The First Post-Election Election

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In case you were worried you’d have to wait 577 days to see America head to the polls again, worry not! Georgia’s 6th Congressional district will be holding a special election in a mere ten. It will be to fill Tom Price’s seat, vacant now that he has taken the roll of Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration. No matter the result of the election, I can guarantee the they will be hyperbolically exaggerated in terms of their meaning. Before we worry about that though, let’s take a look at the state of things in the fightin’ 6th!

It is located just north of Atlanta and contains some of the cities more well off suburbs. This is a district that in 2012 was won by Romney by 23.3 points and in 2016 was won by Trump by 1.5 points.[1] Newt Gingrich won the congressional seat in 1979, held it for 20 years, and has been won by Republicans ever since he retired. The lines were redrawn slightly after the 2010 census though, so we shouldn’t make too much of history.[2]

There are 18 candidates currently vying for the open seat. The leader in the polls with 40% is Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary film maker and former Congressional aide. At 20% is the former Georgia Secretary of State, Republican Karen Handel. There are three other Republicans polling around 10% and the rest of the candidates are chopping up the remainder. This isn’t a run away for Ossoff though. If no one gets 50% of the vote then the top two vote getters will compete in a run off election on June 20th where Ossoff won’t have the benefit of a fractured Republican vote. If polling holds and June 20th sees Ossoff face off against Handel, current projections have it a virtual tie. Ossoff leads 42/41, but 17% of the electorate is undecided.[3]

If Ossoff Wins

The narrative the next day will be that the GOP control of the House and Senate is as good as gone. If the Republicans can’t hold such a red district, what hope do they have for the rest of the country? Trump’s low approval ratings obviously reflect a nation that has already rejected him. People will point to cases like Republican Scott Brown’s win in the special election for Democrat Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat which foreshadowed the oncoming Tea Party Wave. This would be a mistake for a number of reasons.

  • One data point should never be looked at as a trend.
  •  Enthusiasm is currently on the side of the Democrats, but that could easily fade in the next 20 months.
  • This was an open seat so the Republicans didn’t have the incumbency advantage they will in other races.
  • Trump could do any number of things to potentially turn his approval ratings around and win back the country. This is not intended as a conspiratorial statement, but wars traditionally have a ‘rally to the banner’ effect for the President.
  • Also in 2010 was a special election for Pennsylvania’s 12th district in which Democrats outperformed to hold a seat in a red area, but still lost 63 seats that coming November.

All of these points should be further emphasized if Ossoff wins the race narrowly.

If Handel (or Another Republican) Wins

The narrative the next day will be that the GOP have an absolute and undisputed mandate to govern this nation. The approval ratings for Congress, Trump, and the AHCA/Republicare were obviously all fake news. The country is behind the President, his agenda, and his accomplishments so far. There is no anxiety about what the investigations into the Russian influence on the election might reveal. The Democrats are a dead party clinging to relevancy. This would be a mistake for a number of reasons.

  • ONE DATA POINT SHOULD NEVER BE LOOKED AT AS A TREND.
  • This has been a Republican district for 38 years, it staying that way isn’t Earth shattering news. To expand on that, this district is 9.5 points more GOP leaning than the nation as a whole. Democrats need 24 seats to take control of Congress which means they just need to flip districts up to and including districts that are 4 points more GOP leaning than the nation.[4]
  • The Democrats still have plenty of time to coalesce the multiple movements resisting Trump into one political force.
  • Trump could do any number of things to plunge his approval ratings to new found depths. A President’s approval rating is the single most influential factor in predicting a party’s success in the midterm elections, so yes this really does matter. [I can’t link to the source on this as it was a politics podcast from the 538 crew, so that’s where I heard it.]

All of these points should be further emphasized if the Republican wins the race narrowly.

How You Should Read The Results

After Tuesday the 18th has passed, you should check the results. If no one has 50%, then don’t pay much attention to any of the spin since an election between two people can easily go differently than an election between 18. If someone does have 50%, then just don’t get carried away on reading the tea leaves. Montana, Kansas, South Carolina, and California will also be holding special elections in the next three months. To read more about them, I’d recommend this article. After all five of these races are done, then we can take a look at the data as a whole. Until then though, don’t pour too much energy into what is just the most recent play in a very long game.

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We Have a Facebook Page Now!

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Good morning loyal readers. I assure you I will still be writing content for this blog, but increasingly I had found myself doing shorter analysis and posting it to facebook. It turns out not every issue requires 1,000 words to break down. To help consolidate everything and make it more easily shareable, I’ve started a facebook page. You can find us at www.facebook.com/ReedingTheNews.

No, I won’t apologize for the pun in the title. All my life I’ve had to deal with never finding my name on souvenir license plate racks, so the world can deal with me using it for branding.

I encourage you to give us a like and a follow there if you want more data driven current events analysis in your life.

I’d also like to repeat an offer I made earlier this year. If you have experience or a unique angle on a topic you think would be appropriate here, please feel free to contact me. I’m happy to share this space with other people looking for their voice in our modern times. I already have one person who has expressed interest in joining me on the facebook page to do specific bill analysis. Similarly if you have an issue you would like to see covered here more, feedback and suggestions are always welcome.

I hope you have a great Monday and I look forward to exploring this new tool that should help us have an even better, more informed, and complete dialogue about politics.

Seven Long Years for Seventeen Short Days

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After being introduced less than three weeks ago the AHCA/Republicare was going to be voted on yesterday, but the bill now seems dead without ever seeing the floor of the House. To say the least, this is a shocking turn of events. Getting it through Congress was supposed to be the east part, and the Senate was going to be the struggle. Instead we find ourselves here. This recasts how we must view the future of multiple groups in Washington, so instead of breaking down what happened, this post will focus on what we might expect going forward.

 

Paul Ryan

In my opinion it is Paul Ryan who is dealt the biggest blow by all of this. Republicare was clearly his bill as he was easily the loudest voice trying to drum up support for it. Now he finds himself as the last remaining champion of a bill his own party shot to pieces from multiple sides of the ideological spectrum and that the American people had a 17/56 approve/disapprove opinion of.[1]

It’s also important to note his predecessor, John Boehner, had a beginning of the end that looked awfully similar to this. Boehner expressed repeated frustration at being rebuffed by the Freedom Caucus Republicans when trying to move forward on issues that benefited from party unity. February 24th of this year Boehner even commented that a replacement to Obamacare was going to be incredibly difficult because house members, “will never ever agree what the bill should be.”[2] This lack of ability to wrangle the party and whip votes is what ultimately drove Boehner out of Washington and we might be seeing the same group pull the same move against the new speaker.

Freedom Caucus

Republicare created some strange bedfellows, but probably none stranger than the elected Tea Party members known as the Freedom Caucus and those still supporting Obamacare. Their insistence that this bill was simply ‘Obamacare lite’ and ‘the largest welfare program every proposed by Republicans’ made them some of this bill’s most vocal opponents. The death of this bill is going to make this group feel emboldened and like they will be able to pull this administration further to the right.

On the morning of the second day this bill was supposed to get a vote, Trump tweeted:

Even accusations that they’d be cast as pro-choice couldn’t sway them though. There are interesting dynamics at play here because in many of their districts, they won their elections in landslides, but Trump beat Clinton by similar numbers. Trump was speaking specifically of the chairman of the Freedom Caucus Rep. Mark Meadows(R-NC) when he said, “I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,’”[3] Will Trump attempt to primary out some of the people who opposed him in this bill? Would he succeed if his approval among Republicans starts to slip while Reps remain popular in their own districts? It’s tough to say and I’m not quite ready to start forecasting 2018.

Donald Trump

Truthfully, I believe Trump is happy this is done. You could tell right away that this wasn’t a fight his heart was in because of how the White House rebuffed labeling the bill TrumpCare.[4] If a man who is willing to put his name on average steaks sold at the Sharper Image actively fought putting his name on this, it was obvious what his opinion of the whole thing was.

Now, I don’t think he was happy to take the loss on this, but look at his reactions following Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation compared to this Friday afternoon. Either he’s pivoted to become much more presidential, or this loss really didn’t bother him much. Trump can now shift the focus to tax reform which is an issue that the American people give him more credibility on and that is a much more personal fight for him.

The question remains though, how much political capital did this fight cost him? The Freedom Caucus played chicken with Trump and he was the one to blink first. The storied deal making abilities of the man got put to their first legislative test and he was found woefully lacking. If anyone has proven they can brush off a failure and stumble forward it’s Trump, but this could signal to the rest of his party that he’s not invincible and could be challenged more regularly.

Democrats

Finally we get to the group that Trump blamed for the whole thing falling apart.[5] It seems like the current GOP plan is to let Obamacare continue on, possibly guarantee it fails but more on that in a moment, and then tell the American people that the group that doesn’t have control of a single branch of government was the one that orchestrated it all. Trump challenged the Democrats to reach across the aisle and bring him their plan and that’s exactly what they need to do.

Republicans are going to catch a great deal of flack for promising that they had a replacement ready to go seven years ago. They just needed to be given the house, the senate, and the presidency first. It seems increasingly likely that for the vast majority of that time there was no plan but to criticize, so Democrats now need to bring forward their plan. Every Democrat I’ve heard openly admits that Obamacare has flaws that need to be addressed so they should write the bill that they would have introduced if Clinton had won the election.

Doing so would help demonstrate that they intend to remain a governing party and not just turn into an opposition party. Failure to do so will also assist Republicans in their claims that every negative truth and fiction about healthcare in this country is entirely on their heads.

ACA/Obamacare

“We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.” Those were Paul Ryan’s words at the brief press conference he held after the plan to vote on Friday was scrapped.[6] Trump echoed similar sentiments in his words to the media. With no replacement to vote on, the plan from the GOP is clearly to wait until Obamacare gets so bad that everyone else will come to the table and work with them.

It is something of a strange stance because if we take Trump at his word that Obamacare is a disaster for people, businesses, and this country, but he’s content to just leave it in place for now, that seems incredibly heartless. Either its destroying the economy and the American way of life and therefor needs attention immediately, or it’s none of those things.

More importantly though, there are actually many things this administration has the power to do on its own to either help Obamacare better serve the needs of the people or to undercut it entirely. As HHS Secretary Tom Price put it:

There are also plenty of things happening on the state level with Medicaid tied to Obamacare that this administration could bolster or hamstring.[7] It would be very easy for Trump and other Republicans to say they’ll just wait for Obamacare to fail while actively working behind the scenes to guarantee it does just that and for the fifth consecutive election, campaign on the idea that the American people need to grant them more power for them to come up with a replacement plan.

Final Thought

If you would have polled any politician the day after the most recent election, I would bet 95% would have agreed that Obamacare was virtually dead and gone. I know I would have laughed in your face if you would have told me that Republicans wouldn’t even vote on either repeal or replace. You could easily argue that both Clinton’s and Obama’s attempts at healthcare fixes cost their party a majority in Congress in the following election. Normally I would suggest history will repeat itself, but nothing about this last week has made me want to use the word normal unless it’s proceeded by the letters ‘ab’.

The CBO’s First Findings on the AHCA/RepubliCare.

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The Congressional Budget Office(CBO) released its findings on the American Health Care Act(AHCA) which is also being called TrumpCare, RyanCare, and RepubliCare depending on who you ask. Their full summary can be read here. It is the first part of the GOP replacement for Obamacare and Paul Ryan wants the bill voted on in the house by Easter, but before we look at the findings, let’s recall some key things about the CBO.

The agency’s director is Keith Hall. He is an economist and was George W Bush’s pick for Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He has many traditional Conservative Economist beliefs including raising the minimum wage is bad and regulations are harmful. In February of 2015 House Republicans appointed him as director of the CBO.[1] This is important given that we should expect an agency under this man’s watch to either be neutral and data driven, or to lean right in their analysis.

Over the weekend several key Republicans preemptively took shots at the CBO and what they might find. From White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, “I love the folks at the CBO, they work really hard, they do, but sometimes we ask them to do stuff they’re not capable of doing, and estimating the impact of a bill of this size probably isn’t the – isn’t the best use of their time,” From White House Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, “We will see what the score is, in fact in the past, the CBO score has really been meaningless.”[2] The White House was clearly bracing for this report, so let’s dig in to what it says.

Number of Insured

In January the President said, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”[3] According to the CBO there will be 14 million more uninsured people next year and 24 million more uninsured people by 2026. Both of those numbers are compared to the projections for uninsured under Obamacare. Twenty four million people is the rough equivalent to the combined populations of Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Idaho, West Virginia, Nebraska, New Mexico, Kansas, and Wyoming. Those 14 and 24 million are largely from one demographic though, the poor.

As you can see, the CBO estimates those living at 200% or less of the federal poverty level are hit the hardest. That would be a single person making $23,760 a year or a family of four making $48,600 a year. Particularly troubling is that age 50-64 column where the uninsured rate nearly triples.

Insurance Premiums

This one is more complicated. The CBO estimates that by 2019, premiums on the individual market place would increase 15-20% over the Obamacare numbers, but would come in 10% under the 2026 Obamacare estimates. Once again though, there is a group paying a disproportional penalty. Prior to the release of the CBO numbers, the AARP ran some estimates too and found a 64-year old earning $25,000 a year would see an increase in their premiums of $7,000.[4] The CBO disagreed and predicted a 64-year old earning $26,500 a year would have an increase in their premiums of $12,900. They would go from a net premium payment of $1,700 under Obamacare to $14,600 under the AHCA. That would mean a full 55% of their income would be going to their insurance premiums. The AARP had come out strongly against this bill before and I imagine there will be some heavy lobbying from them now.

Impact on Deficit

Over the next decade, the AHCA is expected to reduce the federal deficit by $337 billion over ten years. It was nearly a guarantee that this bill would cut from the deficit since it is being passed under reconciliation rules. This bill is technically a budget bill which is why it only needs a simple majority in both the house and the senate and therefor avoids the potential of a filibuster from the Democrats.

The bill largely accomplishes this with cuts to Medicaid. I was impressed they managed to remove the tax hikes from the ACA for top earners and still hit that number. This bill give a tax cut to the top 1% of earners of $33,000 and a tax cut to the top 0.1% of earners of $197,000. Less taxes on the wealthy and a budget deficit reduction are bound to get some big cheers from the GOP.

Expected Debate Points

The question now is will the tax hikes and deficit reduction be enough to sell the American people on the idea of 24 million people losing coverage and premiums increasing by over 700% for some of our citizens. There are three ways I’ve seen it spun so far.

  1. The CBO is wrong in general. I gave some quotes at the start of this article from this weekend. Since the report has been released, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has stated, “We disagree strenuously with the report,”[5] The tricky part is cherry picking what to reject. It’s tough to say the report is entirely awful except for the part about the deficit reduction. It should also be noted again that the person running the CBO was appointed by Paul Ryan and is himself a lifelong conservative, so it would seem strange if he was biasing the numbers to hurt the party.
  2. The CBO doesn’t have all the numbers. It is true that the CBO estimate is just based on this bill and it isn’t the entire GOP plan. Trump has claimed there will be Phases 2 and 3. Those phases will be trickier since they can’t be passed under reconciliation rules and therefor can be filibustered by the Dems. Republicans are claiming that the rest of the plan, which hasn’t been released and we can’t see, will solve the issue of the rise in the uninsured. This sets up a dangerous showdown later on because if the AHCA passes as is then I’d predict Trump putting major pressure on the Dems to pass the rest. He’ll say if they don’t vote for it then all the uninsured will be their fault, essentially taking those 24 million people hostage to pass whatever is in the remaining two phases of the plan that we might not even get a chance to see publicly until after a senate vote on what has been proposed so far.
  3. The numbers don’t matter. There is a group of Republicans who philosophically believe that health care is not something the government should provide at all. They believe it should be entirely left to the free market. I’ve seen comments today on conservative message boards praising this bill as fighting back against tyranny and that this is people reclaiming their liberty. To this set of people it could remove coverage from every single person in the country, but they’d still think it would be better for everyone because it reduced the deficit and allowed capitalism to solve the issue. I don’t want to spend too much time rebutting this, because I disagree fervently with this stance, but it’s still important to remember that several congressman and senators are approaching the healthcare problem with this mindset.

Final Thoughts

In January, Obama had a message for the GOP, “I am saying to every Republican right now: If you, in fact, can put a plan together that is demonstrably better than what Obamacare is doing, I will publicly support repealing Obamacare and replacing it with your plan.”[6] The numbers from the CBO make it clear that Obama will not be supporting this bill. The numbers also make it clear that Trump’s campaign promises of providing better and cheaper healthcare coverage for everyone are not fulfilled by this bill. Is it possible Phases 2 and 3 could solve all the issues? Theoretically yes, but like the CBO I can only go off what has been released, and if this is the best the GOP can do after promising for seven years they had the silver bullet for our country’s healthcare woes, we just needed to give them full control over the whole government, then we’ve been severely lied to.

The Bowling Green Massacre and Other Alternative Terrorism Facts

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The stated reason for President Trump’s Immigration Ban Executive Order has always been safety. Ensuring the safety of the American people is an important goal of any President. This particular EO has received a great deal of criticism for not actually advancing America towards that goal on the basis that there are no deaths on American soil from anyone from the seven countries on the banned list going back to 1975. The White House seems to be countering with the idea that there are attacks we just aren’t thinking of.

It started Thursday the 2nd when White House spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway said this on to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, “I bet there was very little coverage — I bet — I bet it’s brand-new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre.”[1]

She later claimed it was a slip of the tongue and she meant “Bowling Green Terrorists” but it was also revealed that she had cited the Bowling Green Massacre twice in interviews on January 29th, once with Cosmopolitan Magazine and once with TMZ. She in fact went further with Cosmo, ““He did that because two Iraqi nationals came to this country, joined ISIS, traveled back to the Middle East to get trained and refine their terrorism skills and come back here, and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre of taking innocent soldiers’ lives away.”[2] The thing is that no one lost their lives. The two individuals in question were caught and convicted of attempting to smuggle arms out of the country to ISIS. It’s doubtful any lives were lost because of their actions.

President Trump continued insisting that fear itself is not the only thing we have to fear. Monday February 6th he spoke before US Military commanders at MacDill Air Force Base. You can read the full transcript here. He began the speech with, “Thank you, everybody. Thank you very much. It’s so nice. A lot or spirit. Great spirit for this country. Thank you all. We have tremendous spirit, and I want to thank you. We had a wonderful election, didn’t we? And I saw those numbers, and you liked me, and I liked you. That’s the way it worked.” It isn’t relevant to this blog post at all, but I still can’t believe the first thing he continues to bring up in speeches and to calls with foreign leaders is the election.

Later in the speech he made the comment that people have been talking about, “You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that.” Trump has had a…contentious…relationship with the press, but accusing them of covering up terrorists attacks was a new one, so obviously people wanted to know more.

Sean Spicer later clarified Trump meant things were under reported not unreported. He also said the White House would release a list of examples of times it felt the media should have given more time to an incident.[3] Well they released the list and it’s as notable for what’s on it as what’s missing. I looked everywhere for the original white house document, but couldn’t find it. If you scroll to the bottom of this article though, it includes an unedited list.

Sources for all of the following:Citation 3, the article with the unedited list, [4], and [5]

The list included 78 domestic and international attacks between the dates of September 2014 and December 2016. No rational was given for the selection process for these incidents.

What’s there:

  1. Extremely well reported attacks like San Bernardino, Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and the 2015 Paris attacks. Each of these incidents received weeks worth of coverage, so putting them on this list seems strange.
  2. Thirty-nine incidents in which no one was killed. That’s a full half of the list is non fatal attacks. You can definitely have a terrorist action without fatalities, but this does make some of the deadly attacks in the last two years conspicuous in their absence, more on that in a moment.
  3. Two incidents which have no connection at all to Muslim extremism, the bombing of a Sikh Temple in Germany which wounded three committed by Salafists and a French national killing his British roommate and Hostel caretaker in Australia. Just like in point two, terrorism doesn’t have to be from one source, but these being on the list tells us that this was meant to inspire overall fear instead of it being specifically just about the Muslim ban.
  4. Typos. Seriously, multiple typos. The words ‘attack’ and ‘attacks’ are spelled ‘attak’ and ‘attaks’ a combined total of 12 times. More painful was their misspelling of San Bernardino. I’ll admit San Bernardino is not spelled the way you’d think, but even spell check would catch attack vs attak.

What’s missing:

  1. In total, 24 nations were represented as locations of attacks on the list, but left out was Israel. This seems particularly odd given how many incidents of varying degrees they suffer on a regular basis.
  2. The Quebec Mosque shooting in Canada which killed six, the Colorado Planned Parenthood shooting which killed three, and the Charleston Church shooting which killed nine were all absent. They all fit within the time frame of the list and had more casualties than over half the list. If the list is about terrorist attacks not getting the coverage they deserve, the fact that Trump has made no direct comment on the Quebec Mosque shooting seems to go counter to his desire to make us all more aware of how death is lurking around the corner and will strike at any moment. If the list included only attacks committed by Muslim extremists, then there could be an argument not to include these other incidents, but since there were other terrorist sources, why not these?

This list strikes me as the classic example of finding facts to back up your conclusions when we all know it should be the other way around. Plenty of incidents on this list received months of coverage and the fact that no one even bothered to proof read it before releasing it shows this was something thrown together to try to justify the language of the President.

As a final note, please remember, you shouldn’t feel like death by terrorist is right around the corner for you. Your odds of dying at the hands of a refugee on US soil is 1 in 3.6 billion.[6] Your odds of winning the powerball jackpot is 1 in 292 million. If we go by incidents, we have this chart put together by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism showing total attacks and the percentage of those that are fatal.[7]

Sorry that data only goes to 2011 and not something more recent. You are currently living in arguably the safest decade in all of human history and despite Trump’s statements to the contrary, our media still goes by the mantra of ‘If it bleeds it leads’. It’s in fact so easy for people to believe we are living in a dangerous time because of the abundance of reporting of global terror incidents. Fears like this have historically been used to divide a people and it saddens me to see the President and key spokespeople being the ones to stoke those emotions.

Twitter Edition of ‘President Trump’s Defense of his Immigration Executive Order’

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My last post was a detailed breakdown of the White House’s official statement regarding President Trump’s executive order on immigration. He wasn’t done yet though. Over the last two days he has taken to twitter in defense of the move and although I don’t have time to breakdown all 18 of Trump’s tweets since the morning of the February 3rd, there are three that really stuck out to me.

At roughly 9:30am in Paris(3:30am EST) an Egyptian man with a machete attacked a guard outside the Louvre. No one was injured except the assailant who was shot and is in critical condition.[1] Trump tweets within four hours to tell everyone about it and tacks on a reminder at the end that we should toughen our own borders to prevent such things. After reading this. I had two questions.

  1. Why point to this attack when the man came from a country not included on the travel ban? If this man had chosen to travel to the US instead of Paris, he would have been allowed in even as people from Iran and Iraq were being turned away.
  2. Why ignore the recent attack in Canada that actually had a death toll? This isn’t the first time Trump has responded to a global tragedy with extreme speed, this is a good trait for a leader to have although twitter might not be the best medium for it. This tweet is from 6:51am, so it’s reasonable to assume that Trump might have tweeted even closer to the event had he been awake. There are no mentions anywhere on twitter about the six deaths at a Canadian mosque from earlier this week though. There was a response from the White House, but it was delivered by Sean Spicer and shaded in such a way that it also justified Trump’s travel ban.[2] All that despite the Canadian mosque being by a white Canadian citizen who also would have been allowed in even after the ban. I don’t want to speculate that the attacker’s praise of Trump played a roll in the White House’s muted response, but given the quickness of Trump to tweet about Paris, his silence on this other event is deafening.

Speaking of Spicer, the press conference held after the ban went into effect had one big take away, this definitely wasn’t a ban. He stopped several reporters during their questions to correct them on their use of the term ‘ban’. At the time it was pointed out that Trump had actually used the word ‘ban’  in a January 30th tweet, and that Spicer had used the word in an ABC interview.[3] Despite the evidence our eyes and ears were providing, we were told it definitely wasn’t a ban. The above tweet was one of four today that used the term to refer to the executive order. I haven’t read any reports of Spicer trying to tweet at the President to correct him.

The other thing that grabbed my attention on this one was the comment saying the, “Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban,” I went searching for these statements. The only evidence of any statements in support of the ban I can find is a single article stating Saudi Arabia and the UAE have made semi endorsements, but those statements aren’t actually shared in the piece.[4] There was even an article from CNN Money with the headline “Middle East Execs Won’t Talk About Travel Ban”.[5]

I’ll give the first article the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s correct. We shouldn’t be shocked Saudi Arabia and the UAE are supportive given that they aren’t on the list of banned countries and that that they have quite rocky relationships with countries that are on the banned list, like Saudi Arabia and Iran. I’d also like to reference back to something I mentioned in my last article that there is a group in the middle east who is extremely happy the ban went through, ISIS.

Late at night on February 3rd, Seattle Judge James Robart put a stay on the order. Trump responded the way we’ve come to expect at this point. Before we go further though, it should be noted Robart was a 2004 Bush appointee who was confirmed 99-0 by a Republican controlled Senate.[6] Terms like ‘activist judge’ get thrown around a lot, but when you have someone appointed by one party, confirmed by the same party and then make a ruling against that party, it doesn’t have the same punch.

There are lots of other things to discuss with the ruling, but I want to stay focused on the implications of the wording of this tweet. “Essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country,” Trump ran as the Law and Order candidate. He promised to bring an end to American carnage. This tweet goes further and implies the judicial branch of government filling their roll goes against those goals. It makes it seem like the executive branch, and therefor Trump, is the only path to safety and security for this country. The constitution sets up three branches of government for a reason. Especially given the fact that neither the Congress nor the Senate were consulted before this order was executed, the judicial branch weighing in is how things are supposed to work.

Unfortunately I don’t know which is scarier. Either Trump doesn’t understand that this is precisely the function of the judicial branch (This would seriously call into question his decision making process for his SCOTUS pick. If he thinks the roll of the Supreme Court is to uphold what the President does, he’s sorely mistaken.) or he does understand that this is the way of things and he wants to change it.

President Trump’s Defense of his Immigration Executive Order

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On Friday Trump fulfilled one of his campaign promises with an executive order indefinitely suspending Syrian refugees from entering the country and instituting a temporary travel ban from 6 other countries. If you’d like to read the full text of the order, that can be found here. It has received condemnation from an incredible array of sources. It isn’t often you see Michael Moore[1], Dick Cheney[2], Charles Koch[3], and The Pope[4] all finding themselves on the same side of an issue. Please note that Cheney’s and Pope Francis’s comments were in general about banning Muslims and refugees from the US and were from before the executive order. Moore and Koch were both after the executive order had been signed. The swift response from leaders and citizens alike led to the White House releasing a statement. I’m going to go line by line through it, but here is the statement in its entirety:

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So let’s dig in:

President Donald J Trump Statement Regarding Recent Executive Order Concerning Extreme Vetting

When I said line by line, I meant the title too. There were plenty of articles written about ‘extreme vetting’ back when Trump coined the phrase in August.[5] It should be noted again though, the process by which refugees are allowed into this country is remarkably extensive. Refugees don’t get to choose what country they go to when they apply for that status with the UN and it can take upwards of two years from when they’re given that status to when they end up living in the US.[6] I don’t want to spend too much time rehashing that argument, the point is that this is not an easily exploitable vulnerability in need of an overhaul, but let’s get to the body of the statement.

America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border. America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave. We will keep it free and keep it safe, as the media knows, but refuses to say.

This is of course the big stated reason for the refugee ban, safety. We turned away Jewish refugees during WW2 because we thought they might be Nazi spies, so this is familiar territory for our country.[7] But that brings us to the question of how safe are refugees? Germany has taken far more than the US has(600,000+ compared to the US’s 16,218), and their Federal Crime Policy Agency has put together data on how their crime has been affected. “the influx of refugees into the country this fall had a low impact on crime numbers relative to the natural uptick that would happen with any population increase: Although the number of refugees in the country increased by 440 percent between 2014 and 2015, the number of crimes committed by refugees only increased by 79 percent.”[8] Crime increased 82% less than what would be expected for that size of a population surge. These are not dangerous people and we don’t become safer in their absence.

My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.

The first thing that stuck out to me from this was the apparent praise of Obama’s handling of middle east foreign policy. Trump’s accusation of Obama being “The founder of ISIS” was long discussed during the campaign, so to go from that to suddenly citing the Obama administration’s opinion on who is and isn’t dangerous is an unexpected move. More importantly though, Obama did ban new refugees from Iraq for a period of six months, but there are some key difference.

Obama’s ban was for a specific country with no exceptions(more on that in a moment) and in response to a specific threat the FBI had identified.[9] That second part is important. It became obvious over the weekend that few others in the executive branch were consulted or even briefed that this executive order was coming. Head of the Department of Homeland Security, General Kelly, found out the order was being signed when he watched the press conference announcing it. The Pentagon is only today submitting the exemptions for key foreign translators that this ban also blocked from entering the US, something you’d think they would have wanted written into the original measure so as not to interrupt their activities.[10] To dig into the other key difference, let’s look at the next piece of text.

To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.

Here of course we come to the crux of the matter. Is this a Muslim ban? There are four key things that, if this isn’t a Muslim ban, should have been done extremely differently.

  1. Trump shouldn’t have promised a Muslim ban several times during his campaign for the White House. Even after he was elected, on December 7th he stated, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”[11]
  2. Trump shouldn’t have told Giuliani, in Giuliani’s words, “I’ll tell you the whole history of it: When he first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban’. He called me up, he said, ‘Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.’” [12] He goes on to say that they focused on danger and not religion, but that interview is guaranteed to see play in the courtrooms hosting the mounting number of law suits against this order. He seems to imply a Muslim ban was the intent from the get go.
  3. Trump shouldn’t have included religion as a factor in the ban. From the order itself, “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” Since every country included on the ban list is majority Muslim, that means everyone gets help except Muslims. This is another key difference between Trump’s and Obama’s proposals. Obama’s was for every Iraqi refugee. Trump’s allows in people from the banned countries, assuming they are not Muslim.
  4. Trump shouldn’t have been doing an interview with Christian Broadcasting hours before signing the order in which he had this exchange: 

     

    BRODY: “Persecuted Christians, we’ve talked about this, the refugees overseas. The refugee program, or the refugee changes you’re looking to make. As it relates to persecuted Christians, do you see them as kind of a priority here?”

    TRUMP: “Yes.”

    BRODY: “You do?”

    TRUMP: “They’ve been horribly treated. Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair, everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.”[13]

 

 

If Trump wanted the country to take his word for it that religion had nothing to do with the order, those are the things he did wrong. Looking at his actions and the actions of his advisers, it’s tough to see this as anything but a the targeted strike against Muslims Trump called for just with careful language to attempt to slip through a legal loophole.

I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as President I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.”

He closes again with this idea of safety and security. I mentioned how safe refugees are earlier, but let’s look at the seven countries as a whole. Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen have been responsible for a grand total of 0 casualties in the US going back to and including 9/11. The countries that provided the terrorists behind 9/11, the Pulse Nightclub shooting, and the shooting in San Bernadino don’t appear on the list that Giuliani claims is mean to focus on danger.[14]

There have been three non-fatal attacks stemming from immigrants from those countries in the last 15 years, but that’s it. Compare that to the fact that ISIS is already hailing the ban as a “Blessed ban” and is using it as proof the west has declared war on Islam and that more people should rally to their cause.[15] Which is the bigger threat to lives both in American and around the world?

No this isn’t what Obama did in 2011. No we are not safer for banning immigrants and refugees from these seven countries. No we do not have checks and balances if the President can do this without consulting other key agencies who should be informed about such changes. Yes this was a Muslim ban. So begins week two of the Trump administration.