Justin Amash’s Twitter Mic Drop In Defense Of Tax Reform

Justin Amash, a Republican congressman from Maine, isn’t typically the one you’d expect to drop the mic on Twitter, but he did so over the weekend. NBC News correspondent Kasie Hunt alleged that tax reform was responsible for the exploding deficit and Rep. Amash set the record straight in less than 180 characters.

On Sunday, Hunt tweeted an observation about Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s conversation with CNN’s Jake Tapper in which Mulvaney said that the $2 trillion deficit increase under President Trump required Democratic votes. Calling the comment “an outright falsehood,” Hunt added, “They used budget reconciliation to pass tax reform so they wouldn’t need Democrats.”

https://twitter.com/kasie/status/1081947628265443329

The problem for Hunt is that tax reform did not run up the deficit as Amash pointed out. “Do you believe tax reform caused a $2 trillion debt increase in one year?” he tweeted. “Tax reform is roughly $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The debt increase is almost entirely due to bipartisan discretionary spending increases and bipartisan apathy toward ever-increasing mandatory spending.”

https://twitter.com/justinamash/status/1082010264642428929

Is this an example of he said/she said or is one of the two definitively right?

To settle the dispute, we only need to look back a few months to the end of the federal fiscal year in September. At that time The Resurgent described how the deficit had risen to the highest level in six years:

“Total outlays for 2018 were $4.108 trillion compared to $3.981 trillion in 2017. The spending increases were driven by rising interest costs paid on a greater amount of federal debt as well as increased military spending, which rose by six percent, and Social Security spending which increased by four percent.”

Amash is correct that the majority of the increase in the deficit was due to increased spending. Some of these costs were mandatory spending which was originally authorized by both Democrats and Republicans. The increased cost of interest on the national debt and the rising cost of entitlements like Social Security were bipartisan commitments.

So was the increase in defense spending. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 increased military spending to $716 billion, an increase that President Trump celebrated as the “most amount ever.” As its name suggests, this spending bill was passed with broad support from both parties.

This isn’t to say that tax reform has no part in the deficit increases, however. Amash’s use of the qualifier “almost entirely” suggest that he agrees that tax reform did play a role. There are two components to the deficit, spending and revenue, and both were factors in the deficit.

As we discussed back in October, federal revenue for the year was almost flat despite the booming economy:

“According to Treasury Department statistics, flat federal revenues were part of the deficit problem. Total federal receipts were $3.329 trillion in 2018compared with $3.316 trillion in 2017. FY 2018 included three months – October, November and December 2017 – at higher tax rates. This means that the 2019 revenue picture looks even worse.”

So, the bottom line is that revenue for 2018 did not increase while spending did. Because revenue did not go down, it isn’t accurate to say that tax reform drove the increase in the deficit. It is fair to say, however, that without decreasing corporate tax rates, there would have been more revenue and the deficit would have been smaller. In fact, even as the economy boomed, tax revenues from businesses fell by more than 30 percent. Still, if spending had not increased, the deficit would not have increased.

It’s true that cutting corporate tax rates to make them more competitive with the rest of the world was the express purpose of tax reform. It’s also true that without tax reform there might have been a downturn rather than an economic boom, especially considering President Trump’s war on trade. The loss of tax revenue, which was retained by businesses and used by many for capital investments, was a driving factor in this year’s economic growth.

The big question is whether federal revenues will recover in coming years or whether the lost tax receipts will be a bigger driver of the deficit in the future. The conservative gamble is that revenue will be replaced by economic growth. If the government takes a smaller slice of a bigger pie, it will theoretically get the same total amount of pie, if not more.

The problem for conservatives in the Trump era is that the president’s trade policy is at odds with his tax policy. While tax reform let businesses keep more of their own revenues, tariffs and trade restrictions mean that many businesses will have fewer revenues to keep in the first place.

Amash is absolutely correct that spending remains the biggest problem, however. The ongoing shutdown illustrates that about three-quarters of the federal government is on autopilot and does not require appropriations from Congress. It is entitlement spending that is breaking the federal budget.

Meanwhile, neither party seems concerned with the deficit. Where the Republican Party of the Obama era held a hard line on spending, current Republicans have forced a shutdown to because they don’t think the government is spending enough.

Kim Jong Un Warns Trump He May Take ‘New Way’ Unless US Removes Sanctions

President Trump was quick to celebrate peace on the Korean Peninsula after his summit meeting with Kim Jong Un last year. Since then, however, progress has been mixed as North Korea refrained from nuclear testing and held high-level talks with the South but also failed to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Now, in his New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un is warning President Trump that unless the United States “takes genuine measures for building trust” the North may return to its old ways.

In the speech, reported by Politico, Kim noted steps that he had taken toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula saying that he agreed “that we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them, and we have taken various practical measures” to fulfill this promise. He then challenged President Trump with two words: “Your turn.”

What Kim wants is illustrated by a statement issued in December through North Korean state media. “When we refer to the Korean peninsula, they include both the area of the DPRK and the area of South Korea where aggression troops including the nuclear weapons of the U.S. are deployed,” the statement said and then continued, “When we refer to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, it, therefore, means removing all elements of nuclear threats from the areas of both the north and the south of Korea and also from surrounding areas from where the Korean peninsula is targeted.” The statement called on the US to lift the sanctions on North Korea as well as for “completely removing the nuclear threats of the U.S. to the DPRK.”

Essentially, Kim is telling President Trump that the North Korean position on denuclearization is unchanged. The North rejects unilateral denuclearization and wants the US to remove its nuclear weapons from the Korean theater. The US removed its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991, but in his speech, Kim said that “strategic assets,” which North Korea often understands to include anti-ballistic missile systems as well as submarines and aircraft carriers, “should no longer be permitted” in or near the Korean Peninsula.

Kim also wants to be rewarded for the actions that he has already taken over the past year. His price for the détente with South Korea is the removal of US sanctions.

Kim also sought to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea. While President Trump is pushing South Korea to based on the peninsula, Kim encouraged the South to participate in several bilateral projects that exclude the United States.

In the speech, Kim warned that North Korea “might find ourselves in a situation where we have no other choice but to find a new way” if the US did not uphold its end of the bargain. While Kim was not specific about what “new way” the North might take, most observers doubt that it would involve a resumption of nuclear testing.

“One thing is clear: Kim is not going to return to any sort of posture where the US or its allies would consider a military attack, and that means no missile or nuclear tests for the foreseeable future,” Harry Kazianis of the Washington-based Centre for the National Interest told the South China Morning Post.

Ruediger Frank, an analyst at 38 North, believes that the entreaties to South Korean President Moon provide a clue as to what Kim’s “new way” would be. The speech was a message to Donald Trump, he writes, saying, “You are not our only option for security and economic development. If you refuse to be cooperative, we will ignore you and turn to China. Oh, and we will take South Korea along.”

Kazianis agreed, “Kim can present Trump with a choice: Either play ball with me on a negotiated nuclear settlement and reduce sanctions or I will go to China for help and get the economic development I want and keep my nukes.”

President Trump’s trade war now places him in an awkward position with respect to Korea. President Trump signed a new trade deal with South Korea last year that limits South Korean steel and aluminum exports to the US. The trade spat with China means that Trump now has less leverage with the Chinese against the North Koreans. The three geographical neighbors may become closer trading partners at the expense of US influence in the region.

If North Korea can pull the South into China’s orbit, it would be a major blow to the United States. South Korea is one of America’s largest trading partners in terms of both imports and exports. The nation is also home to 15 US military bases that provide a counterbalance to China as well as protecting South Korea from Northern aggression.

President Trump responded to Kim’s challenge with a New Year’s Day tweet, saying, “I also look forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!”

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1080240049780940800

Trump: ‘I Would Be Foolish’ To End Shutdown

President Trump met with Democrat leaders on Wednesday, but there was no apparent progress in reopening the government. The meeting which also included Republican congressional leaders seemed to leave both sides with positions unchanged.

Wednesday morning House Democrats announced a plan to reopen the government by passing six separate bills that would fund most government departments through the remainder of the fiscal year. A seventh bill would provide temporary funding for the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8 but would not include funding for the wall. Democrats plan to pass their proposals on Thursday.

At the meeting on Wednesday afternoon, President Trump and Republican leaders said that the Democrat plan would be a nonstarter. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the Senate would not vote on the Democratic measures and would not take up any bill that the president would not sign.

“The Senate will be glad to vote on a measure that the House passes that the president will sign. But we’re not going to vote on anything else,” McConnell told CNN after the meeting, adding that he hoped that a deal could be reached within “days” or “weeks.”

When asked by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer why he would not support a partial reopening of the government, President Trump replied, “I would be foolish if I did that.”

At issue is funding over President Trump’s proposed border wall. The president is asking for $5 billion for his pet project and Democrats have only been willing to agree to $1.3 billion for border security. Trump also rejected a compromise by Vice President Pence that would have provided about half of the president’s funding request.

The current shutdown has already lasted for 13 days. The longest shutdown on record occurred from December 1995 through January 1996 and lasted 22 days. A shutdown in 1978 that lasted 18 days and the 2013 shutdown that lasted 16 days are also so far longer than the current shutdown.

With the shutdown occurring over the holidays, the effect of about 25 percent of the government being closed has been muted. As the nation goes back to work, however, the nuisance of having government offices closed will increase. About 380,000 federal workers have been told to stay home and another 420,000 have been told to work without pay. At this point, there is no way of knowing when they will be paid again. Among the government functions halted by the shutdown are the issuance of USDA rural loans and E-Verify checks of the immigration status of new employees.

Neither party has the votes to force their will on the other. A funding bill would have to navigate the Democrat-controlled House as well as the Republican-controlled Senate. Legislation in the Senate also needs Democrat votes for cloture. President Trump also has the power to veto legislation that does not meet his requirements.

Any resolution to the shutdown will require both parties to compromise. So far, neither has shown any sign of willingness to do so. The only strategy of either party is to blame the other side and hope that they eventually give in.

Democrats Say They Will Refuse To Seat NC Republican Linked To Voter Fraud

Earlier this month The Resurgent described the case of the North Carolina ninth congressional district where the election of Republican Mark Harris has still not been certified. An investigation found a suspicious pattern in absentee votes for Harris and prompted the board to delay certification of the election results. On Friday, the board disbanded without certifying the election despite a last-minute petition by the Harris campaign. The dissolution of the board leaves the outcome of the election in uncertainty, but incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) says that the House will not seat Harris.

In an interview on MSNBC Friday, Hoyer said, “I simply said if Mr. Harris is not certified as the duly, fairly, legally elected member, we would certainly oppose his seating. And as I understand it, that verification has not come. In fact, Republican leaders in North Carolina have said that there is substantial question as to the validity of the outcome of the general election. That’s in court now as you know.”

“We’ll see what the court does, but it is clear apparently from all sides that there was fraud committed by certain participants in the administration of the election,” Hoyer continued. “Under those circumstances, we ought to have a new election for the general election, not the primary. The primary was not contested, but for the general election.”

If the House refuses to seat Harris, then a new election will be held in the district. New elections would include new primaries the Republican and Democratic nominations as well as the Libertarian Party which also fielded a candidate.

Why The Wall Is Not The Solution To Illegal Immigration

Donald Trump’s wall has been a centerpiece of Republican immigration policy since 2015. The bruising fight over wall funding led the current government shutdown that, at this point, is certain to last into the new year. Aside from funding, however, there is another big problem with the wall: It won’t do what it is intended to do.

The idea of the wall is established on the premise that a physical barrier running the entire length of the US-Mexico border is the only way to prevent illegal immigration. The total length of the US-Mexico border is 1,989 miles (3,201 km) and the sheer length of the border would make the construction of a wall along the southern border a massive undertaking.

Still, a wall of that length is not impossible to build. China’s Great Wall is 5,500 miles (8,850 km) long. Contrary to popular belief, however, the Great Wall is not entirely composed of the wide stone walls that we know from pictures. While about 3,900 miles are constructed wall sections, there are also 225 miles of trenches, and 1,400 miles of natural barriers such as hills and rivers.

Natural barriers are also present along the southern US border. While many Americans picture the Mexican border as a flat, desert wasteland, in reality, there are many different types of terrain. As pictured in an interactive map from USA Today, the border geography ranges from urban areas in places like San Diego and Laredo to the sheer rock cliffs of Texas’ Big Bend to coastal marshes and salt flats along the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville, Texas.

One of the largest obstacles to the construction of a wall is that 1,260 miles of the border are defined by the Rio Grande. The entire border between Texas and Mexico is defined by this river, which in many places is shallow enough to walk across. At its deepest point, the Rio Grande is only 60 feet deep and at times the river is a mere trickle if there is a surface flow at all.

Walling up the Rio Grande may be possible from an engineering standpoint, but the river raises a different sort of problem in Texas. In the arid regions of south and west Texas, ranchers depend on the Rio Grande to water both crops and cattle. If the wall is erected on the northern side of the river, it would be equivalent to ceding the region’s primary water supply to Mexico. The Mexicans would most likely not cooperate with placing the wall on the southern side and a wall built in the center of the river would not only be structurally unsound but could alter the course of the river, a violation of treaties with Mexico.

At present, many plans for the border wall in Texas would be set back from the Rio Grande. The problem here is that it would not keep people from crossing the border illegally. It would only impede them in moving from the border region to the interior of the country. Such a wall would be more effective against smugglers than refugees seeking amnesty, who would easily cross onto US soil. It would also be a major inconvenience for American citizens who live or own property south of the wall.

Because much of the border land in Texas is privately owned, the federal government has had to use eminent domain laws to condemn and seize land where it plans to build the wall in Texas. After passage of the after the Secure Fence Act of 2006, Noel Benavides of Roma, Texas lost a swath of land that had been in his family since 1767 to a wall that has yet to be built across his property.

Wall-building would also be difficult in the desolate areas of west Texas. The southwestern United States contains rocky mountains and sheer cliffs that are reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote cartoons. This terrain is ill-suited to construction but is passable to determined travelers.

Even after the wall is built, the need for maintenance would be constant. Earthquakes, rock slides, floods, erosion, corrosion, and, of course, vandalism could cause damage to sections of the wall. The structure would have to be constantly monitored and repaired.

Would the wall be worth the time, trouble, and treasure that it would take to build and maintain it?

There are already about 650 miles of border fence along the borders of California, Arizona, and New Mexico. The current fencing consists of a mix of vehicle barriers and pedestrian fencing that vary in height, construction, quality, and condition.

While the wall is a centuries-old technology, the current fencing has shown that the concept can be defeated by other old technologies such as ladders, ramps, and tunnels. A 2010 viral video showed two young women scaling a border fence unaided by ladders or climbing gear in 18 seconds.  Last November, we witnessed members of the migrant caravan climbing the fence near Tijuana. In 2012, a smuggler’s SUV got stuck crossing the border fence with the aid of ramps. It is uncertain how many similar attempts were not detected. More recently a plethora of smuggling tunnels underneath the border has been found in areas where there are physical barriers above the surface.

The bottom line is that a border wall is no panacea. While the wall might make it more difficult or costly to cross the border, smugglers and illegal immigrants will find a way unless they are physically stopped by Border Patrol agents.

Even though a wall backed up by sensors and Border Patrol agents would be at least partially effective, the immense investment in time and money would leave open another route for illegal immigrants. The Center for Migration Studies reports that visitors who enter the US legally and then overstay visas have exceeded those crossing the border illegally every year since 2007. By 2014, two-thirds of new illegals were visa overstays.

The bottom line is that assuming that a wall is feasible to build at all in areas that have not already been fenced, it will be much more difficult and expensive and much less effective than Republicans generally assume. If the fight to build it is ever won, the wall will still require a significant Border Patrol presence as well as constant maintenance. Even then, the wall would do nothing to prevent visa overstays, a larger source of illegal immigrants than the southern border.

H.L. Mencken famously said, “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” As conservatives, we should look beyond simplistic and emotional arguments to determine the facts before spending untold billions of dollars. Those facts tell us that a wall is not the best solution to the problem of illegal immigration. Fencing is appropriate for some areas but doesn’t make sense for the entirety of the border. Wall funding is almost certainly the wrong hill to die on, especially since most polls show that a majority of Americans oppose the wall.

The inability to control the border isn’t a problem unique to the southern United States. Walls didn’t work well for the Chinese either. The Great Wall didn’t prevent its defenders from being overrun on multiple occasions. No less than four times the Xiongnu, the Jurchens, the Mongols, and the Manchus pierced the defensive barrier.

Guess Which Abortion Provider Is Still Being Funded During the Shutdown

The government shutdown has reached the one-week mark and there has been much discussion of what services are not available and which government workers are not getting paid, but one organization has been overlooked. Despite years of Republican efforts aimed at defunding the abortion provider, even shutting down nonessential government services doesn’t appear to have cut off the group from its government money.

The reason that Planned Parenthood continues to get federal checks when air traffic controllers, park rangers, and members of the Coast Guard do not is that most of Planned Parenthood’s federal money comes through the Medicaid program. As with most of the federal entitlement programs, Medicaid money continues to flow during the shutdown. Kaiser Health News reports that Medicare and Medicaid are already funded through the second quarter. That would take the health programs through the end of March.

There are some aspects of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding that could be interrupted by the shutdown. In addition to Medicaid, the group is a major recipient of Title X family planning grants. According to the group’s website, Planned Parenthood serves 1.5 million of the approximately 4 million Title X patients. The Title X grants make up about 19 percent of revenue for participating clinics. These grants could quickly expire in a protracted shutdown.

Defunding Planned Parenthood wasn’t the goal of the current government shutdown, but it would have been a nice added benefit, especially since Democrats don’t seem any more inclined to deal on the wall than they were a week ago. However, even if all federal money dried up, it wouldn’t totally bankrupt the group. Planned Parenthood gets about a third of its funding from the government and the rest from private donations.

For years now, Republicans have embraced a number of quixotic goals such as defunding Planned Parenthood, repealing Obamacare, and building a border wall. They have also embraced government shutdowns as a tactic in achieving several of these goals. Obamacare survived a shutdown in 2013 that also left Planned Parenthood funding intact. This year it appears that the wall will not be funded but that Planned Parenthood will.

Perhaps it is time for Republicans to find a new strategy.

What If They Shut Down The Government And No One Cared?

As the government shutdown stretches toward a week with no end in sight, most Americans seem unaffected and possibly even unaware that nonessential government services are shut down. Unlike previous shutdowns, there is little media coverage of closed parks and offices or furloughed federal workers. Even more odd, there seems to be little interest from either side in reaching an agreement to reopen the government.

The shutdown officially began at midnight on Friday, Dec. 21 and negotiations stalled almost immediately as members of Congress left on their Christmas break. Both Houses are reconvening today, but the two parties seem further apart on an agreement than they were last week, chiefly because President Trump is insisting on the apparently arbitrary number of $5 billion for wall funding.

Rather than working towards a deal, the two sides are pointing fingers at each other. Democrat leaders accuse President Trump of using “scare tactics” in attempt to build support for his pet wall project while the president tweeted, “The Democrats now own the shutdown” shortly after talks in Congress failed on Dec. 21 and said, “Nancy is calling the shots” on Dec. 26.

The president’s accusations that Democrats are to blame stand in stark contrast to his statements a few weeks ago. In a televised brouhaha with Pelosi and Schumer earlier this month, Trump boasted, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So, I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down.”

In fact, the evidence points towards Trump being responsible for the shutdown. The Senate passed a compromise temporary spending bill that would have funded the government until Feb. 8, but the House responded with its own bill that included money for the wall. The House bill could not win cloture in the Senate and President Trump refused to sign any bill without wall funding, threatening to veto the Senate compromise. Republicans in both chambers have said that there will be no more votes until there is an overall agreement that the president will sign.

“I’ve made my position very clear: Any measure that funds the government must include border security,” Trump said last week.

Democrats have offered $1.3 billion for border security that does not include funding for the wall. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for the wall.

At this point, neither side seems to have any incentive to give in. If the shutdown extends into the next Congress, which convenes at noon on Jan. 3, the new Democrat majority in the House will give them a stronger bargaining position. On the other hand, Trump knows that if he ends the current shutdown without wall funding, he is extremely unlikely to receive the money next year from the Democrat-controlled House.

Through all the political theater, Americans have collectively yawned and turned back toward their holiday celebrations. The shutdown has not affected air travel during the busy holiday season and the Post Office, which is independent of the federal government and funded by revenue from its services, has stayed open to deliver packages and Christmas cards. The topsy-turvy stock market and President Trump’s post-Christmas trip to Iraq have also provided distractions.

The shutdown has primarily affected nonessential federal employees and contractors. Military personnel – with the notable exception of the Coast Guard – continue to get paid during the shutdown. Some federal workers such as air traffic controllers are expected to work without getting paid during the shutdown. National parks may be technically open but without most of the members of their staffs.

A sign at the entrance to the Antietam National Battlefield warned visitors, “Park visitors are advised to use extreme caution if choosing to enter a (National Park Service) property, as NPS personnel will not be available to provide guidance, assistance, maintenance, or emergency response. Any entry onto NPS property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor’s sole risk.”

Even if people at home don’t care about the shutdown, the Stars and Stripes pointed out that it has far-reaching effects around the world. The US government employs people around the world. Like American federal employees, essential workers will probably get back pay when the shutdown ends, but other nonessential employees and contractors may not. US government services such as the US Geological Survey are not operating due to the shutdown. This meant that the respected agency could not provide data on the recent Indonesian tsunami. The shutdown also means that embassies are not providing many services to Americans and others abroad. One of the biggest effects of the shutdown is the loss of prestige to the US constitutional system.

Contrary to popular belief, government shutdowns don’t save taxpayer money. Shutdowns are more expensive than keeping the government open. Revenue from museums and parks is lost and federal employees spend thousands of hours preparing for shutdowns and then reopening the government. This work includes shutting down systems and securing facilities that will be unmanned. Most workers receive back pay when the government reopens even if they were furloughed and told to stay home during the shutdown. The added cost of shutting down the government typically adds up to tens of millions of dollars per day.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the government shutdown is how much of the federal government is not subject to congressional appropriations. The largest part of federal spending, which includes most military spending and entitlements, is essentially on autopilot.

President Trump said on Wednesday that the shutdown would last as long it took to secure funding for the wall, telling reporters in Iraq, “Whatever it takes, we’re going to have a wall, we’re going to have safety. We need safety for our country.”

But as I wrote earlier this month, there is no clear path to victory in the shutdown strategy. Getting wall funding is contingent on getting a bill past the Democrat filibuster in the Senate. So far, there are no signs that any Senate Democrats are about to break ranks and vote for cloture on the president’s bill. That means that there is no end in sight for the shutdown.

Why Was The Christmas Star Visible From Afar But Not Noticed In Bethlehem?

There are many mysteries about the miracles that form the basis of Jesus Christ’s claim of divinity. Jesus is claimed to have healed the sick and raised the dead of the Roman province of Palestine during his short ministry. These miracles made him famous and inspired disciples to follow him but from a modern perspective, they are impossible to verify. The witnesses to these miracles are long dead. Even Lazarus and the others that Jesus restored to life eventually returned to the grave. However, there is one miracle associated with the life of Jesus that should be easy to verify because it was apparently visible from around the world.

The miracle of the Christmas star occurred at the time of Jesus’ birth and according to the Biblical account was visible to learned travelers from a distant land. Matthew tells us that the Magi saw a star that they recognized as symbolizing the birth of the king of the Jews and traveled to Jerusalem “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea” (Matt. 2:1). The star apparently appeared at the time of Jesus’ birth (2:7) and lasted months until the Magi could make their journey from a distant land. The problem for Christian believers is that other observers of the time don’t report significant astronomical events around the time of Jesus’ birth. The lack of reports would seem to rule out stars as well as nebulas and comets.

Beyond the lack of extrabiblical support for a stunning celestial display, there is another problem with the story of the Christmas star. There is a paradox in the Bible’s claim that the Magi could see the star from thousands of miles away while King Herod seemed ignorant of it only five miles away in Jerusalem. Any obviously bright star would be easily visible to anyone who looked up at night, yet Herod and his court were unaware of it.

Further, consider that stars typically seem to move when viewed from the earth’s surface. The location of stars is fixed in space, but the earth’s rotation makes them appear to move. A star that rises in the east would set in the west a few hours later yet the Bible says that the star “stopped over the place where the child was” (2:9). The typical depiction of the Christmas star as an immense, blindingly bright star hovering above the Bethlehem stable seems more and more unlikely.

The problems with identifying the star of Bethlehem seem insurmountable. The star was allegedly seen clearly from a great distance away but unobserved in and around Bethlehem. The meaning of the star was so obvious that the Magi left on an international trip yet other astronomers around the world missed it entirely. Stars normally move but this one was reportedly stationary. The problems are so difficult that many consider the Christmas star to be nothing more than a myth.

A clue to the answer can be found in the original Greek text of the New Testament. In his fascinating look at the historical foundations of the Bible, “The Bible As History,” Werner Keller pointed out that in verse two, the Greek word translated as “star” for thousands of years is actually plural rather than singular.

Keller offers a theory as to the identity of Matthew’s Christmas stars. For hundreds of years prior to the time of Christ, Jewish exiles had lived in Babylon. Babylon, located to the east of Palestine in present-day Iraq, was also the home of an advanced school of astronomy. Clay tablets discovered by archaeologists that date back to more than 400 years before the time of Christ detail calculations by which the Babylonians could predict the paths of the planets, which of course look like stars when viewed without a telescope.

Two planets in particular may have been of interest to the Magi. Jupiter, the king of the planets, was considered to be a royal star and was also associated with luck. The second largest planet, Saturn, was associated with Israel according to ancient Jewish traditions described by Tacitus, a famous Roman historian.

Keller describes how Jupiter and Saturn came together not once but twice in 7 BC. The first conjunction occurred on May 29 and was followed by a second on October 3. He writes that the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem would have taken about six weeks by camel caravan in Biblical times. It would have been unwise to undertake such a journey across Middle Eastern deserts at the beginning of summer but an October departure would have placed the Magi in Jerusalem in late November. This would place the birth of Jesus prior to the onset of winter in Palestine when shepherds would have still had their flocks in the fields (Luke 2:8).

Frederick Larson of BethlehemStar.com has a similar theory but arrived at a different date for the star’s appearance. Larson looked at the movements of the heavens and found an interesting occurrence over a period of months in the years 3 and 2 BC. At that time, Jupiter and Regulus, a star the Romans considered royal, entered a triple conjunction that would certainly have attracted the attention of Babylonian astrologers.

Larson also provides an answer for how the star could have stopped above the stable in Bethlehem. If the Magi were observing Jupiter from Jerusalem as it entered retrograde, the planet would have appeared to stop over the town of Bethlehem, five miles to their south. One of the dates that this could have occurred was December 25, 2 BC.

Regardless of which celestial event is the particular one observed by the Magi, the theory that the eastern travelers observed astrological signs that pointed them to the newborn Messiah is an idea that can overcome the difficulties inherent in a traditional reading of the Christmas story. The astrological event would have been visible to trained observers but would not have been apparent to King Herod or the people of Judea. The meaning of the signs would have been lost on other astronomers who were not aware of the association of various planets and stars with Israel and Judaism.

The search for the Christmas star has lessons for those who are seeking God. At the outset, it seemed that it was impossible that the account of the star could be more than a myth. The very idea seemed to make no sense and the problems presented by skeptics seemed insurmountable.

Upon closer inspection, however, when the original writings and understanding of the Bible’s writers were taken into account, it turns out that there is a rational explanation that can back up the story of Matthew’s Magi. As it was with the ancient Jews, who thought the Messiah would be a military leader who would overthrow the hated Romans, our problem with the Christmas star lies in our lack of understanding of what the Bible’s writers were trying to convey. When we put aside our preconceived ideas about what the star must have been, we find the answer was there all along.

The lesson of the Christmas star is that God answers those who seek him. While not all of the answers and explanations to Biblical questions are readily apparent, we do have enough answers to know that Christian faith can be based on verifiable facts and does not have to be a blind faith. The Bible’s accuracy is a launching point for the relationship with Christ that offers our only hope for conquering death.

That is the true meaning of Christmas.