Delaying Marriage and Parenthood: The Consequences of ‘Emerging Adulthood’

Arguably the most consequential cultural shift of the past 50 years that too many people are unaware of is the rise of what demographers call “median age at first marriage.”

Two simple numbers, one for men and the other for women, tell a great deal about where marriage and family rank among our culture’s priorities.

Growing Up, Then and Now

In 1950, the median ages for first marriages were 22.8 years old for men and 20.3 years old for women. As late as 1970, the median ages were 23.2 for men and 20.8 for women. And then those ages started rising, and they’re still going up. The figures as of 2013: 29 and 27, respectively.

What’s going on here? What does it mean? Those questions are raised in an important new study by the Census Bureau.

The study, entitled “The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975-2016,” opens with a sobering conclusion: “What was once ubiquitous [for younger Americans’] during their 20s is now not commonplace until their 30s. Some demographers believe the delays represent a new period of the life course between childhood and adulthood, a period of ‘emerging adulthood.’” (For more from the author of “Delaying Marriage and Parenthood: The Consequences of ‘Emerging Adulthood'” please click HERE)

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The Huge Unrecognized Mistake We’re Making With Our Kids

Growing up is dangerous. Nearly all of us make it through anyway.

My daughter, Lisa, sprained her ankle 17 times while she was growing up. A few months ago she ran a half-marathon. She suffered a serious concussion in high school, and an even more serious one during college: it interfered with her cognitive processes for well over a year. Still she graduated from Miami University last December, a semester ahead of her peers.

Kids can fight their way through a lot. To see how parents protect them these days, though, you’d think making it all the way to adulthood was a rare event. We do everything in our power to protect them from every possible danger. Too much, on the whole, I’d say.

My generation has made its share of mistakes, but I think overprotecting our kids might be one of the worst — and least recognized — errors we’ve committed along the way.

We Forgot How We Grew Up

We thought it was so important to keep our kids safe, but we forgot how we grew up ourselves. My brother and I used to ride our bikes three times a week to play golf at a small course four or five miles away. It was just the two of us. We were no older than our early teens, as I recall.

Once I decided it would be an adventure to walk the seven miles home from junior high school, rather than taking the bus. I told my parents I’d be home late that day, and they said “Fine, enjoy your walk.”

My friends and I used to play hide-and-seek with flashlights, long after dark, across our entire neighborhood.

Adventures like that could never happen today. I never see kids waiting alone for the school bus in the morning; there’s always a mom or dad watching from inside a car nearby. It’s gotten so bad that not long ago a “concerned citizen” filed a report with Manitoba’s Child and Family Services against a mom who let her kids play inside their own fenced back yard.

Kids Need To Face Challenges On Their Own

Those who never have problems don’t learn what it’s like to solve problems. Kids who never face challenges on their own don’t get any practice in overcoming them on their own.

Granted, school counts as a challenge for most, but it’s a heavily supervised one. The same goes for athletics: there’s always a lot of adults around.

I never played Little League ball when I was growing up. I envied the kids who got real uniforms to wear, and had real bases to run around. But that didn’t stop my friends and me. There was a vacant lot on our block; nothing there but tall grass. We got permission from the owner to cut the grass and build a backstop. We made our own ball field there.

I was all of nine years old that summer. Some of the other kids might have been as old as 12 or 13. I don’t remember any adults helping us with any of it. We had a problem and our parents let us solve it.

I don’t know how my generation lost track of how important that kind of thing was for us when we were kids. I suppose we got badly spooked by stories of strangers stealing children. We forgot that there was a far more likely danger that our kids would grow up stunted in their ability to face real problems, if we kept them protected all the time.

I can’t help wondering if that’s a large part of the reason college students today are so shrill in their demand for “safe spaces.” Some of them — many of them, maybe — have always lived inside safe spaces. Someday they’ll graduate, and there won’t be anyone around to enforce that “safety” for them. They won’t be ready for it.

Growing Up To Do Something Worthwhile

Doctors have discovered a link between having a lot of dirt on your hands as a child, and being free of allergies and asthma as an adult. Even more obvious is the link between facing challenges while young and growing up to do something significant.

Our son has a great job, but he went through a lot getting there: two seasonal jobs that lasted only as long as they lasted, three jobs that he genuinely needed to leave because his bosses had seriously misrepresented the pay and working conditions, one job that he wasn’t suited for and was let go from, and another hard-working early morning job he didn’t like very much but persevered in anyway. There wasn’t a lot of “safety” for him on the way to the work he’s doing now.

“I Can’t Stand To Watch, and I Can’t Stand Not To Watch”

Our daughter’s locker partner in high school, Taylor, was an Olympic hopeful gymnast. She practiced hours every day, and suffered more than one broken bone, getting to the point of competing at level 10. There is no level 11; if you get to that stage you’re on the national team.

We went to one of her meets. When she was on the balance beam I watched her dad as closely as I did her. I wanted to know what it felt like to see your daughter doing tumbling routines on a four inch-wide hunk of timber. I asked him afterward, and he told me, “I can’t stand to watch, and I can’t stand not to watch. It’s really hard — but I’m so proud of her.”

A few weeks later I saw an old friend of mine whose son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren were serving in Nigeria as medical missionaries. There was considerable violence going on in their region at the time. I asked the dad how it felt. His answer sounded almost exactly like Taylor’s dad: “I really wish they weren’t there, but I know it’s right, and I am so proud of them.”

Growing Up To Make A Difference

I’m no child psychologist, but I’m pretty sure kids will have a hard time growing up to take great risks to change the world if they haven’t taken risks to play in their neighborhoods.

Next week my daughter will be marrying an Army lieutenant. He was assigned to the National Guard after his commissioning, but he’s pulling hard to go on active duty. I know it’s going to be tough on Lisa, if and when he’s deployed to an active battle zone, but I know she’ll make it. As the dad, I know it’s going to be hard on me, too. I’m sure I’ll say “This is so hard to live with. I can’t stand it!” But I will be — as I already am — so proud of them both. (For more from the author of “The Huge Unrecognized Mistake We’re Making With Our Kids” please click HERE)

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Past Time to End This Democratic Witch Hunt

I don’t deny that President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey was handled poorly, but it pales in comparison with the Democrats’ ongoing partisan witch hunt against President Trump concerning Russia. That should be the story.

Shortly after Trump’s dismissal of Comey, Trump defenders had plenty of ammunition. Widely respected and nonpartisan Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had reportedly recommended that Trump fire Comey.

Trump’s Communications

But then the communications from Team Trump on the matter seemed to muddy the waters. Though maintaining that Rosenstein’s recommendation was pivotal, Trump spokespeople added other reasons. They claimed that Trump had fired Comey based on his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and because numerous FBI agents and employees were dispirited by Comey’s actions.

Then acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified, “The vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey.” A number of retired FBI officials also apparently showed solidarity with Comey by using his face for their Facebook profile photos. And though Rosenstein has contradicted mainstream media reports that he was contemplating resigning over the narrative that he had recommended Comey’s dismissal, he reportedly claims that he did not expressly recommend the firing. Oh, boy.

Trump added more to the mix when he told Lester Holt in an interview that he had decided to fire Comey irrespective of the reported Rosenstein recommendation. Media outlets are having a field day with this alleged contradiction. Trump has thrown his communications team under the bus, they say, because his spokespeople clearly said that Trump’s firing was a response to the recommendation. Trump’s tweets concerning possible recorded conversations between him and Comey didn’t help, either.

What a mess.

Trump’s Constitutional Authority

Though it doesn’t look good that Trump’s version arguably varies from that of his spokespeople, I don’t see any major inconsistency here. I suspect that Trump was increasingly frustrated with Comey and wanted to fire him and that the recommendation helped justify it. Either way, Trump had the constitutional authority to fire Comey, and it would be scandalous only if he did so to impede a legitimate investigation into his alleged collusion with Russia, which is not the case.

Trump is obviously exasperated that the Democrats are impeding his policy agenda with their obsessive hammering of the bogus charge that he and his team conspired with Russia to interfere with the presidential election.

No Evidence of Collusion

Despite the incessant media reports and congressional investigations, not a shred of evidence has emerged to substantiate the charge of collusion. We keep saying this, but the media and Democrats keep pretending otherwise. It’s unconscionable. Even James Clapper, former President Barack Obama’s director of national intelligence, has admitted that there is no evidence of collusion and that he has no reason to suspect it.

The real scandal is not Trump’s firing Comey — even if Trump’s supporters are unhappy with the timing and the way it was handled and communicated. The scandal is the liberal establishment’s coordinated conspiracy to falsely allege that Trump stole the presidency by colluding with Russia. Liberals absolutely know that it’s not true, but they will not quit bearing false witness. How dare they posture indignantly about Trump’s supposed dishonesty?

Liberals’ Counterfeit Hysteria

Their counterfeit hysteria knows no bounds. Not long ago, Democrats were demanding Comey’s head, alleging that his public announcements had sabotaged Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Now they are claiming the firing is a “constitutional crisis” and a “coup.” Not only did Trump have the authority to fire Comey but also the termination does not end the investigation.

Author Jon Meacham claimed on Morning Joe that Trump had removed someone “in charge of an investigation that could lead to treason.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the firing may well lead to impeachment hearings. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign.

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, said: “We have a deeply insecure president who understands that the noose is tightening because of this Russia investigation. And that’s why I believe he has let Jim Comey go.”

Kaine knows better. There is no evidence that there is any noose, much less that it’s tightening, and the media’s claim that Trump fired Comey because he was seeking more funds to investigate him has been expressly denied by acting Director McCabe. CNN’s Van Jones said that the only people who are happy about the firing “are sitting in the Kremlin.” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews claimed that the firing was “a little whiff of fascism.” Countless liberal media and political figures are comparing the Comey firing to the Saturday Night Massacre, in which Richard Nixon fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Nonexistent Scandal

The way this firing transpired is unfortunate, but we wouldn’t be talking about this if Democrats and the media weren’t lying every hour of every day about a nonexistent scandal. This bogus investigation should end forthwith, no matter who is heading it, because it is based on nothing but innuendo and partisanship. You conduct an investigation not because you want something to be true but because you have some evidence suggesting it may be. There is no such evidence here, and they’ve admitted it. Let’s move on. (For more from the author of “Past Time to End This Democratic Witch Hunt” please click HERE)

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A Graduation Reminder: Our Children Need Christian Teachers

My friend is the old professor out of the movies. White-haired, white-bearded, a bit portly, almost always to be found wearing a tweed jacket and a tie. His home is stuffed with old furniture and books. He says grace at meals in Latin. (He teaches classics.) You’d spot him as a professor a hundred yards away.

Tomorrow he goes to his last commencement. I bring him up because I think the way he taught shows us why young people need Christian teachers. Not secularists, not even fair-minded secularists. Christians.

The Obvious Reason for Christian Teachers

There’s the obvious reasons. First, Christians teach the Christian story more fairly. They don’t teach the long history of Christianity as the age of ignorance and superstition and bigotry. They don’t treat the Enlightenment as the time man threw off the blindfold of religion and finally saw the truth, and brought all good things to the world, like science, and deodorant.

That’s the story my public school teachers taught me. The story’s almost complete rubbish, but I believed it for years, because that’s all I heard.

Second, Christians will teach the whole story. The story of our civilization includes a lot of Christianity, which secularists tend to leave out.

You can major in philosophy at some good colleges without reading a Christian philosopher. You might get a bit of St. Augustine and St. Thomas in the intro course, but after that, no Christians. You don’t know philosophy if you go from Aristotle to Descartes, with a glance at a couple guys in between.

We need Christian teachers to make sure our children get the whole story and get it right. Few secular teachers will give them that. But there’s another reason — not so obvious — we need Christian teachers.

The Not So Obvious Reason

Christian teachers teach their students how to see the world as a Christian. They show their students how to think as Christians should. Students only learn this by seeing it done over time.

Yes, not every professed Christian who teaches, teaches like this. Some of them do what the secularists do, only in reverse. Yes, some very secular teachers will teach like this. But many more Christians than secularists will teach like this, I think. The good Christian teachers like my friend do it, and there are a lot of them around.

They teach like that because they exercise the Christian intellectual virtues. They go the extra mile to be fair to an opponent, and work hard to dig for the truth. They’ve learned to listen before judging. They have a sense of their own sins and how blind they can be to the truth. They do unto other thinkers as they’d have those thinkers do unto them.

Such teachers don’t do this consciously. They do it because that’s who they are. Specifically, that’s who they are as Jesus’s serious disciples. As He works to make them holier, He also makes them wiser.

Take my friend. He’s a good example. I know this partly because I’ve learned from him myself. Think of a bunch of bright, opinionated guys at dinner. Someone declares Thinker X wrong and the other guys start to agree.

If he knows the subject, my friend will break in. He’ll say either that the matter is complicated, for these reasons, or that X is saying something we need to think about, for these reasons. If he doesn’t know the subject, he’ll ask probing questions. He wants to be fair, and he wants to know the truth. The rest of us may feel a little chastened.

Here’s How He Changes Students

Here’s one hugely important way Christian teachers like him change students. They’ll pick up his attitude to the work of the mind and to truth itself. That becomes part of how they see and think. These students will have learned something of the intellectual virtues because they’ve seen them exercised by the white-haired guy in the tweed jacket twice a week for fourteen weeks.

It may be, for example, that the student once inclined to respond to something new with “That’s dumb” now says, “I better see if there’s anything to it.” He’ll never realize that instinctive act of intellectual maturity came from ol’ Dr. Smith. But he’s still a different man, and a better thinker, than he would have been without the professor’s example.

It may be that he never reads the classics again, but he may listen to the old codger at work that everyone else ignores, because he suspects he knows something no one else does. He won’t know he learned that wisdom from his classics prof.

The student may start to say at dinner with bright, opinionated friends, “Well, you know,” about to lay down the law, and stop talking because he sees that he doesn’t know. He will have learned that from Dr. Smith.

Education is Implication

Students need Christian teachers who will present the material fairly and completely. They also need Christian teachers who will teach them by their example. Young people learning to think need to see Christians thinking and speaking like Christians. They need examples of wisdom in practice.

The world doesn’t teach them that. Secular education won’t teach them that. They need this not just to be better Christians but to be good thinkers.

G. K. Chesterton put it nicely. “Education is implication,” he said. “It is not the things you say which children respect; when you say things, they very commonly laugh and do the opposite. It is the things you assume that really sink into them. It is the things that you forget even to teach that they learn.” (For more from the author of “A Graduation Reminder: Our Children Need Christian Teachers” please click HERE)

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Betsy DeVos Says We Should ‘Start Fresh’ on Higher Ed. Here’s Where to Start.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stated during a speech in Salt Lake City on Tuesday that instead of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, lawmakers should consider a “fresh start.”

Yes, Congress should consider alternatives to the Higher Education Act, which authorizes all federal higher education spending such as student loans and grants.

Enacted in 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson, the Higher Education Act has undergone countless amendments that pass problems on to future generations. As the secretary said, “Why wouldn’t we start afresh and talk about what we need in this century and beyond for educating and helping our young people learn?”

Indeed, higher education badly needs to be adapted to the changing requirements of the American workforce. Here are just a few ways that Congress can give the higher education sector the fresh start it so badly needs.

Decouple Federal Financing From Accreditation

The federal government’s control over our accreditation system is not a particularly popular topic, but it has dramatic consequences on the ability of American universities to thrive and innovate.

The federal government currently has sole discretion in the recognition of accreditors, who then serve as gatekeepers of federal student aid and other institutional financing. This solidifies the federal government’s ability to determine which education is worthy of accreditation and which is not. Unfortunately, this de facto federal system of accreditation has limited the ability of the higher education sector to grow and adapt to the changing needs of our workforce and the economy.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., have put forward the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act (HERO), which would allow states to opt out of the current federal accrediting structure.

States could recognize their own accreditors, including members of the business community. The legislation would also allow states to break apart the current binary accrediting model, and let the business community, trade groups, nonprofits, and other entities to put their stamp of approval on individually credentialed courses or curricula.

These reforms would give students a better idea of the market value of the education they are receiving, grant more flexibility with student loan dollars, and create a pipeline between the universities and the job market.

Consolidate Federal Lending

Under the Obama administration, the federal government dramatically increased its role in originating and servicing student loans. The near-monopoly that the federal government now has over the student loan market presents many problems, the most pressing of which is mounting evidence suggesting federal aid leads to increases in college tuition.

As my colleague Jamie Hall and I discuss in our recent report, the five current federal loan programs should be collapsed into a single loan option under the current terms of the Graduate Stafford Loan. Additionally, Congress should place an annual and lifetime cap on student lending, thereby restoring fiscal responsibility to the loan program. We anticipate such reforms would lead to savings of $33 billion over the next 10 years.

Remove Burdensome Regulations

Under the Obama administration, several burdensome regulations were placed on institutions of higher education, particularly those in the for-profit sector.

Regulations should at the very least be sector neutral in their application, but a better approach would be to remove these barriers to innovation altogether.

Borrower defense to repayment, for example, opens institutions up to being sued by students who feel they have been defrauded by their university (a potentially slippery slope in the future). While longstanding institutions with large endowments may be better insulated from this regulation, new actors who are trying to build their business will have trouble coming up with the line of credit required to protect against such suits.

This is just one example of the many ways that burdensome regulations drain resources from universities and distract from the business of educating students.

In considering the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, policymakers should follow DeVos’ advice and develop new policy proposals that will help improve the quality of higher education while putting downward pressure on prices. These reforms would be a significant step in achieving that goal. (For more from the author of “Betsy DeVos Says We Should ‘Start Fresh’ on Higher Ed. Here’s Where to Start.” please click HERE)

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How the Obama Administration Turned Regulators Into the Speech Police

The saga of Don Vander Boon has received little attention outside the Christian media. But among the growing threats to the livelihoods of gay marriage dissenters, the Vander Boon case stands out.

The family runs the West Michigan Beef Company for, as they put it, “the glory of God.” This is what they tell their employees. No employee has ever complained.

According to Don Vander Boon, the trouble with the USDA meat inspectors began in 2015. One day, he saw newspaper and magazine articles celebrating gay marriage in the company break room. So, he printed off an article explaining why gay marriage was against God’s will. He put the essay on the breakroom table with the other magazines.

Unfortunately for the Vander Boons and their employees, on July 1, 2015, then Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack issued an “Anti-Harassment Policy Statement.” He told USDA inspectors what to do if they spotted any “disrespectful” written or oral communication on LGBT issues. The inspectors now had an obligation to “take immediate and appropriate corrective action.”

Going Off the Record

Let’s pause for a minute and see what this means. In the past, someone would have to complain before federal agencies charged with preventing discrimination investigate a company. This creates a “case and controversy” and a public record on which courts can intervene. But here the USDA instructed the meat inspectors to intervene on their own.

What does that look like in practice?

In 2015, Dr. Ryan Lundquist, the USDA’s inspector in charge, saw the offending article. He removed it and reported it to USDA Frontline Supervisor Robert Becker. The two men then called Vander Boon on the carpet. Behind closed doors, and without witnesses, they told Vander Boon three times he had to remove that article or else. What was that else? They would withdraw all USDA meat inspectors. That would, in effect, shut down his business.

Becker pointed to the new anti-harassment policies. Karnail S. Mudahar confirmed to Vander Boon that the meat inspectors’ new anti-gay marriage morality policing was pursuant to policy. When the Daily Signal called the USDA, the agency said it has “zero tolerance for any form of workplace harassment or intimidation.”

Regulating the First Amendment Away

Think about the vast web of health, safety, environmental, investment, banking and tax regulations that surround us. They’re supposed to exist to further some public good, not to harass dissenters for the current sexual orthodoxy. Just think what this army of regulators can do to freedom if the government tells them to take immediate corrective action.

This is all according to Vander Boon of course. The USDA has never publicly commented on the matter. A private conversation is not a public act. The courts can’t review it. So far, the USDA has refused to respond to Don Vander Boon’s formal complaint, except to say they had passed it on to the USDA’s Civil Rights office.

Now imagine a good Christian man facing the real threat of losing a family business, one on which your family and your employees’ families depend. Even if you finally could win in the end, the business would still be gone. Your suppliers and your customers would have gone elsewhere while waiting for the meat inspector to return.

Even if the threat is not credible, it’s free speech buzzkill.

Should Christians in Business Just Stay Silent?

Maybe you think Don Vander Boon took an unneeded risk. Sir Thomas More himself might have advised silent prudence. But a man like Don Vander Boon should not have to face such dilemmas. He does so because one side of a culture debate now has all the power. Gay marriage dissenters are punished. Advocates are celebrated. The net result is to kill free speech on one side of the debate.

I’ve seen the same dynamic at work when I was on the frontlines of the gay marriage debate. In one epic state battle for a marriage amendment, every wealthy man I asked to donate to get the measure on the ballot faced private attacks on his business interests. In some cases, it was as slight as a complaint from a major vendor. “We only do business with companies that have a nondiscrimination policy,” one CEO was told. “And your personal donation to this marriage amendment calls into question your company’s commitment to nondiscrimination.”

Virtually no businessman whose business was attacked in this way donated again. But no businessman who gave in support of gay marriage was ever attacked for it.

And this was just a private behind-the-scenes business threat, backed by no government power.

How widespread is the use of health, safety, investment, environmental and/or banking regulations to “directly intervene” in enforcing speech codes? How many other federal regulators now see themselves as the speech police? How many businesses and workers, which we never hear about, receive such threats?

Congress Should Investigate

Here’s one way we could find out: The Republican Congress could investigate. They could subpoena Dr. Ryan Lindquist and Robert Becker and Karnail S. Mudahar and ask them: Did you make this threat? Was it based on government policy? How many other times have you threatened to pull health and safety inspectors because you saw a pro-gay marriage pamphlet lying on a table? Have you used the pretense of safety to squelch free speech?

That last question refers to what may be now be happening to the Vander Boons’ company. (I owe my knowledge of this phase in the USDA battle to gay bloggers.) Last August 16, the USDA sent a letter threatening to pull meat inspectors and shut down the Vander Boons’ West Michigan Beef Company.

Why? It has nothing to do with gay marriage. Instead an inspector claimed he saw a violation of humane slaughtering laws.

Let me quote at length from that letter:

On August 15, 2016, at approximately 1310 hours, the Supervisory Public Health Veterinarian (SPHV) observed a downed dairy heifer in the barn and an employee attempting to captive bolt stun the down animal to render it insensible. Your written animal welfare program describes the procedure for disposal of down cattle requires that after the animal is captive bolt stunned, it is immediately stuck in the heart to initiate exsanguination and ensure humane euthanasia. After the application of the captive bolt stunner to the head of the dairy heifer, the employee was observed to stick the animal in the heart area of the chest with a long blade knife. The SPHV noticed the animal exhibited rapid eye movement and natural blinking. The respiratory rate began to increase and the animal began vocalizing. The employee did not have additional cartridge charges for the hand held captive bolt device or any means of re-stunning the animal located in the immediate area. The employee left the area to retrieve additional cartridges. The animal continued to exhibit rapid breathing and increased vocalization until the employee returned approximately one minute later, reloaded, and applied the hand held captive bolt device, successfully rendering the animal insensible at that time.

Charged for Following Procedure

So, by the USDA’s own account, the employee obeyed the proper procedures. Due to a technical error, the cow was only partly sedated and experienced pain. The employee went for another stun gun charge, soon returned, and sedated the cow. The USDA’s letter calls this incident “an egregious violation of the humane handling requirements specified within the provisions of 21 U.S.C. 603, Section 3 (b) of the FMIA, and 7 U.S.C. 1901 and 1902 of the HMSA of 1978.”

Really? Might this be regulatory revenge against the family-owned business? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. One thing we know: The regulatory state now has power that it should not have. It gives bureaucrats the authority to treat a good faith glitch as an egregious attempt to break the law. In politicized regimes (aka “banana republics”) the heavy hammer of the government swings above the head of any political dissident who runs a business.

Congress Must Act to Defend Our Freedom

What can we do to stop this shut down on free speech?

President Trump’s executive order won’t help. The GOP Congress needs to pass some version of the First Amendment Defense Act. It should give private people like Don Vander Boon the right to sue when regulations are misused to punish gay marriage dissenters.

Unlike many conservatives, I’m not upset at President Trump. During the campaign, he avoided the conflict between gay marriage dissenters and the LGBT community. He pivoted to the Johnson Amendment whenever the subject came up. He is doing the one concrete thing that he promised to do: appointing spectacular judges.

These judges will help. But they won’t help the Vander Boons much unless we can persuade Congress that it’s in their interest to pass new laws to protect dissenters. (For more from the author of “How the Obama Administration Turned Regulators Into the Speech Police” please click HERE)

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Trump Considers Expansion of America’s Longest War. What That Means.

In an early test of his foreign policy, President Donald Trump is facing a decision on whether to contribute thousands of additional U.S. troops to America’s longest-running—and often overlooked—war.

As first reported by The Washington Post, Trump’s senior military and foreign policy advisers recommend that the president send 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to bolster an existing U.S. force of 8,400 in Afghanistan and help that country’s government gain momentum in a 15-year war against the Taliban, the Islamist insurgent group.

Experts who study the Afghanistan War say the plan is designed to break a stalemate in the fighting, and to pressure the resurgent Taliban to negotiate a peace agreement with the Afghan government.

These experts, in interviews with The Daily Signal, say the proposed strategy does not represent a dramatic U.S. escalation to a war in which America once committed 100,000 troops.

But they say if Trump were to approve the plan—he’s expected to make a decision before a May 25 NATO meeting in Brussels—it would challenge the president’s evolving foreign policy doctrine. That doctrine has trended toward a narrow counterterrorism-first approach rather than deep commitments to overseas conflicts.

“My best guess is [Trump’s advisers] are looking to at least stop the bleeding in Afghanistan at the moment,” Bill Roggio, who edits the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal, said in an interview with The Daily Signal. “They are also doing what they think they can get away with and what is politically acceptable. There is not a lot of support in the American public, and among members of Congress, for a significantly deeper U.S. commitment to the Afghanistan War.”

Roggio said he did not think the additional troops would fundamentally change the situation in Afghanistan, where more than 2,000 U.S. troops have died and another 20,000 have been wounded.

“The Taliban have had momentum for several years now,” Roggio said. “They have weathered a full surge of U.S. forces. The Afghan security forces have not been able to hold the gains. So I don’t think an incremental increase in troops will affect the situation all that much.”

‘Rise From the Dead’

Yet Roggio and others say an extra U.S. presence could reverse declines in the security situation in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama, who had pledged to end U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, steadily reduced the American role, but did not completely pull out troops due to a number of security challenges.

The Taliban is gaining territory. Reuters reports the Islamist group controls 40 percent of the country, and that casualties for government forces reached record levels last year. In addition, the terrorist group al-Qaeda has established new footholds in Afghanistan, the country it used to plan the 9/11 attacks. And ISIS also has established a small presence in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan is not the only place, and even the most important place at any given time [for U.S. interests],” Michael O’Hanlon, director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, said in an interview with The Daily Signal. “But as we have seen with the Taliban surge, and ISIS gaining a foothold there, it’s pretty clear this area has an ability to allow bad guys to rise from the dead. You want a sustained presence in Southeast Asia as the easternmost pillar in the counterterrorism capacity of the United States.”

‘Not a Surge’

Currently, American forces in Afghanistan have two primary missions: advising and training Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism missions, including a recent raid that killed the leader of ISIS’ affiliate there, Abdul Hasib.

According to The New York Times, the new Trump administration plan would allow American advisers to assist a larger number of Afghan forces, and work closer to the front lines. Under the proposal, the U.S. would also not set a firm deadline for withdrawing troops, as Obama did.

“This is not a surge,” said James Jay Carafano, vice president for foreign and defense policy at The Heritage Foundation, who advised Trump’s transition team. “This is still going to be an Afghan-led thing.”

Carafano, a retired Army officer, added:

It’s not a dramatic expansion of the conflict where we go in there and say we will win once and for all. It’s about how we get to conditions on the ground that keep Afghanistan on a path to stability. That’s what’s driving the troop numbers.

Others say the Trump administration risks being stuck in a middle-ground position, with little realistic chance for new peace talks unless both sides make concessions.

The challenges for peace are exacerbated at a time when Afghanistan’s security leadership faces allegations of corruption, and the Taliban has shown little inclination to make concessions.

The Taliban also has been buffered by support from Iran and Russia, while Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan, continues to provide a safe haven for militant groups.

Testifying before Congress in February, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the top American commander in Afghanistan, called for a “holistic review” of policy toward and financial aid for Pakistan.

“It’s always been a close call on its merits, on whether it’s worth waging war in Afghanistan or not,” Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in an interview with The Daily Signal, adding:

You can still make a reasonable case for it and against it. I don’t think this is a hopeless situation. It’s not crazy to suppose we can get a compromise settlement. But that requires we get serious about this, which includes the Trump administration owning this process and expending political capital to build a constituency to support it.

Guarding Against ‘Catastrophic Events’

Rebecca Zimmerman, a policy researcher at RAND Corporation who focuses on Afghanistan, sought to downplay expectations for what an enhanced U.S. presence in the country could do.

She says U.S. support is most needed to prevent collapse of the Afghan government, which would make the country an ungoverned space to be exploited by extremist groups.

“The biggest threat to the U.S. is government collapse in Afghanistan,” Zimmerman told The Daily Signal. “If that happens, there is a likelihood of a multiparty civil war, and the countryside will be open to anyone who wants to plant a terrorist flag there. If we can support the Afghan forces to guard against catastrophic events that can fell the government, we would be using those troops effectively.”

With no near-term endgame, Roggio of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies says it’s fair to question whether the U.S. should continue to supply troops and funding — about $23 billion annually — to the Afghanistan War.

But he says walking away from Afghanistan would present immeasurable costs.

“It’s never wrong to question why we are still at war 15 years later,” Roggio said. “We should be asking hard questions about why we are sending service members to die. But it would be massive victory for jihadist groups across the world if the U.S. decided to pull out of Afghanistan.” (For more from the author of “Trump Considers Expansion of America’s Longest War. What That Means.” please click HERE)

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Conservative Media Don’t Get Free Pass on Disclosure. Here’s Why

Sometimes things are not completely as they seem. Take, for instance, the story of the African-American conservative columnist who is no longer writing a column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The narrative is that she was suspended for her conservative beliefs and chose to quit. While she is absolutely right about the MSM and its treatment of gun owners, is there more to the discipline of Stacy Washington than an anti-conservative bias? There may be, and it is something we should want applied across the board.

Let’s back up. Recently, Washington wrote an excellent column regarding the media and its treatment of conservatives, especially gun owners. Her points were unassailable: that the media doesn’t understand those who own guns; that the media blames guns for crime instead of the real causes.

She took particular umbrage at a column appearing in the Columbia Missourian that attacked NRA members. She correctly stated that members of the NRA tend to be more law-abiding than the general public and that none of the crimes the other columnist mentioned were committed by NRA members. She also took to task the Missourian for not offering opposing viewpoints. These are all valid points.

If we are to believe the people who run the Post-Dispatch, those points aren’t what drew the suspension. Washington’s failure to disclose, in her column, that she has a long-standing relationship with the NRA is what caused her suspension. She has appeared on NRA video programming and in a documentary for the organization. The Post-Dispatch, like many news and opinion organizations, has a disclosure policy.

Here’s what the Post-Dispatch told Washington via email, according to the Riverfront Times: “You did not disclose in your column published today that you served multiple times as a co-host and commentator on Cam & Company on NRA TV.” Washingon told the Times that she had “never been paid by the NRA.” She also said her ties to the organization should be no surprise to management.

That isn’t the point. The point is that her readers, not Post-Dispatch management, are the ones who had a right to know about the conflict. When Conservative Review ran an editorial supporting Jim DeMint this past week, it was noted that the author had previously worked for DeMint. The readers had a right to know.

Those of us on the right often lambaste the mainstream media for not abiding by this standard. Just this week, I reminded readers of the time George Stephanopoulos didn’t disclose his donations to the Clinton Foundation when interviewing Hillary Clinton.

Stephanopoulos failed to disclose to ABC [and the networks viewers] that he had donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation before interviewing Hillary Clinton, against company policy, the Washington Free Beacon reported. After finally disclosing, he had to step down from hosting a primary debate.

If we are going to attack the leftist media, we need to hold our own to the same standards. There may be more historical bad blood between Washington and her former employer. If, however, we take the Post-Dispatch at its word that it has treated other employees in the same way, we should ensure that our allies in the commentariat follow the standards we hold others to.

Washington’s voice is strong, and much needed, but we should hold her to the same standards to which we hold someone like George Stephanopoulos. (For more from the author of “Conservative Media Don’t Get Free Pass on Disclosure. Here’s Why” please click HERE)

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Will Trump and Putin Bring Peace to Syria? Not if Turkey Attacks American Troops.

A recent headline from The Hill offers a rare piece of good news about Syria: The U.S. and Russia are talking. They’ve agreed on a basic first step toward resolving this bloody and ruthless conflict: “Safe zones” should be established where civilians can live in peace, apart from the forces in combat. This is crucial for saving lives in the short run. So bravo, presidents Trump and Putin! Please make sure this happens yesterday. Thousands of lives of helpless old men, women, and children are at stake.

What the two superpowers need to do next is to build on this foundation. They must do so with an intelligible goal in sight: a decentralized Syria that allows ethnic and religious minorities to live in peace. The Stream laid out the broad sketch of such a plan last month. In fact, there’s a plan like this languishing on the negotiating table: the Astana talks, which looked toward devolving power to Syrian regions.

The alternatives are too ugly and futile to contemplate:

Let Assad’s vicious but anti-Islamist regime try a bloody reconquest of the country, with Russian help.

Allow al Qaeda allies and other Islamists backed by the Saudis and Turks to ethnically cleanse all the Christians, Alawites and Yazidis from the country.

Let Turkey use its massive, American-armed NATO military to obliterate the Kurdish/Christian alliance that the U.S. has backed so far in its war against ISIS and resistance to Assad. This would expel all American influence from the country and make it a Turkish colony.

There is no happy fourth option, where “moderate rebels” steeped in the U.S. Constitution install a liberal democracy in Syria via New England town meetings. At the urging of neoconservatives like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, we tried that in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trillions of dollars and thousands of dead or disabled U.S. soldiers later, we learned: You can’t grow that orchid in the desert.

A Decent Outcome in Syria Is Possible

But there is a non-horrible option — which isn’t always true in the Middle East. Thanks to the courage and hard work of Christians and Kurds, moderate Sunni Arabs and brave Yazidis, there already is a potential safe zone in Syria. In fact, it’s larger than Lebanon. It’s called the Federation of Northern Syria, and The Stream has reported on it extensively. Its soldiers work with American advisors, and it already gets some (not enough) U.S. military aid.

It’s organized in Swiss-style cantons, with decentralized power and complete religious freedom. Women serve in its parliament. Its leaders have pleaded with President Trump to designate it the first “safe zone” in Syria. It deserves the title, since within its borders Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Christians and Yazidis live side-by-side in peace. They cooperate. Nowhere in that tortured country, or in most of the Middle East, can you say the same.

This mini-state should be the model for a Syria reborn. The Russians can pressure Assad to step aside and go into exile, allowing another Alawite to take control of the region now held by Syria’s government. The Islamist rebels would probably keep the region they already run. The regions reconquered from ISIS should be divided along religious and ethnic lines, and granted local governance. Slowly, in fits and starts, a Swiss-style decentralized Syria could emerge from the smoking rubble.

Turkey Threatens American Troops With Missile Attacks

Who threatens such a solution? The Turks. Tayyip Erdogan, their president, has just managed a massive constitutional putsch, granting himself sweeping new powers. He has imprisoned thousands of journalists. Erdogan blackmails the European Union for concessions with the threat of dumping two million more Syrian migrants across its border. He bullies European governments like Holland’s, trying to exert control over Turkish émigrés living there. Most recently he has called on all Turks in Europe to have five or more children per family, to outbreed the Christian natives.

And Erdogan is obsessed with crushing any hope of Kurdish autonomy, even in Syria. He fears it will stoke the hopes of the Kurds he represses in Turkey. Last week he even attacked the U.S.-allied Federation of Northern Syria. It took the U.S. moving its troops to the border to protect the Syrian Christians and Kurds whom Turkey was threatening.

What’s Turkey’s response? To threaten America. Erdogan’s close aide İlnur Çevik has warned the U.S. that Turkey might fire missiles at U.S. troops. So Turkey is contemplating an act of war against the United States of America. A civil war within NATO. That’s what we’re dealing with in this regime.

Turkey Is the Spoiler in Syria

The U.S. must see that Turkey, not Russia, is the spoiler in Syria. It is Turkish hunger for conquest and control of Kurds in Syria that is the biggest obstacle to peace. The Trump administration, along with Russia, should rebuke Turkey’s threats. It should designate the Federation of Northern Syria as the first “safe zone” where civilians will be protected. A no-fly zone that keeps out both Erdogan’s and Assad’s air force would be an excellent start.

But it can’t end there. The tortured people of Syria deserve an alternative to failed socialist nationalism and totalitarian Islamist regimes. Localism and liberty saved Switzerland from tearing itself apart, and allowed the fledgling United States to grow and thrive. They could do the same in Syria. Let’s pray that the U.S. and Russia give peace a chance. (For more from the author of “Will Trump and Putin Bring Peace to Syria? Not If Turkey Attacks American Troops.” please click HERE)

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Trump’s Political Epitaph

Based on its current trajectory, history might capture the total significance of Donald Trump’s Presidency in a single three-word phrase, “He wasn’t Hillary.”

Perhaps that is all we should have expected given his inflated rhetoric and the Avogadro’s Number of campaign promises that gave his candidacy an air of P.T. Barnum:

“Although Barnum was also an author, publisher, philanthropist, and for some time a politician, he said of himself, ‘I am a showman by profession… and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.’”

Although we had all hoped Trump would follow through, I think deep down we knew that he wouldn’t. Yet, he wasn’t Hillary and perhaps that is enough.

President Trump is now rapidly discarding campaign promises in a manner not unlike a thief shedding the loot after a failed burglary.

Swamped by the self-interest and self-preservation of a corrupt federal government, Trump may have already succumbed to its laissez-faire attitude toward the performance of duty, where the appearance, rather than the substance of fulfilling voter sentiment is a satisfactory outcome.

During the campaign, Trump said “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

In true Washington D.C. fashion, that 30-foot Mexican-financed concrete wall has now been politically transformed into a taxpayer-financed barrier resembling the chicken wire my father used in a futile attempt to protect his strawberry plants from the bunny rabbits.

If Americans are confused as to what is the “Trump Doctrine,” it appears to be determined by ratings, where national policy comes in the form of Tweets, easily changed or deleted according to what is favorably “trending.”

Ratings as a measurement of success emanates from the same false premise as inherited wealth is a measure of accomplishment. In any environment where money and social status comprise the currency of “competence,” vapidity can be easily mistaken for intellectual rigor.

As football coach Barry Switzer noted: “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.”

There are reasons for what we are seeing.

President Trump needs affirmation like others need oxygen. He was sustained during the campaign by enthusiastic rallies and primary victories based entirely on his promises.

Now an inhabitant of the Beltway bubble, Trump has apparently adopted the traditional Republican Party recipe for obtaining affirmation, which is to ignore the voters and offer political capitulation to the Democrats in exchange for a few kind words in op-ed columns or an appearance on one of the Sunday morning talk shows.

If the Democrats, media and the lobbyist-controlled Republicans are collecting administration scalps, then Trump is handing them the knife, dismissing loyalists who are unpleasant reminders of campaign promises and aligning himself with those who are eager to make his tenure as chief executive inconsequential.

President Trump still has an opportunity to be more than just not being Hillary, but only by recognizing that he was elected, not for who he is or isn’t, but for what he said he would do, and then delivering.

Under present circumstances, pleasing the political establishment and representing the people are mutually exclusive endeavors.

Trump must choose between going with the flow or rising above it and to remember, as President, history will determine his final rating. (Reprinted in full with permission of the author. Article originally appeared HERE.)

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