Unleash the Hounds! The NRO 2017 Webathon Is On!

by Jack Fowler

OK, make that unleash the spaniels.

This is the 6th of Bucktember, roaring into the first full week of our important effort to raise funds — which can be donated here — from our NRO friends, especially those who love this website, who linger here all the livelong day, and who realize that it is precisely because of the generosity of other selfless souls that NRO survives, and even thrives.

See how happy Bill Buckley is in this picture (at his NYC home in 1999, with his beloved and uber-friendly King Charles Spaniels)? His glee is not only because he is hanging with Man’s Best Friend. It’s also from his knowing anticipation that 18 years hence, you would be helping to make the 2017 Fall Webathon (which we’re hash-tagging #30DaysofBucktember) a big success. Bill the Clairvoyant!

Our goal is $200,000 to cover just part of some vital projects, expertly explained here. Some have already risen to the occasion, and said why. We share their sentiments here:

Walter peeled off a $100 bill, sent it thisaway, and remarked “My favorite website. You keep me informed with wit and charm. Sounds like you have big plans. Get after it. And keep up the good work.” Thanks and we will.

Paul tossed $50 in the plate. Along with it came this: “I really appreciate NRO. It’s on my daily shortlist. Your podcasts are a new treat for me. Please keep those going. Somebody interview Iowahawk from Twitter! Kudos to Cooke on that Kenyon debate. That was educational, to say the least. When I retire, I’ll see you on an NRO Cruise.” Wow. (By the way, you’ll find info about Charlie’s Kenyon experience here).

Chreno sent a big $250 and short emphatic explanation: “A worthy cause!” We have worthy friends. Thanks.

Ed explains why he sent a generous $100: “I am proud to stand with NR and NRO supporting true conservatism in this time of fake conservatism. Your writings and podcasts serve as beacons illuminating the darkness. Keep up the great work!”

Jeffrey sent, holy mackerel, $1,000, and matter-of-factly thanked us: “Thanks for another great year of political commentary and insight!” Back at you, many times J Man!

Brian’s $25 was accompanied by encouraging words: “Thank you for the excellent writing. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to read it on a daily basis. I originally subscribed to the print magazine as a teenager in the ’80’s, and I am happy to help again.”

Ditto for Jennifer and her 25 smackers; “Although there are times I disagree with what an NR contributor writes, all of your contributors are thoughtful, brilliant people whom I always learn something from. My all-time favorite is the venerable Victor Davis Hanson. Keep up the good work!” Venerable? I thought VDH was a saint!

And finally, we share multi-tasker and super generous Jo’s thoughts, which came with a $50 contribution: “Good luck with the podcasting operations. I enjoy listening to them and I can get some housework done at the same time!”

I hope these sentiments inspire you to do likewise. You can help NR by making a generous donation here. Feel free to share your own comments, and even criticisms. Contribute here if you prefer. If you disdain web-donating, but want to send a check, make it payable to “National Review” and mail it to our new address: 19 West 44th Street, 17th Floor, New York, NY 10036. Many thanks.

When Someone Proposes Taxing People’s Savings, Just Say No!

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

When Someone Proposes Taxing People’s Savings, Just Say No!

A genuine, non-sarcastic, authentic “hurrah” to this Tweeted statement from President Trump: “There will be NO change to your 401(k). This has always been a great and popular middle class tax break that works, and it stays!”

There are three main ways that Americans can save money for retirement. The first is an individual retirement account (IRA), where the money is not taxed when you deposit it or as it grows in value, but you pay income taxes when you withdraw it after retiring. The second is a Roth IRA, where you pay income tax on the money when you put it in, but don’t pay taxes on withdrawals when you retire. The third is the 401(k), which operates like a traditional IRA but your employer offers a matching contribution up to a certain percentage of your salary. Many financial planners will advise you to contribute as much as you can afford to your 401(k), or at least to the matching limit, because if you don’t, you’re effectively turning down free money for retirement from your employer.

The 401(k) account is an incentive for Americans to save for the future and not rely on the government to support them in their golden years. It promotes thrift, long-term planning, and deferred gratification. It adds millions of non-wealthy Americans to the “investor class.” As one financial firm put it, “Uncle Sam doesn’t offer many gifts. This is one. The upside: free money.”

The New York Times reported Friday that House Republicans were considering a plan to sharply reduce the amount of income American workers can save in tax-deferred retirement accounts as part of a broad effort to rewrite the tax code. Right now, you can put up to $18,000 in 401(k) accounts and not pay taxes on that money, $24,000 if you’re over age 50. (The IRS recently announced that the limit will go up to $18,500 next year.)

The Times article reported that one of the ideas under consideration was reducing the annual amount workers can set aside to as low as $2,400. Eliminating the tax break for 401(k)s entirely in 2018 would generate $115 billion in new revenue. Our Andrew Stuttaford rightly labeled this idea “idiocy” and it’s such a bad idea, it’s fair to wonder just how seriously this was considered. It’s usually voices on the Left that want to eliminate the tax incentives for saving money.

Way back in October 2008, as the financial crisis raged, House Democrats held hearings that contemplated eliminating the tax breaks, hearing a proposal from New School economist Teresa Ghilarducci:

Still, as she sat at the witness table on Oct. 7 at a hearing of the House Committee on Education and Labor, running through the litany of what’s wrong with the 401(k) and other defined-contribution retirement plans — they have high fees, for one — Ghilarducci didn’t think she was courting controversy. “I was saying things that seemed completely milquetoast,” she recalls. Ghilarducci did bring up a bold proposal to replace the 401(k) with a mandatory, government-run pension plan and suggested that Congress immediately allow retirees to swap 401(k)s battered by the stock market’s collapse for monthly payouts from the government. But she had floated both ideas before, to little effect.

President Obama was pretty pro-IRA as far as Democratic presidents go. Back on the campaign trail in 2008, he said he wanted to require employers who do not offer retirement plans to offer their workers access to automatic IRAs and contribute via payroll deduction. Given a choice between mandating employers create IRAs and mandating they provide health insurance, I would have chosen the former. Unfortunately, Obama prioritized the latter, and after Obamacare, neither a Democrat or Republican-run Congress was willing to force employers provide another benefit to all employees.

Later in his presidency, Obama shifted to the “MyRA,” a nice enough idea that never really worked. The idea was a “no-fee, no-minimum-investment version of a Roth individual retirement account,” allowing up to $5,500 per year invested in government bonds.

Unfortunately, the idea flopped:

Running the entire program through the federal government, the Obama administration spent $70 million and only got 20,000 Americans to invest — an outrageous cost of $3,500 for each new account. Of that, $10 million went to a single bank — Comerica — to act as custodian for this small number of simple, non-trading accounts.

But President Obama had worse ideas. Back in 2013, he proposed eliminating certain tax advantages on IRAs and other tax-preferred retirement accounts when funds exceed a certain threshold. The threshold was pretty high – $3 million or so – but once again, Congress saw little appetite for punishing people who had saved a lot of money for retirement.

The Obama administration also flirted with the idea of taxing 529 college savings accounts.

What kind of tax hit might that have added up to for families who are just about to start 529 accounts themselves? I asked Vanguard to run some numbers. Parents who deposited $5,000 a year over 18 years and got a 6 percent return each year on their money would eventually end up with $179,140.48 that they could draw on during college.

That’s a lot of tax-free growth, so it’s only natural that it might have become a target. A family in the 25 percent tax bracket would have paid $22,285.12 in income taxes on that growth under the president’s plan if they withdrew it over four years, according to Vanguard. A household earning enough to be in the 35 percent tax bracket would have paid $31,199.17.

The administration abandoned that plan after a week of scathing press coverage.

Eliminating the tax benefits for 401(k)s and retirement savings was a terrible idea when Democrats proposed it, and reducing the tax benefits is an almost as equally terrible idea from Republicans.

An Update on Bill Browder

by Jay Nordlinger

His lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was tortured to death when a political prisoner of the Russian government. Now the Kremlin, eight years later, is accusing Browder himself of murdering Magnitsky. This is almost too revolting to comment on.

The New York Times has the story, here.

“Live not by lies,” Solzhenitsyn said. The Russian government is up to its ears in lies. I illustrated this in my recent piece about Yuri Dmitriev, who is trapped in the nightmare of the Russian judicial system.

Two things have made the head spin today: the Kremlin’s new charge of murder; and the decision of the U.S. government to bar Bill Browder from America (which I wrote about in a post below).

Think of it: The murderers are charging the champion of the victim with murder. And the United States is barring that champion from our shores.

Leadership in these matters is called for, and I look to John McCain and other stalwart defenders of freedom and democracy to supply it. Someone must beat back the lie.

It’s Time for Bill O’Reilly To Be Weinsteined

by David French

Over the weekend the New York Times published an extended scoop about Bill O’Reilly. It turns out that he recently settled yet another sexual harassment case, this time for a staggering $32 million. The allegations were deeply troubling. Here’s the Times:

Although the deal has not been previously made public, the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, acknowledges that it was aware of the woman’s complaints about Mr. O’Reilly. They included allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her, according to the people briefed on the matter. (Emphasis added.)

The amount was large, but the settlement wasn’t unusual. O’Reilly was a serial settler of sexual harassment claims, yet Fox gave him a lucrative new contract anyway:

It was at least the sixth agreement — and by far the largest — made by either Mr. O’Reilly or the company to settle harassment allegations against him. Despite that record, 21st Century Fox began contract negotiations with Mr. O’Reilly, and in February granted him a four-year extension that paid $25 million a year.

I have a couple of thoughts. First, while I’m very familiar with the practice of so-called “nuisance settlements” — where a company or celebrity settles frivolous claims for small amounts mainly because the cost and hassle of defending the complaint is larger than the potential liability — but no reasonable person would call O’Reilly’s gigantic payment a “nuisance settlement.” O’Reilly has contested the Times story, but actions speak louder than words. As the Times notes, publicly known settlement amounts involving O’Reilly “have totaled about $45 million.”

How many serious allegations must there be — and how much settlement money must O’Reilly pay — before conservatives apply the same standards to him that they would eagerly apply to a liberal of corresponding fame and importance? Yet prominent conservatives are guests on his new “No Spin News,” and he’s consistently a guest on other conservative programs. O’Reilly should be banished from every serious and meaningful conservative outlet just as Weinstein is being stripped of his progressive public platforms. Frankly, there is no need for O’Reilly’s voice in the public square. 

Both sides of America’s political and cultural conflict are facing their own days of reckoning. In these last few weeks, it’s becoming painfully obvious even to those who still try to cling to Hollywood’s illusions of cultural superiority that an industry famous for its moralizing is responsible for an immense amount of exploitation and victimization. At the same time, conservatives have had to face the fact that its favorite network was rife with its own abuses, and too many conservatives are in denial over Donald Trump. They’re convinced that his boasts were mere “locker room” talk and that all of the more than one dozen public accusations of misconduct were politically-motivated. 

It’s important to remember that in all these cases we’re not dealing with the ambiguity of a one-off “he-said, she-said” cases that we see so often . Rather, we’re seeing powerful men time and again facing he-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, and she-said cases involving common fact patterns and common tactics. Nor can anyone reasonably claim that serial sexual harassment allegations are simply the price of being rich and controversial. The Left hates Mike Pence almost as much as it does Donald Trump (and certainly more than it does Bill O’Reilly) yet the worst it can do to Pence is make fun of him for being too careful. 

None of this should be hard. There are too many allegations settled for too much money for O’Reilly to receive the benefit of the doubt. It’s time for O’Reilly to be Weinsteined. 

 

 

W. on Trump

by Rich Lowry

I give W. lot of points for sincerity for his attack on Trump and Trumpism. Where I think he was on strongest ground is his critique of how President Trump conducts himself and how it contributes to the degrading of our political culture. This, so far, is the worst aspect of Trump’s presidency. There has been no budding authoritarianism and — although one may be emerging on trade — no meaningful ideological challenge to traditional conservatism. In fact, Trump has put points on the board on deregulation, religious liberty, immigration enforcement, and judges. But he has acted like Donald Trump, even though he’s occupying the highest office in the land.

W. must be appalled by this, given how he went out of his way to avoid adding unnecessarily to the nation’s political rancor and how deeply — and even, I’d say, sacrificially — he thought about the right way to conduct himself as president.

That said, I’m with Reihan in thinking the speech would have been better or more complete if Bush had given any indication that he was aware that the failures of his own administration led to Donald Trump (and before that, Barack Obama). That the party is in a different place on foreign policy and immigration is not an accident.

Also, I have to say I’m annoyed by the references by Bush and John McCain to “blood and soil nationalism.” I suspect they both are using it a causal pejorative without having any idea what they are talking about, or how to distinguish it from legitimate nationalism, which both of them have appealed to throughout their careers. This is a topic for longer discussion, but both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had nationalist support, and when they lost it, became unpopular and not sustainable (at least not in any thing other than a minimal form).

Finally, don’t miss Jonah’s fascinating take on the Bush and General Kelly speeches.

 

General Kelly’s Speech, Revisited

by Rich Lowry

I know I keep on saying we should leave the condolence controversy behind and then keep on commenting on it, but I want to come back to Kelly’s speech. I think it should be studied in rhetoric classes — it was that powerful — but it did have a flaw. It seems pretty clear that he misremembered the nature of Representative Wilson’s comments at that event at the FBI building in Florida. When I listen to her speech, I hear a fairly standard talk by a politician at such an occasion, and one that did give the fallen FBI agents their due. Kelly may have just misremembered this event all along, or he may have recalled it through the prism of his offense of how Wilson blew up the call to Sargeant Johnson. Further to that point, by the way, here is Wilson chortling about how the controversy has made her a “rock star.”

Jimmy Carter’s Ex-Presidency Just Got a Whole Lot Better

by Rich Lowry

I’m not really serious about that, but Maureen Dowd has a notable interview with Carter, who — perhaps because he is angling to be some sort of emissary to North Korea (a very bad idea) — issues forth with opinions we don’t often hear from Democrats.

He is forthright about the media’s anti-Trump frenzy: “I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about. I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everything else without hesitation.”

He has a common-sense position on NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem: “I think they ought to find a different way to object, to demonstrate. I would rather see all the players stand during the American anthem.”

And he’s skeptical of the Russian narrative: “I don’t think there’s any evidence that what the Russians did changed enough votes, or any votes.”

Why Is Bill Browder Banned from America?

by Jay Nordlinger

Vladimir Putin keeps putting William Browder on Interpol’s wanted list, or trying to. As far as I’m concerned, these attempts are the equivalent of medals of freedom.

Remember who Browder is: He is the financier whose lawyer was Sergei Magnitsky, who became a prisoner of the Russian state and was tortured to death — real slow. Thereafter, Browder dedicated himself to the cause of justice in Russia.

“My grandfather was the biggest Communist in America, and I was the biggest capitalist in Russia,” he likes to say. His grandfather was indeed Earl Browder, the head of the CPUSA. His father was Felix Browder, a math genius.

In 2012, the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which targets Russian human-rights abusers: It freezes their assets and deprives them of visas. Boris Nemtsov called the Magnitsky Act “the most pro-Russian law ever enacted by a foreign government.” (Nemtsov was the leader of the opposition to Putin in Russia. In 2015, he was murdered within sight of the Kremlin.)

The Magnitsky Act drives Putin nuts. It means that his men can’t act as they always have, i.e., with impunity. Now there are consequences, which is a problem for Putin. Four countries have Magnitsky acts: the U.S., Britain, Estonia, and now Canada. (They passed theirs last week.)

Browder is a driver behind these Magnitsky acts, and Putin hates him for it, understandably. Twice in 2013, he tried to add Browder to Interpol’s wanted list, and twice he failed, because Interpol knew that Putin was politically motivated. Browder is not a criminal. He is an anti-criminal, which is why Putin targets him.

In 2014, Putin tried again — no dice. Last summer, Browder testified against him before the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. Senate, to damning effect. Obviously ticked, Putin tried again. This time, Interpol had Browder’s name on the list for a month, before deleting it.

In the wake of Canada’s new Magnitsky act, Putin has tried again. Tried for a fifth time. Interpol has accepted his request. Worse, the U.S. government seems in partnership with the Kremlin: Our government has revoked Browder’s visa. (American-born, Browder is a British citizen.)

What the …? Let this error be corrected speedily. It’s Putin’s killers and thieves who should be barred from the U.S., not their nemesis, Browder.

On Thursday, Putin went off on Browder, personally. Obviously, Browder is under the guy’s skin. He’s in his head. Putin further said that Magnitsky acts are the fruit of “anti-Russian hysteria.” Funny, that’s what his supporters and apologists in the West say, too. I hear it from the Right — the populist-nationalist Right — and I hear it from the Left. (Are Julian Assange and Oliver Stone still classifiable as Left? Or are they broadly pro-dictator?)

I can only repeat that great martyr Nemtsov: Magnitsky acts are pro-Russian, and nobly so. So is Bill Browder.

Schisms and Isms

by Jay Nordlinger

On Thursday, George W. Bush gave a remarkable speech, enunciating what may be thought of as a pre-Trump conservatism. He said, for example, “Our security and prosperity are only found in wise, sustained, global engagement.”

Let me pause for a language note: I’m always griping about the misplacement of “only.” It ruins sentence after sentence. “Only,” in the above statement, should go between “found” and “in.”

But back to the main point. GWB asked what I regard as the key question: “How do we begin to encourage a new, 21st-century American consensus on behalf of democratic freedom and free markets?”

It really should be “in behalf,” but I’ll stop with my language notes.

Bush also said this: “Our identity as a nation — unlike many other nations — is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood. Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility.”

Yes, it does, in my view. I thought of something Bush said in February 2016, in an interview I did with him in Dallas: “The isms of isolationism and protectionism and nativism run deep in our history, and we’re seeing some of that now in the political arena. Not some of it. We’ve seen a lot of it.” And in succumbing to those “isms,” he said, we Americans are “endangering ourselves more.”

Let me get to something terribly old-fashioned now. For the last many months, I’ve said that I don’t like the name-calling — the name-calling from the Oval Office. The name-calling from the president. Like it or not, a president sets an example, not least for the young.

“Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco,” “Liddle’ Bob Corker” (I can’t explain the apostrophe), “Crooked Hillary,” “Sleepy Eyes Todd,” “Low IQ Crazy Mika,” “Psycho Joe,” etc., etc. Really?

I have a memory of the 2016 general-election campaign. Indirectly, President Obama referred to Trump as a demagogue. In response, Mike Pence said, “I don’t think name-calling has any place in public life.”

That was so cute.

Anyway, on Thursday, Bush had an arresting statement: “We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty.” Those last two words, “casual cruelty,” are particularly arresting. And he said, “Our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.”

This sounds as distant as Cotton Mather. But it’s still true. And I’m grateful that George W. Bush had the gumption to say it.

Arias, Scandals, Analysis, and Rants

by Jay Nordlinger

On Friday, I recorded podcasts with two formidable women — very different from each other, but each brilliant, and a leader in her field.

My Q&A is with Angela Gheorghiu, here. She is a Romanian soprano, and one of the starriest, and most controversial, opera singers in the world. She is also a great interviewee — a journalist’s dream, really. Very blunt, for one thing, and often very funny. I did a piece on her in 2012, here.

For this Q&A, Gheorghiu was in Palermo and I in New York. She has a new album, Eternamente, which is stocked with verismo arias. We talk about the album and various other things. I tell her that I haven’t heard about any Gheorghiu scandals lately, which is disappointing. Has she slowed down? In response, she provides new material.

Let me also say this about Gheorghiu: She is a legend, yes, and a piece of work, yes, and great fodder for the media: but she is also a great singer, which is the thing that will be remembered — and heard on recordings, and seen on videos — after everything else has passed.

The other podcast from Friday: Need to Know, with Mona Charen (and me). She is in superb form, as usual. Among the topics are Trump, Kelly, Bush (43), Weinstein, Putin, and the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, murdered for reporting the truth about government officials.

Trump’s Call with a Soldier’s Widow

by Rich Lowry

I’ve said in the matter of the Trump’s call with the widow of Sgt. Johnson that it’s hard to know what to think without hearing the call. Well, we now have what is probably a rough approximation of what Trump said in that call — and the sentiment behind it — in a video of his call with Natasha De Alencar, the widow of Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, who was killed in Afghanistan in April. I defy anyone to listen to this call and not be moved:

A couple of things. In this case, it is the widow, Natasha De Alencar–obviously, an extremely strong person — who says, “It’s what my husband wanted.” Trump is very sympathetic and praises her fallen husband and her family in the highest possible terms. But he, also, toward the end of the call takes a slightly jocular tone, asking if some of her five children are good and some not quite so good. It’s entirely appropriate in context and she gets the joke and and plays along (“right?” she says, “there are always a couple in every group”). It’s easy to see how someone in a different frame of mind could have taken it differently, and how repeated in isolation — he questioned whether her children are good — it could be made into an attack.

Anyway, Natasha De Alencar took comfort in Trump’s call. She is rightly proud of her husband and her children — ages 20 to 5 — and we all should pray for this extraordinary family.

Seeing Stars

by Jay Nordlinger

Over the years, I have often said, “It’s not that William F. Buckley Jr. taught me what to think, it’s that he helped teach me how to think.” When I’ve mentioned this to audiences, people have sometimes said, “Could you explain what you mean? Could you give some examples?”

Well, I thought of Bill this morning. Something popped into my head, and I thought, “Sheer Bill.” This is what I mean by a thought process.

The president’s press secretary said to a reporter, “I think that, if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”

Here’s the Buckley thought that popped into my head: “Would it be less highly inappropriate to question a three-star general? Less inappropriate still to question a two-star? Approaching acceptability to question a mere one-star?”

Furthermore: Is this America? Or as Chevy Chase says to Danny in Caddyshack, “Is this Russia?” (WFB would not have cited Caddyshack.)

P.S. John Kelly is a retired general. So is Wesley Clark. He was an Army general, with four stars. I saw him on the street last night (New York). In 2004, he ran for the Democratic nomination for president. I knocked him six ways to Sunday. I would again.

What Real Resistance Looks Like:  A Lesson from Malta

by Carrie Lukas

While the self-styled “Resist” movement in the United States is fond of declaring Donald Trump is “literally Hitler” and fancies itself as taking a brave stance against looming oppression, it’s clear the outspoken critics of the president aren’t actually worried about consequences–which is a very good thing.  After all, how would an actual tyrant react to Web pages like this one?  Or this? In reality, and on balance, Trump seems to be more interested in restoring constitutional limits on the executive than dismantling them, which was more a specialty of his predecessor. 

But amidst the overheated rhetoric among the President’s critics here, it’s worth remembering what actual bravery looks like.

Earlier this week, in European Union state member Malta, investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered by car bomb as she was leaving her home.   Caruana Galizia was one of the Maltese government’s most outspoken critics, regularly lambasting corruption and malfeasance among senior officials and highlighting their connections to shady businessmen.  This was a political assassination intended to silence that critical voice.  The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper wrote a good background piece on the killing. (Full disclosure:  I’ve met Daphne, though I didn’t know her well.)

To their great credit, Caruana Galizia’s family is refusing to be intimidated by the attack.  Her three sons have released the following statement – a slap in the face to the politicians now trying to score PR points off the murder of their mother:

After a day of unrelenting pressure from the President and Prime Minister of Malta for what’s left of our family to endorse a million-euro reward for evidence leading to the conviction of our mother’s assassins, this is what we are compelled to say.

We are not interested in justice without change. We are not interested in a criminal conviction only for the people in government who stood to gain from our mother’s murder to turn around and say that justice has been served. Justice, beyond criminal liability, will only be served when everything that our mother fought for – political accountability, integrity in public life and an open and free society – replaces the desperate situation we are in.

The government is interested in only one thing: its reputation and the need to hide the gaping hole where our institutions once were. This interest is not ours. Neither was it our mother’s. A government and a police force that failed our mother in life will also fail her in death. The people who for as long as we can remember sought to silence our mother cannot now be the ones to deliver justice.

The police may or may not find out who ordered the assassination of our mother but as long as those who led the country to this point remain in place, none of it will matter – the name of the person who did this will remain a footnote in the history of how our state was dismantled, taken apart piece by piece and devoured by the criminal and the corrupt.

The Prime Minister asked for our endorsement. This is how he can get it: show political responsibility and resign. Resign for failing to uphold our fundamental freedoms. Resign for watching over the birth of a society dominated by fear, mistrust, crime and corruption. Resign for working to cripple our mother financially and dehumanise her so brutally and effectively that she no longer felt safe walking down the street. And before resigning he can make his last act in government the replacement of the Police Commissioner and Attorney General with public servants who won’t be afraid to act on evidence against him and those he protects.

Then we won’t need a million-euro reward and our mother wouldn’t have died in vain.

When your mother has just been assassinated by car bomb, this is a brave statement to make.  And it’s a reminder what real government intimidation and the silencing of critics looks like. 

Helen DeVos, RIP

by Jack Fowler

Approximately a year ago, I had the honor to offer a eulogy to Lee Hanley, a conservative philanthropist who left a mark on behalf of freedom and Christian values due to decades of wisdom, leadership, involvement, and selfless generosity. I’m reminded of this with the passing away on Thursday of Helen DeVos, who leaves behind her husband, Rich, the co-founder of Amway, five children (her son Dick, husband of Betsy DeVos, is a trustee of National Review Institute), and many grandchildren — a family, quite special, which in toto has proven to be in love with God, with country, with freedom. And if you’ve been to delightful Grand Rapids, Mich., with that place too.

Mrs. DeVos’s 90 years were spent in pursuit of good things, for others. Philanthropic beyond anything normal, and maybe even beyond imagination, she and her husband, and then their children’s families, proved a bulwark of support for liberty — in particular for Christian schools of all levels — and of many charities often directed to the young, such as the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. And even to a struggling magazine, for which we remain profoundly grateful.

The generosity that Helen and Rich showed was (is!) one concerned with consequence, with results. There is an excellent example of that which we at National Review can speak to. Over the years, by fortune of proximity, we have benefitted by having many students and graduates of Manhattan’s The Kings College intern and work at NR. They are a smart bunch, well-developed young men and women, cheerful witnesses to their faith, friends of our shared principles. Kings was of particular concern to Helen and Rich DeVos, and, not by coincidence, to Lee Hanley and his wife, Allie. At the collegiate level, it is a wonderful thing to see conservative philanthropy truly work, to really matter. And it has at Kings. The education it offers, the results it achieves, is heartening. This comes, in no small part, courtesy of these committed families.

In John we are told: “Jesus wept.” If God can cry at the death of a friend, can’t we too? So we expect tears now, but, as with few others whom this institution has had the privilege to know, can we not also have the confidence that Helen DeVos has attained the true happiness, the eternal peace, which her life here and works here most earnestly sought?

Matthew 25 tells the Parable of the Talents. Let’s not kid ourselves: Helen DeVos was given many. Many! But what she was given, this good and faithful servant returned, many times over. And so, the Master has a promise to uphold. His end of the bargain is truly special. Eternally special. We offer the DeVos family, many of them our friends, our condolences, but we are cheerful for Helen’s fate, and grateful for the beautiful and inspiring life she led.

Special-Interest Politics: Real-Estate Lobby Edition

by Veronique de Rugy

Richard Rubin of the Wall Street Journal tweeted this quote from Doug Holtz-Eakin this week.

I assumed that Holtz-Eakin wasn’t talking about the tax provisions that allow businesses to deduct their business costs from their tax base, such as accelerated depreciation, or the ones that are meant avoid the double taxation of income, such as the deferral of taxes on non-repatriated business income earned (and taxed) overseas.

On the other hand, that quote made me think of the furor from the real-estate industry to the announcement that the Republicans’ tax framework plans to double the standard deduction. Why? Because while the mortgage-interest deduction was preserved in the plan, it would mean fewer taxpayers using the deduction. The Wall Street Journal reported this a few days ago:

One goal of the GOP framework is to simplify the tax code by eliminating preferences that distort economic behavior. Most itemized deductions other than mortgage interest and charitable contributions would be nixed. But the individual standard deduction would increase to $12,000 from $6,350 ($24,000 for married couples) to reduce taxes for most Americans.

The Realtors are upset because they say this middle-class tax cut would make fewer taxpayers use the mortgage-interest deduction. The National Association of Realtors trashed the framework in a statement, saying it “would all but nullify the incentive to purchase a home for most, amounting to a de facto tax increase” and ensure “that only the top 5 percent of Americans have have the opportunity to benefit from the mortgage interest deduction.”

There is so much wrong there that I don’t know where to start. First, notice the entitlement mentality on display here. It is true that for years government has taken it upon itself to prop up homeownership — with various degrees of success. Yet that doesn’t mean that this is a good idea or even within the proper scope of the role of government. So to the extent that the framework removes some of these distortions, it is a good thing.

Moving to a system where fewer people itemize is also a good thing. Tax simplification doesn’t simply bring more fairness to the tax code — it increases efficiency, and it saves taxpayers money and time by reducing their compliance costs.

Third, this quote implies that everyone benefits today and that losing this deduction would mean higher taxes for taxpayers. Wrong. Today, roughly a third of taxpayers itemize and claim the deduction. From MarketWatch:

In 2018, 35.4 million households are expected to claim itemized deductions for mortgage interest, according to a study released in May by the National Association of Realtors and auditing firm PwC. Comparatively, the report estimated that 40.7 million taxpayers will report itemized deductions in 2018 for property taxes. (The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are roughly 117 million households in the U.S., which would mean that just under a third claim the mortgage interest deduction).

This is a good read, too. Research has shown that the mortgage-interest deduction mostly benefits higher-income earners. This is from Mark Calabria back in January 2017 (he was at the White House):

Fully 75 percent of federal dollars — including tax expenditures — used to subsidize housing goes to high-income households through the mortgage interest deduction and other homeownership tax benefits. Seven million households with incomes of $200,000 or more receive a larger share of these resources than the 55 million households with incomes of $50,000 or less, even though lower-income families are far more likely to struggle to afford housing. Half of all homeowners receive no tax benefit from the mortgage interest deduction, and almost all of the tax break goes to households with incomes above $100,000. At the same time, only one in four of the poorest households that are eligible for housing assistance get the help they need because of chronic underfunding.

In addition, like most subsidies, the mortgage-interest deduction artificially inflates the price of homes. That means that homeowners don’t really benefit from it because, though they do sell their homes at higher prices than they would be worth without the subsidy, they also have to buy over-priced homes.

And as Jeff Dorman explains in this piece over at Forbes, the claims that the deduction, by encouraging homeownership, has a positive impact on the economy is dubious:

Yet, thanks to a new study out based on Danish data, many people are now wondering if there is anything positive about this tax break. While the debate is not settled, right now the answer appears to be no. The mortgage interest deduction is nothing more than rent seeking on behalf of the real estate industry. It confers no benefit to society as a whole.

What the new study by economists Jonathan Gruber, Amalie Jensen, and Henrik Kleven showed, at least in Denmark, is that the mortgage interest deduction did not boost home ownership rates, only prices and the amount of money that people borrowed when they bought houses. The official rationale for a tax code that favors debt related to houses is that home ownership creates benefits to society because it makes people feel more invested in their communities and should thus be encouraged. If the mortgage interest deduction only increases mortgage debt and home prices, not home ownership, then it is a failed policy and its repeal should be considered.

MarketWatch adds:

At the same time, the tax break doesn’t seem to incentivize homeownership a whole lot. Government data show that the homeownership rate in Canada (69%) is actually slightly higher than in the U.S. (63.7%), despite the fact that the Canadian tax code doesn’t include any deduction for mortgage interest paid. And rental households obviously don’t see the tax benefit, since they don’t have access to it. “It’s not clear that the U.S. has had a boon of homeownership because of the mortgage interest tax deduction,” Chacón said.

These results are consistent with the findings of many other studies, such as this one by my colleagues Jason Fichtner and Jacob Feldman. See this very recent study’s findings:

We simulate the effect of tax reform on the housing market. Eliminating the mortgage interest deduction causes house prices to decline, increases homeownership, decreases mortgage debt, and improves welfare. Our findings challenge the widely held view that repealing the preferential tax treatment of mortgages would depress homeownership.

There is so much more out there on the issue. While I have my issues with the doubling of the standard deduction (mostly I don’t like that it kicks more people off the tax rolls), I recognize that it will bring very needed simplification to the tax code. The furor of the real-estate lobby is evidence of that. Their criticism should be ignored for the benefit of all.

Wanted: An Intern

by Rich Lowry

I’m looking for an intern in our New York office to help with research and administrative work for a book project. If you are interested, please contact Rachel at [email protected]. Thank you.

The Out that Trump Never Permits Himself

by Rich Lowry

I know I’ve said the condolence controversy should go away, but since it isn’t, allow me to make another point.

We don’t know what exactly was said in the Trump call with the widow of Sgt. Johnson. We do know, pretty definitively, that she and the rest of the family took offense. Maybe what Trump said would have landed differently if he had said it to another family that, say, supports him politically and is inclined to believe in his good intentions. Or maybe how he delivered his message really was terribly inept. Whatever the case, all that should matter here is that the family was upset.

The normal thing to do in this situation would be for the person who said something that was taken the wrong way — especially when it is the president of the United States and the aggrieved party has just lost a loved one in uniform — to come back and say something like, “I really didn’t meant it the way you heard it and it pains me to think that I’ve in any way added to your distress. Please accept my apology and deepest condolences.”

If Trump could bring himself to do this, it would, 1) be the right thing to do; 2) instantly drain this controversy of much of its power; 3) win him praise, even from some unexpected quarters. But Trump can never give even a little ground, because any disagreement or criticism instantly becomes personal and the occasion for combat, no matter what the circumstance.

On Representative Wilson’s Cynical Slander of General Kelly

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Per the terminally naïve Chris Cillizza:

On Thursday afternoon in the White House, chief of staff John Kelly laid into Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson in harsh terms.

“A congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building,” Kelly said.

In an interview on CNN’s “New Day” Friday morning, Wilson alleged that “empty barrel” is a “racist term.” She didn’t explain why.

All of which made me curious: Where does the phrase “an empty barrel makes the most noise” come from? And is there any sort of racial component to those origins? Or to its current usage?

As Cillizza quickly discovers in his post, the answer to the latter two questions is “No.” Indeed, the answer is not just “No,” it’s “You have to got to be kidding me.”

That being so, one would have expected his conclusion to be blunt and to the point: “Representative Wilson,” he should have written, “slandered General Kelly. I came across nothing in my investigation that suggests otherwise.”

For some reason, though, he wrote:

as far as I can tell, it’s wrong to call what Kelly said racist.

“As far as I can tell, it’s wrong”? As far as I can tell? A United States Representative tries to smear a Gold Star parent as a racist, and the response is a brief etymological adventure followed by a “probably not”?

Still, it could have been worse. At MSNBC, the usual suspects have found some interesting ways of justifying the claim. Lawrence O’Donnell, a man who could find racism in the heating element of a toaster, spent much of last night outdoing himself:

One theory: MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell devoted almost 20 minutes of his show on Thursday night to Kelly, Wilson and “empty barrel.” O’Donnell suggested that due to Kelly’s boyhood in a Boston neighborhood that was still largely segregated, his choice of words to describe Wilson was intentionally “dehumaniz(ing)” to the congresswoman.

“She was nothing but an empty barrel to him,” said O’Donnell. “He refused to give her the dignity of a name.”

Sure, Lawrence. That’ll be it.

On Twitter, meanwhile, Joy Reid chimed in with the class and sophistication that we’ve come to expect of her:

Thus it was that a phrase that has been attributed to Plato, and used by Plutarch, John Lydgate, William Shakespeare, and Abraham Lincoln — always outside of anything even approaching a racial context — became maybe, sort of, perhaps a racial slur, the best case against which from the ostensibly neutral press was “as far as I can tell . . .”

Shame. Shame on Representative Wilson. Shame on Lawrence O’Donnell. Shame on Joy Reid. And shame on Chris Cillizza, too, for lacking the guts to call this what it was: a slander. There is no quicker way to damage the fight against genuine racism than to suggest that everything you dislike is bigotry, that all criticism must be motivated by animus, and that even the most innocuous of commonly used phrases must, deep down, have sinister racial connotations. An empty barrel indeed.

Fighting to Retake Higher Ed in Wisconsin

by George Leef

The Left used to talk all the time about the need to “reform” everything, but now that they’ve been in the driver’s seat in many places, the reformers are conservatives who want to restore sanity. A good example is higher education, where “tenured radicals” have been running things for the most part. Now that the legislators who appropriate the money for state colleges and universities have begun looking at what’s going on, they are up in arms, complaining about interference in “their” business.

Consider the battle in Wisconsin over the Campus Free Speech Act. A bill to protect free speech and make the universities accountable for failures to do so has the Left furious in the Badger State. Professor Mark Zunac, who teaches at UW-Whitewater, discusses the fight in today’s Martin Center article. Ignoring the many ugly incidents of shouting-down, disinvitation, and violence, Wisconsin’s “progressives” declare it a phony controversy. One activist group goes so far as to claim that the bill is meant to give “safe spaces” for conservatives and would subject students to sanctions for speaking out. The bill has passed the state assembly and awaits action in the senate. Perhaps opponents will throw a tantrum the way they did over Governor Walker’s Act 10 reforms (that word again) back in 2010.

Another mini-war was fought over tenure in Wisconsin, which used to be the only state where having it was a matter of law. The Left wailed about that too, but now tenure policy is in the hands of the Board of Regents, not enshrined in law.

Zunac also discusses a reform that would allow students to opt out of paying fees that covered leftist campus stuff such as “Sex Out Loud” — too bad that proposal was removed. Campus organizations should raise their own money, not rely on money taken without the consent of students.

Returning to the free speech problem, Zunac mentions that back in May, Charles Murray spoke in Madison, but that the event was held at a private club to avoid the likelihood of a Middlebury type riot.

A closed forum such as this has the advantage of actually taking place, since the establishment where the event takes place can control who is admitted. However, as Murray himself noted, the format inhibits the kind of free and open exchange that was once the hallmark of liberal education. In the absence of institutional seriousness in addressing crises like that of free speech, this presently seems like a desirable option. But unless and until our public universities find seriousness, we will have politicians intervening in higher education.

That sums things up pretty well.

Republicans Against the 401(k)

by Andrew Stuttaford

Once again, the GOP is behaving as if it believes that it will be running Washington in perpetuity. Scrapping tax ‘breaks’ that have hitherto been thought to be politically untouchable, such as the mortgage interest tax deduction, a sensible deduction that is not only logical—if interest income is taxable (and it is), then interest expense should be deductible—but may even do some good, in exchange for what could quite easily be a short-term cut in tax rates makes little sense. Give the Democrats a chance—and sooner or later they will get the chance—and higher tax rates will return. The tax breaks will not.

And so (via the WSJ) we come to this idiocy (my emphasis added):

[L]awmakers are looking at proposals that would allow 401(k) participants to contribute significantly less than what is currently allowed in a traditional tax-deferred 401(k). An often mentioned amount is $2,400 a year. It isn’t clear whether that would only apply to 401(k)s or IRAs or both.

Currently, employees under age 50 can save up to $18,000 a year in a 401(k), while those 50 or older can set aside up to $24,000. In an IRA, the annual contribution limits are capped at $5,500 and $6,500 for the same age groupings. The 401(k) limits are scheduled to rise to $18,500 and $24,500 in 2018.

And there’s something else, which Rob Portman, at least, appears to understand:

Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) said he was “skeptical” about the idea of lower pretax deferrals for retirement savings. Mr. Portman said Thursday that he didn’t want to make the decision just for revenue reasons.“I’m deeply concerned about it,” he said. “I don’t think you want to disincentivize retirement savings in any way right now.

No, you do not, especially as those most likely to be disincentivized are those at lower income levels.