Climate Hysteria

The latest hysterical outbursts about climate change make two assertions: (1) that we have only 12 years before climate catastrophe is irreversible and that (2) as a result we are facing mass extinction. John Stossel recently attempted to moderate a debate on the subject–but it turned into a panel discussion because the climate alarmists declined to participate. Here (below) is a brief video on the discussion.

On Climate Change

JFB

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Mistakes Were Made

The systematic mishandling of the FBI’s investigation into the charge that candidate Trump colluded with Russia in order to win the 2016 presidential election suggests more than administrative sloppiness combined with routine government incompetence. One need not be a Trump admirer—and there are few people who have a lower opinion of the man than I do—to recognize that the behavior of the FBI was egregiously out of bounds and that the mainstream press shielded the FBI from critics. 

Consider the findings of Inspector General Michael Horowitz. In an exhaustive review of the FBI’s handling of the Trump collusion investigation Horowitz detailed appalling errors of judgment and violations of FBI rules—by the FBI. These were not small scale or trivial errors. And that assumes they were merely errors. In this respect it should be noted that Horowitz found evidence a relatively low-level FBI lawyer actually tampered with documents related to the probe. 

The report on the Crossfire Hurricane investigation includes examples of what Horowitz describes as threats to constitutionally protected activity, including First Amendment activity.  To be sure, Horowitz did not find the proverbial smoking gun proving  the existence of a deep state conspiracy that Trump and Company are busy whipping up. But neither did it “debunk” anything of substance. 

The party line among Democrats and their cheerleaders in the press has been that the IG found no political bias so that we might as well get on with the business of impeachment. 

Not so fast. 

What the IG actually said was “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed.” He went on to say that “While we did not find these decisions were the result of bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice”.  The IG said that while he could find no documentary evidence that the mistakes were the result of political bias rather than gross incompetence, he was not satisfied with the explanations he was given. Finally, referring to his report he said “ It doesn’t vindicate anybody at the FBI who touched this, including the leadership”. 

So how plausible is it that there was no political bias, when according to the evidence:

  1. The FBI systematically committed egregious violations of its norms and policies; 
  2. An FBI lawyer altered relevant documents;
  3. Two FBI agents (Peter Strzok and Lisa Page) involved in the inquiry were texting each other about “stopping” Trump and creating an anti-Trump  “insurance policy” ;
  4. That Andrew McCabe was fired for lying about his role; 
  5. That McCable’s sworn testimony directly contradicts James Comey’s sworn testimony;
  6. That Bruce Ohr’s wife was being paid by Fusion GPS, a fact that Ohr conveniently neglected to include on his financial disclosure forms

The obvious questions are: Was this FBI behavior unusual? Does the FBI routinely botch investigations this way? Or was this a special case, and if so, what is the explanation for it?

If you parse the IG’s statement what he effectively said was (1) there is a low threshold for starting an investigation, which the FBI met and (2) nobody wrote a memo to the file outlining bias, so (3) let’s go with gross incompetence even though the explanations received are unsatisfactory.

The idea that the top echelons of the FBI were not politically motivated is a tough sell, especially when you consider the Lois Lerner episode. That fiasco is starting to look like a dress rehearsal for the Russia collusion story. In the Tea Party episode the IRS targeted conservative Tea Party organizations to stop them from fundraising for the upcoming 2012 Presidential elections. Needless to say, the bureaucracy dug in its heels and claimed that no such thing happened before finally admitting it. Attorney General Eric Holder put the FBI—yes that FBI—in charge of investigating the incident. Not surprisingly, nothing serious came of it. But lots of relevant IRS email files mysteriously went missing. And Lois Lerner, who was formerly a Democratic Party operative before going to the IRS, took the 5th before Congress, collected a bonus and retired. 

The FBI Collusion investigation would not be the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last when an Administration turns to Executive Agencies to punish political enemies. Richard Nixon did it, so did Lyndon Johnson, and J. Edgar Hoover wasn’t exactly a Boy Scout either. It increasingly looks like the Obama Administration was not a lot different, just better at it.

Political bias is not the main or only issue. It is possible, however unlikely, that gross incompetence is the sole explanation, in which case we have a huge structural and institutional problem.  A more likely explanation is that this whole sorry tale is really about the corruption of power and the threat an ever growing federal bureaucracy poses to the civil liberties of American citizens regardless of political viewpoint. The power of corruption is an equal opportunity employer.

JFB

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Landslide

Boris Johnson, who will inevitably be tagged as BoJo by the tabloids, won a huge victory in Thursday’s snap elections. When the dust settled the Tories wound up with a 78 seat majority in Parliament. Also, the Scottish Nationalist Party bested Labour there, and the Tories grabbed many constituencies that have voted Labour for decades, in the process relegating Labour to its weakest position since right after World War II. What happened?

It would probably be more accurate to refer to a huge Labour loss than a big Tory win, for reasons I will get into shortly. First though, let’s consider the most likely causes for Labour’s defeat. Three are especially salient. They are: Brexit, Socialism and the rise of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. 

In the summer of 2016 Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU). Then the political establishment spent the better part of 3 years trying to sabotage the vote—all allegedly in the interests of “saving democracy”. The strategy was to delay withdrawal from the EU until a second referendum could be held to nullify the first. In response, Johnson kicked “Remain” Tories out of the Party, called snap elections and promised to “Get Brexit Done”. For its part, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour stayed neutral on Brexit, promising a second referendum. This obvious ploy backfired. Voters who backed Brexit meant it, and they responded to Labour’s sabotage effort by abandoning the Party in droves in the December 12 vote. 

The second reason for Labour’s dismal showing was its return to a hard edge Socialism not seen in Britain since the 1970s when Arthur Scargill went to to war with, and was crushed by, Margaret Thatcher. The Labour Party in its election manifesto promised a whole slew of economic policies that would crush the British economy, currently 6th largest in the world, and return it to the dark days if the 1970s—or worse. 

For instance, Labour proposed its version of a Green New Deal, branded as Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution. They promised to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. They would adopt command and control policies to direct investment toward that end. They would “…rewrite the Treasury’s investment rules to guaranty that every penny spent is compatible with our climate and environmental targets”. The would regulate the country’s financial sector by giving financial authorities “…powers to manage the risk to financial stability posed by short-sighted investment in polluting assets.” They would change the listing criteria for the London Stock Exchange so that “any company that fails to contribute to tackling the climate and environmental emergency is delisted”.  They proposed to “…put people and planet before profit by bringing our energy and water systems into democratic public ownership”. This is to say that they intend to nationalize utilities and energy firms and control financial firms by regulation. 

And that power grab is only the beginning. Virtually every sector of the British economy would be subject to bureaucratic control through panels, commissions and the usual assortment of political arrangements. The Labour 2019 Manifesto, drawn up for the election can be found here. The British populace, sensibly enough, rejected the whole lot. 

But it would be a mistake to over interpret the results. The British people simply voted against economic lunacy; they most emphatically did not endorse a retrenchment of the welfare state or radical de-regulation. On the contrary, Boris Johns promised a spending blowout on the National Health Service, public schools and other state agencies. Conservative leaning libertarians dodged a bullet, but it was not a philosophical victory—not by a long shot. 

The final element in the result was the rise of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The pollsters were virtually unanimous in describing how the voters expressed dismay, if not loathing, of Jeremy Corbyn. But his policy proposals, while delusional, were nothing new. We have seen it all before.  But the response to them was decidedly not expressed as a desire for freeing up markets or a reduction in the welfare state; if anything the opposite applies. Opposition to Labour  tended to be expressed with respect to Jeremy Corbyn, the individual. Couple that with the rise of anti-Semitism on the political left generally, and it suggests that the British people, who have a reputation for fair play, were disgusted with Corbyn’s well-publicized flirtation with Hamas and various other anti-Semites. 

It would be wise for liberals in the United States to look at the results in the UK and ponder what it may mean for politics in the U.S. 

JFB

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Chilling Effects

CNN is reporting that “current and former FBI officials tell CNN they’re concerned that the harsh rhetoric coming from Trump and Barr has only worsened the bureau’s already tenuous standing with the President, leaving them wondering whether federal agents could be less aggressive the next time they have to pursue an investigation.” 

CNN goes on the report that Barr “…seized on findings in a blockbuster inspector general report to scold the FBI for using “intrusive” tools with only “flimsy” evidence, and he questioned whether they’d been motivated by bias. Those attacks were particularly noteworthy given that the report found no evidence of bias or improper motivation in the FBI’s decisions to use counterintelligence techniques. The report did however point out serious mistakes and mishandling of evidence by the FBI.”

So let’s unpack this, starting with the obvious. The rhetoric President Trump routinely employs reflects the subtlety and nuance of its author, which is to say: none. It is plain to see that Trump has a great deal of difficulty forming complete sentences. It would be nice, for instance, if the President could occasionally utter a sentence—or send out a Tweet—that actually has a subject, verb and object along with a modifier or two. But I’m not counting on it. And juvenile name calling is hardly the standard we should expect from anyone claiming to be an adult. 

But let’s face a few facts here. First, CNN’s sources are interested parties, some of whom may be targets of John Durham’s ongoing investigation into how the whole investigation was handled. Second, contrary to the claims of James Comey, the report of Inspector General Michael Horowitz didn’t vindicate anybody. How do we know? Because that’s his testimony. According to the Washington Post, in his Congressional testimony on December 11, Horowitz said “I think the activities we found here don’t vindicate anybody who touched this FISA,” referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications to monitor Page. 

So the relevant question is what did the IG conclude? The answer is that essentially he found (1) no testimonial evidence of improper political FBI bias in the conduct of the investigation, but (2) he found a whole raft of official misstatements and errors, procedural and otherwise. From which we can conclude that the FBI, from top to bottom, displayed a spectacular level of incompetence, stunning even by government standards. Anyone who doubts this simply has to  take a quick glance through the IG Executive Summary, particularly pages vii through xv. The report can be found here

But it doesn’t stop there. This is the type of egregious behavior that would normally have the ACLU and various other progressive civil liberties groups shouting from the rooftops. Not this time. It looks like concern for civil liberties is getting pretty selective over in those quarters. 

And as for chilling effects—when law enforcement agencies run rampant over citizens’ rights—that’s exactly what we need. 

JFB

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Seriously?

Rivals for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination Senator Elizabeth Warren (D. MA) and “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg (D. South Bend IN), have taken to firing at each other over the issue of transparency. Each is busy pretending that other has failed to produce sufficient detail with respect to past earnings, although neither has explained why it matters other than to drop dark  hints about corruption. 

The real reason has nothing to do with corruption, for which there is no evidence whatsoever. It is actually part of the ongoing progressive rhetorical war on success and embrace of the politics of class war and resentment. They are each afraid that their past employment and the amounts they earned will make them appear “elitist”. Which, of course, they are. And to quote Jerry Seinfeld: not that there is anything wrong with that. 

To put the absurdity of all this in context let’s take a look at the numbers. Elizabeth Warren disclosed that she earned about $1.9 million over the last 3 decades from legal work she earned while moonlighting. That is about $63,000 a year, not adjusted for inflation; hardly an amount to get excited about. After all she earned those rather modest fees by providing legal services. But apparently the word “earn” is verboten in progressive circles for anything over the minimum wage. 

In response to pressure, Peter Buttigieg prevailed upon previous employer McKinsey & Co to allow him to disclose details of his work at the consulting firm during his tenure there from 2007 – 2010. In 2019 compensation at McKinsey for new employees with an undergraduate degree included a base salary of $85,000 and a maximum bonus of $20,000 with a cap of on total cash compensation of $105,000. For MBAs and PhDs the respective numbers are: salary $165,000, bonus cap $65,000 and total compensation capped at $230,000. 

Those numbers are fairly modest by Wall Street standards, given the level and quality of educational attainment. But they are sufficiently high to stir up resentment among Democratic Party primary voters. So consider this absurdity: while the Democratic Party has increasingly attracted highly educated, highly compensated voters (largely because the Republican Party is pushing them out the door) the party’s progressive base has taken to launching vituperative  attacks on highly educated, highly compensated citizens. 

This little intramural war does raise a substantive question though. As they battle for the Party’s nomination, is it possible that Elizabeth Warren and Peter Buttigeig actually believe the economic nonsense they are trying to peddle? Are they really ashamed of the relative success they have achieved in their respective careers? Does Elizabeth Warren actually really truly believe that a vibrant society can co-exist with the central planning she proposes for roughly everything? Does Peter Buttigeig seriously believe that a society of 330 million people with a $20 trillion GDP needs Mayor Pete’s Power Point managerial socialism and an ever expanding bureaucracy to attack the fundamental issues that America needs to address? It would be closer to the mark to say that the “solutions” offered by Warren and Buttigieg et.al. are more likely a source of the problem, not the answer. 

It ought to be painfully obvious that all society’s have elites. Some are market based and are therefore more likely than not to be meritocracies; others are based on some variation of the Divine Right of Kings and depend on courtiers to run the show, which seems to be the direction in which the Democrats are headed.

JFB

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Odds and Ends…12/10/2019

The most important near term test vote for U.S. Presidential politics is not the pending pre-ordained impeachment of Mr. Trump by the Democratic House, soon to be followed by acquittal by the Republican Senate. Nor is it the fast approaching Iowa caucus, scheduled for February 3, 2020, or the New Hampshire primary, scheduled for February 11, 2020. The most important vote takes place in Britain this Thursday December 12 in the contest between the current Tory PM Boris Johnson, and the Labour candidate Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr. Johnson has a comfortable lead in the polls. Nigel Farage leader of the Brexit Party is cooperating with Johnson by not running candidates against Brexit friendly Tories, so that pro-Brexit candidates avoid splitting the vote. While Johnson has a lead in the polls it is worth noting that (a) British polling results have been less than stellar, and that (b) Theresa May managed to blow a 17 point polling lead the last go around.    `

Boris Johnson’s campaign has two major planks. First, he insists he will “get Brexit done.” Second he says that Britain will continue to depend on a market economy to produce prosperity. On the other hand, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is essentially an old line communist / socialist who has yet to find a bad word to say about dictators in Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela etc. Plus he is an anti-Semite who maintains friendly relations with Hamas. When it comes to Brexit he is  playing coy, saying that he will remain neutral until there is another referendum, so that “the people can decide”. 

Of course, the people already decided in the last referendum. But they didn’t vote the right way. So the game plan is to have vote after vote until the people vote the right way, in which case the results will be declared to be definitive. 

The British election provides a clear unvarnished choice between a market friendly pro-Brexit Tory PM and an old line anti-Semitic socialist who promises to nationalize key British industries and impose punitive taxes on “the rich”. If Jeremy Corbyn wins this contest, it does not bode well for the United States. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the Squad will have the wind at their backs. 

This Just In…

In a recent Monmouth University Poll 900 respondents were asked whom they would rank as the better President: George Washington or Barrack Obama. Among registered voters 58% named Washington as the better President while 33% picked Obama. Among self-identified Democrats 63% chose Obama as the better President against 29% who picked Washington. 

In a different poll when Republicans were asked to choose between Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump, 53% chose Trump as the better President. 

And while we are at it…

In 2015 then New York Attorney General Eric Schniederman (a Democrat) sued Exxon Mobile under the Martin Act claiming that shareholders were defrauded by Exxon. The government argued that Exxon had defrauded investors by not revealing its internal estimates of projected future compliance costs of climate regulations. Schniederman’s successor, Letitia James (a Democrat), prosecuted the civil lawsuit, which does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It only requires a preponderance of the evidence. Nevertheless, the judge presiding over the case found Exxon not guilty on all counts. 

In response, according to the Wall Street Journal, Ms. James later made this statement. “Despite this decision, we will continue to fight to ensure companies are held responsible for actions that undermine and jeopardize the financial health and safety of Americans across our country, and we will continue to fight to end climate change”. 

No one this side of sanity can have any doubt whatsoever that this obviously losing case was brought for political purposes. The respective Attorneys General were simply looking to burnish their street cred with climate activists to prepare for the next campaign. And they were perfectly happy to abuse their power for that purpose. Which come to think of it, is exactly what Donald Trump is credibly accused of. 

But somehow or other I don’t expect to see an outpouring of progressive voices demanding Ms. James’s removal from office.

JFB 

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Art and Culture

Politics is downstream from culture in that politics is shaped by culture. Famous writers like George Orwell (1984), Arthur Koestler (Darkness at Noon) and Mario Vargas Llosa (The War of the End of the World) have ruminated on this and warned of the dangers of fanaticism, ideology and detachment from reality.

Unfortunately, lots of artists, and certainly many important ones, have had long term love love affairs with various forms of collectivism. Unbeknownst to the public at large, these artists and writers have had a powerful influence on shaping the culture in which we now live. They include everyone from pop stars to serious philosophers. These would include a wide variety of players ranging from the unserious (e.g., James Cameron, Madonna, Sean Penn, Woody Guthrie) to serious writers and thinkers (e.g, Jean-Paul Sartre, Isaac Brodsky, John Steinbeck).

As a result, art has too often simply become a propaganda tool that totalitarians are only too happy to use. Large works of sculpture celebrating “Socialist Realism” are still featured in Tiananmen Square, for instance. Interestingly enough, one art form that has not been seriously compromised (yet anyway) is the art of the stand-up comic.

Dictators (and for that matter social justice warriors, AKA totalitarians in waiting) are fearful of comedy for the obvious reason that their power is diminished when they are the subject of jokes and are easily made to look like fools. Not to put too fine point in it, there are not a lot of easy laughs emanating from North Korea or Cuba. That said it is worth considering that people like Jerry Seinfeld have indicated they are not interested in doing shows on “woke” campuses.

With that in mind, it is worth watching th short video clip by John Stossel below.

John Stossel TV

JFB

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He Done It

Perhaps, just perhaps, the Republicans might get around to acknowledging the obvious: President Trump is guilty of the main accusation lodged against him. He attempted to get the government of Ukraine to investigate, or at least announce that it intended to investigate, the activities of the Biden clan for the purpose of damaging the presidential prospects of his potential rival, Joe Biden.  Congressional Democrats argue that this is not only conclusively proven, but that it constitutes an impeachable offense. Consequently they fully intend to impeach him, hopefully, in their view, before Christmas. 

Let’s unpack this. No one this side of sanity truly believes that Trump didn’t or wouldn’t use the power of his office for his own political benefit. Of course he would and he has. Just like pretty much every President has. The relevant question is not whether or not policy helps or hinders the President’s political position. The relevant question is whether or not he has deliberately sacrificed the interests of the United States to further his own interests in a demonstrable manner.

It has yet to be shown that Trump deliberately acted in a way that sacrificed U.S. interests so as to further his own political interests. Note the word deliberately. Certain actions a President may take, especially with respect to foreign policy, may harm U.S. interests; but a policy decision that helps the Administration politically even though it is a strategic error, or results from miscalculation, does not in itself constitute an impeachable offense. 

The subsidiary argument, that Congress appropriated the money and the President abused his office by threatening to withhold the funds simply lacks the gravitas necessary to justify the President’s removal from office, although it is ample reason for the exercise of Congressional oversight. We can, for example, turn to how the Obama Administration lied to the Federal Courts as it sough to avoid enforcing immigration law with respect to the “Dreamers”. (See for instance this article published by the CATO Institution: https://www.cato.org/blog/judge-sanctions-obama-lawyers-ethical-violations-wishes-he-could-disbar-them)

It seems clear that the motivations of the players in the impeachment inquiry are simply self-serving rather than principled. Most Democrats are from districts where their constituents (a) loathe Trump and (b) for that reason would like to see him removed from office. Republicans are from districts whose constituents are (a) overwhelmingly opposed to removal by impeachment and conviction and (b) are terrified of being “primaried” were they to support impeachment. Moreover, since the Senate majority is Republican the chances of a 2/3rds super-majority voting to remove Mr. Trump from office are exceedingly slim. 

Finally and most importantly, it would be naive in the extreme to believe that any of these people are acting out of anything other than ideological and political self-interest, particularly given the Democrats’ lunge to the left. They still do not accept that they lost in 2016, and are on a mission to delegitimize the result. The Republicans on the other hand are not lunging in any direction. They more closely resemble a bunch of 12 year olds playing soccer with everybody chasing the ball wherever it goes. 

So where does that leave us? With a national election 11 months away, it makes little sense to remove Trump by impeachment. The voters will have their say in a relatively short period of time. And Trump’s behavior is more than fair game. That’s the way it should be in a democracy.  

JFB

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Judge Napolitano Discusses Impeachment on Reason TV

After 6 months of studied silence, On Liberty Watch is going to re-open. In addition, the website will be revamped a bit over the next few months. The mission however, remains the same: the defense of liberty. The inanity of the state of the culture and politics demands it.

In the meantime, here is a video of Judge Andrew Napolitano discussing the current impeachment proceedings with Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine.

JFB

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George Will — “The Conservative Sensibility”

George Will, the nation’s preeminent conservative columnist, has just published what is perhaps his finest book yet–and it’s not even about baseball. As the title suggests, it’s about Politics with a capital P.

The Conservative Sensibility provides a robust defense of American Conservatism, really classical liberalism, that is based on the work of the nation’s Founders. There will be more on this topic in the future. In the meantime here (below) is a You Tube video of a conversation between Matt Welch of Reason Magazine and George Will, occasioned by the publication of The Conservative Sensibility.

JFB

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