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Updated: 1 hour 13 min ago

Report: White House prepares executive order to withdraw the U.S. from NAFTA

1 hour 28 min ago

Two weeks ago I would have called this a head pat for nationalists aimed at boosting morale now that Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn seem to have won the battle for influence with Steve Bannon. They’d draft the order, they’d wave it around for a day or two, and then they’d quietly table it. After two weeks of Trump grumbling about Canadian dairy prices and Canadian lumber, though, I don’t know.

Perhaps he’s serious about finally confronting the Maple Menace to the north.

A draft order [withdrawing the U.S. from NAFTA] has been submitted for the final stages of review and could be unveiled late this week or early next week, the officials said. The effort, which still could change in the coming days as more officials weigh in, would indicate the administration’s intent to withdraw from the sweeping pact by triggering the timeline set forth in the deal.

The approach appears designed to extract better terms with Canada and Mexico. President Donald Trump pledged on the campaign trail to renegotiate NAFTA, a trade deal signed in 1994 by former President Bill Clinton that removes tariffs and allows for the free flow of goods and services between the three countries in North America. Trump in recent weeks has stepped up his rhetoric vowing to terminate the agreement altogether…

Peter Navarro, the head of Trump’s National Trade Council, drafted the executive order in close cooperation with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. The executive order was submitted this week to the staff secretary for the final stages of review, according to one of the White House officials.

Politico thinks this is a leverage play, aimed at getting Canada and Mexico to come to the table and renegotiate parts of NAFTA rather than an earnest attempt to tear up the agreement. Probably right. Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Commerce secretary, made a point of connecting NAFTA to the dairy dispute and the new U.S. lumber tariffs on Canada in public comments yesterday: “If NAFTA were functioning properly, you wouldn’t be having these kinds of very prickly, very unfortunate developments back to back.” Trump and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau discussed the trade disputes last night by phone, and while the White House described the chat as “amicable,” the Canadian take wasn’t as friendly:

“The Prime Minister and the President reaffirmed the importance of the mutually-beneficial Canada-US trade relationship. On the issue of softwood lumber, the Prime Minister refuted the baseless allegations by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the decision to impose unfair duties. The Prime Minister stressed that the Government of Canada will vigorously defend the interests of the Canadian softwood lumber industry, as we have successfully done in all past lumber disputes with the U.S. The two leaders agreed on the importance of reaching a negotiated agreement, recognizing the integrated nature of the industry between Canada and the United States.”

Insert a lengthy paragraph about the benefits the U.S. gets from the Canadian dairy industry here.

The lumber dispute between the U.S. and Canada recurs every 10 years or so and inevitably ends in a negotiated agreement. Maybe Trump’s rattling his saber on NAFTA because he thinks it’ll lead to more robust concessions on that lumber deal. But don’t be so sure he’s not thinking bigger. Although his opinions on many subjects are … malleable, as we learned recently in Syria, he’s always been a skeptic of major U.S. trade deals. And he’d have lots of support on the right if he really did want to start from scratch on NAFTA:

Big question: Can Trump withdraw the U.S. from NAFTA on his own say-so or does he need approval from Congress? Scott Lincicome, a trade lawyer (and ardent supporter of free trade), offers this synopsis he co-authored on the legal ins and outs of tearing up major trade deals. The verdict? Yes, Trump probably can unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from the agreement under the Trade Act of 1974 but the lawsuits challenging that authority could get messy. Case in point:

In Clinton v. City of New York[3], for example, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Line Item Veto Act of 1996 violated the Constitution’s “Presentment Clause” because it gave the President unilateral authority to amend or repeal laws that had been duly passed by Congress. This ruling would thus appear to provide legitimate legal grounds to argue that the Presentment Clause prohibits a President from unilaterally terminating an FTA implementing act, or that all of the various acts’ provisions on termination of a trade agreement must be interpreted by US courts (and the President) as permitting termination through only (i) withdrawal/termination by all other parties to the agreement; or (ii) formal action by the US Congress (i.e., bicameralism and presentment).

The safe play legally if you want to tear up NAFTA is to get Congress to pass a law repealing it, but that’s highly unlikely given Democratic obstructionism and conservative support for free trade. Trump would thus be rolling the dice in withdrawing unilaterally, and the resulting uncertainty while the legal challenge plays out in court would be bad news for the economy. Even worse, Lincicome’s group believes that if Trump does go the route of trying to renegotiate NAFTA rather than withdrawing from the agreement entirely, any substantive changes (apart from tariffs) probably would require Congress’s approval. Either way, if he’s serious about this, he should devote some retail time to building support for his plans among the public. But maybe he’s not serious about it.

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New CMP video: PP exec haggles over compensation for organ sales … again

1 hour 58 min ago

It’s not a “new” video in terms of its origin, but in terms of its publication. The Center for Medical Progress has been stuck in legal limbo since its first release of undercover videos from public conferences involving abortion providers and contractors, and today’s release involves a Planned Parenthood executive who starred in a previous exposé. Dr. Mary Gatter’s earlier appearance showed her saying she wanted “a Lamborghini” from a deal to sell off human organs after abortions, and offering a “less crunchy technique” in its abortion practice to produce more usable specimens.

Today’s video offers a more mundane version of haggling from Gatter during a meet-and-greet with David Daleiden posing as a buyer, with Gatter scoffing at a price as being “like 12 years ago”:

Gatter was for many years the Medical Director of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, before moving to the same position at the Pasadena affiliate, and then being elected President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Medical Directors’ Council. As Medical Director at PPLA, Gatter oversaw the affiliate’s partnership with Novogenix Laboratories, LLC, a local for-profit fetal organ and tissue harvesting company.

“I did it in LA, I’m committed to it, I think it’s a great idea,” says Gatter to the purported body parts buyers. Discussing the number of abortions at her Pasadena clinic, Gatter asks, “What kind of volume do you need and what gestational ages?”

During the conversation, Gatter advises, “You know, you have to pay a little money to use the space.” After asking for a ballpark figure, the buyer observes, “Most people now seem to be doing per specimen.”

“Per specimen. Like $75 a specimen?” Gatter replies. After the buyer asks for clarification, Gatter repeats, “$75 a specimen, or $50 a specimen?” The buyer replies, “What we’ve been quoting is $50 per specimen. I think some people are doing more, some slightly less.”

Gatter then comments, “Yeah, $50’s on the low end, $50 [per specimen] was like 12 years ago.”

There are two basic legal issues involved in compensation for aborted tissue. The first is that the abortion technique is not allowed to change for the purposes of getting usable specimens, and the second is that the compensation is intended only to cover the costs of the abortion provider. (A third, informed consent of the mother, isn’t an issue in either video but did come up in other CMP videos.)

Unlike the “Lamborghini” tape, this one doesn’t expressly cross either of those two thresholds. The implication of the comment at the end of the excerpt above is that the price isn’t high enough to woo her into a contract with “Biomax,” but could also be interpreted as not covering the costs of preserving the corpse of the dead baby. The latter, however, is a little difficult to credit since other videos show that such action doesn’t require any other effort by providers; the tissue broker provides the personnel necessary for preservation and shipment. That even comes up in the conversation with Gatter in this video — she asks, “You would send somebody?”

In fact, as Steven Ertelt notes at LifeNews, Planned Parenthood keeps no records of such costs, making it look like pure profit in the end:

According to contracts and invoices, the real-life fetal organ and tissue wholesaler companies Novogenix, StemExpress, and Advanced Bioscience Resources all made monthly payments to Planned Parenthood based on the number of resalable fetal specimens the wholesalers’ workers could harvest inside the abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood told Congressional investigators it kept no contemporaneous records of actual costs for reimbursement under the law.

The Novogenix contract promises Planned Parenthood Los Angeles $45 “per donated specimen.” Planned Parenthood Los Angeles does over 15,000 abortions every year, but has never publicly admitted how much money they received total under their contract with Novogenix. In December 2016, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Select Investigative Panel both referred Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and Novogenix to the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice for further investigation and criminal prosecution.

CMP project lead David Daleiden notes, “The fact that Novogenix, StemExpress, and ABR stationed their own workers inside Planned Parenthood abortion clinics to perform the harvesting, packaging, and transport of aborted baby body parts demonstrates that Planned Parenthood had no reimbursable costs under the law. The volume-based sums that Planned Parenthood charged these businesses for baby parts are criminal trafficking and profiteering in fetal body parts. The U.S. Department of Justice should take heed of the Congressional investigations’ criminal referrals and prosecute Planned Parenthood to the full extent of the law, and taxpayers must stop being forced to subsidize Planned Parenthood’s criminal abortion empire.”

Earlier videos may have made a stronger case than today’s for those allegations, but this certainly does nothing to negate them. Regardless, this adds to the real lesson from all of the CMP videos, which is that abortion providers who sell their service as nothing more than the removal of a “clump of cells” are lying, and know they’re lying. The monetary value of selling the discarded babies comes specifically and explicitly from their obvious humanity, and the clear differentiation of human organs within their bodies from those of the mother. Otherwise, there would be nothing to sell — except the despair and brutality on which their business model depends.

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Judge who ruled against sanctuary cities order was an Obama campaign bundler

2 hours 28 min ago

Last night Allahpundit covered the decision by a district court judge based in San Francisco to issue a preliminary injunction against Trump’s sanctuary cities executive order. Last night the White House issued a statement blasting the decision:

Once again, a single district judge — this time in San Francisco — has ignored Federal immigration law to set a new immigration policy for the entire country.  This decision occurred in the same sanctuary city that released the 5-time deported illegal immigrant who gunned down innocent Kate Steinle in her father’s arms.  San Francisco, and cities like it, are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands.

Earlier today, President Trump also responded on Twitter:

First the Ninth Circuit rules against the ban & now it hits again on sanctuary cities-both ridiculous rulings. See you in the Supreme Court!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2017

Out of our very big country, with many choices, does everyone notice that both the "ban" case and now the "sanctuary" case is brought in …

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2017

…the Ninth Circuit, which has a terrible record of being overturned (close to 80%). They used to call this "judge shopping!" Messy system.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2017

Trump seems to have made a mistake here in that Judge William Orrick is not on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, he’s a step below that. The White House statement quoted above got it right.

In any case, you don’t have to look very far for some evidence that this judge has a partisan streak. Orrick is the same judge who granted a restraining order against the Center for Medical Progress, the group that released undercover videos of Planned Parenthood back in 2015. And according to the Federalist‘s Mollie Hemingway, Orrick was an Obama campaign bundler who collected more than $200,000 for the candidate in 2008. He had also previously raised more than $100,000 for candidate John Kerry in 2004.

As Allahpundit pointed out last night, the judge’s decision doesn’t appear to interfere with AG Jeff Sessions ability to withhold some federal money from sanctuary cities, so the impact of the injunction may be more symbolic than anything else. And on that count, CNN’s Chris Cillizza argues the politics of the decision are a win for the Trump administration:

There is nothing the Republican base — and the bulk of Republican elected officials — hate more than what they view as liberal judges run amok. It’s the epitome — to Republicans — of liberals trying to institute their will on a populace without ever letting people vote or have their opinions heard.

I think Cillizza has a point that most observers aren’t going to be looking at the details of the judge’s decision. They’re seeing this as the latest in a string of efforts by liberal courts to hamper Trump’s agenda. The fact that this particular judge was an Obama bundler makes that an easy case to make. So, bottom line, this is likely to fire up some of Trump’s base and it also may not make any difference practically in what funds can be withheld.

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California’s latest move to “fight the wall” is truly something out of La La Land

2 hours 58 min ago

There are still budget battles and (probably) blockades from the 9th Circuit to come, but sooner or later the President is going to get some work started on the border wall. But if and when he does, California is laying some landmines in advance for any private contractors who dare to bid on the job and pour a single yard of concrete. In a move being dubbed, “Build it and be banned,” California legislators are proposing to impose a permanent ban for government contracts on any company who takes part in the project. And no… this is not an article from The Onion. (Los Angeles Times)

California legislators took the first step on Tuesday to ban state government contracts for any company that helps build President Trump’s promised wall along the Mexico border, with the author of the plan urging colleagues “to be on the right side of history.”

The bill by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) would prohibit any company from receiving a new or extended contract with the state of California if it participates in a future effort to build a new wall construction along the 2,000 mile international border.

“The wall is another attempt to separate and divide us,” Lara said in testimony to the Senate Governmental Organization Committee. “It sends a message that we are better off in a homogenous society.”

Incredibly, this bill already passed out of committee in the state senate on a party line vote. It wasn’t just the Republicans who were alarmed over the probably illegal measure either. One representative of the Southern California Contractors Association asked the obvious question, saying, “What next unpopular project would be blacklist?” [sic]

Stop and think about the implications of this legislation for a moment. At both the federal and state levels, governments bend over backwards on a regular basis to ensure that private sector companies are given equal access to government jobs when they come available. This is to ensure both a chance at the taxpayer getting the best price and to promote equal opportunity for such opportunities, with particular incentives offered to companies owned by minorities or small business entities who might otherwise have trouble competing with the big boys.

Now California is hoping to take a huge leap in the opposite direction. They would be effectively shutting out companies from the competitive bidding process for the crime of bidding on a different and (by the time it happens) presumably legal infrastructure project which was funded by the federal government. This is absolutely unheard of.

Assuming that this piece of political chicanery actually gets signed into law, I assume that any contractor affected by it (or perhaps one of their trade associations) would be able to challenge the law in court. Given that we’re talking about California the law would likely make it through the first round of challenges. But have we truly fallen so far into national disrepair when it comes to partisan infighting that such a law could survive through the Supreme Court? That would open up the floodgates to states using such arm twisting maneuvers to essentially blacklist any unpopular proposals requiring civilian contractors out of existence. Such blacklisting is a favorite tool of the Social Justice Warriors in the private sector, but if it suddenly receives the imprimatur of the government then all bets are off.

California has truly become the land of granola cereal as a friend of mine likes to say. It’s pretty much nothing but nuts and flakes at this point.

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Trump DoJ still pursuing lawsuits against Little Sisters of the Poor et al?

3 hours 28 min ago

Conservatives and voters of faith had good reason to rejoice after the 2016 election. Donald Trump had promised to end policies that infringed on freedom of religious expression, where Hillary Clinton had promised to not just maintain Barack Obama’s policies but intensify them. Religious groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor would finally be free of government harassment over contraception coverage that violated their religious beliefs.

Or so we thought. At least thus far, the Trump administration has continued to pursue legal action against religious groups to enforce the HHS contraception mandate, even though Trump himself castigated the regulation as “onerous,” and hostile to religious liberty. The easiest course of action would be to simply withdraw, reports Tim Carney at the Washington Examiner, who wonders why Trump’s team hasn’t made that choice:

Nearly 100 days into the Trump administration, the official position of the federal government is still that Uncle Sam can force private employers, against their conscience and their religious beliefs, to provide insurance coverage for all forms of contraception, including sterilization and morning-after drugs that can act as abortifacients.

On Monday, the Department of Justice — under the control of Attorney General Jeff Sessions — effectively asked federal courts to keep alive its defense of the Obama position that Christian colleges must provide such coverage. This is irreconcilable with President Trump’s professed opposition to the mandate and its trampling of religious liberty. …

In Becket’s case of East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University v. Price, there’s an easy path: Trump’s DOJ should simply drop its appeal. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling, the district court’s judgment—in the colleges’ favor—is the operative ruling. The stay expired Monday, and the Trump DOJ should have simply dropped its appeal. This course of action would solve the problem in every case where the religious plaintiffs had won and the Obama administration was appealing that judgment.

That didn’t happen, though. On Tuesday, the Justice Department asked the Fifth Circuit to extend the stay for 60 days, and thus keep alive DOJ’s appeal. Why? It’s a mystery.

To Carney, it’s not actually all that much of a mystery. The Trump administration has been slow to fill important leadership slots in all of its Cabinet departments, including the DoJ, which has left career prosecutors in charge of strategic decisions. These tend to be liberals, and they continue to pursue the policies of Barack Obama in the power vacuum left by Trump. In fact, the same two attorneys remain in the lead for the case noted above.

Interestingly, the DoJ itself blamed the staffing issue in its court filings when it asked for continuances in the cases, rather than withdraw:

In their filing, the DOJ put forward the newness of the administration, as well as the complexity of the case, as reasons for requesting the 60-day extension.

“The new Administration has been in place for only a few months,” the DOJ wrote to the Court, pointing out that the regulations at issue are “jointly administered by three Departments” that haven’t been fully staffed under the new administration. “The issues presented by the Supreme Court’s remand order are complex; for example, the original accommodation took more than a year to develop with input from interested parties.”

The attorneys for these groups aren’t impressed:

The DOJ’s decision to prolong the case, essentially picking up where the Obama administration left off, has puzzled conservatives.

The DOJ’s actions “[seem] to be very contrary to what they’ve been saying publicly,” Eric Rassbach, an attorney for Becket Law (formerly the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom), told The Washington Post.

Why not just kill the mandate and be done with it? That would certainly moot all of these legal actions, but it’s easier said than done. Then-Secretary Kathleen Sebelius promulgated it as a regulation, complete with comment period, as part of her wide-ranging authority under the Affordable Care Act to set coverage requirements. It would take a full regulatory cycle to overturn it. However, unless the news media has altogether missed it, new HHS Secretary Tom Price has not even started the clock on repealing the contraception mandate, and he’s been in office for almost three months now. Price was Phase 2 in the ObamaCare repeal plan, and the AHCA was Phase 1, but he could have started the deregulatory process ahead of the passage of AHCA.

Trump got elected to disrupt the status quo. So far, though, the status quo still seems to be winning … or at best, the Trump administration hasn’t caught up to the bureaucratic inertia of the Washington establishment. If they want to beat the “administrative state,” the White House had better pick up the pace of its hiring, and its discipline.

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Berkeley, local police preparing for massive riot, I mean “protest,” tomorrow at Coulter speech; Update: Coulter likely to cancel; Update: Canceled

4 hours 8 min ago

Young America’s Foundation, which had been sponsoring the speech, has now backed out because Berkeley won’t guarantee that appropriate security measures will be taken. It’s too dangerous to encourage people to attend. Rumors are swirling that Coulter’s going to try to speak in Sproul Plaza, ground zero for the “free speech movement” at Berkeley in the 60s, if no venue opens up by tomorrow evening, which has school administrators and local PD in a panic. Read this article; the tone is roughly the same as if Homeland Security had just moved to red alert due to fear of an imminent terror attack.

I’d bet that the event ends up being more chill than everyone fears. But given all the hype about violence this week, maybe “anti-fascists” will feel obliged to put on a show.

Sproul Plaza, site of the Free Speech Movement protests in the 1960s, would be both symbolic and logistically challenging for the university because anyone can be there. Dirks said that for an inside event, the university would have metal detectors and other ways to search for weapons, but security will be much more difficult in a public outdoor space.

“If somebody brings weapons, there’s no way to block off the site, or to screen them,” Dirks said, noting that officials realize that some of the demonstrators, such as those known as Black Bloc, understand how to penetrate the crowd and use it as a shield. “In an open space, you have almost no control over that,” he said. “The challenges are immense.”

Yes, that’s a real quote about potential reaction to a speech by Ann Coulter, who’s been doing her shtick on American TV more or less weekly since before some Berkeley students were born. Like I said yesterday, ultimately this is about territory: She can address three million people on Fox News virtually any time she wants, but try to address a few hundred on Berkeley’s turf and out come the torches.

One of the groups that invited Coulter to campus, the nonpartisan Bridge USA, is worried that it might not just be left-wingers who are ready to rumble tomorrow:

Jandhyala said his student group has been trying frantically to find an off-campus venue for Thursday, and he said he shares the concerns of university officials that Coulter’s appearance at Sproul — and the protests and counter-protests it likely would spark — could grow violent. But he said that Coulter and her representatives made clear in communication with him and other student organizers that she intends to go through with her plans to appear at the public plaza if no venue is provided.

“We’re worried about it turning into a huge battle between her security and conservative militia and antifascists and others,” Jandhyala said. “To have that right in the middle of Sproul doesn’t bode well for the image of our school or the city. We’re worried about violence and student safety and our own safety as well. It’s a huge safety concern.”

It’s a reasonable fear. Trump supporters held a rally in Berkeley back in March and were confronted by counter-protesters, leading to fights. A month later, on Tax Day, 23 people were arrested when pro- and anti-Trump protesters squared off there. I haven’t seen anything about organized efforts by right-wingers to show up to tomorrow’s speech but the hype all but guarantees that some will be there. And Coulter will surely have private security of her own. It could be an old-fashioned left vs. right vs. cops vs. bodyguards donnybrook over whether Berkeley residents should have to stand for someone showing up in their town and declaring that unchecked illegal immigration might not be an unmitigated good.

Coulter claimed last night on Twitter that, contra the excerpt above, she hasn’t committed to speaking in Sproul Plaza. She’s still waiting on Berkeley to offer her a venue, which is the smart thing to do in terms of security. This is a game of chicken: She’s daring them to sanction her talk by giving her a room to speak in and they’re daring her to come to campus and take her chances in a public space, among the horde. Who blinks?

Update: All this, for this?

Ann Coulter said Wednesday that she is likely to cancel her planned appearance at the University of California, Berkeley, because she faced threats of violence and felt she was left without the support of local law enforcement who have said it cannot guarantee her safety.

Ms. Coulter, in a message to The New York Times, said, “It’s a sad day for free speech.”…

Without any support, Ms. Coulter said she could not go forward. “Everyone who should believe in free speech fought against it or ran away,” she said.

Odds of Trump tweeting that he’ll send in the National Guard to protect her: 50/50 at worst, I’d guess.

Update: Coulter’s out.

UPDATE: Conservative commentator Ann Coulter says she has canceled her speech planned for this week at UC Berkeley

— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) April 26, 2017

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Big surprise (not). Baltimore is having trouble hiring police officers

4 hours 48 min ago

Just once I would like to have you open up a post about the City of Baltimore here at Hot Air and discover that it was some wonderful news about how people are thriving and peaceful prosperity is on the rise. Sadly, today is still not that day. The latest headline to catch my attention coming out of Charm City is from the local CBS outlet there and it once again has to do with the Baltimore Police Department. But unlike past cases where they were being blamed for this or that episode of bad behavior by City Hall, this one reveals that there simply aren’t enough cops working in the city. And the problem isn’t the budget… they just can’t find enough people to take the available law enforcement jobs.

There’s growing concern over a shortage of police officers in Baltimore City. Despite ramping up recruiting efforts, there’s still big turnover in the department.

For only the second time in the last two decades, Baltimore hits 100 homicides before the end of April…

The number of officers is at its lowest point that it’s been in the past decade, which has become cause for concern.

The city is operating with hundreds of fewer officers than at any point over the past decade. With violent crime and overtime on the rise, some are raising alarm about public safety.

Just how bad is the manpower shortage? Since the turn of the 21st century, Baltimore never had less than 2,900 officers. The local news reports that today that number is sitting at around 2,500 and an additional 300 are on leave, so it’s more like 2,200. And this could hardly be taking place at a worse time. We already discussed that the final crime figures for 2016 put Baltimore in the spotlight with one of the fastest rising murder rates in the country. And as the linked article confirms, 2017 is only starting out worse, with their first 100 murders for the year taking place by April.

All of this is leading to the remaining officers being constantly stretched thin and working massive amounts of overtime which is shooting a big hole in the city budget. So why can’t they find people to take the jobs? The city is offering some explanations including competition from other law enforcement agencies and the stringent requirements to qualify. Those factors are probably true, but do you really think that’s the entire story?

The police, as well as any prospective applicants for the force, are obviously aware of and following the news. The old mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake may be gone, but she’s been replaced by someone who is pretty much a kindred spirit. And Marilyn Mosby is still the State’s Attorney for Baltimore. As you may recall, Mosby is the one who is still facing a lawsuit for her attempts to prosecute the city’s police far more harshly than any of the gang members tearing up the town. And the management at City Hall is still moving ahead with their series of “reforms” aimed not at reducing crime and making Baltimore more safe, but riding herd over the cops to see if they are actually the real problem.

With all of that in mind, anyone thinking of joining the ranks of the Baltimore PD is looking at walking into a situation where they will be working brutal hours out on the streets with fewer officers to back them up, facing a city which is, in some neighborhoods, probably more dangerous downtown Tikrit on any given day. And they’ll be doing it while working under an administration which isn’t exactly famous for having their back. The starting pay for a new officer in Charm City is just short of $50K per year (which isn’t bad really, and close to the national average) with benefits, but is that really worth facing those sorts of conditions? With all that in mind, the shortage of police officers really doesn’t seem to be that much of a mystery.

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Freedom Caucus leaders: House could vote on new AHCA this week; Update: Officially endorse AHCA

5 hours 28 min ago

Has momentum finally shifted within the House Republican caucus on ObamaCare repeal? The Washington Post reports this morning that the group of conservatives that balked at the American Health Care Act might finally get behind it by this evening. Leading members of the House Freedom Caucus have offered statements of public support for the changes that will give states more jurisdiction on managing mandatory benefits and other moving parts now under federal control with ObamaCare, and a vote may be coming very soon:

White House officials and several Republican lawmakers claimed Tuesday they were nearing a deal on health-care legislation with the House Freedom Caucus, with at least three leading figures in the hard-line group ready to support an overhaul after the dramatic collapse of talks last month.

Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho) — all leaders of the Freedom Caucus and central figures in the latest discussions — signaled Tuesday they are ready to support a new plan, according to two White House officials who were not authorized to speak publicly. A lawmaker close to the Freedom Caucus later confirmed that those members were close to or ready to support the tweaked bill. …

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), another Freedom Caucus member, stopped short of vouching support for the bill, but said “it seems to me it is going in a very good direction.” He said he needs to see the legislative text before making a final decision.

“I would not be the most shocked person in the building if we voted it this week out of the House,” Franks said.

Maybe, maybe not. The House has to pass an omnibus spending bill or a continuing resolution soon enough to give the Senate a chance to pass it before authorization for federal operations ends on Friday night. That has to be the priority now, but it won’t take too much time to pass the AHCA even with its new amendments, either. Paul Ryan pulled it from the floor in March just before its scheduled vote, but its status hasn’t changed; it could be called back to the floor in short order, and a vote would take no longer than an hour.

Perhaps sensing an opportunity to end the distraction, the Club for Growth has offered an endorsement of the new version ahead of their meeting, via e-mail:

“A month ago we said ‘conservatives and moderates… should start by meeting together to see what common ground they have.’ Today, we believe the hard work of Rep. Mark Meadows (NC-11) and Rep. Tom MacArthur (NJ-03), facilitated by Vice President Mike Pence, has yielded a compromise that the Club for Growth can support,” said Club for Growth president David McIntosh. “Since the AHCA was released, conservatives have done the GOP an enormous favor by pushing for needed changes that will benefit taxpayers, including the immediate repeal of Obamacare’s taxes and block-granting of Medicaid funding to states. While we’re still short of full repeal, this latest agreement would give states the chance to opt out of some of Obamacare’s costliest regulations, opening the way to greater choice and lower insurance premiums. It’s a solution that we’ve supported for weeks, and the time to move forward is now. There’s still more work to be done on this bill in the Senate and on further health care reforms, but any GOP moderates who stand in the way at this point are proving that they simply don’t want to keep their campaign promises to get rid of Obamacare.”

That certainly gives HFC members a big push going into tonight’s meeting. We’ve heard about progress like this before, though, only to discover that members still hadn’t actually agreed on anything. Tonight’s HFC meeting will probably have legislative language to review this time, though, as Politico also reported in parallel that the new version of the bill had been “finalized.” The drama is still real, though:

The million-dollar question: Can Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, who helped author the changes, deliver the votes needed to get the bill over the finish line? The North Carolina Republican is said to support the amendment, sources say, but it’s still unclear how many of his group will flip from “no” to “yes.”

There are positive signs, even though the Freedom Caucus appears to have made a conscious decision to say little until discussing the matter at a Wednesday evening meeting.

Reps. Dave Brat (R-Va.) and Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), both of whom opposed prior versions, indicated they will back the legislation once the new provisions are added to allow states to opt out of some Affordable Care Act consumer protections. While DesJarlais is a huge Trump supporter and was visibly torn about opposing the bill last time around, Brat’s change of tone is more notable given his reputation as a care-free leadership antagonist who has zero problem opposing GOP leadership or Trump.

But what about those moderates called out by the Club for Growth? Well …

While MacArthur helped negotiate the plan, many centrist Republicans are wary of the agreement and not happy that the White House pushed the plan further right. They are concerned that it will leave people with pre-existing conditions out to dry, as states could opt out of a regulation baring insurance companies from charging sick people higher premiums.

The centrist Tuesday Group will also meet today to discuss the changes, and it might wind up creating yet another standoff. The White House has begun wooing centrists who were “No” votes on the original version of the AHCA too, which gives the impression of herding cats at this moment, and there’s already more of that on government funding. The bigger problem is the looming deadline on the budget, and getting enough breathing space on that to move back to the ObamaCare repeal. While this will be an important agenda item for the House, it probably won’t get top priority until next week at the earliest.

Update: Apparently they didn’t need to wait until tonight’s meeting:

BREAKING: Conservative House Freedom Caucus announces support for revised health care proposal; moderates still uncertain.

— The Associated Press (@AP) April 26, 2017

The Tuesday group will find itself the subject of a lot of pressure now to follow suit. If they do, Ryan may well push this vote up to the earliest possible slot just to get it off his calendar — and onto Mitch McConnell’s.


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Another IRS employee charged with literally robbing taxpayers

6 hours 7 min ago

The IRS has had its share of scandals over the past decade and the ones which seem to draw the most attention are the partisan battles over “extra scrutiny” given to conservative groups. But what about the non-partisan, completely unbiased crooks who are just looking to rip off the government and the taxpayers to line their own pockets? There is yet another case of such alleged activity unfolding this week. The Department of Justice announced yesterday that an arrest had been made in the case of an IRS worker who allegedly engaged in identity theft, using the personal information of taxpayers to file bogus returns “on their behalf” and keeping the money for herself. (Department of Justice website)

A federal grand jury sitting in the Northern District of Georgia indicted an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employee today for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney John A. Horn for the Northern District of Georgia.

According to the indictment, since November 2010, Stephanie Parker of Atlanta, Georgia, worked at the IRS and had access to taxpayers’ personal identifying information, such as social security numbers and dates of birth. The indictment alleges that between September 2012 and April 2013, Parker exploited her IRS accesses to steal such personal information, which she then used to file tax returns seeking refunds in the names of other individuals. Parker allegedly directed the fraudulently obtained refunds into nominee bank accounts and used some of those funds to purchase money orders.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

First of all, well done to the Criminal Investigation and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the DoJ for uncovering this and taking action. But in addition to identifying this one particular (alleged) instance, perhaps the new administration can take a fresh look at the hiring procedures and screening in place at the IRS. These are people who are placed in positions where they have unfettered access to all manner of private information on citizens, including all of their financial data and identification. Whether a dishonest employee is looking to score political victories or simply feather their own nest, letting any bad apples through is a huge risk.

I’d compare this to anyone wanting a job as a truck driver, just for one example. If you want to go and do short haul deliveries of bread from the bakery to the grocery store you’ll probably have a good shot at the job if you simply have a clean driving record and show up for the interview sober. But if you want a job with Loomis or Brinks driving an armored car, be prepared for a comprehensive criminal background check, interviews with anyone who has ever known you and personal monitoring of your every move. Are we exercising this level of precaution when placing new government workers at the IRS? If so, great. But if not, the new broom may want to sweep even more cleanly at the Internal Revenue Service.

Americans are forced to pay taxes. They are also given no choice in entrusting this task and all of the responsibilities for safeguarding their private data to the federal government. They have a right to know that the best possible practices are in place to ensure that trust is deserved.

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Bill Nye, the Ice Cream Orgy Guy?

6 hours 48 min ago

After watching the clip of Rachel Bloom on Bill Nye’s show that’s supposedly about science, one had to believe that we had seen Peak Nye. Not even close. Nye seems to have decided to dedicate his new Netflix series to a string of very strange takes on sexuality, and his latest one features an ice cream orgy that ridicules religious belief, while making an incoherent argument that feelings are bad … unless they’re good. Or something (via Twitchy):

Sweet Jesus, there's more cringeworthy video from Bill Nye.

— Jason C. (@CounterMoonbat) April 25, 2017

Er … wut? Let’s start with the feelz first. Vanilla gets tagged as the antagonist in this video because of his/her feelings, which gets ridiculed for its lack of science, and yet the appeal to change Vanilla’s mind is based entirely on feelings. Everyone is made different, but no one respects vanilla’s individuality. In fact, in terms of today’s political climate, all the other flavors sexually harass vanilla and pressure him/her into participating in an orgy. On most college campuses these days, every other flavor involved in this incident would get expelled under Title 31 [Flavors]. (Also as an aside, I usually make my own ice cream, and it’s not entirely non-sciencey to state that most ice cream starts with a vanilla base and has flavoring added to it to achieve other varieties. The Vanilla character is actually closest to scientific truth on that point, but #YOLO.)

As far as the digs at Christianity, Nye’s not Nero and this isn’t the Circus Maximus, but it’s still a crude, lewd, and ignorant shot at religious belief in general and Christianity in particular. It postulates a conflict between science and religion that doesn’t actually exist, except in the minds of a few militant atheists. The “big ice cream in the sky” must be Nye’s version of Richard Dawkins’ Flying Spaghetti Monster, but at least Dawkins didn’t create video clips of spaghetti orgies with sides of meatballs and sausages. Nye’s not interested in science here; he’s interested in middle-school taunts and name-calling, as well as a middle-school vision of sexual relations. That, plus his weird presentation here before the video, paints a very strange picture of both Nye and his version of “science.”

To echo Allahpundit’s question — is Netflix aiming this at children? This video should have been rated TV-MA.

Update: Richard Dawkins, not Dawson; sorry about that. Dawson’s attempts at orgies were limited to kissing on The Family Feud — which would also be considered sexual harassment in today’s political climate.

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CBO: Government jobs still darned good work if you can get it

7 hours 28 min ago

It’s been something of an article of faith around here that government workers have a pretty easy time of things compared to those of us laboring in the private sector. Having a job where it’s almost impossible to be fired no matter how well (or poorly) you perform, even during a recession, provides the sort of peace of mind most American workers can only dream of. And the pay and benefits are pretty sweet also, all thanks to the generosity of the American taxpayer. But specific data on such comparisons between the public and private sector can be a bit hard to come by since it’s not compiled on a regular basis. The last time the CBO did such a study it only covered the period between 2005 and 2010. We finally have an update, however, and the trends haven’t changed a bit. The Congressional Budget Office released their latest report yesterday covering the period from 2011 to 2015 and, if anything, government employees are doing even better than their private sector counterparts than they did in the previous half decade. (Government Executive)

A report from the Congressional Budget Office released Tuesday said the compensation gap between workers in the federal government and those in the private sector has widened since it last studied the issue in 2012.

But analysts warned that the different demographic and educational make-up of each sector make any comparison complicated…

Overall, total compensation for federal workers was 17 percent higher, on average, than for comparable workers in the private sector during 2011-2015, CBO found. It was 16 percent higher for the period of 2005-2010, the budget office found in its earlier study.

The cost of providing benefits for federal civilian workers from 2011-2015 was estimated to be 47 percent higher on average than for comparable private sector employees.

Before looking at the actual wage gap, it’s interesting to note the linguistic gymnastics the CBO goes through in order to provide “nuance” to any comparisons. (It’s almost as if they seem a bit embarrassed by the results.) Despite the fact that any other comparisons in wages between demographic groups such as by gender, race or age tends to be lumped into one big basket, CBO breaks down government workers by their education level. Fair enough. It’s a valid consideration, though it would be a pleasant surprise to find such thoughtful breakdowns in those other discussions.

The biggest gap was between workers with a high school education or less. (Not for nothing, but how many people without a high school diploma are getting government jobs?) That group earned 53% higher total compensation than those in the private sector, with 34% higher wages and, wait for it… 93% more in benefits. People with a bachelor’s degrees received a more modest 5% more in wages, but still 53% more in benefits. In fact, the only group not doing better than the private sector were those with doctorate degrees.

The overall numbers show that government workers in general are still bringing in 17% more in compensation than those in the real world. The biggest cost driver is the benefits package which is not only generous for the usual things such as holidays, vacation, health care, sick days and all the rest, but also includes a nearly fireproof retirement package. Many of you younger readers who don’t already work on Wall Street or in a public employees union may be wondering what I mean by that since almost nobody offers one anymore. Just ask your parents or Google it.

So if we’re supposedly in the process of draining the swamp and shaking up the business of government as usual, is it finally time to take a fresh look at this situation? Nobody wants government workers to starve, but given the shifting nature of the economy and the economic realities for the vast majority of the people around the country who actually pay for the government to run, is this fair? Should the government continue to spend that much money on providing jobs which are already being done in the private sector for so much less? We should be having a discussion about either shifting more of this work to the private sector to reduce costs or trimming government employee compensation to keep it more in line with what the work is worth in the real world. Or both.

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Let’s talk about those $425 Nordstrom fake muddy jeans, I guess

16 hours 48 min ago

If you like the jeans, may I interest you in the matching jacket for that all-over “too busy to wash” look? It’ll run you $850 for the whole ensemble but no one ever said looking poor came cheap. Besides, shipping is “free.”

Apparently these have been on sale at Nordstrom for awhile but became famous overnight yesterday when Mike Rowe made them the subject of a blog post. I see them as the logical endpoint of jean fashion. Denim migrated from working-man’s clothes to universal casual wear because people liked the association with rugged blue-collar authenticity. Adding synthetic mud, stylishly applied in just the right places, takes the rugged authenticity factor up to 11 — in theory. In practice, putting fake dirt on clothing is so desperately heavy-handed an attempt at fake authenticity that it blows up the appeal of the clothes entirely. Although I think Nordstrom realizes that. “They’re a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic – not iconic,” writes Rowe, which is true and which Nordstrom itself probably recognizes. Not even the most pitiful trust-fund poseur would be so lame as to buy these and wear them earnestly, to try to affect a working-class sensibility. You buy these if you’re a hipster who comes from money, for the ironic lulz. Look again at the jacket, with the shoulders inexplicably coated with “mud” and the sleeves inexplicably clean. What sort of work would leave a stain like that? The pattern makes it look as though a toilet was emptied onto the wearer’s head.

Since all cultural critics must connect this up to Larger Trends, I’ll go ahead and call these the Juicero of jeans, a grotesquely expensive, deliberately overcomplicated joke on the upper class’s obsession with all things “natural.” No one would own a Juicero machine except ironically, right?

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Should the Supreme Court have dinner with Trump?

17 hours 27 min ago

It’s an odd tradition, but contrary to what the left would have you believe, it is something of a tradition. On Sunday morning the White House released its “outlook” for the week with an unusual event scheduled for Thursday evening — dinner at the White House between Trump and members of the Supreme Court. Liberals and their media friends were shocked:

This is highly unusual — President will have dinner with the Justices of the Supreme Court on Thursday, according to the White House

— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) April 23, 2017

If true, *perhaps* the most inappropriate thing Trump has done yet.
Yes, I know that is saying something.

— James Fallows (@JamesFallows) April 23, 2017

The dinner was “postponed” yesterday after the predictable uproar on Twitter, replete with Democratic senators grandstanding about it. Since when does the Supreme Court socialize with the president, whose administration appears constantly before it as a party and who may himself end up as a party in his individual capacity, whether over conflicts of interest or other matters? Since … a long time ago, as it turns out. Julie Silverbrook has a nifty short history:

Per Smithsonian magazine: FDR dined with Supreme Court Justices just days before announcing his Court packing scheme and during a time when the Justices were hearing challenges to FDR’s New Deal agenda

From the National Archives, a photo of President Jimmy Carter and his wife hosting an informal dinner for members of the Supreme Court and their spouses…

In October 2008, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush hosted a dinner at the White House in honor of the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.

President Obama often invited Supreme Court justices to state dinners for foreign leaders. Justices Kennedy, Sotomayor, Kagan and Scalia all attended such dinners during his presidency.

It’s not so strange that the heads of one branch of the federal government might schmooze with the head of a branch they’re supposed to be checking and balancing. It happens all the time with members of Congress and the president, after all. I think the liberal reaction here goes beyond standard hyperpartisanship, to Trump himself: Once you adopt “this is not normal” as your frame for his administration, anything he does that’s the least bit unorthodox begins to look alarmingly unconventional — even when there’s plenty of precedent to support it, as there is in this case. Also, because they view Trump as fundamentally unethical, him wanting to schmooze with judges who will rule on his policies takes on an air of improper influence that wouldn’t attach to the same degree to, say, Bush or Obama doing the same. (Certainly would-be Court-packer Franklin Roosevelt wouldn’t have dreamed of of trying to inappropriately tilt SCOTUS in his direction by wining and dining them.) And when all else fails, you can argue that Trump is unique among presidents who’ve followed this tradition because some of his former campaign staffers are currently being looked at by the FBI for possible Russian influence. Should a president be inviting SCOTUS to dinner when his associates are under federal investigation — even if, er, he himself is not, as far as we know?

I don’t think there’s an ethical problem with POTUS extending an invite. The real question is, should SCOTUS accept the invitation? The comparison I made to Congress socializing with the president doesn’t work: Yeah, the legislature and judiciary are both charged with checking the president, but Congress doesn’t have a professional duty to be impartial in carrying out its tasks. To the contrary, Congress arguably has to schmooze with the president to do its job. I don’t think anyone seriously believes John Roberts is going to vote differently on the legality of ObamaCare’s cost-sharing subsidies because he and the gang spent two hours eating meatloaf with Trump, but judges are supposed to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and the Court dining with a party to litigation would seem improper in virtually any other case. How did this tradition begin, I wonder? It’s weird that people haven’t much objected to it in the past.

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White House toughened up ‘soft’ Iran Deal compliance letter

18 hours 8 min ago

Last week the State Department issued a brief letter saying that Iran was in compliance with its obligations under the Iran deal but also highlighting Iran’s continued misbehavior in the region. But it turns out that letter was much tougher on Iran than the original draft written by career officials at the State Department. From the Wall Street Journal:

Top White House officials said the initial letter submitted by the State Department was too soft because it ignored Tehran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East and support for regional terrorist groups, these officials said.

President Donald Trump personally weighed in on the redrafting of the letter, which was sent to Congress on April 18, according to the officials. The final version highlighted Iran’s threatening regional behavior and called into question the U.S.’s long-term support for the nuclear accord.

Mr. Trump also told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to follow up the next day with a strident public message that the new administration was planning a shift on policy toward Iran, putting the nuclear deal in play, said these officials.

The letter which was released said in part, “Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror through many platforms and methods.” The letter also indicated that the Trump administration was reviewing the “suspension of sanctions” contained in the deal.

As for the statement by Secretary Tillerson that followed the letter, Allahpundit noted last week that it certainly didn’t sound as if the administration had decided to leave the deal in place. In fact, Tillerson compared Iran to North Korea’s rogue regime which the administration is currently pressuring to back away from its nuclear/missile program.

Back in February, during his brief tenure as National Security Adviser, Mike Flynn issued a stern warning to Iran that the season had changed. “The Obama administration failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions, including weapons transfers, support for terrorism and other violations of international norms,” Flynn said. He added, “As of today we are officially putting Iran on notice.” It certainly sounds as if Trump and Tillerson are sticking with that tougher approach and may even be preparing to put an end to the Iran deal through the review process.

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“High-stakes game of chicken”: North Korea conducts live-fire military drills

18 hours 48 min ago

Is this a new “high-stakes game of chicken,” as CBS News calls it, or just another round of the same game of Risk? North Korea staged live-fire military drills on its east coast today as the USS Carl Vinson task group made its long-awaited appearance in the Yellow Sea, and the nuclear sub USS Michigan arrived in Busan. So far, though, there have not been any further nuclear or missile tests:

N. Korea conducted a huge live-fire military drill this morning, part of a birthday celebration for their military

— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) April 25, 2017

Trump is working the diplomatic channels too, demanding more action from the UN Security Council:

The “status quo” on North Korea is “unacceptable,” Mr. Trump told members of the United Nations Security Council on Monday at the White House. He scolded the other members of the council for falling short in their dealings with North Korea.

“The council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions,” he said. …

…[T]he Trump administration is ramping up diplomatic efforts to put pressure on North Korea. Mr. Trump has spoken by phone to the leaders of China and Japan.

On Wednesday, U.S. Senators will get a rare briefing on the issue at the White House, and on Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will chair a special meeting on North Korea at the United Nations.

Reuters points out the unusual nature of this comprehensive Senate briefing. It’s meant to send a signal that’s this is no longer the same old game, at least not in the Trump administration:

All 100 senators have been asked to the White House for the briefing by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday.

While administration officials routinely travel to Capitol Hill to address members of Congress on foreign policy matters, it is unusual for the entire Senate to go to the White House, and for all four of those officials to be involved. …

Congressional aides suggested the briefing was being held at the White House to underscore the message to North Korea that Washington is serious about wanting a shift in policy.

However, the White House itself poured a little cold water on signaling:

A senior Trump administration official said the flurry of activity around North Korea was “not a part of something choreographed” and cautioned against over-interpretation.

Maybe … maybe not. Domestically, the White House would probably prefer to downplay the potential ramifications of the new, aggressive policy that dispenses with the “strategic patience” of the previous two decades or more. However, China’s leaders understand nuance, and they understand the lack of it. Parking a nuclear missile submarine in Busan is not nuanced, and neither is the THAAD system we’re expediting in South Korea. Calling the entire Senate to the White House for an urgent briefing is only slightly more nuanced. These signals may not be acknowledged by Pyongyang, but you can bet they’re getting heard loud and clear in Beijing, even as Trump continues to use diplomatic channels in parallel.

The problem for China is determining when enough is enough, and when it becomes less costly to deal with the after-effects of a coup in Pyongyang than to have US nuclear and anti-missile forces surround the Korean Peninsula. Georgetown analyst Matthew Kroenig lays out that calculation in this interview with CBSN (embed not available), and suggests that the tipping point on their strategic patience may be shortly at hand. That’s what happens in high-stakes games of chicken, eventually — or mutual destruction.

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Again: Federal judge halts Trump order blocking funding for sanctuary cities

19 hours 28 min ago

Increasingly I wonder if this Lawfare post from March about a “revolt of the judges” against the Trump White House was correct. Traditionally courts show some deference to the president in interpreting laws or orders he’s signed — but what if, due to their suspicions about Trump’s motives, they no longer feel obliged to give the executive branch any benefit of the doubt?

In that case, you’d expect to see many more orders blocked than you would under a different administration. Here’s another one now. Trump’s EO on sanctuary cities will be halted nationwide (temporarily, as this is a preliminary injunction) courtesy of another west-coast judge and Obama appointee.

Orrick cited public comments from Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in concluding that the order appeared intended to sweep more broadly than allowed by federal law. The judge, an Obama appointee, called “not legally plausible” the Justice Department’s arguments that Trump was simply trying to secure compliance with current law.

“If there was doubt about the scope of the Order, the President and Attorney General have erased it with their public comments,” Orrick wrote. “The Constitution vests the spending power in Congress, not the President, so the Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds.”

BuzzFeed has a copy of the opinion. Trump’s executive order authorized the Attorney General to freeze federal grant money to any sanctuary city, but under federal law (8 U.S.C. 1373), the DOJ has the power to withhold only three specific grants from noncompliant state jurisdictions. Question: Did the EO overreach by ordering the Justice Department to withhold all federal grants from sanctuary districts or just the three already authorized by statute? The DOJ tried to argue that it was the latter, insisting that the AG could only withhold money to the extent allowable by law, but the court read the order much more broadly. (What’s the point of an executive order, the court reasoned, that tells Jeff Sessions he can withhold money to sanctuary cities that he’s already empowered to withhold under 8 U.S.C. 1373?) Trump was trying to get the DOJ to withhold all federal grants from sanctuary jurisdictions, the court concluded, and he can’t do that under the Constitution. If Congress has appropriated money without conditions, the president can’t impose those conditions himself:

This is the key paragraph in the order blocking Trump's sanctuary city EO:

— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) April 25, 2017

Yes, that’s an Obama appointee citing the Tenth Amendment for why the head of the executive branch can’t push states or cities around. But wait, said the DOJ — even if it’s true that the executive order attempted to block all federal funding for sanctuary cities, not just the grants under Section 1373, none of the jurisdictions that filed this lawsuit have been targeted (yet). How can they have standing to sue if they haven’t actually lost any money? Because, said the court, Trump and his deputies have said things in interviews to suggest that they will be targeted, and that’s good enough for a preliminary injunction:

This marks the second time a Trump executive order has been blocked based partly on comments made by Trump or his aides outside the record, whether on the campaign trail, to the media, or so on. The original travel ban order was blocked on grounds of religious discrimination citing Trump’s early support as a candidate for a temporary global ban on Muslim visitors to the U.S.; when the White House rewrote the order to make it more lenient and to remove a preference for non-Muslim refugees, another court cited things Trump has said in the past to support a finding of religious bias anyway. That’s a highly dubious means of inferring the purpose of a legal instrument, one which, as Alan Dershowitz noted, would lead to a situation in which the same executive order could be constitutional if signed by Barack Obama but unconstitutional if signed by Donald Trump. You’re seeing similar logic here in blocking enforcement of the sanctuary-city order against plaintiffs who haven’t actually been targeted for enforcement yet. The Lawfare piece I mentioned up top flagged courts’ willingness to scrutinize Trump’s statements as a “tell” that maybe they weren’t applying the same standards of review to him as they have to other presidents:

This, we suspect, is the true significance of all of the references in both district court opinions to the many statements made by Trump and his aides about the Muslim ban and the true purpose of the policy effectuated in both [travel ban] orders. These references present, of course, as discussions of whether there is truly a secular purpose to the policy in an Establishment Clause analysis using the Lemon test. But there’s at least a little more going on here than that. The lengthy recitations of large numbers of perfectly objectionable presidential statements about Muslims coexist with a bunch of other textual indicia showing not merely that the judges doubt Trump’s secular purpose but that they doubt the good faith of his purpose at all—indeed, that they suspect that he is simply lying about his own motivations.

He got no benefit of the doubt in the travel-ban cases about his motive and he gets no benefit of the doubt in today’s sanctuary-city case in terms of which jurisdictions he might target and which grants, specifically, he’d seek to have the Attorney General withhold. Rather, thus far in his 95 days as president, lower courts seem to be grasping for reasons to halt his policies and willing to dig through whatever material they can find, including offhand comments made on “The O’Reilly Factor,” to support their conclusion. I wonder why.

Even so, we’re left here with a strange result in which, although the order has been blocked, the Attorney General still enjoys the same power to cut off funds to sanctuary cities as he claimed to have before the court. Remember, the DOJ argued that Trump’s EO only applied to the three grants under Section 1373 that can already be withheld from sanctuary jurisdictions, not to all federal grants. The court disagreed, but even if the Trump administration had won, it would mean that Sessions would be limited by his own reasoning to just those three grants in punishing sanctuary districts. And because he’s been authorized by statute to withhold those three, he can still withhold them notwithstanding the court’s decision today. In a sense, the order doesn’t matter. Only if you thought, or hoped, that it expanded Sessions’s power to withhold all sorts of federal money from sanctuary cities is it a true defeat. And not even the DOJ claimed that.

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Venezuela’s chief prosecutor decries violence as crisis continues

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 23:21

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, denounced the ongoing violence in the country, though she was careful not to single out one side or the other. From the Associated Press:

“The death of a person hurts very much,” Luisa Ortega Diaz said. “Whether they are with the government or the opposition.”

More than 400 people have been injured and nearly 1,300 detained in clashes since last month’s Supreme Court ruling that stripped congress of its last powers. In an unusual move, Ortega Diaz broke with the government in the immediate days after the decision to denounce it as a “rupture” of the constitutional order. The ruling was later partially reversed amid a storm of international criticism.

On Tuesday, Ortega Diaz took pains not to single out the opposition or the government as bearing the bulk of responsibility for the violence.

“I want to express my firmest rejection to violence as an arm of political action,” she said. “Politics should not lead us to war.”

The Organization of American States (OAS) has called an emergency meeting tomorrow to consider suspending Venezuela. The AP reports OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro says Venezuela has, “deteriorated into a full-scale dictatorship.”

Polls show an overwhelming majority of the populace does not approve of the ruling socialist government and wants elections to allow a change. But not everyone sees the connection between the socialist policies of former President Chavez and current President Maduro and the ongoing crisis. Last week the government expropriated a GM plant, causing it to cease all operations. But the LA Times reports on a former plant worker and union leader who is still sticking with the government line:

“I have done everything to survive in this situation,” said Adan Tortolero, a union leader at the factory, who started working there in 2005. “We have had to sell our things, and take other jobs.”…

Speaking to a group of 400 workers who had gathered at the plant over the weekend to discuss what will happen next, Tortolero wore a ball cap emblazoned with the name “Chavez,” as well as a picture of the leftist revolutionary leader Che Guevara.

The union leader proudly declares his loyalty toward “Chavismo,” the socialist, anti-colonial ideology propagated by the former Venezuelan president, who died in 2013.

Socialism is a hell of a drug. When you’ve lost your livelihood, your access to food and medicine and risk losing your life by walking down the street most people begin to get the message it’s not playing out as promised. But as you can see from the story above, even under those dire circumstances some people will continue to defend a failed dictatorship.

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Tax slash: Trump holding firm on dramatic cut to corporate rate

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 22:41

The border wall may be up for negotiation — or redefinition — but Donald Trump plans to stick to the literal when it comes to his pledge to cut the corporate rate. The White House will release a formal proposal tomorrow to cut the tax rate from 35% to 15%, part of the Trump agenda to boost the economy and create jobs in the US. The Washington Post calls it a “drastic” cut, one that carries a hefty price tag:

President Trump is pursuing a drastic cut in the corporate tax rate, a move that is likely to grow the national debt and breach a long-held Republican goal of curbing federal borrowing.

The president has instructed advisers to propose cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, according to White House officials who said they were not authorized to speak publicly about the plan. The rate reduction — which independent budget experts say could cost the federal government $2.4 trillion over a decade — is larger than what House Republicans had proposed in their own plan.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin disputes the budgetary impact, claiming that growth will provide the difference:

Trump has pledged that the tax cut in total would be the largest in U.S. history, and his advisers have said that the economic growth it stimulates would make up for any shortfall in revenue.

“The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday.

CBS News also sounds a skeptical note:

Most outside economic analyses say the type of tax cuts being promoted by Trump would likely fuel even larger deficits for a federal government already projected to see its debt steadily rise. The lowered tax rates are also unlikely to generate Trump’s ambitious promised growth rate of 3 percent a year, roughly double the 1.6 percent growth achieved last year. These two factors are related because the Trump administration is counting on faster economic growth to produce additional tax revenues that could then close the deficit. The concept was popularized as “trickle-down” economics during the Reagan years.

The problem is that the economy can’t grow quickly enough to cover the likely hole in the deficit.

“There’s no pure tax cut that pays for itself,” said Alan Cole, an economist at the right-leaning Tax Foundation.

Actually, “trickle down” was more a term that Reagan’s critics used, and still use to this day. The term used more properly at the time was “supply-side economics,” incentivizing production and consumption through tax cuts and regulatory relief, which then creates jobs and economic growth. Supply-side economics worked in the Reagan administration, as anyone who lived during those times can attest, with a rapid expansion of the economy and historic peacetime job creation from 1982-5 especially. The combination of tax cuts and regulatory relief unleashed pent-up capital, and that’s clearly what Trump and his economic team want to duplicate now.

There are good reasons to think that a corporate tax cut could have a significant impact on job creation. For one thing, the US has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the industrialized world, although the tax code has a lot of ways to lower the effective rate, too. A properly structured tax-rate reduction to 15% with a reform of the tax code to eliminate its anti-competitive complexities and rent-seeking deductions would make America more competitive and innovative both at home and abroad, and need not carry the cost that the Washington Post assumes. The biggest gain would come from allowing US corporations to repatriate their capital abroad at lower rates than we have now, which could provide an immediate jolt to the US economy, especially if it gets applied to domestic manufacturing.

Will Congress deliver on this promise? Politico paints a murky picture, and says that the Trump White House might not be quite as literal as they seem at the moment on this pledge either:

A tax cut to 15 percent for corporations is likely to receive a mixed reaction from Congress, which must approve any overhaul of the tax code. Some Republican lawmakers will be thrilled to bring the corporate rate that low as a nod to helping businesses, while others will worry about the proposal’s potential to add to the deficit. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Monday that a cut to 15 percent could be hard to achieve.

A senior administration official acknowledged that the proposal to cut the rate to 15 percent is just a starting point in negotiations and would likely end up being higher in any final plan approved by lawmakers. The White House expects to negotiate up from there, the official said.

It would depend in large part how the tax cut fits within other reforms. There are too many deficit hawks within the Republican caucuses on Capitol Hill to sign onto a cut to 15% all by itself. If the White House is willing to work on this as a key element in a corporate tax reform package that eliminates rent-seeking deductions and delivers a more level playing field at home, that might even bring in a few Democrats, especially if it results in less red ink in the short run.

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Video: Special snowflakes angry with Trump invade… the Heritage Foundation?

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 22:01

Ladies and gentlemen, may we present the shining hope for the future of American democracy. For reasons which never became quite clear, a group of liberal protesters who are angry with the policies (or perhaps just the existence) of President Trump and the GOP decided to put their power of free speech and assembly to work today in Washington. They were clearly determined to strike a blow and let the government know the direction they wish to take on certain key issues, including… something to do with the wall. Or water. Or something. And most curious of all, they decided to express themselves by invading the offices of the Heritage Foundation. (Don’t ask me. I just work here.)

David Rutz at the Free Beacon has the details and a bunch of video, most of which was tweeted by an account tagged as “PplsAction.”

Protesters demanding a “budget for the people” stormed the offices of the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

The Twitter account “People’s Action” tweeted out videos of protesters entering the building and chanting “shut it down!”

Before adding anything else, let’s just look at a couple of the highlights. The muddled message in this video has something to do with opposing the border wall and replacing with… not sure. I’m going to guess they would rather dig a channel and put a river there? Anyway, the chant is, “Water not walls.”

What do we want? Water not walls! #Flint #StandingRock #budget4thepeople #riseup2017

— People's Action (@PplsAction) April 25, 2017

Next we get to a more clearly enunciated and definitive message. The protesters want to… “Shut it down.”

We're not afraid to demand what we deserve. We need a #Budget4ThePeople #RiseUp2017

— People's Action (@PplsAction) April 25, 2017

One last bit of imagry comes to us from Katrina Trinko of the Daily Signal. If the protesters were hoping to get a supportive response from the folks inside of the Heritage Foundation they quickly received one. Except it had to do with a slightly different agenda item.

At @heritage protesters greeted with "repeal Obamacare" signs

— Katrina Trinko (@KatrinaTrinko) April 25, 2017

Let’s just roll back the presentation one slide here and return to the “Shut It Down” message. Shut what down? The wall? It’s not actually “running” as such. Shut off the water? Perhaps they left the tub running before leaving for the protest. Or are they perhaps calling to shut down the Heritage Foundation?

That’s the real mystery here. What do they possibly hope to accomplish by disrupting the comings and goings at that building? Or more to the point, were they trying to influence somebody’s vote? I’m not sure these people understand precisely who and what the Heritage Foundation is. Nobody there is an elected official. It’s not a government building. They don’t control any funding. They do research and write policy papers. I’d really love to get hold of whoever organized this and paid for all the signage and other props just to catch a glimpse inside that brain trust.

I suppose you can protest wherever you like, but this is akin to protesting bread prices by picketing a wheat farm. And if you must hold some sort of demonstration, do try to come up with some catchy slogans which actually make sense. We may not agree with you, but we’d at least like to know what the hell it is that you’re ranting about since you took the trouble to come all this way.

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“We have plenty of time”: New GOP offer to Democrats includes no funding for border wall

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 21:31

Disappointing, but it’ll be fun watching Rush spin this as a victory tomorrow after what he said today.

He won’t have to work hard. It is a victory of a sort:

A Republican bid to keep the government open past Friday includes no new money for the construction of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to several congressional aides familiar with ongoing talks.

GOP leaders submitted the new offer Tuesday afternoon in an effort to appease Democrats, whose votes are needed to avert a shutdown of federal agencies, several House and Senate aides said.

However, Republicans also insisted on increases in border security and defense spending, including money to repair existing fencing and new surveillance technology to patrol the nearly 2,000-mile border. Democrats have indicated that they would support such appropriations so long as no money goes toward an actual wall.

The standoff between Democrats and Republicans over the wall is more of a political fight than a policy fight. Democrats don’t want to hand Trump a win on his big populist policy proposal or else they’ll be lambasted by the “Resistance,” but they’re willing to give him money for other, lower-profile border-security measures. As such, Trump can say tomorrow, they’re the ones who caved. Our border, which is already stronger than it was four months ago, will get even stronger with this new money and meanwhile the wall will built … eventually. Sometime in his first term, he says in the clip below. Plenty of time. No pressure.

I wonder how long it’ll be before he starts nudging his base not to focus so much on the wall, which after all is just a means to the end of reducing illegal immigration, and to focus on the end itself instead. If border crossings tick down steadily through the first two years of his term, how many Trump voters will care in 2018 whether the wall has been built or not? It’s fun for critics to needle him about breaking one of his biggest promises, but if he’s tightening the border through other means then he’s doing the job he was sent to do.

Speaking of political fights, Ted Cruz has an idea for how to pay for the wall: The Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order Act, or, er, EL CHAPO Act. Seize the assets of drug lords like El Chapo and apply the money to the wall. Is that bill likely to pass? No. Is that bill likely to help Cruz with his reelection effort? Yeah, surely. And the people running his campaign website know it.

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