201912

December 6, 2019 10:30PM

The Pensacola Mass Shooting and Terrorism

Earlier today, Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani of the Royal Saudi Airforce murdered three people and injured eight others in a mass shooting at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. Alshamrani was at the Naval Air Station learning how to fly. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are currently investigating whether Alshamrani’s mass shooting was a terrorist attack, but they have not reached a conclusion yet.

According to the Global Terrorism Database, terrorism is the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation. In other words, whether a crime is terrorism depends upon the motivation of the attacker, and his motivation isn’t known yet.

It may well turn out that Alshamrani is a terrorist, as many politicians are already claiming, but we don’t know yet. If Alshamrani’s shooting turns out to be a terrorist attack, then that raises the total number of people killed by foreign-born terrorists on U.S. soil to 3,040, over the period from 1975 until December 6, 2019.

Using the same risk calculation I used elsewhere, this means that the annual chance of being murdered on U.S. soil in an attack committed by foreign-born terrorists during that 45-year time period is about 1 in 4 million per year. That’s the lowest chance since I’ve been tracking this.

A new development, in this case, is that Alshamrani was here as personnel in a foreign military. This means that he was likely here on an A-2 visa for foreign officials and government employees, which includes foreign military personnel at U.S. facilities. This is important as many media reports say that Alshamrani was a student, which is influencing some pundits to argue for restrictions on student visas or to make inaccurate comparisons to Saudis who trained at Florida flight schools before attacking the Twin Towers and Pentagon in 2001. This is almost certainly not true.

If it turns out that Alshamrani was a terrorist, this would be the first attack carried out by a person who entered on an A visa. Since 1997, the U.S. government has issued about 2 million A-2 visas and just under 5 percent of them have gone to Saudis. Thus, if it turns out that Alshamrani was a terrorist, there was one terrorist on an A-2 visa for every 2 million visas issued during that time and three murders – a decent track record compared to other visas (see Table 10). Immigration attorney Charles Kuck told me that, “other than running the names through the standard background check systems, there is no additional vetting done on A-2 visa holders.” I suspect that that will change regardless of whether Alshamrani is a terrorist.

There is much we don’t know about the mass shooting carried out by Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani of the Royal Saudi Air Force at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. It’s unclear whether his shooting was terrorism or inspired by another motive. As more information becomes clear, I will be updating our terrorism research appropriately.

December 6, 2019 5:06PM

Jonathan Turley: Then and Now

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has come in for some rough treatment in the press and the Twitterverse since his appearance earlier this week before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on “Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment,” where he served as the lone GOP witness and impeachment skeptic on a panel of four.

Turley is a first-rate scholar from whom I’ve learned a great deal. I drew heavily on his impeachment scholarship in my 2018 study “Indispensable Remedy: The Broad Scope of the Constitution’s Impeachment Power.” While there’s a lot to criticize in his testimony, it’s unfair and unserious to dismiss him as a partisan hack. Turley’s politics, it seems to me, have always been heterodox and hard to squeeze into a conventional left-right framework. If forced to guess, I’d say his growing skepticism toward impeachment has more to do with his 2010 experience as defense counsel in a judicial impeachment trial than any latent #MAGA tendencies.

That said, I found Turley’s testimony this week tendentious, inconsistent with his prior work, and, in important respects, wrong. As the hipsters used to say, I prefer his early stuff. 

His first album was the best

Turley argues that the evidentiary record is far too thin—“facially insufficient”—to justify impeachment by the House at this stage. Among other things, “the House has not bothered to subpoena the key witnesses” who would have first hand knowledge of whether there was a quid pro quo in the Ukraine affair. (There’s a fairly obvious reason for that.) At times, he appeared to suggest that the House needs to secure enough evidence to try the case before the Senate can try the case.

But as Rep. Justin Amash (ex-R MI) points out: Turley “consistently conflates impeachment in the House and trial in the Senate. The House simply *charges* impeachable offenses, and there’s clearly probable cause for charges.” The House’s role, in this view, is analogous to that of a grand jury: determining whether there’s adequate reason to have a trial in the first place.

That’s how Jonathan Turley used to see it as well. In his 1998 testimony during the Clinton impeachment hearings, Turley explained that

The [Constitutional Convention] debates reflect the view that the Senate would be the forum for the appearance of witnesses and a comprehensive treatment of the allegations of misconduct against a president. The Framers did not appear to anticipate the type of hearing with witnesses and subpoenas used during the Nixon inquiry by the House Judiciary Committee.

Instead, Turley argued, “articles of impeachment are a type of presidential indictment under Article I…. the Framers specifically mandated that a trial be held in the Senate under specific conditions while leaving the House to impeach in any fashion that it chooses.”

In that light, Turley’s insistence Wednesday that, before the House can impeach, “there needs to be clear and unequivocal proof of a quid pro quo,” is mystifying. Where’s he getting that? The Constitution doesn’t specify any particular burden of proof for impeachment, much less “clear and unequivocal”—a standard higher than is required for criminal indictment.

Equally puzzling is Turley’s newfound conviction that it borders on illegitimate to impeach a president unless you can prove he committed a federal crime. “We have never impeached a president solely or even largely on the basis of a non-criminal abuse of power allegation,” he warns, and we shouldn’t start now. Turley acknowledges that “it is possible to establish a case or impeachment based on a non-criminal allegation of abuse of power,” but even though we’ve impeached other federal officers solely for non-criminal abuses, for a president, there should be a higher bar.

That’s not how Turley saw it in 1998. “There is no textual basis to claim that the Framers intended a lower standard to apply in the impeachment of federal judges than in the impeachment of presidents,” he testified, noting James Madison’s argument that the president’s position makes him more dangerous than other federal officers, and a removal mechanism even more vital.

In this week’s testimony, Turley asserts that “Congress has always looked to the criminal code in the fashioning of articles of impeachment.” That’s simply not true.

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December 6, 2019 1:42PM

Big Government Conservatism Returns

Donald Trump ran and won by opposing many traditional Republican candidates and ideas. However, for two years or more, his administration seemed a lot like a traditional Republican administration though its President behaved rather differently than other presidents of either party. Now intellectuals are coming forth with manifestos articulating Trump’s revolution three years after the barricades were stormed. For example, we have For Real American Greatness, A Tech New Deal.

Readers interested in policy will be disappointed, even frustrated with this manifesto. It has one concrete proposal – prohibit Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency. The rest is a mixture of mood, allusion, and “the future that awaits Americans” if the new conservativism is accepted. Presumably this document adumbrates the changed outlook of the new conservatives, and policy wonks will follow with their concrete proposals.

Let’s begin with five words in the title: American Greatness, tech, and New Deal. Conservatives embracing the New Deal, not as fact but as ideal, might seem strange. But many believe the Reaganite small government philosophy no longer sells on election day so new (old) ideas are warranted. How about American Greatness? Ok, but that’s not a new idea either: recall the American Greatness conservativism of 1997? They too rejected “the antigovernment, ‘leave us alone’ sentiment” and weren’t “unfriendly to government, properly understood.” The earlier American Government conservatives ended up wanting wanted to govern Iraq, not Facebook. Maybe with “tech” things will turn out better, though neither crusade has shown much concern for collateral damage.

Make no mistake, the new conservatives believe in government: “America’s innovative power and technological leadership are vital strategic assets. They must be safeguarded and leveraged with a new framework of policy and politics by the people, for the people, and of the people.” I am not certain how one uses a framework to safeguard and leverage “America’s innovative power and technological leadership.” But our authors are clear that private innovation and technological leadership are mere assets in the service of public power. Concretely, the talents and property of individuals are to be “leveraged and safeguarded” for collective ends. Indeed, our authors note that “like all corporations, tech firms exist at the sufferance of US law.” That would indeed imply a certain leverage for those who make law, at least. That does have a New Deal sound to it.

Our authors assert this change in outlook and doctrine is a necessary response to changes in the world: “Trump is a consequence of deeper causes that neither politics nor anything else can now reverse.” What might those causes be? I am not certain. The next sentence states:

Our digital technology has formed a new social and psychological environment that reshapes our very souls—our perceptions, sensibilities, and our habits of the heart.

Did Trump reshape our souls through his tweets? Or did a plurality recognize their souls were being reshaped and turned to Trump for relief?

Beyond this confusion, it’s interesting that self-identified conservatives would put so much weight on discontinuity. You can hardly continue past practices if people have had their souls reshaped. You could reach back beyond the immediate to the distant past, and the authors do gesture toward “America’s founding documents” in their conclusion. But then you would be fostering significant change if not revolution. You would hardly be a conservative. Perhaps we might conclude, if we know something about Leo Strauss and the Claremont Institute, that the authors are actually advocating we consult the documents of the second (and real) Founding, the New Deal mentioned in the title.

A leading if not dominant view now sees politics as constituted by “the distinction between friend and enemy.” Our authors have written a political document in that sense; tech companies are not their friends.

But thanks to the domineering influence of Silicon Valley’s own woke vanguard, the Right now recognizes that top tech companies are sowing threats to our most basic ways of political life.

Enemies threaten us in some way. Or in this case, many ways:

Speech controls are seen on the Right to betoken a deep anti-constitutionalism; the leading tech role in “woke capital” evinces a sweeping anti-Americanism; commitments to globalism at any price, even partnering with Chinese government researchers to develop tools with military applications, reveal anti-Western attitudes; and, finally, artificial-intelligence projects surpassing or consuming the capabilities and consciousness of users lay bare an anti-human philosophy.

Say what you will about this document, it is not short on political aspirations. Tech people are said to be against the Constitution, against America itself, against Western civilization, and against humanity while helping the Chinese develop their military. No wonder tech needs regulation!

The authors would have been more persuasive had they been more specific in their indictment of the tech companies. Perhaps their intended audience knows the specifics already and needs no persuasion. But their assertions are far from obviously correct.

Consider only the “anti-constitutional” charge against the companies. A lot of history and Supreme Court doctrine says the First Amendment does not constrain tech platforms. In line with their expansive view of government, our authors seem to think the private property of shareholders in Facebook and other companies are “our public square.” That seems implausible, and within the American framework, deeply anti-constitutional. Such demands carry little force absent arguments for what is after all, a significant change in the line between public and private.

In the end, our authors’ essay is not adequate to their aspiration toward a new American nationalism. After all, the nation’s elites, if not its citizens, are divided not least about what it means to be an American. But our authors’ strong view of the nation and its values is held by a minority, the people who are expected to affirm the mood of this essay. But our authors cannot and would not wish to impose their view of the nation on the majority of their fellow citizens that do not share that mood. They must persuade the unconvinced and that they have barely undertaken in this parade of unsupported assertions. Moreover, their heavy demonization of tech people will inevitably divide rather than unite Americans around any national ideal, including their own. For American Greatness fails on its own terms.

But perhaps its terms are misconceived. America is not an organic whole led by benevolent guardians toward national greatness. Our government is rather a set of institutions created to enable individuals to pursue their aspirations in justice and peace. Inevitably our success is measured by individual liberty not collective attainments, by mostly private rather than mostly public efforts. Such individualism will not satisfy collectivists urging identity politics or national greatness. But that individualism has been and will be the true source of American greatness.

December 6, 2019 1:35PM

Making an Offer South Korea Can’t Accept

Last year, the United States asked South Korea for a hefty, 50 percent increase in financial support to cover some of the costs of basing 28,000 troops on South Korean territory. American and Korean negotiators eventually settled on a $925 million, one-year deal that marked an 8.2 percent increase from the previous year. President Trump, evidently dissatisfied by this sum, upped the ante this year and is demanding $5 billion, a 500 percent increase, in the current round of cost-sharing talks.

What makes Trump’s $5 billion shakedown especially vexing is the fact that South Korea has been a very good ally when it comes to burden sharing. Trump’s insistence that U.S. allies ought to bear a greater burden for their defense, a sentiment expressed by many previous U.S. administrations, is reasonable, but some allies—South Korea in particular—do a good job of shouldering their fair share.

It’s unclear how Trump came up with the $5 billion figure, but this seems to be a first push at getting an ally to pay his “cost plus 50” formula—the full cost of deployed troops plus 50 percent extra. Currently, South Korean payments go toward the salaries of their citizens employed as workers on U.S. bases and military construction expenses, though Seoul has not covered either of these two categories in full. According to the Pentagon, the $925 million Seoul paid in 2019 represents about 41 percent of the “day-to-day nonpersonnel-stationing costs” for American forces in South Korea. This percentage implies that South Korea would pay roughly $2 billion if it covered these costs in full, which comes to less than half of Trump’s demand.

South Korea is understandably flabbergasted by Trump’s $5 billion figure. Criticism in the South Korean press that the United States would be little more than a glorified mercenary force should Seoul cave to Trump’s demand is fair given that getting to $5 billion would most likely require South Korea to pay U.S. troops’ salaries. American negotiators walked out of initial talks, throwing into doubt hopes that the U.S. would eventually step back from the figure and give Seoul some breathing room. Additional reactions in South Korea have emphasized the significant erosion in trust between the allies as a result of Trump’s demand. Song Min-soon, a prominent and mainstream former diplomat, even raised the possibility of South Korea developing nuclear weapons to be less dependent on the United States.

South Korea has consistently demonstrated a serious commitment to burden sharing and self-defense in recent years. In July 2017, President Moon Jae-in announced that he would increase military spending from 2.4 to 2.9 percent of GDP during his time in office; most NATO countries don’t spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense. About one-third of South Korea’s military budget is devoted to the acquisition of highly capable, modern weapons systems including missile defense interceptors and radars, destroyers equipped with the Aegis battle management system, submarines, and the U.S.-made F-35 aircraft. Seoul also picked up 90 percent of the $10.8 billion tab for the construction of Camp Humphreys, America’s largest overseas military base.

Trump’s cost-sharing hardball with South Korea will have knock-on effects for alliance politics in 2020. Similar agreements with Japan and NATO are coming up for renewal and negotiations on new terms will begin next year. According to a report by Foreign Policy, the Trump administration plans on asking Japan to increase their contribution from $2 billion per year to $8 billion, an increase of 300 percent. On the Korean peninsula, a rift in the U.S.-South Korea alliance created by the $5 billion demand will almost certainly hinder cooperation on diplomacy with North Korea.

Alliances should not be sacrosanct. The United States should not be afraid to demand more financial, military, and political support from allies that have much more at stake in facing regional challenges than far-away Washington. However, requesting a 500 percent increase in host nation support from South Korea—an ally that has consistently demonstrated its willingness to grow its monetary and military contribution to its own defense—isn’t a smart strategic move; it’s thinly veiled extortion.

December 6, 2019 9:41AM

A Useful Corrective to China Fearmongering

In our book, Fuel to the Fire, John Glaser, A. Trevor Thrall, and I lament how "the fear of a rising China" was fast becoming "the most popular candidate for a new guiding principle in U.S. foreign policy." Indeed, in an era of hyper partisanship, it is notable how the idea of a new Cold War draws so many advocates on both the left and right.

There are some notable exceptions, to be sure. In July, a distinguished group of China scholars and U.S. foreign policy experts penned an open letter explaining "China is not an enemy." And, earlier this week, the just-launched Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft released its very first policy brief. Written by the esteemed American diplomat Chas W. Freeman, Jr., it warns that the United States is making a mistake by embarking on "a new era of 'great power competition'" and advises instead that Washington and Beijing cooperate to tackle "planetwide problems."

In this same vein, among skeptics of the fearmongering surrounding China, Fareed Zakaria's essay in Foreign Affairs is likely to receive considerable attention. In it, Zakaria assails many of the leading arguments for why Americans (and the rest of the world) should be panicked by China's growing wealth and power.

Importantly, Zakaria echoes Patrick Porter's observations in a Cato paper (and forthcoming book) concerning the so-called liberal international order and China's supposedly unique threat to that order. Both writers are anxious to correct the myths and misconceptions surrounding international relations before China's emergence. "It is...worth remembering," Zakaria writes, "that the liberal international order was never as liberal, as international, or as orderly as it is now nostalgically described."

"A more realistic image," he goes on:

is that of a nascent liberal international order, marred from the start by exceptions, discord, and fragility. The United States, for its part, often operated outside the rules of this order, making frequent military interventions with or without UN approval; in the years between 1947 and 1989, when the United States was supposedly building up the liberal international order, it attempted regime change around the world 72 times. It reserved the same right in the economic realm, engaging in protectionism even as it railed against more modest measures adopted by other countries.

Nevertheless, on the whole, there is relative peace and stability in the world, and trade -- despite recent "backsliding on some measures of globalization" -- is still more free than it was a generation ago. In that context, Zakaria writes, "China hardly qualifies as a mortal danger to this imperfect order." It "has acted in ways that are interventionist, mercantilist, and unilateral—but often far less so than other great powers."

In sum, "The nature of the challenge from China is different from and far more complex than what the new alarmism portrays. On the single most important foreign policy issue of the next several decades, the United States is setting itself up for an expensive failure."

He's right. A course correction is needed. This essay could help. You can find it here.

December 6, 2019 9:17AM

Workplace Immigration Enforcement Increases, Still Below Peak

Reporter Michelle Hackman of The Wall Street Journal has a piece out today about the increase in worksite immigration enforcement over the last few years. Her story focuses on the number of cases initiated and how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is focusing on immigration law while ignoring other offenses.

ICE also provided data to The Wall Street Journal showing that the number of administrative worksite arrests has also increased. Administrative arrests are for civil violations of American immigration law, such as illegal presence. Noncitizens are subject to administrative arrests, but not citizens, and it is the first step toward deporting an illegal immigrant.

Figure 1 puts the increase in administrative worksite arrests in historical context. Although the number is way up from its low point in 2016, it’s still less than half of the peak in 2008 when George W. Bush’s ICE arrested 5,184 people at worksites.

The Trump Administration is increasing immigration enforcement across the board, but from fairly low levels in 2016. 

December 5, 2019 2:45PM

What’s the Matter with Significance?

By Peter Van Doren and David Kemp

Discussions about statistical significance are not usually found in newspapers, but the Associated Press recently had such a discussion about the results of a clinical trial involving a heart drug. Statistical significance refers to whether a study finds a “real” effect or whether any differences measured are a result of chance. For example, in the case of the heart drug study, the authors attempt to measure whether the drug reduces patients’ mortality by comparing the mortality of patients on the drug to people not on the drug. The statistical significance reflects the authors’ confidence that the difference (reduced mortality) they find is not a fluke. As the article correctly states, “Significance is reflected in a calculation that produces something called a p-value. Usually, if this produces a p-value of less than 0.05, the study findings are considered significant. If not, the study has failed the test [i.e., the findings cannot be differentiated from random chance].”

The heart drug study had a p-value of .059, meaning that the study’s authors are 94.1 percent confident that the apparent lower mortality they found for patients on the drug than for those not on the drug is real. By the standard .05 p-value (95 percent confidence level) criterion, the study’s findings are not considered statistically significant.

In all scientific research (including clinical trials), scientists must make a tradeoff between the likelihood of accepting a false finding because it does reach statistical significance even though it is a statistical fluke (a false positive or Type I error) or rejecting a real finding because a study doesn’t reach statistical significance (a false negative or Type II error). Reducing the probability of Type I errors inherently increases the probability of Type II errors, and vice versa. In medicine, this tradeoff is between the possibility of ignoring a beneficial medical finding that does not reach statistical significance and endorsing a fruitless or harmful medical finding that does reach statistical significance.

The lead investigator of the heart drug study believes that by rejecting their findings because they don’t reach a p-value of .05 their study falls in the former category: “the drug in fact produced a real benefit and…a larger or longer-lasting study could have reached statistical significance.” But the article also refers to a study of another heart drug that “found a significant treatment effect for patients born in August but not July, obviously just a random fluctuation.”

What should be done about these tradeoffs? The article correctly states that the traditional cutoff of .05 is arbitrary and should be abolished. Instead, studies should report the p-value and other accompanying evidence to allow the reader to decide how to use the results of scientific and medical studies.

These are old issues. Van Doren discussed them over 10 years ago in a review of The Cult of Statistical Significance by Stephen Ziliak and Deirdre McCloskey in the Cato Journal. The AP article echoes many of Ziliak and McCloskey’s points and the relevance of statistical significance and other seemingly scientific questions to public policy and decision-making remains. Many health and safety decisions are delegated to bureaucracies that allegedly use scientific methods to decide what products and practices to allow on the market. In reality, values enter into these decisions in a variety of ways, including questions about how large sample sizes should be, the costs and benefits of decisions, and what level of statistical significance is accepted.

Policy debates often ignore the value questions inherent even in scientific research and fail to recognize that people with different values will come to their own conclusions based on the information available to them. Regulators and researchers should gather and disseminate this information without injecting their own values or rejecting findings based on an arbitrary level of statistical significance.