Making Sense of Climate Change and the Paris Accord

The recent decision of President Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord was predictably met with all the hand wringing, pearl clutching, and establishment disdain one has come to expect. Some have remarked that this will be the end of the United States as leader of the free world. Eleven U.S. states have even said that they will continue to pursue energy policies as if the Paris accords are still in place, in direct defiance of the federal government. I support any state’s right to nullify federal laws, but I always find it interesting that leftists will use nullification and federalism for the causes they support, but are aghast when other states use nullification to say, enforce less restrictive gun control policies. But that’s another post.

So what about the Paris Accord? Has President Trump doomed us all to a life of smoggy darkness until climate change kills us all? Or are the Paris accords are like so many other international agreements? The fact is that the Paris climate accords are no more than an extremely expensive way to achieve extraordinarily little, while being able to say we are “doing something!”

As Oren Cass writes in Commentary Magazine:

The Accord was doomed before negotiators ever assembled for photographs in December 2015. They were not there to commit each country to meaningful greenhouse-gas reductions; rather, everyone submitted their voluntary pledges in advance, and all were accepted without scrutiny. Pledges did not have to mention emissions levels, nor were there penalties for falling short. The conference itself was, in essence, a stapling exercise.

The Paris accord is made of many individual nation’s pledges to fight climate change, but those pledges aren’t required to set any caps or goals for reducing emission levels, nor do they contain any penalties if said goals aren’t met.

Cass sums it up nicely:

So should the U.S. have stayed or gone? To quote another of President Obama’s secretaries of state: “What difference, at this point, does it make?” For the climate, not much of one. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s assessment of the agreement found that even full compliance would only have reduced global temperatures in 2100 by only 0.2 degrees Celsius.

Is the climate changing? Yes. The climate has gone through long periods of cooling and warming for millions of years. Is man the primary cause of climate change? There is no doubt that man’s activities have played some role, but the extent is way overblown. For example, tectonic plate activity plays a huge role in climate change and has virtually nothing to do with man.

The real question isn’t whether climate is changing or not. The real question is: should the U.S. spend $2.5 trillion and lose over 200,000 jobs for the mere possibility of reducing the global temperature 0.2 degrees in 100 years?

Comey Testifies on Trump, Clinton, and Russia

Former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate yesterday to speak on Trump, Clinton, email servers, Russia, and the leaked “Comey Memo”. For the left, the highly anticipated testimony was supposed to produce the smoking gun against Trump and his administration’s collusion with the Russians. Instead, what we got was three hours with very little new information.

It seems that Comey’s testimony has succeeded in confirming everyone’s biases. If you are apt to believe that Trump is lying and colluding with the Russians, then him saying he hoped Comey could “see clear to letting [Flynn’s investigation] go” sounds like a threat approaching obstruction of justice. If you believe that Trump isn’t working with the Russians and just wants to story to stop negatively effecting own executive agenda, then his words seem like a good faith effort to put the issue to rest. That’s why today you see Trump supporters claiming vindication and the anti-Trump crowd calling for impeachment.

So what did we actually find out during Comey’s three hour long testimony?

1. Comey himself leaked the now infamous “Comey Memo”

Per the Hill:

“I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter,” Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. “I didn’t do it myself for a variety of reasons but I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.” 

Apparently, Comey decided to leak the memo after Trump tweeted that “there better be no tapes of our [Trump and Comey’s] meeting before he [Comey] starts leaking to the press” as a way to get ahead of the story. Ironically, he didn’t want to do the leaking himself, though, because of the media feeding frenzy. How dense can this guy be? It doesn’t matter who physically leaked the information, this is Donald Trump, the media feeding frenzy was coming no matter what.

2. Loretta Lynch told Comey to call Hillary Clinton’s email server investigation a “matter”, not an investigation.

Per the Washington Times:

“At one point, [Ms. Lynch] directed me not to call it an ‘investigation’ but instead to call it a ‘matter,’ which confused me and concerned me,” Mr. Comey said of Ms. Lynch. “That was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude I have to step away from the department if we are to close this case credibly.”

Mr. Comey said the language suggested by Ms. Lynch was troublesome because it closely mirrored what the Clinton campaign was using.

Acknowledging that he didn’t know whether it was intentional, Mr. Comey said Ms. Lynch’s request “gave the impression the attorney general was looking to align the way we talked about our investigation with the way a political campaign was describing the same activity.”

Though certainly a new piece of information, this only confirms what we already know: both parties in Washington are more than willing to participate in the game of using the FBI as a tool of political influence.

Whether President Trump was attempting to obstruct justice during his meetings with Comey or not is a matter for the special prosecutor to decide. As it stands, even Comey confirmed that he didn’t believe Trump’s behavior was obstruction of justice. He also told the Senate that Trump is not personally under any investigation and that there is no credible evidence that suggests Trump and the Russians colluded on anything, even taking time during his testimony to smack down a New York Times article claiming repeated meetings between Trump’s campaign and Russian government.

Ending Government Control of Air Traffic Control is Long Overdue

On Monday, President Trump announced plans to privatize the out of date government controlled air traffic control system.  The intent of the plan is to spinoff the air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration within three years and convert it to a non-profit company. The FAA currently spends more than $10 billion per year on air traffic control, which largely still uses radio and radar technology from the 1960’s.

Ending government control of anything is good, but it’s even more so when it comes to transportation barriers. While tax payers immediately save the $10 billion, the real savings will come to travelers in reduced costs and fees. The reason for this is because the market will always innovate because they have an incentive to; the government, on the other hand, has no incentive to innovate. This leads to inherent systemic inefficiencies and cost overruns. It is the nature of the state to always lag behind the market. That’s why the parasitic state has to use laws and regulations to influence and strangle the market into submission.

The downside here is that this reform, being written by the state, will allow the influence of the cronies dominate leading to a cartelization, not a genuine free market solution. Once that non-profit fails to produce, it gives the critics of capitalism ammunition. The fact that the “solution” was a mile away from free market capitalism doesn’t seem to matter. This process isn’t uncommon. Republicans have been doing damage to the free market like this for years.

President Trump’s plan is not a done deal yet as many Democrats and some Republicans oppose the plan, which has to get through Congress.

Overall, it is always best to phase out the state in any way possible. Hopefully this leads to a trend in eliminating state control over more and more areas of transportation. Next up should be the TSA.

The Path To Liberty: Radical Decentralization vs. Universalism

Today on Lew Rockwell’s indispensable website, Mises Institute president Jeff Deist, posted a thought provoking article on the practical ends of libertarianism. Deist’s contention is that almost all liberals and conservatives seek universalism, that is, attempting to instill western democratic values to all persons on the globe. Unfortunately, many libertarians, including the Libertarian Party, have jumped on that bandwagon.

Per Jeff Deist:

“Universalism provides the philosophical underpinnings for globalism. But it does not provide a roadmap for freedom. Libertarians, who want a non-political world organized around civil society and markets rather than the state, have a responsibility to call foul on this inescapably statist narrative. Globalism is not liberty; instead it threatens to create an entirely new level of government. And universalism is not natural law; in fact it is often directly at odds with human nature and (true) human diversity.”

He goes on to point out that universalism, political or economic, is ultimately unachievable because people can’t be relied on to always think and act in ways that the ruling class want them to and thus universalism can’t answer questions fundamental to the study of human action (praxeology). Not only this, but to have any kind of workable universalism, you would need to presume an all-powerful one world state.

Deist argues that what libertarians should really be pushing for is not universalism, but radical decentralization: the idea that local oversight is always better than faraway rulers and that humans, because of natural law, have the right of self-determination. This decentralization should ultimately progress all the way to the individual.

Deist on the importance of self-determination:

“In other words, self-determination is the ultimate political goal. It is the path to liberty, however imperfect. A world of seven billion self-governing individuals is the ideal, but short of that we should prefer the Liechtensteins to the Germanys and the Luxembourgs to the Englands. We should prefer states’ rights to federalization in the US, and cheer for the breakup of EU. We should support breakaway movements in places like Catalonia and Scotland (provided they are organic and not engineered by states and their spy agencies). We should admire the Swiss federalist system, where localism is a governing principle.  We should favor local control over faraway legislatures and administrative bodies, and thus reject multilateral trade deals. We should, in sum, prefer small to large when it comes to government.”

The first step on the path to self-determination is to delegitimize the state, in all its forms. Only once people see the state as the violent and oppressive institution it is, can they begin to imagine practical market and self-determined solutions to the problems they face.  The election of Donald Trump has certainly done a lot towards this end. When was the last time you saw progressives in California talk about nullification and secession in a positive way? Normally if you claim either of those things as positive values, you are attacked by the left as a racist and a neo-confederate. It’s amazing to see people who champion the growth and supremacy of the state change their tune once they are out of power. Is the left hypocritical? Of course, but so is the right. The only thing that is important is for the state to lose credibility, legitimacy, and, ultimately, authority.

Special Counsel Appointed to Investigate Trump-Russia Ties

Former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller has been appointed as special counsel to oversee the ongoing investigation into alleged ties between the Russian government and the Trump administration. The announcement came from deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein just days after the termination of FBI director James Comey and the subsequent news of the “Comey Memo”, notes taken by Comey in February that allege President Trump asked him to end the federal investigation into national security advisor Michael T. Flynn.

Mueller’s appointment as special prosecutor seeks to alleviate some of the concern from Democrats and Republicans alike over the agency’s ability to carry out the investigation properly and impartially.

Per the New York Times:

“Mr. Mueller’s appointment was hailed by Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, who view him as one of the most credible law enforcement officials in the country.

Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Mueller’s “record, character, and trustworthiness have been lauded for decades by Republicans and Democrats alike.”

Specifically, Mueller is tasked with overseeing the investigation into:

  1. Any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
  2. Any matters that arose or may directly arise from the investigation; and
  3. Any other matters within the scope of the special counsel. These include any federal crimes pertaining to the investigation, such as: obstruction of justice, perjury, witness tampering, etc.

It needs to be said that so far there is no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. To this point, only a lot of conjecture, circumstantial evidence, and accusations have been leveled.

The “Comey Memo”, if its allegations are true (and if it even exists), provides evidence that President Trump at least attempted to interfere with a federal investigation into one of his close advisors. It can certainly be argued that is an impeachable offense. The question will be whether Trump telling Comey, “I hope you can let this go”, constitutes asking the FBI director to end the investigation. I’m no lawyer, but personally, that sounds like a hard sell; saying you hope an investigation ends is not the same thing the same as telling him to end the investigation.

It is also interesting to note that the memo is supposedly from February, three months before Comey was terminated. If the FBI director had evidence that the President attempted to interfere with an ongoing federal investigation and didn’t report it in a timely manner, then the FBI director would also have committed a crime.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested Comey appear at both open and closed sessions, as well as to provide any memos he has related to the investigation by May 24.

Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey

In a surprising move, President Trump fired FBI director James Comey on Tuesday. This marks just the second time in history that a president has fired the FBI’s chief, the other time was in 1993 when then President Clinton terminated William Sessions over alleged ethics violations.  Trump’s decision has unleashed a firestorm of political criticism. The biggest of which is the issue of timing. The FBI director, who was appointed in 2013 by then president Obama, had been leading an investigation of close Trump advisors and associates and their dealings with the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign.

That Comey had been involved in the investigation led many Democrats, and even some Republicans, namely Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), to consider having a special independent counsel take over the investigation into Trump-Russian collusion. For the record, though political opponents of the president have been tossing around innuendos, circumstantial evidence, and accusations for months, there remains zero hard evidence of any collusion between Trump, his campaign, and the Russian government.

President Trump has explained that the termination came from Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, as well as Department of Justice recommendations. Nevertheless, many in pundits and politicians in the beltway have accused President Trump of firing Comey simply to cover his tracks. Some of the more unhinged and hyperbolic pundits have even called for Trump’s impeachment over Comey’s termination.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as this plays out over the next few months.

Trump has full constitutional authority to terminate the FBI director for virtually any reason he wants

Let’s put aside the very reasonable question of the constitutionality of the FBI’s mere existence. It is certainly true that in a libertarian anarchist society there would be no federal government and thus no federal law enforcement, but private defense and intelligence agencies would no doubt exist. The fact is that the FBI is an executive branch department under the exclusive control and authority of the president. The firing of an FBI director is not a ‘constitutional crisis’. It’s a personnel decision. If congress wants to investigate the factors behind the decision to see if any wrongdoing occurred, they are free to, as is their role, but the firing in and of itself is not unconstitutional.

The FBI has always been political

The idea that the FBI was an apolitical, independent law enforcement group until Trump came along is ridiculous any way you look at it. The FBI has a long history of secrecy, lies, and corruption that date all the way back to its inception. From illegal wiretapping and running child porn and terrorist deep web sites to assassination, the FBI acts much more like a terrorist organization than just about any of the groups it investigates. It would be better for all Americans (and the world) if they FBI was abolished altogether.

The Left’s hypocrisy on Comey and his termination is staggering

You don’t have to look very far back in time to find a time when many Democrats wanted Comey’s head on a silver platter. After James Comey stated in early October during a press conference that his office would not seek an indictment for Hillary Clinton’s undocumented use of a private email server while she was serving as Secretary of State, Democrats everywhere cheered.

Then came October 28. It was on that date Comey announced that the Clinton investigation was being reopened due to new leads. The FBI had apparently incidentally uncovered thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails on the personal computer of Anthony Wiener as part of the investigation into his underage sexting. Wiener, a former New York congressman, was the current husband of close Clinton advisor Huma Abedin. Democrats everywhere used this opportunity to call for Comey’s termination due to the highly unprofessional timing and handling of the announcement. Many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton herself, said that Comey’s “October Surprise” cost her the election. What a difference a few months makes as Democrats are now lining up to praise Comey and condemn Trump for his termination.

It is too early to say what exactly the political fallout over Comey’s termination will be for Trump, or if congress will decide to pursue a special investigation, but one thing is sure: for politicians and beltway pundits, hyperbole and hypocrisy are always in style.

Trump’s Harmful Protectionism

Last week, President Trump announced a 20% tariff on Canadian lumber in an effort to boost domestic lumber production and protect American jobs in the lumber industry. The misguided economic thinking behind this type of protectionism goes like this: American companies, mainly home builders, are buying lumber from Canada for cheaper than they can buy domestic lumber. This hurts domestic lumber production and destroys American lumber jobs. By applying a tariff, effectively taxing Canadian lumber 20% as it crosses the border, more companies will instead buy the now artificially cheaper American lumber, thus boosting domestic production and saving jobs.

The problem is that tariffs don’t work like that. The tax, and after all, a tariff is nothing more than a tax on imports, isn’t being paid by the Canadian lumber companies. The tax is paid by American companies when they bring the lumber across the border.

So, in reality, what happens is this: regardless of whether American homebuilders buy Canadian lumber and pay the 20% tariff, or decide to purchase domestic lumber at an artificially “lower” cost, the price of lumber rises. Homebuilders pass this cost on to consumers leading to increased new home production prices, which, in turn, leads to a fall in the demand for new home sales. As the demand continues to fall, homebuilders are forced to lay off workers, as are domestic lumber companies whose demand is economically tied to homebuilder sales.

Instead of saving domestic lumber production and homebuilding jobs, market prices get distorted, and two economically linked industries, lumber and homebuilding, suffer, along with all their consumers.

Protectionism is, at its core, a self-defeating, self-destructive idea based in economic falsehoods. This is evidenced by the fact that 96% of economists agree that free trade is a net positive for consumers. And if you know anything about economists, you know that getting that many of them to agree on something is not easy.

Mark Perry at Carpe Diem explains why:

“It shouldn’t really matter why foreign producers are better able to serve American consumers with lower prices than domestic producers. If China “manipulates” its currency to offer Americans lower prices than otherwise would be the case, that policy provides net benefits for Americans. If Canada “unfairly” subsidizes its lumber producers, that’s a form of foreign aid, and a gift from the citizens of Canada to the citizens of the United States. If we wouldn’t complain about free lumber from Canada, we shouldn’t complain about low lumber prices that might be subsidized by Canadian citizens.”

In other words, the same economic law of comparative advantage that applies to all individuals everywhere, also applies to nations. Imagine that, economic laws don’t cease to be true just because political demagogues need to curry favor with special interest groups. A better plan to stimulate growth in the lumber and home building industry is to relax the overly tight domestic production regulations that make American lumber so expensive in the first place.