White House

Firing Mueller Would Be a Disaster for Trump

Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/REUTERS)

If acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker fires Robert Mueller, it wouldn’t just trigger an immediate political crisis — it would represent one of the most bone-headed, counterproductive political moves in recent history. Why? Let me count the ways.

First — and critically — there exist no legal grounds for firing Mueller. The relevant regulation is clear:

The Special Counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General. The Attorney General may remove a Special Counsel for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies. The Attorney General shall inform the Special Counsel in writing of the specific reason for his or her removal.

There have to be specific grounds for termination, and unless there is information about material misconduct that is as yet hidden from public view, firing Mueller now would violate the law.

Second, Whitaker is operating under dubious legal authority. In the battle over whether Trump can appoint an official who hasn’t been Senate-confirmed to act as attorney general, I’m with George Conway and Neal Katyal:

A principal officer [the attorney general is a “principal officer”] must be confirmed by the Senate. And that has a very significant consequence today.

It means that Mr. Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid.

At the very least, those on both sides of argument should acknowledge that the issue is far from settled, and a prudent, unconfirmed acting attorney general should be little more than a caretaker until a permanent replacement is confirmed. It would be reckless in the extreme to take dramatic, consequential action without the the clear legal right to do so.

Third, firing Mueller wouldn’t end investigations of Russian interference or obstruction of justice. A hyper-energized and outraged Democratic House would immediately take the baton from Mueller, and it would supplement its investigation with a separate investigation of the decision to fire the special counsel. The obstruction-of-justice investigation would metastasize.

And this leads us to the fourth reason why firing Mueller would be disastrous for Trump. It would invite impeachment. As much as the MAGA core relishes a fight with House Democrats, this is the least favorable grounds for political battle. A self-serving unlawful act will hardly rally the broader American public, and it stands to further dispirit right-leaning voters outside of Trump’s base.

The acting attorney general is no fool. I know him a little bit, and I know him to be a smart attorney who understands the political and constitutional expectations of a man in his position. I may eat my words, but I would be surprised indeed if the administration chose to fire Mueller without grounds and through an official acting with contested authority. Expect Mueller to stay in office and complete his work.


Hold the Rush to Get Rid of Paper Textbooks

Students study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, September 20, 2018. (Rebecca Cook/REUTERS)

The cost of textbooks for college students has been rising rapidly and now accounts for a hefty percentage of the cost of attending for many students. Publishers have been squeezing all they can out of students by making small annual changes in books, thus stemming the used book market. Professors sometimes get in on the act by requiring students to buy books they’ve written.

Naturally, there is push-back. Instead of costly paper textbooks, why not insist that students have a low-cost digital option?

That may sound reasonable, but apparently there’s a trade-off here: Students may have better comprehension when reading a printed page than when reading a screen. In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson looks at some research on that point.

The authors of a study, she reports, “found that paper and digital reading is equally effective for narrative-only texts (like novels) but not for informational texts (like textbooks). The authors explain, ‘Comprehending informational texts, compared to narratives, requires higher level processing, such as using complex academic vocabulary and structures, and these texts are less connected to real world knowledge, which makes them harder to comprehend (Graesser & McNamara, 2011).’”

Moreover, that finding holds without regard to age. Younger students who have grown up with digital reading seem to do better with paper in academic reading, just as do older ones.

So going digital saves money, but perhaps at the cost of reduced learning.

Robinson sensibly concludes, “The price, flexibility, and customizability of digital course materials make them appealing to universities, faculty, and students. But like any innovation, they should be tested and implemented incrementally. Moving forward, users should simply take care when adopting such media. Digital materials should not be treated as a one-size-fits-all solution to rising textbook costs.”


Kyrsten Sinema Takes the Lead in Arizona as Ballots Continue to Be Counted

Kyrsten Sinema speaks with supporters in Phoenix, Ariz., October 24, 2018. (Gage Skidmore)

The Arizona Senate election is in the balance once again as ballots continue to be counted. With approximately 500,000 votes left to tally, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema pulled ahead of Martha McSally by a few thousand votes yesterday. At latest count, she leads by approximately 9,000 votes. Jon Tester’s win in Montana and an ongoing recount in the Florida race have made this seat increasingly crucial to Republican hopes of an expanded Senate majority — a majority that could soon be at the center of mounting tensions over the Justice Department and the special-counsel probe. A lot is riding on the outcome.

Rob O’Dell breaks down where the outstanding votes are coming from in the Arizona Republic. 345,000 votes are left in Maricopa County, where Sinema, so far, leads 50.2 percent to 47.7 percent. 54,000 votes are left in Pima County, where Sinema won nearly 56 percent of the vote. Another 31,800 ballots are left in Pinal County, where McSally won 56 percent, and thousands of ballots remain to be tallied in another handful of counties. Elections analysts have pointed out that all of this is normal for Arizona, where most voters mail in their votes, and Arizona’s secretary of state has more information on the process for counting ballots. All that’s unusual in this case is simply the closeness of the election.

What does this mean for the two candidates’ chances? It’s difficult to say. Republicans generally lead in ballots sent by mail in Arizona, but most remaining ballots are coming from places where Sinema performed well. Both McSally and Sinema say they are confident in their chances, which is par for the course. For now, all there is to do is wait. Maricopa County will announce a new batch of votes at 7 P.M. Eastern.


Will Today’s New Asylum Rules Do Any Good?

Migrants wait outside a UN Refugee Agency office during a march demanding buses to take them to the U.S. border, in Mexico City, Mexico, November 8, 2018. (Henry Romero/Reuters )

The president issued new rules regarding asylum today, effective for 90 days starting midnight tonight. They have elicited the usual hair-on-fire reaction from the usual suspects.

To begin with, the new rules will almost certainly be enjoined by a federal judge (I would guess in San Francisco because why not), possibly before the day is out.

If the rules do ever go into effect, they would likely have a modest effect on the number of bogus asylum seekers who are let go into the U.S., but only a modest effect. The point of the new rules is to funnel people claiming asylum to the ports of entry by making it less attractive to sneak between the ports of entry and turn yourself in the Border Patrol. People who sneak in and say they fear return might still be able to stay but would have to meet a higher standard (“reasonable fear” instead of “credible fear”), and even if they did that, they’d get a less-lucrative status that wouldn’t lead to citizenship (“withholding of removal” rather than asylum).

There would be several benefits to funneling asylum-seekers to the ports of entry: It’s more orderly, consumes less resources, doesn’t distract the Border Patrol agents (who have to spend hours processing groups of bogus asylum seekers who turned themselves in, leaving the border wide open for other illegals or drug smugglers), and it might make it more likely that the people waiting at the ports of entry, where it can take days or weeks to get your case heard, would be more likely to just apply for asylum in Mexico, which is what they should be doing anyway.

But even if all of the Central Americans headed here (in a caravan or not) applied for asylum at the ports of entry, the loopholes in the law and the lack of detention space mean most of them will still be let in to the country and not leave when their asylum cases are rejected (as they almost always are). Because getting asylum is not the goal — applying for asylum is, because it serves essentially as a ruse to get into the U.S., allowing the applicant to eventually disappear into the illegal population. These new rules are about the most the president can do to stem the flow of bogus asylum seekers without changes from Congress.


Latest DACA Ruling Doubles As an Activist Press Release

Activists and DACA recipients march up Broadway during the start of their ‘Walk to Stay Home,’ a five-day 250-mile walk from New York to Washington D.C., to demand that Congress pass a Clean Dream Act, in Manhattan, New York on February 15, 2018. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday that the Trump administration must continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The verdict is a head-scratcher. After all, no statute or regulation compels DACA. It is simply an invention of the Obama administration on the grounds of “prosecutorial discretion.” Since President Obama exercised his discretion in creating DACA, why can’t President Trump use his own discretion to end it?

According to this Ninth Circuit panel, the problem is the Trump administration’s justification for ending it. Trump argued that DACA is illegal and therefore must be ended. The Ninth Circuit counters that DACA actually is legal, so ending it on grounds of illegality would be “arbitrary and capricious.” Notice the separation-of-powers issue here. If a court rules that the president is required by law to take a particular action, then he must do it or risk impeachment. But when it comes to discretionary actions, the president should never do something he believes exceeds his authority — even if a court has given him “permission” to do it. In this case, the Ninth Circuit has denied the president his right to independently assess the legality of a discretionary action.

But leave that aside. To this non-lawyer, what is most disturbing is the Court’s activist pose. Like an article from Reader’s Digest, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw’s opinion begins with a heartstring-tugging anecdote. It’s worth quoting in full to demonstrate her bias:

It is no hyperbole to say that Dulce Garcia embodies the American dream. Born into poverty, Garcia and her parents shared a San Diego house with other families to save money on rent; she was even homeless for a time as a child. But she studied hard and excelled academically in high school. When her family could not afford to send her to the top university where she had been accepted, Garcia enrolled in a local community college and ultimately put herself through a four-year university, where she again excelled while working full-time as a legal assistant. She then was awarded a scholarship that, together with her mother’s life savings, enabled her to fulfill her longstanding dream of attending and graduating from law school. Today, Garcia maintains a thriving legal practice in San Diego, where she represents members of underserved communities in civil, criminal, and immigration proceedings.

On the surface, Dulce Garcia appears no different from any other productive—indeed, inspiring—young American. But one thing sets her apart. Garcia’s parents brought her to this country in violation of United States immigration laws when she was four years old. Though the United States of America is the only home she has ever known, Dulce Garcia is an undocumented immigrant.

Recognizing the cruelty and wastefulness of deporting productive young people to countries with which they have no ties, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced a policy in 2012 that would provide some relief to individuals like Garcia, while allowing our communities to continue to benefit from their contributions.

Is this a judicial ruling or a press release from United We Dream?

So intent is Judge Wardlaw to use emotional language that she slips into overly broad claims about DACA recipients. For example, she says they “unwittingly entered the United States” (15-year-olds do not leave their native countries without knowing it); they “have clean criminal records” (they can have up to two misdemeanor convictions, including felony charges that they plead down); they face deportation to “a country with which they have no ties” (again, they could be as old as 15 before leaving their native countries, and they were allowed to make brief return trips before receiving DACA); and they are “economically productive” (DACA has no work requirement). Ordinarily, one would not expect a judge to be so imprecise with her language and so open in her bias. But in 2018, it’s just another day on the Ninth Circuit.


Can Republicans Recapture the House in 2020?

Based on the elections that have been called, Democrats will have 225 seats in the next House. They are leading in five of the 13 remaining seats. Henry Olsen concludes, “Come 2020, the GOP will need to gain only a dozen or so seats to retake the House, a mark it can easily meet by focusing on working-class Democratic districts and some close, mixed seats that Republican candidates barely lost this week.”

Republicans have not, however, tended to pick up many House seats during presidential-election cycles, even when they win those presidential elections. In 1988 (George H. W. Bush’s election), they won two fewer seats than they had won in 1986; in 2000 (George W. Bush’s election), they won three fewer seats than the election before; and in 2016 (President Trump’s election), they won six fewer seats than they had in 2014. Republicans’ best presidential-election year since Reagan left office was in 1992 — they picked up nine seats between the 1991 and 1993 Congresses — which I’m guessing reflects both Bill Clinton’s winning election with a minority of the popular vote and the GOP’s gaining ground because of redistricting and reapportionment.

If Republicans gain a dozen seats between the start of this next Congress and the start of the one after that, it will be their best presidential-cycle performance since 1984 (when they won 15 more seats than they had won in 1982). That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it provides a sense of the scale of the challenge.

Oh, and the last time control of the House flipped back and forth in two successive elections? Republicans won a majority in 1952 (with Eisenhower’s first election) and then lost it in 1954.


Friday Links

“The War to End All Wars” ended 100 years ago, on the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month in 1918. Before it was Veterans Day it was Armistice Day, for the fallen of the First World War: Here’s some history.

Rome’s Heroes and America’s Founding Fathers.

The Little-Known Reason Pencils Are Yellow.

Advice on hair washing from the Twelfth and 17th centuries.

Football Physics: Newton, Einstein, and The Forces Behind Those Big Hits.

NASA has plans to probe Uranus in search of gas.

ICYMI, Monday’s links are here, and include how telegraph operators were the first to know news of the Civil War (which arrived in code), political maps of the United States from 1850 and 1880, Nazi werewolves, making whiskey and wine in a lab, and Guy Fawkes Day.


Sir Roger Scruton Is a Friend to Muslims and Jews

Sir Roger Scruton (Wikimedia Commons)

Sir Roger Scruton, the eminent British scholar, has faced a barrage of criticism ever since he took an advisory position in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Finding his view that beautiful architecture and surroundings ought to be available to the poor, rather than just the purview of the rich, impossible to argue against, they have decided to resort to character assassination instead.

Sir Roger, Labour and Lib Dem MPs charge, is a bigot, with a particular animus towards Jews and Muslims. To anyone who has read his writings or listened to his lectures, the accusation is absurd. But as a Muslim, I find it particularly offensive. 

Sir Roger has a long history of engagement with Muslims and with the culture of Islamic civilization. Unlike “interfaith” types, who tend to basically believe in nothing, Scruton is a believing Christian, but to Muslims, this is a feature, not a bug. That he would consider it a disaster if Britain’s secularization meant his own faith, the Church of England, died out and Islam became the primary religion of the country is understandable for any believer. If you believe something is the Truth, you desire its prominence. Muslims feel similar anguish at the state of Islam in the Muslim areas of the former Soviet bloc.

When I was young, we had a group of visitors from a nearby church visit the mosque’s Sunday school— the church turned out to be a “Unitarian Universalist” one, whose teacher replied to my question about their theology by explaining that, “Some of us follow an earth-based religion, some of us are atheists, and some believe in a god.” This, from a Muslim position, is just absurd; not because their theology differed from our own, but because there was no theology to speak of. (And it felt a little insulting to be considered “the same” as a belief that worships rocks!) There can be no real dialogue with someone who doesn’t believe in anything, and yet this has been the guiding principle of liberal “interfaith” discussion, to so water down the discourse that no one gets to encounter, let alone tolerate and appreciate, difference. 

No amount of “interfaith” will reconcile the unitary theology of Islam and Judaism with the Trinity, and attempts to do so are insulting. But if we aim instead to focus on what our civilizations and worldview have in common, what we can learn from each other, and what poses a threat to this, there is a lot that can be accomplished. Sir Roger has been at the forefront of exactly these efforts. He has spoken at Zaytuna College, an Islamic college in a California, on God in modern society, on the meaning of conservatism, and on “Sacred Truths in a Profane World”. He has worked with Syrian Muslim architect Marwa al-Sabouni (the subject of an upcoming profile by National Review’s Marlo Safi) in her attempts to restore her battle-torn nation’s built environment in a way that respects its centuries of Islamic heritage. Al-Sabouni, in turn, is working with Dr Scruton in his efforts for better housing in Britain.

Such exchange is not without precedent; Imam Ghazali influenced Maimonides, who influenced St. Thomas Aquinas. Both of the latter were influenced by Averroes. The flow of ideas was not inhibited by the fact that all staunchly held the theologies of their respective faiths, of which each are among the most important codifiers. And as traditional religion is threatened by the laïciste turn in liberal politics and culture, the need for believers to form what Islamic scholar Timothy Winter at Cambridge calls an alliance sacrée becomes increasingly important.

As Sir Roger writes,

As in all times of conflict and besiegement, the first need is for alliances, not only between people of faith but also between them and those who have lost their faith but not their values. Zaytuna College has set a welcome example with its excellent publication, Renovatio, in which the three revelations—the Judaic, the Christian, and the Islamic—are brought together in ways that show their intrinsic harmony, despite all the real differences.

Like HRH the Prince of Wales, who has spearheaded similar initiatives, Sir Roger Scruton engages with Islamic scholars as a Christian, from a place of respect and accepting difference, rather than an attitude that patronizes by waving it all away.

The politicians’ charge against Dr Scruton is clearly a distraction. Unable to muster real opposition to his idea that beauty should be accessible to all, which has public support, they resort to lies. Sir Roger’s own words lay out out the proper response:

In the face of this, we must show that the way of faith does not mean turning away from the secular reality. The true face of religion belongs to the re-enchantment of our injured civilization; faith is a way of filling all the spiritual spaces in our damaged world with the vision of a loving God, the God described in the Qur’an as al-Raĥmān al-Raĥīm.

In the face of lies, only truth will do.

Energy & Environment

Toward a Conservative Approach to Climate Policy

The Three Mile Island Nuclear power plant in Royalton, Pa., May 30, 2017. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters )

For years, major U.S. environmental groups have resisted the conclusion that nuclear energy ought to play a central role in addressing climate change. This despite the enormous practical barriers to scaling renewable energy and the fact that the shuttering of nuclear power plants, a policy often championed by mainstream environmentalists, has typically been associated with increased reliance on carbon-intensive energy. But that’s changing. As Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute observes, the Union of Concerned Scientists has come out in support of the continued operation of existing nuclear power plants. That is not as far as I’d like them to go, of course, but it’s an important and encouraging step.

Because the Breakthrough Institute has long championed nuclear energy (one reason I’m a supporter), Nordhaus offers thoughts on what this development augurs. “For environmentalists,” he writes, “it is time not just to recognize the importance of nuclear energy but also that making it so is not someone else’s job. If you care about the climate, you need to care about nuclear energy.” He then offers a gentle admonishment to critics of mainstream environmentalism from the right:

For my conservative friends, it is time to demonstrate that your commitment to a nuclear future goes beyond trolling environmentalists over their climate hypocrisy.

Though I take Nordhaus’s point — trolling environmentalists will only take you so far — the deeper issue is that most conservatives aren’t terribly invested in climate policy. There’s this myth that opposition to carbon pricing is rooted in Big Oil lobbying. If anything, Big Oil is increasingly supportive of carbon pricing. (See ExxonMobil’s support for Americans for a Carbon Dividend, a group championing a carbon pricing plan that, for the record, I oppose.) The real driver of opposition to carbon pricing on the right is anti-tax sentiment, and as much as advocates talk of carbon tax swaps, the message doesn’t resonate if you see climate as a low-priority issue. Nuclear advocacy has gained more traction on the right, partly because the central issues there have been reducing barriers to nuclear innovation (deregulation) and boosting public investment in advanced nuclear technology (making sure America plays a leading role in a key industry). I suspect there’s a lesson here.

I’ll have more to say on this subject in the future. For now, I’ll close by linking to my post on Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s proposed carbon tax — a bill I wouldn’t endorse (the proposed tax is unpalatably high), but which deserves a close look. Alas, for conservatives who are invested in climate policy, Curbelo’s defeat in this week’s midterms is a sobering sign. In the closing weeks of the campaign, the Florida Republican made a valiant effort to portray himself as a more devoted environmentalist than his Democratic opponent. And who knows, maybe that helped him lose by a smaller margin than it did otherwise. But his defeat reminds us that climate policy isn’t a galvanizing issue for the vast majority of voters, so the incentives to stick your neck out are weak.


Florida’s Democracy Dies in Darkness

I keep seeing national journalists insisting that Florida must “count every vote!”  And, frankly, I’m completely perplexed as to why, given that nobody is suggesting that the vote-counting should be halted. On the contrary: Rick Scott is suing Broward and Palm Beach counties not because he wants them to start trashing good ballots, but because they are failing to release the information that they are obliged to release under Florida law. Scott’s demand is for transparency, not for closure, and, in the case of Broward, it’s being made against a county that is notoriously incompetent and a commissioner who has already been found in violation of state and federal law, who has a habit of destroying ballots, and who is already under state supervision. The Washington Post says that “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Aren’t we all supposed to agree?

Florida election law requires that:

(b) The canvassing board shall report all early voting and all tabulated vote-by-mail results to the Department of State within 30 minutes after the polls close. Thereafter, the canvassing board shall report, with the exception of provisional ballot results, updated precinct election results to the department at least every 45 minutes until all results are completely reported. The supervisor of elections shall notify the department immediately of any circumstances that do not permit periodic updates as required. Results shall be submitted in a format prescribed by the department

Neither Palm Beach County nor Broward County has followed these rules, which has led to widespread confusion and mistrust as the vote totals continue to be updated without anyone knowing the context, sources, or scope. That is the problem here — not some imaginary injunction to stop counting votes.

Disappointing as it must be to those who hope dearly to become heroes — hello, Paul Krugman — this isn’t Jim Crow and it isn’t even Bush v. Gore. Rather, it’s good old-fashioned incompetence, with some law-breaking thrown in for good measure. And the bad guy? I’m sorry to inform you that it isn’t Rick Scott, but the people he’s insisting are made to follow the rules.


We Have a Winner

An Army-Navy game in Philadelphia (Bill Streicher / USA TODAY Sports)

My Impromptus today is mainly about the elections — with a sprinkling of notes on music, language, and food. Also a note on Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, who passed away on Wednesday. This genial man of letters was the chief book critic of the New York Times for many years, and then chief obituary writer. He was a friend of WFB, David Pryce-Jones, and others we know. Splendid company, he was (both in print and in person).

Some mail? Yesterday, I mentioned The Bad News Bears, the 1976 movie starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal. It was a touchstone film for some of us. The movie is about baseball (Little League), and its soundtrack is, essentially, Bizet’s Carmen.

A reader writes, “I had a favorite phrase when I was coaching Little League baseball. When the boys would start missing plays and throwing the ball every which way while the other team circled the bases, I’d say, ‘Cue Carmen.’”


In my Impromptus on Monday, I had reason to write this: “How did ‘Jesus H. Christ’ ever come about? (‘Howard,’ perhaps? Lots of great Jewish kids had that name, once upon a time.)”

Many readers responded, many linking to Wikipedia, here. Something about “the divine monogram of Christian symbolism.” One reader wrote, “The old line I heard very many years ago was that the ‘H’ stands for ‘Hallmark,’ because God cared enough to send the very best.”

Finally, to the main purpose of this little Corner post. In that Monday Impromptus, I wrote,

A long time ago, I heard Bob Novak say something about a basketball game. (Novak was a basketball fanatic — especially college basketball.) He didn’t like either team. And he said, “That game’s like the Battle of Stalingrad for me.”

I have used that line many times. (Other people say “Iran-Iraq War.”) But what I need is a phrase with the exact opposite meaning. What do you say when you love both teams?

I did not necessarily love both teams in the recent World Series. But I loved the two pitchers on the mound for the final game (what proved to be the final game): David Price (Red Sox) and Clay Kershaw (Dodgers). These are two of my favorite pitchers and two of my favorite athletes.

Not the Battle of Stalingrad.

From readers, there were many nominations. “Bach vs. Beethoven.” “Stones vs. Beatles.” “Ice cream vs. cookies.” Several readers mentioned the Civil War: “The Battle of Gettysburg,” for example. That does not work for me, although I certainly understand why it does for others.

A few readers mentioned the War of 1812. One reader commented, “The two most liberty-loving countries in the world at the time. A terrible waste of blood and treasure.” Well said, but I still have a rooting interest, so to speak. A few readers said, “Falklands War.” Two U.S. allies. I understand — but I still have a rooting interest (not Galtieri).

“Mary vs. Martha” (!). “Kasparov vs. Deep Blue” (I was rooting for Garry!). “King Kong vs. Godzilla.” “How about Batman vs. Superman?” writes one reader. “A movie with that title came out a couple of years ago. I didn’t want to see it. My boyhood heroes, my friends, fighting each other.”

A reader writes, “This is probably for too narrow an audience, but Kirk vs. Spock in ‘Amok Time.’” He helpfully provides a Wikipedia link, here.

“Palmer vs. Nicklaus.” Yes, in retrospect, maybe — but most of us would have had a rooting interest at the time. “The Williams sisters at Wimbledon, at least from the father’s perspective.” That’s a good one.

The clear winner, at least for me? Many readers said, “The Army-Navy game,” or “Army vs. Navy.” Yes, yes. Thank you! Thank you all.

National Review

On the Plus Side


I’m a print guy. (That’s an expression you hear: “I’m a print guy.”) I write for print and I read print — i.e., newspapers and magazines, that I hold in my hand. Just as of old.

This is what I say. But I really should stop, because I do almost all my reading online — I can’t remember the last time I held a newspaper or magazine (though I enjoy it when I do) — and I write more for the Web than I do for print, so . . .

My rhetoric should catch up to reality.

Enough about me, though — what about you? National Review has a new membership service called NRPlus. Sign up here. You get the magazine — the print magazine — online. When you look at NRO, you get reduced advertisements. Vastly reduced. I know you want to support all our advertisers, but still . . . You get to join a Facebook group exclusive to NR readers. You converse in this group with NR writers and editors, as well as your fellow readers. You gain access to National Review’s vast archives. Etc.

This is a really good deal. It is sort of one-stop shopping, NR-wise. Is it good for NR? Yes, I think so — and also for the consumer, the reader, the participant. Win-win, as in a blessed market. Again, the key link is here.

Politics & Policy

We Don’t Know How to Stop Mass Shootings

People at the procession for the Ventura County Sheriff Sgt. Ron Helus, who was killed in a mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., November 8, 2018. (Ringo Chiu/REUTERS)

This morning, we received news of yet another mass shooting, this time in California. That’s twelve more lives lost, added to the eleven lives just lost in Pittsburgh. In the 13 months since the horrifying massacre in Las Vegas, we’ve also seen mass shootings at a church in Texas and high schools in Texas and Florida.

It’s time to face facts. At this moment in American history, we don’t know how to stop — or even seriously reduce — mass shootings.

Yes, we’ll of course have the familiar fight over gun control and the NRA. The New York Times referred to the California shooting in the introduction of an extensive article about the evolution of the NRA. Yet the NRA has been thoroughly routed in California. Its gun-control regime exceeds even the dreams of most national Democrats. This Dana Loesch tweet provides a good summary:

I’m going to sound like a broken record, but I keep going back to Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal 2015 essay about school shootings. At the risk of oversimplifying Gladwell’s argument, he argues that each mass shooting lowers the threshold for the next. In essence, we are in the midst of a slow-motion “riot” of mass shootings, with the Columbine massacre in many ways the key triggering event — especially in the school-shooting context. As the “riot” unfolds, more people consider committing mass murder as a way of addressing their grievances. Here was Gladwell’s conclusion:

In the day of Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restrictions on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement. The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.

Now we’re seeing mass shooting after mass shooting, with a wide variety of motives in virtually every conceivable American gun-control jurisdiction — in states strict and lax. These mass shootings still represent a tiny fraction of overall violent deaths in the United States, but each one is a wrenching national tragedy.

And, even worse, they’re filtered through a polarized political environment where proposed “solutions” either have little relevance to the actual shootings themselves or are at best partial and uncertain. For example, while I support concealed carry by law-abiding citizens and know that armed citizens have foiled multiple attempted shootings, I view the presence of more concealed carriers as at best a potential mitigating factor. Even the fortunate presence of armed citizens doesn’t by any means guarantee a positive outcome. People can freeze. People can miss. A gunman can take down the armed citizen first.

The bottom line is that our nation is generating an excess of broken, damaged people, and at this point in American history, all too many members of that community are drawn to a specific, horrific way of inflicting pain on their neighbors and sometimes even their friends.

In the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., shootings, Senator Marco Rubio suggested a “national task force” to examine mass shootings. It’s an idea worth considering. And for those conservatives who roll their eyes at the idea of a panel of government-appointed “experts,” there is at least value in doing a deep dive into the motives and methods of mass shooters. Information can yield ideas. Until then, we’ll spend our days yelling at each other about policy proposals that will make no real difference in a terrible crisis that claims all too many American lives.

Economy & Business

When State Universities and Businesses Gang Up on the Taxpayers

Arizona State University junior Austin Mulshine at the ASU Palo Verde West polling station in Tempe, Ariz., November 6, 2018. (Lindsey Wasson/REUTERS)

State universities are supposed to help educate the citizens and receive tax-exempt status toward that end. But sometimes scheming business people figure out how to “partner” with such universities to take advantage of their tax exemption. Sweet for them, but it shifts their tax burden to the rest of society.

In yesterday’s Martin Center article, Sean McCarthy of the Arizona Tax Research Association explains how this has been done in his state, with Arizona State University providing the tax-exempt basis for business development.

McCarthy writes: “In Arizona, the university system has a cavalier attitude regarding the use of its tax-exempt status. In one glaring example, the state’s largest commercial office development, built in 2016 and anchored by State Farm Insurance, pays no property taxes and will not for 99 years, thanks to a tax avoidance scheme developed by Arizona State University (ASU). The 2.2 million-square-foot glass complex in Tempe is technically owned by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) and resides on their land; however, the effective owner is Transwestern Investment Group, which leases it to State Farm.”

Arrangements of this kind are both unfair and possibly illegal. McCarthy explains, “The deals also give their recipients an unfair edge over competitors. The State Farm office complex will certainly provide more revenue to ASU than the school would have received had the land remained a parking lot for students. But what of State Farm’s competitors down the street who pay full property taxes, supporting the local public schools to their economic disadvantage? Beyond fairness, the state Constitution requires that taxes be general and uniform among similar classes to prevent favoritism.”

If you live in Arizona, you should be upset over this abuse of ASU’s tax-exempt status. If you live in another state, you should be alert to the possibility that something similar is happening with one or more of your state universities.

McCarthy’s conclusion is right on target: “After decades of backroom deals that encouraged graft and corruption, transparency and accountability for tax incentives have become the minimum expectation around the country. The idea that cities and counties must jump through significant legal hoops to grant incentives while universities can simply use their private foundations to do the same is a troubling development”.


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