Politics & Policy

Wayne LaPierre Turns His Attention to the FBI’s ‘Rogue Leadership’

NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) (Kevin Lamarque/Retuers)

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre is likely to get denounced for his speech at CPAC today from his familiar critics, and most NRA members probably loved it. LaPierre’s speeches always get this kind of reaction.

There was, however, an interesting section where LaPierre focused his ire at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and not over anything related to guns and the Second Amendment. LaPierre was pretty clearly pointing to the FBI’s investigation of the president, his campaign and his close associates before and after Election Day 2016:

There is no stronger supporter of our law enforcement than the National Rifle Association. My gosh, we’re one of the largest law enforcement organizations in the United States if you look at our membership. And we’re proud of that. Everywhere I go, I get a police officer coming up to me thanking me and saying, I’m a member of your organization. Keep up what you’re doing. And there are tens of thousands of incredible men and women at the FBI. These are honorable decent hard-working people and they’re dedicated to keeping our country safe every single day. And we’re proud of them, and we thank them.

But as we’ve learned in recent months, even the FBI is not free of its own corruption, and its own unethical agents. Look, and I know you probably all share this sentiment, and I get people telling me from coast to coast, and they kind of shake their heads when they say it to me. I can understand a few bad apples at an organization as large as the FBI. But what is hard to understand is why nobody at the FBI stood up and called B.S. on its rogue leadership. (applause) I mean, really, where was the systemic resistance and repulsion that should protect every powerful institution that serves us? The lowest ranking Marine knows to resist an unlawful order. The rank and file in every powerful institution must police its own leadership.

This morning, the President tweeted, “I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health. Raise age to 21 and end sale of Bump Stocks!”

The NRA has already said they’re amenable to a ban on bump stocks. But they’re opposed to raising the age for gun purchases.

NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said in a statement Wednesday, “passing a law that makes it illegal for a 20-year-old to purchase a shotgun for hunting or adult single mother from purchasing the most effective self-defense rifle on the market punishes law-abiding citizens for the evil acts of criminals.”

The NRA is wary at best of most proposals to broaden the definition of those who are barred from buying guns for mental problems: “A person cannot be federally disqualified from owning a gun based simply on a psychiatrist’s diagnosis, a doctor’s referral, or the opinion of a law enforcement officer, let alone based on getting a drug prescription or seeking mental health treatment. Doing so would actually discourage troubled people from getting the help they need.”

The NRA endorsed Donald Trump for president at its May 2016 convention, earlier than any other presidential candidate in the organization’s history. That endorsement represented something of a gamble by NRA’s leadership, considering Trump’s past vague expressions of support for the assault weapons ban and “a slightly longer waiting period” for gun purchases. So far, Trump had been a staunch ally on Second Amendment issues. But this morning, Trump demonstrated his first signs of support for gun control measures that the NRA opposes.

So if you want to win back a president who is wavering on your priorities, doesn’t it make sense to echo his argument that he’s a victim of an out-of-control witch hunt from a fundamentally-compromised federal law enforcement agency?

Religion

Billy Graham, Evangelical Preacher (but I Repeat Myself)

Former President George W. Bush signs a copy of his book “Decision Points” for Billy Graham at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, December 20, 2010. ((Chris Keane/Reuters))

rBilly Graham preached the gospel. Add to that statement that he was an Evangelical preacher and you have a triple redundancy: “Preach,” “gospel,” and “evangelical” are standard English translations of words that in the Greek New Testament share the same stem, euaggel-. The man’s work (preaching), the material he worked with (the gospel), and his identity (Evangelical preacher) were integrated into a resounding whole, each part echoing the other: Euaggelos euaggelizemenos eueggelisen euaggelion, you might say. Something like that.

Preaching and teaching have been considered distinct offices since Saint Paul. The two activities overlap, but the essential definition of each is plain enough.

Graham was not a teacher, although the editors of Christianity Today, which he founded — it debuted in October 1956, eleven months after the first issue of National Review — have always favored a plain, crisp style not unlike that of the theologian or canon lawyer whose task is merely to impart information, not try to wow you with soaring rhetoric. The more apt comparison, come to think of it, would be to the New Testament itself: Talk about understatement. Reread sometime the gospel accounts of Christ’s passion and crucifixion.

Writing that appeared under Graham’s byline could hardly have been leaner or cleaner. In that respect, Thomas Aquinas, the great teacher, and Billy Graham, the great preacher, resembled each other. Of course each addressed a different kind of audience — academic and popular, respectively — but the difference between them runs deeper than that.

Thomas, nicknamed “the Angelic Doctor” for a reason, analyzed the mechanics, as it were, of the incorporeal, purely spiritual dimension of creation. What Graham did, speaking and writing for a generation skeptical of all that, was to affirm the existence of the supernatural and convey the wonder that it evokes in those who are aware that they are touched by it. It gives people joy, and he persuaded many of them not to be ashamed of it. His little book about angels, for example, is a quiet, effective invitation to awe. The hymn “How Great Thou Art” (“O Lord, when I in awesome wonder . . .”) was introduced into the mainstream of American Christian culture via his early crusades.

“Preacher, not teacher” is another way of saying “communicator, not intellectual.” The swimming coach may not understand how the respiratory system works, but that doesn’t mean he should withhold from his athletes what he knows about breathing techniques. “I’ve discovered something in my ministry,” Graham’s friend Charles Templeton recalled him explaining in the course of an argument they had had about Darwin versus the Book of Genesis. “When I take the Bible literally,” Graham said,

when I proclaim it as the word of God, my preaching has power. When I stand on the platform and say, “God says,” or “The Bible says,” the Holy Spirit uses me. There are results. Wiser men than you or I have been arguing questions like this for centuries. I don’t have the time or the intellect to examine all sides of the theological dispute.

Fair enough. The body of Christ has many members, and Billy Graham remains a model for those whose function is to preach. He had faults, as we were reminded yesterday in this somewhat dyspeptic assessment of his life, but he never claimed to be a statesman or a moral leader. He was faithful to his calling and good at it. The Evangelical expression of Christianity would have been less without him, and it would be more if it lived up to the example of his clear-headedness and humility.

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Energy & Environment

Hey, We Actually Solved a Problem, America!

Pumpjacks taken out of production temporarily stand idle at a Hess site while new wells are fracked near Williston, North Dakota, February 12, 2014. (Andrew Cullen/Reuters)

Earlier this week, 18 miles off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port loaded its first large oil supertanker with U.S. crude for export to the Chinese port of Rizhao.

Back in 2006, President George W. Bush declared “America is addicted to oil” in his State of the Union Address and called for more development of alternative fuels. He called for replacing 75 percent of America’s Mideast oil imports by 2025 – a more modest goal than it may seem, because at the time most U.S. oil imports came from Mexico, Canada, and Venezuela. At the time, the United States was importing 12 million barrels of oil out of the 20.6 million barrels it consumes a day.

At the time, there was a lot of discussions about “peak oil” and considerable concern that the United States would find itself as an energy hostage, living at the mercy of hostile states with deep oil reserves.

That grim future did not come to pass. Thanks to fracking and other technological innovations, the United States now produces more than 10 million barrels of oil per day, a level not seen since 1970. We are now the third-biggest producer of oil on the planet, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia, and we could add another 2 million barrels by the end of 2019. The U.S. lifted a ban on oil exports in December 2015, and by October, America was exporting a record 1.7 million barrels of oil per day.

We could be a net exporter of oil by 2020; we became a net exporter of natural gas last year.

We actually solved a problem, America. And we did most of this under a president who was not a fan of fossil fuels! Yes, the Left’s preferred solutions did help a bit, too — solar power, wind power, more fuel-efficient and hybrid cars, biofuels. But our current prosperity and strength would be unthinkable without fracking. Today we are an energy superpower and all of those hostile states who thought their fossil fuel reserves gave them leverage over us are facing a very different future.

We hear a lot of complaints about the current state of America and a lot of despair, declarations that our best days are behind us, that we’re in decline and that we’ve become a country of whiners and snowflakes, incapable of dealing with real problems. That’s nonsense, and worth remembering next time some candidate is touting himself as only way to build a better future.

Politics & Policy

Life in PA-18

A reporter questions Congressional candidate Conor Lamb following a campaign event in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, February 16, 2018. (Maranie Staab/Reuters)

Asked about abortion in a recent debate, Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb said that his “personal religious belief” as a Catholic has always been that life begins at conception, but he would not impose his beliefs on others. Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate, did a nice job of explaining in response that “this isn’t a matter of religious faith” but rather of protecting the helpless.

Lamb’s rhetoric is familiar, but it is worth pointing out yet again that it is doubly mistaken. First: Laws banning abortion are no more the imposition of a religious view than laws banning other types of homicide are. Such laws do not entail, for example, any particular view about whether a fetus has a soul, any more than laws against the killing of congressional candidates entail any view of whether they have souls. The fact that some religious organizations support laws prohibiting abortion and others oppose them does not convert the debate over them into a purely theological dispute.

Second: Lamb’s self-presentation as someone who affirms Catholic teaching on abortion is false. He may be an exemplary Catholic in any number of respects. But Church teaching could hardly be more clear. A human embryo or fetus is a living human organism: The Church accepts that scientific fact, and its religious teaching consists of inferring certain duties we owe as a result of that fact. Those duties include affirming that the human embryo or fetus, like human beings in later stages of development, has a right to life that civil authorities must protect. (See, for example, section 2273 of the catechism.) Lamb dissents from that teaching, wrongly but also—insofar as he claims to agree with the Church’s “religious” teaching on abortion—either ignorantly or dishonestly.

‘John Kelly Shouldn’t Go Anywhere’

I wrote about how important John Kelly is to the Trump White House in my Politico column today:

With all the negative press coverage of the Porter fiasco, stories inevitably emerged of Trump’s thinking about a replacement for Kelly. If Trump were actually to dump him, it’d be his most destructive personnel move since firing FBI Director James Comey.

Trump wouldn’t get someone whom he admires as much. The president respects military men and billionaires, and perhaps the former even a little more than the latter. Kelly, the Marine general who lost a son in Afghanistan, can speak to Trump peer to peer in a way almost every Washington politico can’t.

Trump wouldn’t find someone else who is so clearly in it for the right reasons. Kelly didn’t want the position and repeatedly refused it when it was first offered. He has no interest in jockeying for his next big Washington job or in cashing in. It’s hard to imagine any high-level White House official in recent memory who has genuinely cared less about his press coverage.

Trump wouldn’t find a comparable enforcer. Kelly’s military bearing and no-nonsense demeanor serve him well in the cockpit of Trump world. His extensive leadership experience in even more complicated, high-pressure situations has prepared him for an environment in which chaos and the sense of crisis constantly emanate from the top.

In short, it is Kelly or bust. Trump should consider himself fortunate to have him, and avoid the fool’s errand of trying to find an improvement.

Education

Free Speech
Mike Moon’s Missouri Campus Free Speech Act

Students on the campus of Yale University, 2009 (Reuters file photo: Shannon Stapleton)

Missouri State Representative Mike Moon has introduced a bill designed to protect freedom of speech on Missouri’s public-university campuses. Missouri House Bill No. 2423 is based on model campus free-speech legislation published by Arizona’s Goldwater Institute. (I co-authored the Goldwater model along with Jim Manley and Jonathan Butcher.) Representative Moon’s bill marks an important turning point in the battle over campus free speech.

Moon was a sponsor of the Missouri Campus Free Expression Act, which became law in 2015. That law bans so-called free-speech zones on campus. As anyone who’s followed the campus free-speech crisis will know, however, there is a lot more at stake in this battle than free-speech zones. Speaker shout-downs and disinvitations are the core of the problem, while conflicts related to security fees for controversial speakers and belief-based discrimination against student groups are factors as well. In the absence of trustee oversight, even formal policy changes may not be enough to prompt reluctant administrators to protect free speech.

Mike Moon’s proposed Missouri Campus Free Speech Act addresses all these issues and more. As Moon said in a statement, “while the 2015 act established a solid foundation . . . additional work is needed to ensure students are free to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of reprisal from students or school administrators.” Moon then highlighted the way his bill “addresses speaker shout-downs and places oversight responsibilities in the hands of the schools’ governing boards.”

Moon’s bill sends a message that advocates of campus free speech are playing the long game. Some campus free-speech bills are more comprehensive than others, but bills that merely target free-speech zones are more like the first step than the last word. States that take initial steps to protect free speech, or states where universities manage to weaken comprehensive bills, will likely face further legislative efforts down the road.

In the big picture, the proliferation of campus free-speech legislation has fundamentally changed the game. Even in states where no legislation has been proposed, administrators now know their conduct is under scrutiny and that legislation may soon follow. And in states where limited proposals have either passed or failed, administrators know they may soon face another round of initiatives. Up to now, all the incentives for administrators were to cower in the face of the heckler’s veto. But with new or expanded legislation always on tap, administrators will have to think twice about rolling over in response to speech-suppressing shout-downs. Doing nothing may result in heightened legislative and trustee oversight. So the mere prospect of further legislation is likely already having an effect on administrative conduct.

Mike Moon’s Missouri Campus Free Speech Act, following up and expanding upon the protections of his initial bill three years ago, is a sign that we have entered a new legislative era. Slowly but surely, occasional frustrations and setbacks notwithstanding, free-speech advocates are on the march and in it for the long haul. That is a welcome sign.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He can be reached at comments.kurtz@nationalreview.com

Politics & Policy

Gun Control
CNN’s ‘Stand Up’ Town Hall Was a Disaster for Our Discourse

A protester holds a defaced placard at a rally calling for more gun control three days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.,February 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Last night’s CNN Town Hall is being touted this morning as an “extraordinary moment,” a “conversation,” and a “debate.” In truth, it was none of those things. Rather, it was a disaster for American discourse, the ripples of which will be felt for years to come. One of the students who survived the shooting described it cynically as a “Comedy Central Roast of the NRA and the coming out party for my ADHD.” This, though, isn’t quite right. It was televised catharsis. And it was supposed to be.

Catharsis is good and necessary. So is grief. Anger can be, too. But the these things are not the same as debate or conversation, and, in some cases, they serve as brutally effective prophylactics against deep and constructive engagement. By encouraging legitimately distraught and enraged citizens to shout at politicians, CNN ensured that we could continue to conduct this dispute on a faulty and toxic premise: Namely, that the root problem here is that some among us simply refuse acknowledge that school shootings are an abomination. But that, as ever, is not the root problem. Indeed, contrary to the implications we heard last night, we are not having an argument about whether the victims of tragedy are really grieving, or about whether the footage taken from within the school is harrowing, or about whether these events should be stopped. We are having an argument over precisely what we can — and should — do. Those with considered opinions on that subject are not going to change them in the face of untrammeled distress, because they had already factored that distress into their thinking. Just as protesters against the Iraq War or the Patriot Act would not have changed their minds if they had been forced to watch footage of 9/11 or to meet repeatedly with the openly grieving families, those skeptical of gun control are not going to change their minds when confronted by tormented victims. That’s not what we’re arguing about.

Likewise, the public chanting of “do something!” will change no minds, because, in practice, “do something!” means “do what I want,” and we’re already arguing about that. As has been made obvious by the reaction to President Trump’s newfound enthusiasm for arming teachers, those shouting “do something” are just as capable of casting certain reactions as unhelpful and insane as are those on the other side whom they have deemed to be terminally recalcitrant. And so we’re back to square one.

Or, actually, we’re probably now even further back than that. A lot of Americans watched last night as a room full of people cheered for banning all semi-automatic weapons, and as a number of speakers cast their political opponents as murderers. What do we think the likely result of this will be? A newfound political harmony? Or a surge in NRA membership, a deepening of the culture war, an increase in gun sales, and a growing belief that “the other side” really does hate you? I daresay that lots of people who dislike firearms enjoyed watching Marco Rubio being berated. Indeed, if Twitter is any indication, they really, really did. But Marco Rubio’s views on this issue are not unpopular in Florida, and they are not unpopular in the country at large. I imagine that those cheering along with the castigations imagined that they were the person doing the berating. Millions, though, imagined they were Rubio. And they’ll proceed from there in future.

Economy & Business

Business
Why the Tax Reform’s Limits on Corporate Interest Deductibility Were a Good Idea

(Legacyimagesinc/Dreamstime)

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is increasingly popular with the American public, and Republicans in Congress are desperately hoping that good vibes about the bill will save their majorities. I can’t say I’m a fan of the legislation as a whole, not least because I don’t think it will do enough to lift the after-tax incomes of low- and middle-income households. But in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I should point out at least one of the TCJA’s good points. Consider the limits that the legislation places on corporate interest deductibility, which according to Alan Cole writing in American Affairs, could change the way companies in the United States do business and make the U.S. economy more stable. Reducing the tax-deductibility of interest expenses has been a pet cause of mine for a while, so this strikes me as very good news.

By stipulating that companies cannot use the interest deduction to reduce their earnings by more than 30 percent, the law made taking on debt somewhat less attractive compared to seeking financing by offering equity to investors. It was high time for such a rebalancing; in the battle between debt and equity, Cole argues, debt has long had the upper hand. For one, it can seem less risky, because the amount owed is fixed from the start. It does not increase if a company does very well. Further, thanks to interest deductions, it has been cheaper to carry. Payments on interest for debt are deductible from taxes whereas equity payments — share buybacks and dividends — are not.

Taking on debt has therefore been a convenient way to decrease a firm’s taxes, which might be a good thing for business but is bad for the government: “A firm that chooses a more leveraged capital structure primarily to reduce its taxes is simply creating private returns at public expense,” Cole writes. “Each dollar saved through interest deductibility is a dollar lost for the government.” It can be bad for the economy as well, as everyone discovered during the 2008 financial crisis. Even after the crisis, in 2014, the Congressional Budget Office found that although most businesses had positive tax rates, the tax rate on debt was effectively negative.

Of course, equity has its downsides. It does little to discipline company managers as debt obligations do. Without the need to pay back a specific amount with interest, corporations may use the money to benefit themselves rather than the company. Still, argues Cole, equity is more flexible in times of crisis than debt, which means that problems are less likely to spiral out of control.

The prospect of a tax system less balanced in favor of debt is cheering for Cole, and it should be cheering for the rest of us, too, including those who have other gripes about the TCJA. “Even those most pessimistic about our current political moment can take heart,” he concludes, “policymakers can indeed learn from the mistakes of the past and make genuine attempts to fix them.”

Education

Education
Don’t Forget the ’Rithmetic

Former Harvard president Lawrence Summers and sprinter Usain Bolt (Molly Riley and Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters)

My Impromptus today has a variety of subjects, of course, but it ends with a note on math — which may be a first. A note on math from me? Isn’t that like a note from a sloth on Usain Bolt (the Jamaican sprinter)? Well, that’s kind of the point.

I cite a news story out of Paris, which goes,

France’s government is worried about how many of its schoolchildren consider themselves “stupid at math.”

The education minister released a report Monday commissioned by renowned mathematician and legislator Cedric Villani describing “catastrophic” scores and recommending 21 steps to turn things around.

France’s math scores have been sinking on international rankings for most of this century. The report warns that the current system is leading to “a lasting loss of self-esteem” that continues into adulthood …

I say I can sing a few bars of that. Anyway, I’d like to add something here on the Corner.

Lawrence Summers, late of the Clinton administration, was inaugurated as president of Harvard in October 2001. And in his address he said something that pricked at me: No one would admit to not having read, say, Hamlet; but “it is all too common and all too acceptable not to know a gene from a chromosome or the meaning of exponential growth.”

I immediately looked up the difference between a gene and a chromosome, and the precise definition of “exponential growth” — to mean more than “a whole lotta growth.”

President Summers touched on an important, and sore, point. (But please don’t quiz me today.)

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