s impressive number, it only takes two Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris, to eclipse the president’s haul. It may not be long before Democratic donors rally behind a presumed nominee and President Trump’s fundraising lead begins to quickly erode.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Bernie Is A One-Percenter Who Is Stingy With Charitable Giving

In a move that will increase pressure on President Trump to comply with the congressional request for his tax returns, Democrat-in-name-only presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has released 10 years of tax returns. The Vermont senator’s tax documents show that the democratic socialist is among the nation’s “one-percenters” and has become a capitalist at least in practice.

CNN reported that Sanders’ taxable income jumped from $240,622 in 2015 to $1,073,333 in 2016 after his unsuccessful challenge to Hillary Clinton’s coronation as the Democratic nominee. Since the 2016 campaign, Sanders and his wife, Jane, have raked in $2.79 million, largely from book deals. Sanders has written a total of five books, three of them since 2016. “Our Revolution” (2016) and “Where We Go from Here” (2018) were best-sellers. Jane Sanders also has an upcoming book for which she was paid $106,000.

“These tax returns show that our family has been fortunate," Sanders said in a statement. "I am very grateful for that, as I grew up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck and I know the stress of economic insecurity. That is why I strive every day to ensure every American has the basic necessities of life, including a livable wage, decent housing, health care, and retirement security. I consider paying more in taxes as my income rose to be both an obligation and an investment in our country.”

Sanders may have come from humble origins but his concern for the poor did not extend far beyond the taxes that he paid. Buzzfeed notes that the Sanders family paid an effective 26 percent tax rate on the   $561,293 that they earned in 2018 but only donated 3.4 percent of their earnings to charity. After earning more than $1 million in 2016, Sanders gave only $10,600 to charity, less than one percent of his income. The charities that Sanders did donate to included senior centers, low-income groups, educational organizations, and political groups that advocate for housing and environmental causes.

Sanders denies that his millionaire status conflicts with his democratic socialist message, telling a reporter last week, “I didn't know that it was a crime to write a good book. My view has always been that we need a progressive tax system, which demands that the wealthiest people in this country finally start sharing their fair share in taxes. If I make a lot of money, you make a lot of money.”

Sanders’ attitude is symptomatic of the view of the Democratic Party that it is okay to make money but that taxes need to be increased to take the money from those who earn it. Sanders doesn’t seem to realize that he could voluntarily transfer an unlimited amount of his wealth to the needy without government compulsion. As the Bible says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Apparently, less than five percent of Sander’s heart is with the downtrodden.

But that’s okay. In a free country, people should have the right to give as much – or as little – to charity as they want. People should be free to spend the fruits of their labor in any way that they choose as long as it isn’t illegal.

Americans have a right to give Bernie millions for his books if they want. They also have the right to pay him for his 1987 folk album, "We Shall Overcome,” for which he reportedly earned $110 in royalties last year, indicating that the market has decided that the senator is a better writer than a singer.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Bill Weld Candidacy Gives Republicans A Choice

Republican voters now officially have a choice between President Trump and another candidate in the 2020 Republican primary. Bill Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts and Gary Johnson’s Libertarian running mate from 2016, has officially thrown his hat into the ring to challenge Mr. Trump for the Republican nomination.

Weld made the announcement with CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier today, saying, “I really think if we have six more years of the same stuff that we’ve had out of the White House [over] the last two years that it would be a political tragedy and I would fear for the Republic, so I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t raise my hand and run.”

Tapper cited the Trump campaign’s report of raising $30 million in the first quarter and Donald Trump’s 90 percent approval within the GOP and asked Weld whether he really thought he could win a primary battle against the incumbent president. “I do, I’ve done it before,” Weld answered, “particularly in New Hampshire where I’m spending a lot of time. It’s one vote at a time and one voter at a time. You’ve got to meet them.”

Weld added, “What we have now is a president who mocks the rule of law. I spent seven years in the Justice Department trying to keep the politics out of law enforcement, he’s trying to put it in. A president who says we don’t need a free press, who says climate change is a complete hoax. He’s not paying attention.”

President Trump “has difficulty conforming his conduct to the requirements of law. That’s a serious matter in the Oval Office,” Weld continued.

Weld was born in New York, but most of his career has centered around Massachusetts. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he got his start as a legal counsel for the US House Judiciary Committee, where he took part in the Watergate investigation and impeachment inquiry of Richard Nixon. In 1981, Rudy Giuliani recommended him to President Reagan and he was appointed US Attorney for Massachusetts before serving as Reagan’s Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. In 1990, he was elected to the first of two terms as governor of Massachusetts but lost a 1996 Senate race to John Kerry. In 2005, he was a candidate for governor of New York but did not win the Republican nomination. In 2012, Weld was co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s New York campaign, but in recent history, he is best known for his 2016 Libertarian campaign with Gary Johnson. Contrary to rumors, Weld did not endorse Hillary Clinton that year, but he did “vouch” for her after FBI Director James Comey’s October surprise announcement that more Clinton emails had been discovered.

Weld faces an uphill battle in his campaign against President Trump. He has a reputation as being liberal on many social issues such as gay rights, abortion, and marijuana. Those positions, along with conservative stances on fiscal issues, made him a good fit for the Libertarian ticket but will not sit well with many Republicans. They may help with moderate Republicans, however. Among Republicans, about a third are pro-choice, about 40 percent favor same-sex marriage, and about half support legalization of marijuana. While Trump has been active in signing pro-life Executive Orders, he has been quiet on the issue of marriage and there are rumors that the president will soon announce support of marijuana legalization as well.

Donald Trump currently has an overall average approval rating of only 42 percent, but the president still has approval approaching 90 percent among Republicans. Trump’s overwhelming popularity within the GOP will make it very difficult to unseat him in the primary unless his administration experiences an almost total meltdown over the next year. However, Trump’s unpopularity among other voters will make it very difficult for the president to win a re-election campaign. A March poll found that 46 percent of voters would refuse to even consider voting for Trump.

Even with Trump’s strong approval among Republicans, there may be an appetite for a primary challenger. Another poll taken last month found that 19 percent of Republicans had lukewarm support for Trump’s re-election campaign and 20 percent wanted another candidate. A state-by-state look at Trump’s approval shows that the president has slim margins in many deep red states. A challenger whose primary campaign focused on blue and swing states could make serious trouble for an unpopular president.

Weld has signaled that his strategy will be to focus on the early primary state of New Hampshire where Trump has a net disapproval of 13 points. Weld will canvas the area and meet voters face-to-face. This strategy can work in a small state like New Hampshire, but would obviously be impractical in a national series of primary elections.

A smart strategy for Weld would be to temper his direct criticism of President Trump and focus on the president’s most unpopular policies. On a number of issues, such as separation of immigrant families and using a national emergency to bypass Congress, Trump has lost even the support of Republican voters. The trade war, the ballooning deficit, and the president’s poor relations with allies also provide openings. By focusing on Trump’s unpopular policies and his inability to bring the country together, Weld might have a chance at winning enough moderate and conservative voters who are dissatisfied with the direction of the Trump Administration and skeptical about Trump’s ability to win against someone who is not Hillary Clinton to seize the nomination.

Weld’s candidacy is a long shot, but it should not be discounted. In an era in which the news cycle spins faster and faster and President Trump seems more and more out of touch with the electorate at large, by next year Republican voters could find themselves thankful to have an alternative to the outsider in the White House.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, April 5, 2019

Good Trump Keeps Border Open While Bad Trump Threatens New Tariffs

Both Good Trump and Bad Trump were on display yesterday as President Trump backed off from his threat to close the Mexican border and simultaneously threatened to add more tariffs to Mexican auto exports to the US. The threat to close the border had sparked fears of a disruption in trade with Mexico that could have led to shortages and price increases on numerous products including avocados.

Addressing reporters at the White House, President Trump said that Mexico was not doing enough to stop cross-border traffic of illegal immigrants and drugs, but that he would give the Mexican government a year to improve.

“We’re going to give them a one-year warning and if the drugs don’t stop, or largely stop, we’re going to put tariffs,” on cars, Trump said. “And if that doesn’t stop the drugs, we close the border.”

When asked if his comments meant that he would not close the border for a year, Mr. Trump answered, “I didn’t say that. We’ll start with the tariffs and see what happens.”

The president did not explain how what he has described as a national emergency at the border could withstand waiting a year to take action.

Trump’s reversal on the threat to close the border was a welcome sign for businesses and economists. After decades of free trade under NAFTA, Mexico ranked as the second-largest export market for American-made goods as well as the second-largest supplier of imported goods to the US per the US Trade Representative. Many corporate supply chains are integrated within both countries with Mexican factories building components for products finished in the United States. Many consumer goods are also imported from Mexico.

Since the president made his threat to close the border, the avocado has become symbolic of the trade with Mexico that would be lost if Mr. Trump follows through. The fruit used in guacamole has become a very popular food in the United States and most of the American supply is imported from Mexico. Some supporters of the president’s strategy argue that avocados are also grown in the US and so the market would not be disrupted if the border was closed.

Several US states do grow avocados. The US produced a total of 292 million pounds of avocados in 2017. Unfortunately for avocado aficionados, Americans consumed about 2.2 billion (with a “b”) pounds of avocados the same year. If avocado imports were cut off from Mexico, the world’s largest producer. The avocado deficit means that the US would certainly suffer a large avocado shortage if supplies from Mexico were cut off.

When a product with high demand is in short supply, the laws of supply and demand take over. Prices increase and demand simultaneously falls. This has already happened as avocado markets reacted to the threat of border closure by increasing avocado prices by 34 percent.

The problem is the same for many other products as for avocados. Cars are one example. Mexico exports more than 2.5 million autos to the US that are produced by almost all major automakers, including popular Ford, Chrysler, and GM models. The application of tariffs or the closure of the border could hit American automakers and consumers hard. It would take years to move production back to the US.

Increasing prices would make it more attractive for American farmers to grow avocados, but the loss of avocado supplies could not be immediately replaced.  As with moving a factory, it takes 3-4 years for newly planted avocado trees to produce fruit. Diverting American farmland to avocado production would also mean that other crops could not be planted, causing shortages of other commodities due to limited resources.

The resources of the Mexican government are also limited. Security forces in the third-world country face a much greater threat from drug cartels than from migrants seeking to make their way to the US border. If the Mexican government gives in to President Trump’s demand to allocate more resources to intercepting and detaining migrants, those resources won’t be battling the cartels and drug smugglers.

While the decision to keep the border open will be welcomed by many Republicans and members of the business community, the president’s threat to step up the tariff war is more problematic. The Trump Administration completed a NAFTA rewrite with Mexico and Canada last year, but the new treaty has yet to be ratified by each country. It is possible that Mexico will refuse to ratify the deal if President Trump continues to threaten new tariffs.

Killing the new version of NAFTA may suit President Trump just fine. Mr. Trump blamed NAFTA for US economic woes on the campaign trail in 2016.  As recently as December, the president threatened to withdraw from NAFTA entirely. Killing the free trade agreement would allow both countries to place tariffs on US goods and could cause an economic shock.

President Trump’s erratic trade policies put the growth of the US economy at risk and work at odds with his regulatory and tax reform. Economic growth surged in the first half of 2018 following the passage of tax reform but slowed to Obama-era levels after the onset of Mr. Trump’s trade war. Growth for the fourth quarter of 2018 was recently revised downward to 2.2 percent, which is below the post-WWII average.

President Trump deserves credit for reversing his decision to close the border, but the reversal merely corrects a self-induced problem that stems from the president’s rash and ill-considered comments of a week earlier. Closing the border would be unlikely to have a significant effect on slowing smuggling and illegal immigration, especially since most new illegals enter the US legally and overstay visas, but it would have a punishing effect on trade and the economy.

If President Trump stands by his threat to close the borde next year, the debate would shift to the runup to the 2020 elections. The issue of a disruption of trade with Mexico could prove to be enough that many business leaders would see the socialist Democrats as less of a threat to the economy than an isolationist Trump Administration.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Filibuster's Days May Be Numbered

The filibuster may be dying the death of a thousand cuts.

After Majority Leader Harry Reid implemented the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster for cabinet appointees and judicial nominees below the Supreme Court in 2013, Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republican minority at the time, warned, “I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you’ll regret this. And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”

McConnell’s warning was prescient. It was only four years later that Republicans used Reid’s rules to confirm Donald Trump’s cabinet. Then McConnell dropped his own nuke and removed the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, allowing Republicans to confirm Neal Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh over Democratic objections. Now McConnell is about to go nuclear again.

American military strategists have long embraced a policy of no-first-use when it comes to nuclear weapons. The situation in the Senate is an example of why. Once one nuke is dropped, it becomes easier and easier for others to launch their own nuclear weapons at more and more targets. The first use of a nuclear weapon expands the Overton window to where usage of more nukes is acceptable.

NBC News reports that Mr. McConnell may drop his next nuke as early as today. Yesterday, in a party-line vote, the Senate rejected a change to rules that would have limited debate on cabinet appointees and district-level judicial nominees to two hours from the current 30. This would make it easier for the Senate to confirm more of President Trump’s judicial nominees. Even though the Senate required 60 votes to make the change, McConnell has the ability to use procedural tactics to make the change with only a simple majority.

Burgess Everett writes in Politico that each time the filibuster is weakened unilaterally by one party, it becomes more likely that the measure will eventually be totally eradicated. Already, members of both parties are claiming that the other wants to eliminate the filibuster so why not take pre-emptive steps and do it to their own advantage?

“If eliminating the legislative filibuster will serve Sen. McConnell’s purposes, he’ll eliminate it,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “After what Sen. McConnell has done to this institution, there will be many people who will be putting pressure on us to do the same thing.”

“It’ll go down the road,” Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said. “If the Democrats take control of the Senate and we’re in a strong minority then they’ll change it immediately.”

President Trump has also made repeated calls to eliminate the filibuster. Mr. McConnell rebuffed those calls as recently as last June, but the majority leader’s repeated weakening of the filibuster whenever it is convenient may be dooming the Senate rule.

The argument against the filibuster is basically that Congress is too divided to compromise. Neither party has enough votes to force its will on the other without convincing a few senators to cross the aisle. While this division is frustrating to party activists, the voters who keep Congress decided seem to prefer stalemate to one-party rule.

Both sides will be to blame for killing the filibuster. Harry Reid uncorked the nuclear genie from his bottle but Republicans have taken the idea and run with it. If Republicans eliminate the filibuster, it will be the GOP that bears the brunt of voter anger for the change.

Regardless of who eventually pulls the trigger to finally eliminate the traditional safeguard for the Senate’s minority, the country will be worse off without the filibuster. The need for 60 votes to advance legislation acts as a speed brake to slow down bad bills. Without the restraining influence of the minority, a bevy of bad ideas could easily become law. National policy could veer wildly from one side of the political spectrum to the other.

While eliminating the filibuster would allow Republicans to fund President Trump’s wall and repeal Obamacare in the short-term, it is very likely that after the 2020 elections the situation will look very different. If Democrats win control of the Senate and the presidency while retaining the House of Representatives, the absence of the filibuster would allow them to defund the wall while, at the same time, passing a veritable liberal wish list that includes gun control, Medicaid-for-all, higher taxes, and who knows what else. Even with a large Republican minority, the Democrats would be unstoppable until after the next election.

It may already be too late to prevent the death of the filibuster, but Mitch McConnell and his Senate Republicans should think very carefully before further weakening the tradition. They may regret it if they do. And they may regret it a lot sooner than they think.
Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Trump Vows To Make Healthcare An Issue After McConnell Nixes Repeal Effort

President Trump surprised many people with his pivot to health care last week. Now it seems that Senate Republicans were just as surprised as the rest of the country. Now Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is saying definitively that the GOP is not ready to move ahead with another attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, McConnell said, “We had a good conversation yesterday afternoon and I pointed out to him [Trump] the Senate Republicans’ view on dealing with comprehensive health care reform with a Democratic House of Representatives.”

“I was fine with Sen. Alexander and Sen. Grassley working on prescription drug pricing and other issues that are not a comprehensive effort to revisit the issue that we had the opportunity to address in the last Congress and were unable to do so,” McConnell said. “I made clear to him that we were not going to be doing that in the Senate.”

Health care reemerged as a campaign issue last week when the Trump Administration advocated that judges in a lawsuit should strike down the entire law. On April 1, President Trump announced that Republicans were “developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than ObamaCare.”

After the conversation with McConnell, the president tweeted this morning that he never intended to hold a healthcare vote before the election. Mr. Trump reiterated his belief that healthcare, an issue on which the Democrats usually hold an advantage, would be a “great issue” for Republicans.

The Republican reversal leads to several questions. The most obvious is whether there was any communication between Republican leaders in the healthcare pivot or whether Mr. Trump merely tweeted an off-the-cuff remark that shifted the entire strategic planning of the Republican 2020 effort. It seems likely that the GOP reacted to an unplanned announcement by Mr. Trump.

A second question is how the GOP can co-opt the issue of health care from the Democrats. As I noted last week, the previous Republican effort at repeal succeeded in shifting public opinion from favoring repeal of the Affordable Care Act to an all-time high level of approval of the law. Unless Republicans can coordinate a strong message that calms voter fears about losing coverage, the health care issue is more likely to be beneficial to Democrats.

Third, there is apparently no change in the Trump Administration’s position that courts should strike down the ACA. Are Republicans planning for the possibility that this ruling could come in the runup to the election? Do they have a plan to take advantage of the opportunity to pass a market-based healthcare reform?

Regardless of the questions and current lack of organization and planning, President Trump apparently intends to continue hammering away on healthcare. At the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual spring dinner last night, Trump said, “We blew it the last time, man I was fed a bill of goods,” but added “we can’t run away” from healthcare or “we’ll lose.”

The back-and-forth on healthcare is reminiscent of the Keystone Kops with positions being reversed at a head-spinning rate. With Democrats in control of the House, there was never any chance that Obamacare could be repealed before the election, but President Trump has handed Nancy Pelosi an issue with which to hammer Republican candidates next year.

Originally published on The Resurgent

BREAKING: NC GOP Chair Indicted For Fraud

Charlotte’s WBTV reports that former congressman and current chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party has been indicted on charges of directing illegal campaign contributions to North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey in an attempt to bribe him. Greg Lindbergh, a Durham businessman and two of Lindbergh’s associates were also indicted.

The indictment, based on an investigation which has been ongoing since at least August 2018, alleges that the contributions were made “in exchange for the removal of NCDOI’s Senior Deputy Commissioner, who was responsible for overseeing regulation and the periodic examination of ” a company owned by Lindbergh. Causey was working with federal authorities and was charged in the indictment. WBTV previously reported that Causey made secret recordings of a meeting with Hayes, Lindbergh, and another person.
NCGOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse  confirmed to WBTV last year that the state Republican Party had made a $240,000 payment to Causey’s campaign but said that the donation was legal. The $240,000 was a portion of a donation to the state party that was made by Lindbergh.
The four men under indictment are charged with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and aiding and abetting. Hayes is also charged with three counts of making false statements to the FBI.
The North Carolina GOP has been saddled with accusations of voter fraud relating to the 2018 election of Mark Harris. The evidence of fraudulent absentee ballots was so overwhelming that the state board of elections has called for a new election.
The Republican scandals in the Tar Heel State have serious implications for the national party. North Carolina has become something of a swing state. Barack Obama won North Carolina in 2008 while Donald Trump carried the state by only four points in 2016.
The scandal may aid Democrats in their quest to capture the Senate as well. Thom Tillis, one of the state’s two Republican senators, is up for reelection next year. Tillis has served only one term after defeating Democrat Kay Hagan in the Republican wave of 2014.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Hotel Mumbai Review

Sometimes the most riveting stories are the ones from real life. True tales of courage and survival can sometimes rival anything that Hollywood screenwriters can cook up. That’s the case with Hotel Mumbai, the new thriller based on the real-life terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai in November 2008.

Hotel Mumbai was lost in the shuffle between the pro-life drama, Unplanned, the horror movie, Us, and a bevy of superhero flicks. Until I started looking for a movie to see, I hadn’t even heard of Hotel Mumbai.

The movie is the gripping tale of how 10 Islamic terrorists from Pakistan attacked 12 sites in the Indian city of Mumbai. The terrorists eventually penetrated the luxury hotel and terrorized the staff and guests until Indian security forces were able to respond. The terrorist assault lasted three days, during which time the occupants of the hotel were forced to fend for themselves.

The movie follows several guests, staff members, policemen, and the terrorists through the attack. For the most part, the gunmen are depicted as remorseless killing machines who are repeatedly instructed by their leader in Pakistan that they should kill without mercy. And kill they did. The combined death toll from the attacks was 166 people with more than 300 wounded.

Although the terrorists were heartless and were depicted as such, there are scenes towards the end of the movie in which one of the murderers breaks the fa├žade to reveal that some traces of humanity have been left. The effect is to humanize the murderers enough for the viewer to fully sense the tragedy that these men too left behind lives that could have been lived more fully and had loved ones to mourn their loss. In the end, the real villain was the unseen imam who turned what a policeman called “just boys” into brainwashed killing machines.

To balance the cold, calculated brutality of the terrorists, Hotel Mumbai depicts the hotel workers and guests who fought to survive. There are moments of courage, nobility, and love as well as fear, cowardice, and stupidity. These are the understandable reactions of ordinary people who are suddenly faced with extraordinary evil.

The movie, which is rated R, is fast-paced and gritty. There is almost nonstop violence and it is depicted in a realistically bloody manner. This is not a movie for children or the faint of heart. The movie is also filmed in several languages so there are subtitles. The majority of the dialogue is English, however, so the reading is not unduly burdensome.

It did keep my heart pounding, however. The action onscreen was riveting and the characters, aside from the terrorists, were very sympathetic. What made the movie even more intense was the knowledge that this really happened to real people. Hotel Mumbai is somewhat reminiscent of No Escape, the 2015 Owen Wilson movie in which an American family is caught in the midst of a third-world coup, but the historical aspects of Mumbai make it worth watching, even if you’ve seen the earlier terrorists-in-a-hotel film.

As I watched, Hotel Mumbai also reminded me of how fortunate we are in the United States. We have occasional active-shooter killing sprees but we don’t have organized terror attacks by well-trained gunmen acting in teams. In the event that there is an attack of some sort, we also have police tactical units in most major cities. In Mumbai, the nearest SWAT team had to be deployed from Delhi, about eight hours away. Despite the problems that we have on our border, our neighboring countries aren’t filled with people of a hostile religion who want to kill us just for the sake of killing.

Nevertheless, the threat is real, even here. As a frequent traveler, the thought of being trapped in a hotel room with gun-toting terrorists roaming the halls and no way out is chilling. So is the thought that any airport, train station, or shopping mall could become a shooting gallery to a determined terrorist. If spree-killers can inflict large numbers of deaths in this country, so could a jihadist. The spree might not continue for three days but it would be very bloody and very difficult to defend against.

Hotel Mumbai is the best new movie that you never heard of. It doesn’t have big name actors, superheroes, mind-numbing special effects, or exotic fight scenes, but it does have heart and intensity. This true story of survival and sacrifice against unflinching evil is one that needs to be told.

Originally published on The Resurgent

You Can See “Unplanned” In Theaters, But You Won’t See Its Ads On Most TV Channels

The new pro-life movie, “Unplanned,” scored big points at the box office on its opening weekend. The story of Planned Parenthood executive-turned-pro-life activist, Abby Johnson, earned more than $6.1 million on its opening weekend, enough to rank fourth in gross revenues. The strong performance was despite many networks refusing to run ads for the socially conservative film.

The creators of “Unplanned” told The Hollywood Reporter that they tried to buy advertising from a number of cable networks, but few channels other than Fox News and the Christian Broadcast Network would accept the ads. Among the networks that refused to air commercials for the move were Lifetime, the Travel Channel, Cooking Channel, HGTV, Food Network, the Hallmark Channel and USA Network.

“We were looking to spend money, but they didn't want to get involved,” John Sullivan, one of the film’s producers, said.

“Most of the networks didn't go into detail beyond citing the subject matter of the film and that they didn't want to get into politics. But we don't believe we're in the political category,” Joe Knopp, another producer added, despite the fact that the film was screened at CPAC.

Several networks, including Lifetime, cited the “sensitive nature of the film” in refusing the ads. Up TV, a family-friendly network, and some Christian radio stations cited the film’s R-rating in denying the ads. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) gave the film an R-rating in February due to “some disturbing/bloody images” in a scene that uses a computer-generated image of a sonogram to simulate an abortion, noted CNS News. The film’s marketers pointed out that Lifetime, which is owned by A&E, a joint venture of Hearst Communications and Disney, previously promoted an interview with Scarlet Johansson in which the actress promoted Planned Parenthood.

Despite being handicapped by the lack of television advertising, “Unplanned” did extremely well in its opening weekend. The movie finished the weekend in fourth place after “Dumbo,” “Us,” and “Captain Marvel,” per Box Office Mojo. When the fact that “Unplanned” was shown on only 1,059 screens is taken into account, its revenue per screen outperformed “Captain Marvel,” which was released on March 8.

“We are thrilled, gratified and humbled,” co-directors Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelma said in a statement. “We are so pleased that the American people have responded with such an enormous outpouring of support at the box office. It humbles us and we look forward to seeing what happens in the weeks ahead.”

The financial success of “Unplanned” is largely due to Glenn Beck, who actively promoted the movie, and MyPillow founder, Mike Lindell, who was both an investor and promoter. The CPAC screening sparked word-of-mouth and social media recommendations by conservative activists.

The movie also may have benefitted from a controversy over the weekend in which Twitter suspended the account for “Unplanned.” Twitter told the Daily Caller that the account was “mistakenly caught in our automated systems for ban evasion.” The account was ultimately reinstated, but the spat may have inspired some conservatives to get out and go see the movie.

Pure Flix, the production company for “Unplanned,” has also produced such films as “God’s Not Dead,” “Mom’s Night Out,” and “The Case For Christ” as well as a number of movies about Biblical characters. The company also operates an on-demand video streaming service and offers a free home school curriculum.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, April 1, 2019

Trump Cuts To Central American Aid May Spark More Illegal Immigration

President Trump announced over the weekend that his administration will cut aid to three countries that White House staffers said were complicit in sending illegal immigrants to the United States. While the move will certainly be popular among the president’s base, it may prove to have an adverse effect on the problem at the southern border.

Despite a now-infamous chyron from Fox News announcing that the Trump Administration was cutting aid to “three Mexican countries,” the cuts were actually applied to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras but not to Mexico. The three Latin American countries are the source of many of the refugees that have joined migrant caravans seeking to enter the United States. As with many things Trump, there is both good and bad to what we know about the decision.

As a fiscal conservative who believes that the mounting national debt is the worst crisis that we currently face, I applaud almost any curbs to federal spending. The truth, however, is that these cuts are insignificant. The Wall Street Journal notes that the Trump Administration has not specified how much money would be cut, but points out that aid to the three countries amounts to between $500 million and $750 million each. In contrast, several countries in the Middle East and Africa receive more than $1 billion each and the combined amount of aid to all three nations is less than what President Trump has proposed to spend on his wall project.

Per the Journal, the State Department announced on Saturday that it had ended funding for the countries that was appropriated in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, but there was no mention of fiscal year 2019. The White House requested less than $400 million for the three countries in its 2020 budget proposal and pledged $5.8 billion in aid and public and private investment to strengthen economic development in Central America last December. The reversal leaves open the question of whether the policy decision was made on the spur of the moment by President Trump.

The Journal also notes that the White House did not explain how President Trump had the authority to withhold foreign aid payments that were lawfully appropriated by Congress. The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 limited the president’s authority to impound appropriated funds by requiring that Congress vote to rescind funds that the president does not want to spend. If both the House and Senate do not vote to rescind the money within 45 days of continuous session, the money must be made available to the program for which it was appropriated. Historically, Congress has ignored most rescission requests and the Democrats in the House are unlikely to agree to the president’s request.

The president’s action also does not take into account the Law of Unintended Consequences. Aid to Central America was increased by the Obama Administration after a surge of unaccompanied minors arrived at the southern border in 2014. At the time, the Obama Administration requested $1 billion for a variety of programs that included anti-poverty, security and anti-crime, and anti-corruption initiatives. As US aid increased, the number of illegal border crossings from Latin America fell to its lowest level in decades, reaching a 45-year low in 2017.

Since 2016, the Trump Administration has reduced aid to Central America and the result has been a corresponding increase in illegal immigration. After several court rulings that make it more difficult to detain asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants with children, the number of arrests of family members on the southern border reached a record high in September 2018. In February, the total number of arrests reached a 10-year monthly high. Although the number of illegal border crossings remains low by historical standards, the increases in recent months may be part of a trend toward more illegal immigration under President Trump.

The Trump Administration is caught in cross-purposes with the cuts to foreign aid. While the cuts give President Trump the opportunity to look tough, they will likely exacerbate the problem of illegal immigration. It stands to reason that when money given to poverty-stricken countries for security and economic development is removed that their economic and political stability will get worse. This will create more refugees seeking to both escape political violence and find economic opportunity by immigrating to the United States.

While I am in favor of across-the-board cuts to the federal budget in general, if President Trump wants to slow illegal immigration, foreign aid to Central America seems to be money that has been well spent in terms of slowing the flow of migrants. Eliminating the aid may trigger a new surge of migrant caravans and contribute to what President Trump already considers to be a national emergency on the southern border.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thoughts On Church Searching

Some things about moving are easy. Boxing and unboxing your belongings is pretty straightforward. If your relocation is for work, then you already have a job to go to. Schools for the kids are based on where you live so you just have to enroll them and drop them off. Other things are not so simple, however. My experience had been that finding good doctors and a good church are two of the most difficult aspects of a relocation.
We moved to a different state a year ago this month. Twelve months after the move, we are still looking for a church home.
Part of the problem is the sheer number of churches in our rural Georgia county located near a small (by Texas standards) city. I can’t find a reliable comprehensive listing of churches in our county, but one online source lists 48. There are almost certainly more than that, but even that number increases when churches across the nearby county line that are still within a 20-minute drive are considered.
The large number of churches presents a problem in two ways. First, it is difficult to visit so many churches without getting confused and overwhelmed. Second, the high number of churches per capita means that most of the churches are very small and have limited resources.
The number of possible churches can be culled if we focus on certain denominations. I was raised as a Southern Baptist but we have also been members at a couple of Methodist churches. My family is comfortable with both branches of the faith. Additionally, we have attended some charismatic denominations with friends. It’s a matter of taste, but charismatic churches tend to be a little too “energetic” for me. Still, we’ve tried a couple of them as well.
In my view, no one denomination has a lock on the truth, but going to a church of a certain denomination is like going to a chain restaurant in that you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get. If you walk into a McDonald’s, the decor may be different from a franchise somewhere else and there may be different faces and accents, but you’re going to get a McDonald’s burger and their famous fries.
The most important thing we look for in a church is Biblical teaching. I don’t want to waste time with a pastor that preaches feel-good theology or, worse yet, who says things that contradict the Bible.
A few years ago, we walked out of a church where the pastor was preaching a name-it-and-claim-it type sermon in which he said that all Christians needed to do to be healed was have faith and that, if you weren’t healed, your faith wasn’t strong enough. Lazarus would probably disagree. The first-century man who was raised from the dead by Jesus had probably seen Heaven and had great faith after meeting Jesus. However, eventually Lazarus went back to the grave and stayed there. Healing is not always God’s plan, no matter how great your faith is.
We also consider nondenominational churches. One of our favorites in our new home is nondenominational. The pastor is good but lacks formal theological training leading me to be concerned about doctrinal errors in his teaching.
Beyond a Biblical message, we are also looking for a church with something to offer for the whole family. We have a teen and a tween and need a church with age-appropriate programs that will keep them interested and engaged as they get older. I don’t want my children to be among those who fall away and I realize that keeping them in the faith will be easier if going to church is something that they enjoy as opposed to something that they have to be nagged to do and can’t wait until it’s over.
Finding a church with a good youth group is one of the most difficult aspects of searching for a church. Many churches have good programs for children but very few, at least in our area, have many high school kids. This is probably due in part to the fact that the churches as small, as noted previously, but the local churches seem to be largely failing older kids. With a plethora of other activities, churches seem to be getting lost in the shuffle.
I think it’s particularly important for my ninth-grade son to get plugged in, make friends, and keep growing into a Christian man. It’s my belief that churches are a good place to meet good people and, in his case, good girls. Teenage boys tend to be interested in things that draw teenage girls.
To all that, add other factors such as friendliness and convenience. Quite a few of the churches that we’ve visited seem like tight-knit social clubs rather than evangelical bodies. When we are almost totally ignored at churches we visit, it makes me think that outreach is not a priority.
As far as convenience, I have to work weekends fairly frequently so we need a church that will be comfortable for my wife to attend without me. Sunday morning inertia can be difficult to overcome when both of us are home, but it is even tougher when the woman of the house has to motivate herself and both kids to get out of bed and into church. The same problem applies to Wednesday nights after a long day of work and school.
I haven’t even touched on other aspects of church personality such as music style, formal versus casual, small versus megachurch, and whether the congregation feels comfortable with reactions such as clapping or just sits stoney-faced. I have preferences in these and other areas, but I don’t view them as critical.
So pray that God will direct us to a good church and that we will know it when we find it. I’m sure that there is one out there that He has in mind for us. Until we find it, we’ll keep praying, visiting, and searching.
And if we are searching, I’m sure that many other families are as well. If you’re a pastor or church member, be welcoming to unfamiliar faces. Make them feel at home. Even if it turns out to be another church member that you haven’t met yet, you still made someone’s day.
Along that line, churches should have a greeter to direct visitors to where they need to go so they aren’t forced to wander around aimlessly. Post your service times online so they know when to show up. If you have them fill out a visitor card, follow up with a phone call or letter telling them you’re glad they came. Better yet, send someone out to visit and find out if you can do anything for them. This also applies to longtime attendees who stop coming.
The irony is that even with a lot of available churches, many are not filling the needs of the community. Maybe this is why, as Jess Fields described earlier this week, churches in America are dying and religious “nones” are on the rise. I want to avoid that for my family.
Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump DOJ: Courts Should Strike Down Obamacare Entirely

It had seemed that everyone had forgotten about Obamacare, but this week the Trump Administration, apparently deciding that the president’s vindication in the Mueller report had gotten too much press, said that it believes that courts should strike down the entire Affordable Care Act. The sudden and short announcement came Monday as the Department of Justice notified the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that it supports a December ruling striking down the law.

“The Department of Justice has determined that the district court's judgment should be affirmed,” three Justice Department lawyers wrote. “The United States is not urging that any portion of the district court's judgment be reversed.”

The appeals court is currently reviewing a December ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, who said that Congress’s decision to scrap the penalty for failing to purchase health insurance meant that the entire law should be struck down. The decision was immediately appealed by a group of states defending the law led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

“The Individual Mandate ‘is so interwoven with [the ACA’s] regulations that they cannot be separated. None of them can stand,” O’Connor wrote.

The Trump Administration had previously argued that community rating and guaranteed issue of policies should be struck down, but that the rest of the law should be upheld. The two provisions benefit people with pre-existing conditions who want to buy health insurance after they become ill.

The announcement by the Justice Department comes almost two years after Republicans were unable to repeal or reform the Affordable Care Act in President Trump’s first year in office. While the health insurance law has largely withstood attempts to repeal or change it, a provision was inserted into the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that repealed the individual mandate. The tax reform law passed in December 2017.

As the lawsuit against Obamacare winds its way through the judicial system, Congress is at a stalemate on the law. Republicans promised to repeal the law but don’t have the votes to do so. Even a “skinny repeal” using a budget reconciliation requiring only 51 votes failed after several Republican senators expressed concern about coverage for pre-existing conditions. For their part, many Democrats acknowledge that Obamacare needs to be reformed. The party is united in opposition to repeal but can’t agree on how to fix the law.

In the meantime, the one effect that the Republican repeal effort has had is to make Obamacare more popular. Voters opposed the law until April 2017 when doubts about Republican bills suddenly caused a surge in popularity for the Affordable Care Act. Support for Obamacare hit an all-time high just before the 2018 elections when Reuters found that 60 percent opposed repeal.

The lower court ruling and the Trump Administration’s support for it are the equivalent of throwing a live grenade into the 2020 elections. Where health care was not a large issue, it is suddenly reemerging as a hot topic for voters and Republicans incumbents are likely to start jumping for cover.

Even though Obamacare has never been popular within the GOP, many Republican voters are among those who do support various aspects of the law. Coverage for preventive care with no out-of-pocket expenses, protections for pre-existing conditions, and coverage for dependents up to age 26 have broad support across party lines.

Regardless of its popularity, the Affordable Care Act has not achieved its purpose. The growth rate in health care spending has declined only marginally and health insurance premiums have continued to steadily increase. The law never eliminated the problem of uninsured Americans although it reduced the uninsured rate to 8.8 percent by 2018. Today, the share of Americans without adequate health insurance is essentially unchanged since 2010.

Nine years after its passage, the Affordable Care Act remains a drag on the economy and the high cost of health care is still a problem that needs to be fixed. With the parties unable to reach an agreement on how to reform the health law, the possibility that the Supreme Court could strike down Obamacare in its entirety introduces a new uncertainty into next year’s elections. The timing of the case could once again force Republican incumbents to choose between pleasing the Republican base or the majority of voters.

Originally published on The Resurgent