No, Really. We’ll Do Better Next Time

Since Donald Trump’s announcement to run for the presidency in 2015, democrats have been obsessively insistent that he will never reach “the next step” on the path to achieve his goals. He will never stay in the race for longer than a few months. He will never keep his numbers high after the debates. He will never maintain dominance after the GOP field of candidates narrows. And, most recently: He will never beat Hillary Clinton and become the President of the United States. Although Trump has, well, trumped expectations (forgive me) every step of the way, he may not be able to withstand the storm that ominously lies ahead: the 2018 midterms.

Historically, the midterms following the general election are, to say the least, unfavorable to the incumbent candidate and their party. President Obama and the democrats suffered the biggest losses of the modern political era following their massive election gains in 2006 and 2008. Only one sitting president in the modern era, George W. Bush in 2002 following the 9/11 attacks, has accomplished gains in both the House and the Senate during a midterm. Aside from that outlier, the picture is pretty stark: an average loss of at least 20 seats in the House and at least five or six in the Senate. Now, with the Republicans only having to defend eight Senate seats next year, it is unlikely that the Democrats will retake the upper chamber even with a strong showing next November. The real goal, the place where the Democrats think they can make the biggest gains, will be in the House of Representatives.

Although it is far from a certainty, there are early “warning signs” which could foresee political doom for President Trump and the republicans in 2018. Firstly, there are several “special elections” taking place in normally overwhelmingly conservative districts that are, unexpectedly, surprisingly close. CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s former district in Kansas was won by about 30 points by the republican candidate. On Tuesday, the republican was once again victorious, but only by a margin of about 8 points. Now, special elections are unique and cannot always be accurate indicators of what is to come, but a 22 point swing towards the opposition party in a highly conservative district should be cause for alarm to some. Additionally, another election will take place in Georgia this upcoming Tuesday. If the democrats are able to seize a seat from the republicans in Georgia of all places, their confidence may rise along with their support, meaning bad news for the GOP come November of next year.

If you combine the historical trends with a “resurgent” left and a president whose approval ratings are at a historic low for the amount of time he has been an office, all of the ingredients are there for the Democrats to make significant gains in the House and possibly break-even against an inauspicious senate map; however, if Trump and the Republicans are able to secure only modest losses or even slight gains in 2018, it will be time for everyone, especially myself, to stop underestimating the enigmatic and undeniable political appeal of Donald J. Trump.

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/mid-term_elections.php

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-do-we-know-about-the-2018-midterms-right-now/

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Another bombing

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Today the U.S. dropped its’ largest non-nuclear bomb, GBU-43, in Afghanistan. During a press conference about the action Trump stated that it was “Another successful mission… we’re really proud of our military.” He didn’t specify why exactly he was proud about or what the mission was for. There are some reports that claim the attacks were aimed at ISIS. The bombing took place nonetheless, and I am left wondering what the purpose of this bombing was considering the current state of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee climate in the United States supported by policies created by the Trump administration. Trump strives to create an American country with only those whom he deems to be acceptable to be citizens and exist in the country, which are mostly white Americans, while excluding everyone else. When he makes attacks like these, he is creating an environment where people do not feel safe in their own communities and they must flee for refuge. Considering that maybe, perhaps this mission was aimed at ISIS, the reality that civilians are harmed in warfare is a major factor to consider. When bombing a country it’s not just bombing the enemy but bombing the entire state, country and its people and resources. Everyone is affected. The Washington Post noted, “The Pentagon said in its statement that ‘U.S. Forces took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties with this strike.’ ” Taking every precaution doesn’t clearly state how many lives could have been potentially lost or were lost. -There are many lives being taken in the United States today due to anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiment that is fueled by the administration itself. Sheila Adus-Salaam was found in the New York Hudson River. She was the first Muslim women to serve as a U.S. judge. Both of these news, the bombing and Sheila Adus-Salaam’s death are examples of parallels in the way that we treat the people we live in our country and those who are further away- the reason of death has not been given but the details known so far give great reason for suspicion and speculation that foul play was involved. I believe if Trump’s actions were truly made in order to protect the country, an assumption I am making, I think his next step would be to acknowledge what has occurred with the judge Adus-Salaam and do all that he can to find out exactly what happened to her. Because his worry is security and safety and doing all he can to make America great again and yet all of these horrible acts of violence are occurring without a solid sentiment from him. I would like to see Trump speak out against an ill that occurs in this country instead of reacting with force. What I mean by that is that I would like to see him set up meetings, do community service, do some type of humanitarian work and show any emotion instead of only attacking groups of people and marginalizing groups that are already marginalized to begin with. And I would also like answers at press conferences instead of everything but, but that’s another issue.

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Hockey, Patriotism, and Pride: a different kind of immigration ban

Over the past few months we’ve started an important national discussion on immigration, a discussion which has been especially robust here on this blog. But for this post I wanted to look at immigration from a different lens, stepping away from the overarching themes of humanitarianism and the pressing issues is Syria and South Sudan. Instead I’m going to examine rules/laws on immigration, as well as national pride, patriotism, and competitiveness through the much lighter filter of sports.

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Detroit Red Wings Goaltender Petr Mrazek, a Czech national who played in the CHL for the Ottawa ’67s

The backstory for this begins in 2014 when Hockey Canada, the sports governing body in Canada, made the unprecedented move of banning international  goaltenders from playing in the CHL (international in this case means non-Canadian or non-American). The CHL is the top level of junior hockey in Canada, it consists of three sub-leagues and produces the majority of NHL players and draft picks. While the CHL and other junior leagues have long had restrictions on the number of import players a team is allowed to roster, classifying goaltenders differently than other import players and subsequently banning them was an entirely new development.

The ban was a largely motivated by two factors: continued frustration and goaltending woes for Canada’s junior national teams, and an ever-dwindling percentage of Canadian goaltenders in the NHL. Of course there were many other factors involved, including better goaltending development systems in countries like Sweden and Finland, and other countries’ providing better avenues for goaltenders to mature and work with coaches.

While this is only a sports issue, and it affects and incredibly small number of people, the move was still described as xenophobic and shortsighted by many commentators. And this is where the similarities to other immigration debates start to begin. Hockey Canada Executives and supporters justify the ban for very similar reasons to those we hear against immigration and refugees here in America. They say that allowing foreign goalies to play in the CHL means that spots in a league developed, paid for, and supported by Canadians are being wrongfully taken from those good ol’ Canadian boys. Whats worse is that theses foreign goaltenders get access to valuable resources like elite coaches and exposure to NHL teams, and then they compete against Canada in international tournaments. This brings me to my next point on the role of national pride and identity in immigration.

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CHL alum and two time gold medal winning Team Canada goaltender Carey Price remains the best in hockey

I think its very safe to say that hockey is more than just a sport in Canada, its a matter of national pride, national identity, and being the best. Canadians love the NHL but professional hockey pales in importance to international tournaments like the Olympics and even World Juniors (an annual competition featuring the world’s best u-20 players). Despite their recent dominance Canadians worry, or even fear, that other countries will continue chipping away at their status of the worlds premier hockey nation. And even a single great goaltender can go a long way towards this. Almost every major upset in international hockey is the result of really really good goaltending. Examples of this include Jim Craig stealing Olympic gold for the US in 1980, and Dominik Hasek taking over the entire 1998 tournament to win gold for the Czech Republic.

While hockey is obviously a much less serious international issue, it does have significant resemblances and parallels to many fears we hear about immigrants today. One doesn’t have to go far into the web of American news and social media to hear about how immigrants undermine our culture and the things that make America great while living of the welfare of others. Furthermore the fear that a single refugee could by themselves undermine our national security via terrorism has its obvious parallels in the hockey universe as well. But just like other immigrants, foreign goaltenders have their own domestic proponents who champion the benefits of inclusion and diversity. Many coaches argue that bringing in foreign goaltenders helps Canada develop better players by forcing them to play against better competition. And many Canadian goaltending coaches say that they learn a lot from cultural exchanges with foreign goaltenders.

Whichever way you come down on Hockey Canada’s ban, or immigration issues in general, I hope that this article was helpful in viewing things from a new perspective.

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War, but not.

Just a few days ago, President Trump ordered a battery of cruise missiles to be launched at an airfield in Syria, in response to the illegal chemical weaponry being employed by the Assad regime, for the stated national interest regions in promoting regional stability as well as suppress banned weaponry usage. The issues that come up with this aggressive military maneuver are twofold: is this legal, and if it is,should the President be accorded this power? The answer to the first, surprisingly, is that is generally considered legal. There are competing theories, as mentioned in the article, but this is generally accepted as legal provided that the president provides good reasons that prove that the limited strikes serve the national interests. Beyond that point, the President must notify Congress within 48 hours of the strike, and then ask Congress for an extension past 60 days for deploying troops for extended engagement in warfare, or ask Congress to declare war. However, since World War II, Congress has not declared war on a single country. Even the War Powers Resolution Act of 1973 has served to reduce unilateral power of the President to engage in warfare, but not declare war. For better or for worse, the President has been accorded the legal power to direct said strikes.

This leads us to the second implication of this tradition, should the President be accorded this power? The rationale for the President being allowed to engage in these limited strikes is clear: the President must be able to make quick decisions in an emergency in order to protect the nation. They cannot be constrained by needing approval, if crisis resolution is time critical. On the flip side, sometimes it seems to go too far, in that the military launched 50 million dollars worth of explosives into a foreign sovereign nation, in order to protect nebulous national interests, though done in pursuit of humanitarian goals (which is laudable). This dichotomy is difficult to solve, and very easily abused.

The reason I bring this event up is to highlight the fact that perhaps the President has too much latitude in foreign affairs, and waging war. There are good reasons on both sides for both constraining or allowing the President free reign. However, I think a major issue that has developed in light of new technology has tipped the balance too far. The combined problems of advances in destructive weaponry coupled with technological advances in computer guidance has created a scenario where U.S. military can inflict its presence  without a single soldier in physical attendance. This remote control, for lack of a better phrase, coupled with fast global transportation rates as well as increased destructive capacity of our weapons has given the President unprecedented power in determining U.S. interests with respect to foreign nations with military might. Perhaps this power is needed to respond to the changing asymmetric warfare that we seem to be engaged in. Or maybe this unilateral allowance needs to be reigned in. Either way, Presidential power in this issue has definitely increased due to technological innovation that lets them bypass the permission of Congress. So in all other respects, it is war, but hasn’t been declared by Congress.

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Transgender Rights & the 14th Amendment

If you haven’t heard about Virginia teen Gavin Grimm, it’s likely that you will soon. His struggle for rights will be before the Supreme Court in the next few years.

Actually, Grimm’s case was supposed to go before the Court this spring, until the Trump administration changed its interpretation of the Title IX law, which governs how transgender students are treated in public schools, and even if their gender identity is recognized at all.

Grimm, a transgender student at a Virginia high school, was required to use either the bathrooms that corresponded to his biological sex or a private bathroom. He was not permitted to use the boys’ bathrooms, the gender he identifies with.

Grimm’s case will help us gauge the current Court’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. We already know from Obergefell v. Hodges that a majority of the Court (the four traditionally progressive members along with Justice Kennedy) believes that discrimination based on sexual orientation can be classified as sex discrimination, and is thus prohibited under equal protection. But will the Court view “sex” and “gender identity” as separate?

If gender identity is considered inessential to sex, and the term “sex” should be understood in an entirely biological context, it’s easy to make the argument that transgender people are not being treated any differently than other members of their biological sex. Under this logic, there is no sex discrimination present.

But this seems to be a view of sex and gender identity that is increasingly outdated, and adopting it would place a substantial burden on transgender people. Heartened by the success of the gay rights movement, more and more people who don’t identify with their biological gender are embracing their true identities. Transgender people currently represent 0.6 percent of the U.S. population, and that figure is likely to increase substantially as being transgender (hopefully) continues to gain popular acceptance. If transgender people, particularly transgender young people, do not have their identities validated, or at least tolerated, by the public school systems they spend their developmental years interacting with, they are likely to face serious discrimination throughout their lives.

Districts have argued that providing private bathrooms alleviates any form of discrimination that would be imposed by requiring transgender students to use the bathroom of their biological sex. But a student who is required to use a private bathroom is likely to be ostracized by such a requirement, and it implies that there is something strange or wrong about the transgender student.

Obergefell v. Hodges was a landmark decision that affirmed that the Court views the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment as a part of the Constitution that is “living”, meant to evolve with the American people. Our nation has made incomplete, but substantial progress towards a society that affords gay and lesbian citizens equal rights and status. And, while the results of November’s election might serve as a refutation of such a belief, I do believe the United States is moving towards transgender recognition and acceptance in a similar way. The Supreme Court should recognize this evolution and rule that discrimination based on gender identity is a form of sex discrimination that is incompatible with equal protection.

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Fighting Violence with Programs: The Importance of Preventative Measures

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(Source: Rolling Stone)

As many of you may know, I am a massive true-crime fan. I listen to true-crime podcasts, record Dateline every week, and I binge watched the entire series of “The People v. OJ” in three days. Ask me sometime about my opinions on famous murder cases – I’ll talk your ear off about JonBenét Ramsey or Ted Bundy. Don’t flag me as crazy just yet. my love for true crime doesn’t stem from a dark place; I enjoy the mystery surrounding crime, but more so, I like the satisfaction that comes when justice has been served.

For example, one of my favorite true crime cases is the story of Tara Grinstead, a woman who disappeared from her home in rural Georgia over ten years ago. Police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had never made any arrests in her case, her body was never found, and despite an exhaustive search effort, no evidence found at the crime scene. Her disappearance truly was the perfect crime, that is, until last month. Police announced they had received a tip leading to the arrest of two men who were responsible for Tara’s murder twelve years ago. Details are still coming to light, but it seems as if one of will be charged with murder and the other has taken a plea deal resulting in lesser crimes. Police are still searching for Tara’s body. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be Tara’s family, for all this time, never having closure, always wondering who, if anyone, harmed your loved one. I also can’t imagine how they feel now that they know what happened to her – there must be some sense of relief in knowing Tara’s fate.

The sad truth is that Tara’s family is far from alone, but instead part of a large group of those who often suffer in silence: the families of victims. In 2015, there were 15,696 murders in the United States.

The United States Declaration of Independence recognizes three fundamental rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” I believe that while the violent crime rate has improved, the United States is doing a poor job at recognizing and preventing the deprivation of the most essential of the three fundamental rights: life.

How should the government offer protections and prevent homicide? What steps can it take to lessen violence? The work of Rachel Louise Snyder, although it focuses specifically on domestic violence cases, proposes one method to combat homicide: assess who is at risk to create a crime and collaborate to prevent them from doing so. Snyder’s article focuses on the actions of one community to prevent crime before it occurs. I couldn’t help but think that this notion could be applied, in a more general way, to reduce the number of homicides across the nation. So, I did some research about programs around the countries specifically designed to lower murder rates, and I found that there is already a shift to implementing preventative measures to combat the underlying factors behind violent crime.

In 2006, there was a comprehensive study done in Jacksonville, Florida, with a goal to assess ways to reduce murder rates. Conclusions drawn from this study emphasize the need for implementing prevention programs, stating that, “while the community must adequately fund a criminal justice system to respond to violent actions, to solve the problem prevention problems must be as high a funding priority as law enforcement” (JCCI, 2006). Prevention programs should not be limited to simply those who may be at risk to commit a first-time offense, but those who may already have been convicted of a previous crime. To combat the “cycle of criminal activity” that offenders may be caught in and prevent escalation, measures should be taken to provide education, job training, and drug treatment, as well as address the burdens that a criminal record can have. This holistic approach to addressing violent crime charges multiple agencies with the weight of murder, instead of simply law enforcement or the legal system.

Specifically, the Jacksonville study gives nine long-term solutions to combat homicide. They are: admit and address racism, provide adequate funding for preventative programs, provide strong positive male role models, improve economic opportunity, improve the relationship between law enforcement and the community, address the culture of violence, differentiate drug traffickers from users, target domestic violence, help children succeed in school, and rehabilitate inmates and ex-offenders.

Some of these goals, if not all of them, may seem common sense. But, that is only more evidence to the fact that our communities are currently not doing enough to implement change in the way homicide is combatted. If we want safer communities and to do more to protect our unalienable rights, then why should we not make greater efforts to save lives? I don’t see the harm in trying.

As for Tara Grinstead, details surrounding her case few and far between, as there is an ongoing investigation. However, it was concluded that at least one of the men charged had a previous violent record. Who knows? Maye a preventative measure, such as a rehabilitation program, could have steered him away from homicide and Tara would still be alive.

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Will a Gorsuch Filibuster Change the Judiciary?

Democrats in the Senate are debating whether or not to attempt to block the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Such a move would force Mitch McConnell to change Senate rules to make Gorsuch a Justice by making Supreme Court nominations subject to a simple majority vote. While it is possible the remaining undecided Democrats will vote to approve Trump’s nominee, he’ll essentially need to run the table of those senators, which seems unlikely. So, the filibuster is likely to die. What could this mean for future Supreme Court nominees?

The first point that has to be considered is whether the filibuster could have survived in any scenario. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency, and Republicans held onto the Senate, some Republicans suggested that the seat could just be left open indefinitely (if you think that sounds like something Ted Cruz would say, that’s because it was Ted Cruz). Perhaps the filibuster simply doesn’t work in our hyper-partisan environment, and would have led to more and more court vacancies. While that’s obviously not the outcome we want to see in our courts, we do have to consider if want our divided politics to spread to our judges and justices.

If the filibuster is used on Gorsuch and eliminated, both parties will be able to explicitly campaign on their ability to appoint and block future Supreme Court nominees. In 2018, Democrats will try to persuade their base to turn out to regain the Senate majority in the hopes that they can block any further Trump appointments. When a Democrat returns to the presidency, the GOP will do the same. The country will rapidly approach a new reality of politics: that the only time a new Supreme Court justice can be appointed is when the White House and Senate are controlled by the same party. As the Court becomes more of a political entity, the public’s view of the institution will continue to degrade, as will the legitimacy of its rulings. Even the most non-ideological appointees cannot help but be politicized by such a toxic process.

Part of the reason the Court will be perceived as more political if the filibuster is eliminated is because, well, it will be more political. Both parties are finding it increasingly advantageous to appeal to the base and to pay less attention to moderates. If this really is the formula for success in national politics today, and the rules of the Senate permit it, what is the advantage in choosing a moderate Supreme Court nominee? While progressives are rightly furious about the way Merrick Garland was treated, many actually saw his nomination as a disappointment when it was announced. Meanwhile, President Trump floated the idea of appointing Ted Cruz to fill Justice Scalia’s seat, and may have felt more compelled to choose him had he known that the filibuster would be gone. Perhaps if he has the opportunity to fill another seat, Trump will recognize the popularity such a move would have with the Republican base and see little advantage in pleasing moderates or conservative Democrats with a Garland-esque pick.

Anyone who is worried about the politicization of the judiciary should be worried about the likely destruction of the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees this week. Ultimately, blowing up the old rules for a judge who is, in the end, a mainstream conservative may not prove to be a wise move for the country. Perhaps a later, more extreme pick from President Trump will drive away GOP senators like Lindsey Graham or John McCain, and the filibuster can be preserved. Or, perhaps Senate Republicans will vote for any conservative Trump nominates out of desperation to shift the balance of the Court. Senate Democrats should weigh these possibilities carefully before they change the deliberative nature of one of the few institutions in the United States where deliberation can continue to exist.

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