The Establishment, Russia, and Trump by David Montgomery

President Trump’s critics were beside themselves in the days before his meeting with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin. A campaign to smear the President for his relations with Russia was in full swing, with writers calling him a traitor and “bought and sold” by Putin. The campaign rolled out speculations, accusations, rhetorical inventions and outright prevarications, but was remarkably short on specifics.

What most clearly disproves these deranged claims is the fact that the sanctions imposed and continued by Trump are doing serious damage to the Russian economy. That, to me, is far more important than the verbal denunciations or personal cold-shoulders that his critics seem to believe that Trump should be directing at Putin. As if Putin would care.

After the news conference, the President’s detractors really hit their stride, without any idea of what was actually said in the one-on-one meeting. They ignored all the potentially real progress that was made on other important issues in order to focus their bile on the President’s refusal to harangue his counterpart in public over election meddling.

The prejudgment of Trump’s performance at the meeting is exemplified by the thoroughly wacky claim by the avatar of the foreign policy establishment David Rothkopf that “the way Trump and the GOP deal with Russian attacks is ‘textbook treason.’’ To get there Rothkopf redefines acts of war to include snooping into electoral campaign emails, then calls the President a traitor for failing to denounce the perpetrators as stridently as Rothkopf would like. His evidence of this is the “ill-considered and unnecessary private meeting with Vladimir Putin” coming up this month.

Normally writing for a house organ of the deranged left like the Daily Beast, where this appeared, would be beneath an establishment type like Rothkopf. His willingness to do so just demonstrates how deeply that establishment is opposed to Donald Trump, and how far it is willing to debase itself in order to get him out of office.

Rothkopf’s indictment is summed up in his underlined statement that: “A hostile foreign power intervened in our election to help elect a man president who has since actively served their interests and has defended them at every turn.” With the last clause, Rothkopf switched from wackiness to out and out falsehood.

Then there is the Never-Trump Republican Michael Gerson who claims that Trump “acts precisely as though he has been bought and sold by a strategic rival.” Ignoring the reality of President Trump’s actions, Gerson sails off into fantasy with speculations about President Trump’s motivations:

Does it come from Trump’s bad case of authoritarianism envy? A fundamental sympathy with European right-wing, anti-democratic populism? An exposure to pressure from his checkered financial history? There are no benign explanations, and the worst ones seem the most plausible.

With this warmup, it was clear that anything Trump said or did after the meeting would be leapt upon by those whose prejudice had already been made clear. But the facts about actions taken by the President give the lie to any claim that he has been “bought and sold” or has “defended [Russia] at every turn.”

These are some of President Trump’s actions toward Russia:

Since 2017, he has applied additional and more onerous sanctions to the Russian energy sector and to key members of the criminal gang that Putin depends on for survival. These sanctions have been serious and effective. The Russian ruble and stock market dropped by 10% after the last round of sanctions were announced on April 6, and have since recovered only because of rising oil prices that would otherwise have driven them far higher.

Independent sources estimate that isolating and weakening Russia’s energy sector – its only globally viable industry – and restricting Russia’s access to the global financial sector will reduce Russian GDP by over 10%. Those are not slaps on the wrist and not what a President in the pocket of foreign interests would do.

He expelled an unprecedented number of Russian “diplomats” and orchestrated parallel actions by U.S. allies in response to Russian poisoning of a former KGB agent and his daughter.

He authorized calculated and effective air strikes to punish Assad’s poison gas attacks in Syria, and in an even more “in your face” move authorized attacks that succeeded in killing 200 Russian military personnel posing as “military contractors.”

At the European summit, he put pressure on those countries to abandon their planned investments in a natural gas pipeline that would benefit the Russian natural gas industry and harm European energy security. For this he was criticized by the same pundits who claim he is soft on Russia.

Going back to 2017, President Trump reversed Obama’s military abandonment of Poland, ignoring Russian saber-rattling. He approved the sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine — Javelin missiles effective against Russian tanks — something else Obama could not bring himself to do.

Just as increased military spending under President Trump shifts the power balance in US favor vis a vis Russia, his insistence that other NATO members pay their promised share will ultimately strengthen the alliance. Every President since George H.W. Bush has tried to accomplish the same, so that the idea that Trump is “destroying NATO” by demanding an end to free-riding by countries well able to pay is ludicrous.

Finally, he appointed Michael Bolton, the strongest hawk on Russia to be found, to be his national security advisor, and Mike Pompeo, his current Secretary of State, has consistently spoken out against Russian aggression. They were present in Helsinki.

The anti-Trump bandwagon never mentioned these facts in its attacks.

After the press conference, it just got worse. Anderson Cooper became the hero of the anti-Trump bandwagon by calling it “the most disgraceful performance by an American President” – though as usual what he had in mind was far from clear.

What no one mentioned is that both Trump and Putin made clear in the press conference that all issues of concern were discussed. They mentioned Syria and cooperation on terrorism explicitly, and that they had a long discussion of Russian interference in the last election.

No other result should have been expected. Abject apologies were not going to be offered by Putin, and no President would be foolish enough to attempt to extract them. Nor was there any reason for Trump to imitate the buffoons who ran the Soviet Union before its collapse by pounding his shoe on the table and haranguing his counterpart in public.

How this adds up the most disgraceful performance by a President is unfathomable. Diplomacy done well is not done for an audience of reporters. For all we know, Trump’s conversation with Putin could have been a strong – and even vulgar – explanation of the consequences if there were any future Russian meddling in our elections.

Thus all there was for the press to latch on to was the President’s unfortunate mention of the Mueller investigation and his statement that there was “no collusion.” The President’s use of the word “collusion” seems to have strained the vocabulary of his critics. They twisted his words to make it appear that he exonerated Russia from the charge of meddling in our elections: based on President Trump’s past usage of the word, it is clear that he was only reiterating that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian hackers. Indeed, by putting it that way he implicitly acknowledged that some parties in Russia did interfere with the election.

The concentration of the press on this topic seems planned. From Schumer to Rothkopf, his critics attacked the President for failing to cancel the meeting in light of the indictment of 26 Russian spies.

This elevation of the importance of those indictments is particularly disingenuous.

The public announcement of the indictments makes it certain that the culprits will never be caught and punished.

Friends who have done this themselves tell me that the normal tactic of a serious prosecutor would be to obtain sealed indictments and then lure the suspects to a country where they could be detained and extradited. The failure of the Mueller team to do this suggests that the indictments were a political stunt from the very beginning. If so, Trump wisely did not take the bait.

The smoke screen laid down by Trump’s critics over this issue – no doubt aided by some of his more unfortunate ways of communicating – obscures the potential good outcomes of his meeting with Putin. No meeting addressing so many topics could possibly reach final agreement on any. The outcome to hope for is that it will identify and start a process on some. It did. The topic that stands out to me is Syria. Any reports of these promising results were drowned out by the howls over the President’s failure to castigate Putin in public.

Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu also visited Putin recently, and Haaretz, the Israeli equivalent of the Washington Post, speculated that his goal was a deal with Putin to get Iran out of Syria and to guarantee a return to the pre-civil war status quo with Assad. That would not be a bad thing. Getting rid of Assad is likely to make circumstances worse in Syria, if primary goals are toleration for minorities, ending fighting and repatriating refugees. Even if there is no way for the good guys to finally win, sometimes we can keep them from losing.

President Trump’s intervention may be encouraging Putin to work toward Netanyahu’s proposal, according to their statements in the press conference. That outcome would simultaneously end fighting and protect Israel’s security. If it happens, Trump would have accomplished far more by pretending to be friendly than he could have by adopting the grandstanding tactics his hypocritical opponents wanted.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy. He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America, David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

Automated Vehicles Could Eliminate the Need for Another Bay Bridge by David Montgomery

Signs announcing opposition to a third span over the Chesapeake Bay are already popping up in Queen Anne and Kent County.   Governor Hogan initiated a study of the need, possible location, and potential cost of a new span in 2016, and consultations with potentially affected communities began earlier this year.

There is no question that the Bay Bridge is subject to time-wasting congestion during our evening commutes back to the Eastern Shore and on summer weekends when vacationers head to the beaches.  The number of vehicles trying to cross the bridge is projected to increase by over 30% by 2040, ultimately turning congestion into gridlock.

Relieving that current and projected future congestion is the reason given for building an additional span over the Bay.  But more construction may not be necessary if automated vehicles take over the market as other projections suggest.

I have been working with an organization known as SAFE (Securing America’s Future Energy) on a study of the potential costs and benefits of automated vehicles for the past year.  It was released on June 13. These are some highlights.

New cars already incorporate many new technologies that automate driving tasks:  adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, collision avoidance, and self-parking to name a few.  Many experts and auto companies foresee rapid improvement in these fledgling technologies, to the point that vehicles could drive themselves with little or no need for driver intervention.  Google and Uber are already ordering and testing such vehicles (as news of a recent pedestrian fatality caused by faulty programming of hazard detection and response logic made everyone aware).

In our study, SAFE projected that with favorable technology advances and market conditions, over 90% of passenger miles traveled by 2040 could be in fully automated vehicles.  The capabilities of those vehicles would make it possible to move all the projected traffic over the Bay Bridge in 2040 with zero congestion and no new construction.

Some preliminary projections from the Maryland Department of Transportations set the context.  The Bay Bridge now carries more than 70,000 vehicles a day. MDOT expects that to grow to 92,000 by 2040.  The average traffic volume during weekends in the summer is forecasted to grow to 125,900 vehicles per day by 2040, a 31 percent increase from 2013.

A December 2004 Transportation Needs Report from MDOT analyzed hourly congestion levels, which are what really matter. With the level of traffic projected for 2040, about 5,750 vehicles per hour would attempt to cross the bridge during the weekend peak period of 2 – 5 PM.  Peak weekday traffic going eastbound would be over 4000 vehicles per hour between 4 and 5 PM.

MDOT estimates that when fewer than 2000 vehicles per hour are crossing in the three westbound lanes there is no congestion and when 2000 vehicles per hour are crossing eastbound there will be only occasional slowdowns.

When more than 3000 vehicles per hour attempt to cross in either direction, traffic breaks down and stop and go traffic is the rule.  With that constraint, the levels of traffic projected for 2040 would be catastrophic.

An MDOT study guessed that a new span could cost up to $6.85 billion, and would require other road network upgrades.  With the time required for planning, debating and construction, it is unlikely that would do anything for congestion for at least a decade or possibly longer.

 

Vehicle automation that we are likely to see could make that new span unnecessary by the time the money is spent.

There are three major ways in which vehicle automation can reduce or eliminate congestion.   The technologies that are required include detection of surrounding vehicles and communication of traffic conditions together with automatic control of speed, braking and lane changing.  These automated capabilities would

  1. Allow vehicles to travel safely with much smaller distances between vehicles
  2. Eliminate the accordion effects created by lane changing and human reaction times for braking and accelerating
  3. Prevent accidents that are the major cause of congestion not caused by inadequate capacity.

Just the first of these benefits, shorter headway, would dramatically increase bridge capacity.

With anything over 2000 vehicles per hour now causing some form of congestion, and potential peak traffic of 5750 per hour during weekends in 2040, the capacity of the bridge would have to be nearly tripled to avoid weekday and weekend congestion.   The worst forms of congestion now appear when traffic exceeds 3000 vehicles per hour, and just to avoid those conditions capacity would have to be doubled.

Building an additional bridge with the same one-way capacity as the current bridge would provide just barely enough additional capacity to accommodate weekday rush hour traffic without congestion, and would still put weekend traffic into stop and go conditions much of the time.

In contrast, cutting the distance between vehicles in half at highway speeds would double the number of vehicles that could cross the bridge with no congestion.  An automated vehicle will be much faster than a human being in braking to avoid a rear-end collision, and communication between vehicles will give it advance warning of traffic conditions far beyond line of sight.  

It is straightforward algebra to determine that if the bridge can handle 2000 vehicles per hour with current distances maintained between vehicles, it could handle 4000 vehicles per hour with half that spacing and 6000 vehicles per hour with one-third the spacing.  From my calculations, the current capacity of the 2-lane eastbound bridge translates into about a 3-second distance between vehicles when traffic is flowing smoothly. If the faster reaction times and ability to observe distant changes in traffic flow characteristic of AVs reduced that to a 1-second distance, the needed tripling of bridge capacity would be achieved.

Thus if AV technology and the share of AVs in the total vehicle fleet progresses to the point that headways can be cut to one-third of the current prevailing distance, there would be no need for a new bridge.  All the needed additional capacity would be provided at no extra cost by the automated vehicle fleet.

What does that imply as a prudent course of action now?  

First, the advancement of AV technology and introduction of automated vehicles should be monitored carefully to determine how introduction of AVs is changing capacity requirements.  For example, traffic studies have found that even if as few as 10% of the vehicles crossing the bridge have automated capabilities, they can smooth out traffic flow.

Second, traffic systems on the bridge should be updated to take advantage of automated capabilities as soon as they appear – for example, creating reserved lanes for vehicles with collision avoidance and automatic cruise control systems once there are enough to utilize such lanes fully.  

Third, traffic management measures like congestion-varying tolls could be used to spread out traffic on the existing bridge, until enough AVs are on the road to increase its peak capacity.  These have been proven on Virginia freeways and would work even better if automated vehicles obtained real time information on tolls.

With this combination of incremental improvements in capacity as AVs become more prevalent and the ultimate increase in capacity from a fully automated fleet, the disruption and expense of a third span over the Chesapeake might be avoided completely.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy. He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America, David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

Enough Is Enough by David Montgomery

It is becoming increasingly difficult to be a civil and temperate political columnist when the liberal media reach new low after new low in deranged attacks on the President and his family. If the inability of left-wing bigots to express themselves without four-letter words and personal insults were not enough, the double standard applied by their bosses and sycophants is beyond belief.

Roseanne Barr was terminated immediately when she characterized Obama’s crony Valerie Jarrett as progeny of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes. I still can’t figure out how a terrorist organization and old movie can have children, and I suspect that an explanation of the joke might have been more appropriate than her abject apologies. But she never had a chance, her bosses found it sufficiently offensive to cancel a wildly popular show that just happened to be the only one on television featuring pro-Trump (or anti-anti-Trump) humor.

Samantha Bee, on the other hand, got a free pass from her bosses and congratulations from self-proclaimed feminists and the Hollywood left for calling the President’s daughter a “feckless c…”. No doubt about Bee’s intentions to use a demeaning sexist term, the crudest she could have chosen, and broadcast it on her show. Her additional, less quoted, comment that Ivanka should put on something “low and tight” to stimulate her father was even more cringe-worthy. Yet her network’s only reaction is to congratulate her for apologizing. Bee and her bosses are apparently too dumb to remember how their heads exploded when a recording of Donald Trump using a much tamer word surfaced.

Nor was there any outrage in the media about Bill Maher’s use of simian comparisons, when he asked if Trump was “part orangutan.” They have no shame in their double standard, and they all know which side they are on.

We are well beyond the point that any sane person could claim these crude and personal attacks are tit-for-tat responses to something that Candidate Trump said during the campaign. Saying, as he did recently, that Maxine Waters should take an IQ test may not be the best way of pointing out how dumb her positions and statements are, but it is a far cry from sexist personal attacks on a President’s daughter.

True, most of the obscene language in attacks on the President or his supporters comes from talentless celebrities – Bee, Kathie Griffin, Chelsea Handler – whose only claim to distinction is their gross behavior and language. So no one expects them to make intelligent comments. But their choice of targets has clear political motivation and support from their employers.

These avatars of the left are not just doing their shtick of substituting obscenity for creative uses of language in humor. Samantha Bee launched into her sexist attack on Ivanka Trump in a monologue on immigration policy. Since there was little else of substance in that monologue, even when she was addressing immigration, the tactic is clear. Don’t try to engage on issues, just attack the person. It is so much easier to get a professional shock artist to call people names than to construct a logical sentence about the policy itself.

The problem is not just so-called comedians whose vocabulary does not get beyond four letter words. Stephen Colbert mostly watches his language, but he, too, substitutes personal attacks, condescension and demeaning jokes for substance. These comics and late night hosts have become instruments of psychological manipulation and social pressure to make their viewers feel that any defense of President Trump’s policies is deviant and antisocial.

I would rather have a root canal without anesthesia than watch any of them, but reports of the rest of Bee’s show reveal deeper problems. It was an emotional attack on Trump for doing exactly the same thing that Obama did. Her inexcusable attack on Ivanka for displaying a happy picture of herself with her son was to make the point that parents who cross the border illegally are being separated from their children. But that was also the law and the practice in the Obama Administration. None of these liberal icons attacked Michelle and Barack for enjoying the company of their daughters while illegal entrants were being separated. The double standard at work.

It is pointless for conservatives to push for the firing of Bee or Maher. It won’t happen and they, however despicable, would quickly be replaced with voices no better. Their job security does reveal the attitude of news and social media, corporations, film companies, networks and foundations controlled by “progressive” executives and billionaires toward the rest of us. Asking them to “play nice” and setting a good example in conservative commentary is pointless when their support of incivility is a purposeful strategy.

But we are left with a puzzle. Is the left so consumed with hatred of President Trump that it cannot even distinguish his policies from those of his predecessor? Or is it purposely drumming up hatred of the President and his supporters in order to marginalize all those who oppose the future that the far left and its media cheerleaders want for this country?

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy. He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America, David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

Why Do Christians Put Up With Trump? By W. David Montgomery

“How can practicing Christians support a President as immoral as Donald Trump?” The question has become a popular one in certain literary circles, and more important to me it is one that serious friends ask me.

The answer to the question seems quite simple:

Donald Trump offered the hope of making right what was going horribly wrong in our country. Alternative candidates stood for policies that would make things worse, and were beset with deep character flaws of their own.

Candidate Trump was unabashedly pro-life and willing to defend religious freedom. He stood for a stronger national defense after 8 years of appeasement and neglect. He understood and stated clearly that Western Civilization is under attack from Islamic militants. He supported Israel unreservedly and was willing to lead from the front. He saw how excessive taxation and regulation combined to give us the worst recovery from a recession on record.

His brash style was not only attractive to those alienated from mainstream politics, but also provided a deeper resonance that he understood their feelings of being left behind economically, of increasing government intrusion into their lives, of schools that taught children things that parents did not believe and put them at risk to sexual deviants, and of being ridiculed by celebrities, media and his opponent.

I hold that Trump was wrong to promote the myth that immigration and imports kill jobs and hurt Americans, and I have already written enough on that. We can try to convince him on those topics over time.

Turning from policies to words and personal behavior, his denunciations of Hispanics, tasteless remarks about women and sex, and marital infidelities were also negatives for many of us who voted for him. On the other hand, we support his efforts to scrutinize entrants from countries that breed terrorists as prudent policies not evidence of some personal bias against Moslems.

Allegations about Trump’s lack of truthfulness have been rampant but remain unproven. His obvious willingness to exaggerate facts and numbers in support of his own opinions contrasted to Hilary’s memorization of the most minor detail and skill at devious answers, and for that reason was probably as much a successful tactic as a character defect. “It was a feature, not a bug” to quote Microsoft.

Commentators differ on whether this is a reasonable point of view or evidence that conservative Catholics and evangelicals have become homophobic, xenophobic and otherwise deplorable. My conscience is clear in supporting Trump for these reasons.
There are enough positives and negatives in my own assessment that this result was not pre-ordained. Despite efforts to caricature him, President Trump presents a complex picture of sound and unsound policies and personal virtues and vices.

Some might claim that I am myself co-operating with evil by concluding that President Trump’s actions as President on balance advance the common good and violate no moral laws. That is not how my moral education sees it. For this I take guidance from Pacem in Terris by Pope Saint John XXIII, who discussed at length how in this world most leaders do not share the moral framework to which we as Christians adhere. That makes it necessary to work for as much good as possible in public affairs, recognizing that we must as Christians settle for less than perfection and work with the moral infirmities and motivations of those in power. While at all times trying to change their moral framework.

Of primary importance, President Trump’s policies are consistent with moral laws regarding the taking of innocent life, sex and marriage, and freedom of conscience, no matter how his personal life may differ.

His policies on the economy, foreign policy, immigration and healthcare do not directly run up against moral absolutes, and are matters of prudential judgment of how best to accomplish what moral law prescribes.

Applying the tests of adherence to moral laws and practical effect, I conclude that President Trump’s policies contain no grave moral errors, do some practical harm and achieve a great deal of practical good. Far better than I could have expected of anyone else.

But the question about supporting the President, once all this is out in the open, reverts to his personal, allegedly immoral behavior. Put this way, the question suggests that Christians are hypocritical in supporting someone who blatantly violates their moral prescriptions. A writer in the National Review put it that “Christians had good reasons to vote for Trump but that does not mean they had to join his tribe” and goes on to express dismay at religious leaders appearing with, praying with, and complimenting the President.

It is not that Christians are indifferent to sexual immorality. As one theologian put it recently, “The premise of the Sexual Revolution is antisocial, and its effects are socially destructive, as every pope since Leo XIII has shown, including Francis.” This includes sex in any form outside of marriage, pornography, and the entire LGBTQ agenda.

There is no question that we believe that the acts of which Trump is accused are gravely immoral. Ironically, those who are most preoccupied with President’ Trump’s alleged sexual immorality have for the most part been vocal supporters of the sexual revolution and demanded freedom for consenting partners to engage in any kind of genital activity they enjoy. The question is what our faith and moral compass require us to do about it.

Those who question how “conservative Christians” can support Donald Trump seem on the most part to be working with a caricature of Christian moral thought. Many of those who raise the question are Social Justice Warriors who themselves call Trump supporters “vile human beings” and condemn every utterance that might contain a micro-aggression or expression of hostility or condescension to some “marginalized group.” unless they are directed at someone who voted for Trump. They seem to expect Christians to behave in a similar way, by judging, denouncing and ostracizing any public figure who violates the Sixth Commandment.

That is an ignorant and biased picture of Christian morality and even more offensive than their hypocrisy about sexual license. There are at least three admonitions that prevent us from condemning others as sinners. They also apply to other personal vices that do not have consequences of public concern.

First, “judge not that you be not judged.” In the parable of the adulterous woman, Christ shamed their accusers with the challenge “he among you is guiltless, should cast the first stone.” The point is that we firmly believe that many matters are between a man, his spouse, his priest and his Maker, and that we should mind our own business unless directly affected.

Second, “God’s ways are not the ways of men.” David had Bathsheba, yet is still honored as the greatest of the Kings of Israel and the ancestor of Our Incarnate Lord. Trump never sent one of his future wives husbands out to certain death in battle so that he could marry her. More broadly, God does not necessarily select saints to carry out his plan for the good of his people – as the sexual infidelities of honored Presidents like Kennedy, Eisenhower, and FDR and leaders like Martin Luther King attest.

Third, the whole point is that “We are all sinners.” I am far from perfect, and I cannot expect more of anyone else. Some are more virtuous than others, but that rarely seems to include successful politicians. One of the most infuriating misconceptions is that Christians see themselves as perfect and judge the morals of everyone they encounter. No doubt some do, but they violate the explicit command of the Head of our church. We know that President Trump has not been accused of anything we have not been tempted to do.

So lets get over the hypocrisy bit. Church attendance is not virtue signaling.
We do not go to services to show off how perfect we are, we go because we are sinners seeking to do better. More precisely, since Jesus walked the earth we have been enjoined to do the latter and not the former.

Thus I feel no moral obligation to condemn or defend the President for carnal sins.

I am instead convinced that we who voted for Trump did so for valid and urgent reasons, that as President he has done a remarkable job in delivering what we hoped for, and that our concerns and Trump’s policies are consistent with Christian morality and social ethics.

His personal failings, and likewise mine, will be judged by a Higher Authority than even The Atlantic magazine.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America,   David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

Lessons for the DNC from Richard Nixon by David Montgomery

 

Richard Nixon could teach today’s Democrats a lesson in putting the country ahead of partisan gain.

The Democratic Party on Friday, April 20 filed a multimillion-dollar federal lawsuit against Trump campaign officials, the Russian government and WikiLeaks alleging a widespread conspiracy to tilt the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor.

“The conspiracy constituted an act of previously unimaginable treachery: the campaign of the presidential nominee of a major party in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the Presidency,” the suit states.

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign,” said DNC Chairman Tom Perez in a statement, calling the alleged collusion “an act of unprecedented treachery.

Not all Democrats agreed. US congresswoman Jackie Speier of San Francisco, who has a law degree, told CNN that “I think this sidebar lawsuit is not in the interest of the American people.” But the DNC does not care.

How anyone could be so willing to destabilize our constitutional system is impossible for me to understand. Even their obvious affliction with Trump Derangement Syndrome and alliances with the radicals that have taken over the Women’s March and BLM is insufficient to explain why a political organization that pretends to care about the future of the country would try so hard to provoke a constitutional crisis. Than again, this might be no more than an effort to start a digging expedition under the guise of “discovery” for anything that could be used in their “get rid of Trump at any cost” campaign.

The partisan myopia afflicting current politics makes it worthwhile repeating how Vice President Richard Nixon dealt with the apparent fraud that handed the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy. The 1960 election turned out to be one of the closest elections in this nation’s history. Nixon always believed that election was stolen – another word for rigged – by ballot stuffing in Cook County and in Texas.

There was a lot of evidence he was right. Earl Mazo, a Washington reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, investigated claims of voter fraud in the 1960 election. He was quoted as saying: There was a cemetery where the names on the tombstones were registered and voted. I remember a house. It was completely gutted. There was nobody there. But there were 56 votes for [John F.] Kennedy in that house. He then went to Lyndon Johnson’s Texas, where he found similar circumstances.

Roger Stone tells the story more dramatically: “Mayor Daley himself gave away the game on election eve when he said, ‘With the Democratic organization and the help of a few close friends,’ the Democrats would prevail on election day. There is sufficient evidence that the ‘few close friends’ mentioned include Chicago crime boss Sam Giancana… The evidence of voter fraud in Texas, where the Kennedy-Johnson ticket carried the state by a scant 50,000 votes was as widespread and odious as that of the daily machine in Chicago.”

The New York Herald Tribune started publishing Mazo’s articles when still-Vice President Nixon intervened and told Mazo that “Our country cannot afford the agony of a constitutional crisis” in the midst of the Cold War. Rather than follow a course that would polarize and weaken the nation, Nixon chose to leave the White House for a time.

A recent article congratulates Nixon for his patriotic act. Ironically, this article was written before election day as a warning to Donald Trump of the bad things that would happen if he were to contest the results as rigged.

“Despite the razor-thin margin, Nixon publicly conceded defeat very early the morning after the election, shortly before Kennedy declared victory. Nixon did not encourage Republicans to regard the country as locked in a permanent civil war, or to treat the incoming president as a usurper. [How different from the Never-Trumpers and impeachment nuts]

To the contrary, on January 6, 1961, he discharged his responsibility as president of the Senate and presided over the congressional tally of the electoral college vote. ‘In our campaigns,’ he told the joint session of Congress, ‘no matter how hard they may be, no matter how close the election may turn out to be, those who lose accept the verdict and support those who win.’ Nixon noted that he was the first vice president since 1860 to declare his opponent the winner (outgoing Vice President John C. Breckenridge performed the same task for Abraham Lincoln). It was a ‘striking example of the stability of our constitutional system.”

For the good of the country, Nixon decided to accept the verdict and move on.

And that’s the difference. The threat to our democracy is not the thought, the idea or the charge that an election was stolen or rigged or unfair. It has happened. The threat to our democracy is the refusal to accept the verdict of the election.

Nixon was advised in 1960 to contest the election. He decided not to do so for the good of the country. The DNC could learn a great deal from a politician they loathe, but who showed more character and love of country than any of them are demonstrating today.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America,   David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

An Earth Day Fable by David Montgomery

 

The April 22 anniversary of Earth Day inspired, predictably enough, an article in the New Yorker bewailing the dissipation of the environmental sentiments of the 1970s, epitomized by the ignominious defeat of the Waxman-Markey bill to combat global warming in 2010. I learned from the New Yorker that several new books and studies attempt to diagnose the reasons for this dreadful moral failure and devise new strategies to accomplish the goal. Fortunately, the New Yorker goes in for long articles, and I was educated about the content of the books without having to read them.

The lesson taken from these books by the New Yorker is that the youthful energy of Earth Day led to passage of landmark legislation – the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Then in the 21st Century, the movement sold out by making an alliance with big business to combat global warming.

According to one of the books, “the original Earth Day remains a model of effective political organizing .… educational, school-based, widely distributed, locally controlled, and mass-participatory.” But then the environmental movement became “an established presence in Washington,” willing to make deals with business and Republicans (the author does admit that all the grand successes came when Republicans were President).

In the New Yorker narrative, aging heads of established environmental organizations became enamored of “cap-and-trade, a system of tradable permits for carbon emissions … because that seemed to be the best way to bring business on board.” They had funding that no one dreamed of on Earth Day and spent it lavishly to promote climate legislation.

Yet they failed – and nothing resembling an explanation is offered, beyond the post hoc, propter hoc fallacy of observing that becoming insiders and deal-makers happened first, then the grand game was lost. Nevertheless, the author wishes for a return to the grass-roots organization and events to recharge the enthusiasm of Earth Day and produce — something.

The failure of the Waxman-Markey bill, the cap and trade legislation on which the New Yorker focused, is easily explained without reverting to grand theories of grassroots organizing versus insider deal-making. It was a bad piece of legislation, and it turned into a Christmas tree of favors to get votes from basically indifferent legislators. Unfortunately, there were not enough favors to go around once the sharks smelled the bait of free allowances and Waxman and Markey tried to incorporate all the contrary agendas of the environmental left.

The sentimental haze of time has allowed many who should know better to refer to Waxman-Markey as a cap-and-trade bill. It did contain a cap-and-trade system, but most of its 1400 pages were taken up with additional regulations, subsidies, and exemptions that eliminated most of the potential benefits of cap and trade. I was one of the pioneers advancing the concept of cap and trade as environmental policy, and I can tell the difference.

A brief explanation of cap and trade and list of provisions of the Waxman-Markey bill is necessary for understanding of what happened. Cap and trade starts with a cap – for example, the bill required that in 2020 carbon dioxide emission must be no larger than 83% of 1990 levels. EPA would then print out emission permits, possibly in one-ton denominations, equal to the limit. Every source of emissions would have to turn in a permit for each ton of carbon dioxide it released in 2020. Emissions would be kept under the hard cap by the fact that only that many permits would be printed. Permits were called “allowances” in the bill, and I will use that name from here on.

The price of allowances would be established by supply and demand. Sources that could control their emissions at a cost less than the market price would do so, and those that could not would purchase allowances. The market price would adjust so that actual emissions equaled the limit.

Cap and trade does just one thing: it puts a limit, chosen by legislators, on greenhouse gas emissions, and it provides just the right incentives for the private sector to choose the least cost ways of achieving that reduction.

That is all theory, and it works as the Title IV program of the Clean Air Act that cleaned up Acid Rain proved. The Acid Rain program was able to get the votes to be included in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 because it replaced a very badly designed program, foisted on the public by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) to protect his coal industry. Unfortunately, three new factors made it impossible to repeat that success with climate policy.

First, the electric utilities responsible for most sulfur emissions, the precursors of acid rain, were already regulated, and cap and trade was an unambiguous improvement. Instead of expensive and for many unnecessary controls, the utilities got flexibility to choose the cheapest way of complying – which was mostly stopping the use of Senator Byrd’s high-sulfur coal. In particular, there was no real fight about how to decide what limit to apply to each utility, since they already were required to reduce their emissions.

Limits on carbon dioxide were new. There was no historical regulatory limit to refer to in allocating allowances. That turned the fight for allowances into a free-for-all. Not only were the actual sources of carbon dioxide fighting among themselves for allowances, but every other interest group with any hint of a claim to be doing something about global warming claimed a right to some as well.

Barbara Boxer let the cat out of the bag when she observed that the bill contained “hundreds of billions of dollars worth of allowances that Congress could allocate to deserving purposes” – such as re-election.

The second reason for failure is that cap and trade imposes a very visible cost on every form of energy. Translating from dollars per ton of carbon to dollars per gallon of gasoline or dollars per kilowatt hour of electricity is a matter of simple multiplication, and everyone involved made those calculations loudly and visibly. There were large disagreements about what the price of carbon would be, but there was no way to hide the fact that a cost there would be.

The entire history of environmental regulation, by means of regulatory agencies that impose specific emission limits on cars, trucks, powerplants, and industries, is one of concealing the cost of those regulations and convincing gullible voters that “business” is paying all the cost and consumers get a free ride. That is just about impossible with cap and trade, and even harder with a carbon tax.

The third reason is that the environmental movement did lose something in the years after Earth Day. Instead of concentrating on the environmental problems – clean air and water and endangered species – it became the voice for a whole range of inconsistent causes: ban nuclear power, mandate energy efficiency, promote renewable energy, use ethanol even if it is worse than gasoline, limit population, get rid of fossil fuels, punish the oil companies, and on and on. Just cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the most cost-effective way was no longer enough to satisfy the desires of the environmental left.

So, Representative Waxman’s first task in the House of Representatives was to see how much he could sweeten the deal for just enough Democrats to get the bill passed. He did this by distributing allowances to buy votes and adding regulatory measures and subsidies for favored industries and environmentalists varied causes.

So allowances were divvied up politically. Some were auctioned to provide revenues to be spent on politically-salient causes, of the rest electric utilities got the most, 15% were to be given to industries that could prove they were threatened by competitors in countries doing nothing about global warming, 10% went to states to spend on renewables and energy conservation, and other free allowances went to autos, efforts to capture and sequester carbon dioxide, and forestry programs.

Distributing allowances arbitrarily or politically does not alter the economic merits of cap and trade, as long as it is not done in a really dumb way, but it does have a great deal to do with political success or failure.

But this was not enough. Contrary to the New Yorker fantasy of a sell-out to the big business desire for cap and trade, the bill was bulked up to its 1400 or so pages by adding substantive provisions that environmentalists demanded in order to support cap and trade.

These included a requirement that utilities to meet a certain percentage of their load with electricity generated from renewable sources; like wind, biomass, solar, and geothermal, promotion of small-scale generation with extra allowances, taxing utilities in addition to cap and trade to create a carbon sequestration research fund, subsidizing specific CO2 reduction technologies singled out in the law, setting CO2 emission standards for coal-fired powerplants even though it would have no effect on total emissions, requiring utilities to support electric vehicles, mandating stricter building codes to reduce energy use, mandating tougher energy efficiency standards for lighting and consumer goods, requiring tighter fuel economy standards for cars, and setting industrial energy efficiency standards.

None of these provisions do anything to reduce emissions further than the cap and trade program would do on its own. To the extent that they do anything at all, they simply require that more costly ways of reducing emissions be substituted for the least cost ways that the price of allowances gives everyone an incentive to adopt.

The result was fine-tuned to pass the House of Representatives by a slim margin, but it then ran into the problem that there are two Houses of Congress, and Senators have very different constituencies and political debts than their House colleagues. There is no way to construct an explicit and effective piece of comprehensive legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions that give enough electorally significant benefits to a majority of both the House and the Senate.

That’s partly because the cost is explicit and now and the benefits are uncertain and far off. So there are very few members of Congress who care about dealing with global warming explicitly and effectively. If the Senate leadership had modified the House bill to attract a majority of Senators, the result would have been defeated when it went back to the House. That is the fundamental reason we do not have cap and trade. Few in Congress cared about global warming per se, and there were not enough favors to go around to buy their votes.

All the tears shed about failure to pass the Waxman bill flow from an inability to tell the difference between good and bad legislation. Claim that a bill will fix global warming and its passage becomes a moral imperative, no matter that the bill has become a monstrous collection of favors, duplicative regulations and bad ideas. Not to mention being utterly ineffective on a global scale, except in the fantasy world that has China, India and others being so impressed by our naive willingness to make futile gestures that they have a come to Jesus moment and reverse their strongly held policy of growth at all costs.

A true return to Earth Day would be for environmentalists to drop their overriding interests in social engineering and moralizing about ineffective solutions, and turn back to caring about the problem itself. They have the opportunity to do that now, by backing a simple carbon tax to fund completion of the tax reform agenda. We will see if they pass the test.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America,   David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

The Snake in the Internet Garden by David Montgomery

A major purpose of a liberal education, harking back to Greece and Rome, was once to prepare the student for the duties of citizenship. I am reminded of this by a recent news report of new digital techniques for creating fake news, in this case by manipulating the image of a person’s face to make it talk and say the words that another is speaking. President Trump confessing to numerous made up love affairs, or Speaker Pelosi condemning Planned Parenthood, for example. The dangers that the reporter cited included national security, political dirty tricks and in particular deceptions in social media.

I have to confess that my reaction was that anyone who believes what they read in social media deserves to be deceived, and the more I considered it, the more I liked that thought.

It should be difficult to deceive a thoughtful person about anything that matters. Scam artists exploit the greed of their victims as much as their gullibility. Trolls exploit the prejudices and hatreds of their audiences. Bloggers and politicians trust the intellectual laziness of their listeners to get away with contradicting themselves and perpetuating falsehoods that could be checked by looking up a single citation. The anonymity of the internet tempts many to pretend to be something they are not, for innocent or not so innocent purposes.

On the demand side, supposed friends and co-workers believe accusations that they see quoted in blogs or news services. In the grand tradition of gossip, neighbors read and start to believe the most outrageous inventions about their neighbors and their children.

There is nothing new about vulnerability to deception. The serpent tricked Eve, Jacob deceived his father to obtain the blessing intended for his brother Esau, and Iago convinced Othello that his wife was unfaithful. It did not take digital image manipulations and the internet to create opportunities for liars and deceivers.

Technology may raise the stakes, allow more people to be deceived at once and require more vigilance, but the remedy is still the same: “Trust but verify.”

That is where we get back to liberal education. There was also a time when education served to build character, and also to recognize character in others. Learning to read fiction well fosters an ability to recognize what is in character and what is not in character for a person in a story. Indeed, a large part of the craft of an author is to create and communicate character in such a way that the reader is able to see and understand why the figures in the story act as they do. It also fosters a critical sense of “that’s not right, ” recognition that some story lines are simply out of character.

The ability to assess character should thus serve as a check on gossip and on false news. The sense that “that is not what he or she would say” is usually a good guide.

Of course, there are times in novels and in real life that someone does something out of character, either more noble or more base than those who knew them would expect. Here is where verify comes in. If no one verifies stories, the liars will win. Even a few who are willing to check, if they are themselves gatekeepers of information, may be sufficient to break the train of re-tweeted falsehoods. If the story stands up – eyewitnesses, documentary evidence, forensic examination – then the improbable may be true.

The character of the observer matters, too. One virtue that seems lacking in this time of instant communication is prudence – in this case, prudence takes the form of “think before you type.” It may not be the original deception that matters, but the extent to which a deception is accepted as truth and instantly re-tweeted, leading to the outcome that no later correction can possibly reach all those whose opinion of a person, product or institution was warped.

The greater harm may come from the imprudence of those who observe the deception and fail to verify before trusting and acting on an unexpected claim. This reaction could be to repeat a harmful falsehood, or fall prey to an offer that is too good to be true. Charity is another helpful virtue, not to believe the worst of someone or something that was trusted for good reason, until proofs are checked. So is Temperance, to avoid being taken in by something that appeals to greed or other vices.

Logic and rhetoric were also topics in the classical and liberal curriculum that appear to be greatly neglected today. According to Aristotle, there are 13 fallacies commonly used in rhetoric. Some involve deceptive use of language — Accent, Amphiboly, Equivocation, Composition, Division, and Figure of Speech, and others are arguments that appear valid but are not — Accident, Affirming the Consequent, In a Certain Respect and Simply, Ignorance of Refutation, Begging the Question, False Cause, and Many Questions. At a guess, 95% of what politicians and politically motivated commentators say falls in one of these 13 categories.

Aristotle pre-dates digital manipulation by a good 24 centuries, and his analysis of fallacies was motivated by the speakers and politicians of his day, who stood on pedestals in the center of cities and were heard and believed by all the citizens. Not quite as large a census, but still immediate and universal coverage.

His purpose, as should be the purpose of our educational system, was to produce students who could recognize instantly a fallacious argument and state for themselves a correct manner of reasoning. That skill is not developed by indoctrinating students in the political correctness of the day, or by suppressing disagreement and debate in the interest of creating safe spaces. “Trigger alerts” do not develop critical habits of mind or argument.

The greatest danger of digital manipulation appears to be for those who have come to depend on their internet sources of tweets, blogs, and discussion groups where no observation that might trigger them to think will ever appear. Trust in these social groups appears to have taken the place of critical thought and reflection. Internet communication becomes a true Garden of Eden for snowflakes, to mix an irresistible metaphor. Maybe a few bites of the snake in these gardens will lead to a healthy distrust – and even exploration of the world outside those who agree on everything.

If all else fails, the proliferation of technology for deception might just produce its own Darwinian remedy – the recognition that there are no safe spaces in the internet. If it is impossible to tell what is true or false in blogs or news channels or social media, their users will get the message and start to use more traditional methods of obtaining and verifying information. That would not be a bad thing.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America. David and his wife, Esther, live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

A Hero When One Is Needed by David Montgomery

Heroes need to be recognized and celebrated, and in the middle of a seemingly unending cacophony of disheartening news, one more has appeared.

As I hope everyone reading this is aware, an officer in the French National Police sacrificed his life by taking the place of a hostage being held by an Islamic terrorist. His example of heroic virtue was uplifting. In contrast to Florida police who ran away from the threat to the children they were there to protect, he went unarmed into almost certain death to save just one.

The reports of Lt Col Beltrame’s “gallantry,” a wildly out of fashion term for a man’s character, reminded me of the greatness that the French can rise to. But most important to me, in a Europe that has largely forsaken its Christian faith and heritage, he was motivated, sustained and quite open about his Catholic faith and his love for France.

None of the major news outlets that described Lt Col Beltrame’s life and career – including CBS, CNN, BBC and the Washington Post — mentioned this. It was not for lack of information, because a mémoire written by his priest has been circulating in Catholic media and websites since the day he died. The story of Arnaud Beltrame’s life and death as told by his priest depicts a man who died “a witness of heroic charity.”

In an article in the Catholic Register, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia provided a translation of a public notice from The French Diocese of the Armed Forces. [I quote it here in full because of the difficulty of finding it in publications that most Spy readers are likely to see]:

ARNAUD BELTRAME: A heroic Christian officer who gave his life to save others. Testimony of a canon of the Abbey of Lagrasse (Aude), the day of his death, March 24, 2018.

“It is through the coincidence of a meeting during a visit to our abbey … that I got to know Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame and Marielle, whom he married, on Aug. 2, 2016. We [became friends] very quickly, and they asked me to prepare them for their religious wedding, that I was to celebrate near Vannes this year on June 9. We spent many hours working on the basics of married life for almost two years. I had just blessed their home on Dec. 16, and we were finalizing their canonical marriage record. The very beautiful declaration of intention of Arnaud reached me four days before his heroic death.

“This young couple regularly came to the abbey to participate in Masses, the Office and teaching sessions, especially for groups of couples, Notre-Dame de Cana. They were part of the Narbonne team. They were there again last Sunday.

“Intelligent, sporty, voluble and lively, Arnaud spoke readily of his conversion. Born into a family with little religious practice, he lived a genuine conversion around 2008, at almost 33 years old. He received his first Communion and confirmation after two years of catechumenate, in 2010.

“After a pilgrimage to Sainte-Anne-d’Auray in 2015, where he asked the Virgin Mary to meet the woman of his life, he became friends with Marielle, whose faith is deep and discreet. Their engagement was celebrated at the Breton Abbey of Timadeuc at Easter 2016.

“Devoted to the gendarmerie, he always had a passion for France, its greatness, its history and its Christian roots that he rediscovered with his conversion.

“By taking the place of hostages, he was probably animated by his commitment to an officer’s heroism [translated in another account as “gallantry”], because, for him, being a policeman meant protecting others. But he knew the incredible risk he was taking.

“He also knew the promise of a religious marriage he had made to Marielle, who is already his wife and loves him tenderly, of which I am a witness. So: Was he allowed to take such a risk? It seems to me that only his faith can explain the madness of this sacrifice which is today the admiration of all. He understood, as Jesus told us, that there is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). He knew that if his life belonged to Marielle, it also belonged to God, to France and to his brothers in danger of death. I believe that only a Christian faith animated by charity could ask for this superhuman sacrifice.

“I was able to join him at the hospital in Carcassonne around 9pm last night [March 23]. The gendarmes and the doctors and nurses opened the way with remarkable delicacy. He was alive but unconscious. I was able to give him [last rites] and the apostolic blessing on the threshold of death. Marielle took part in these beautiful liturgical formulas.

“… I asked the [medical staff] if he could have a Marian medal, that of the Rue du Bac de Paris, near him. A nurse attached it to his shoulder.

“Arnaud will never have children in the flesh. But his astonishing heroism will, I believe, inspire many imitators, ready to give themselves for France and for her Christian joy.”

There are many worthwhile lessons to be learned from Arnaud Beltrame, not least of which is how he and his wife accepted the sacramental nature of marriage. They were willing to take two years of instruction so as to understand fully what their marriage vows in the presence of God and his Church meant.

Archbishop Chaput commented along these lines that Beltrame “was a man who deliberately shaped and disciplined his own life until it became a habit, a reflex, to place the well-being of others before his own.” This description of Beltrame as a classically virtuous man would have been familiar to Aristotle, St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas, who saw that virtue is a habit of doing what is right that is gained through instruction and practice.

For most people today, “freedom” has come to mean the unconstrained ability make whatever choice they wish. Old conceptions of right and wrong and virtue, especially when asserted as moral absolutes, are condemned as limiting freedom and oppressing those who make contrary choices.

Lt Col Beltrame exercised the older concept of freedom. As George Weigl put it, paraphrasing the great moral theologian Servais Pinckaers, “Freedom … is a matter of gradually acquiring the capacity to choose the good and to do what we choose with perfection.” For example, one freedom that emerges from Catholic doctrine on marriage is that committing to a permanent condition of life with another makes it easier and easier to weather the episodes when every desire is to quit. But Lt Col. Beltrame cultivated virtues much greater than this homely one to which we can all aspire.

He chose the greatest love, to give up his life for another, and by all accounts that choice was no surprise to anyone who knew him.

The terrorist who killed Lt Col Beltrame had no such freedom. He chose to do what all great religions, with the exception of certain versions of Islam, and decent people condemn. He chose that which is always and everywhere wrong, to murder innocent victims. Not only was his action the evil opposite of Lt Col Beltrame’s, his “freedom” to choose that evil path was not true freedom, because it led only to harm for himself and others.

It is appropriate in this week when Christians remember the Passion of One who died that all might live, that we should honor not just Arnaud Beltrame but all those who have given their lives to protect another. The French gendarme exemplifies innumerable others — Saint Maximilian Kolbe, to whom he has been compared, the first responders who perished in the Twin Towers, the civilians on Flight 93, and all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, police and firefighters who have and will die to save others. It would be wonderful to know the stories of how each became able to choose to make that sacrifice, as we know that of Lt Col Beltrame. It is good to remember that those virtues still survive in our self-centered world.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

Tariffs: Trump’s Big Blunder by David Montgomery

The decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports is a very bad one. Protection of U.S. industries from unfair competition has always been part of President Trump’s message. It is what worried me most about him as a candidate, but until now his approach has been to eliminate ways that government is holding U.S. industry back. Changing course and erecting tariff walls like this could destroy all the good he has done with those positive economic policies.

The losers from tariffs include everyone who uses the products subject to the tariff, or products made from them. In the case of steel and aluminum, that is everyone. Protectionism only benefits the small number of owners and possibly workers in the industries being protected and hurts everyone else.

The case for free trade is very simple. Everyone gains if the United States specializes in those goods that it is better at producing, and trades them for what others are better at producing. Tariffs cause us to produce things that we are not so good at, so that we end up with less in total.

Tariffs do this by erasing the difference between the price at which we can buy steel and aluminum on the world market and the price that U.S. steel and aluminum companies need to receive to remain profitable.

Industries want tariffs because it costs more to produce steel and aluminum here than it does to import it. That is why tariffs are bad policy. Homely examples are in this case quite accurate: I could cut my own grass, but if I spend the same amount of time doing something that I am very good at, I can earn enough to pay my lawn service and have a good bit left over.

Protectionism also harms all the U.S. industries that use the goods being protected. As the picture below shows, steel is required in all the major U.S. industries, and the same is true of aluminum. They are necessary to make the machines that produce everything from automobiles to paper, they are incorporated in all major appliances, we could not generate electricity or build structures without them.

The entire purpose of these tariffs is to raise prices so that steel and aluminum companies can make a profit and replace imports with domestic production. Sounds like a great idea. But the higher price of steel drives up the price of everything else that consumers use: housing because of higher construction costs, automobiles because manufacturing equipment and materials cost more, energy as power plants and pipelines become more expensive, military budgets are stretched further because guns, vehicles, ships, airplanes and structures cost more.

There are a number of phony arguments for protectionism: somebody (usually China) is not competing fairly, it will put Americans back to work, it will fix the trade deficit, and national security is threatened.

They not competing fairly, so we have to retaliate. This is the most common and legally defensible argument for tariffs – some other countries are selling goods to us for less than their cost to produce the goods. The more accurate form of this argument is – they are being stupid so we have to imitate them. If China insists on selling steel or aluminum to us for less than it costs them to make it, why not just let them give us that gift? We can put the resources that would be required to produce the same amount of iron and steel to work in more productive ways – like making things out of iron and steel that we can sell for a profit without government tariffs or subsidies.

It will put Americans back to work. There are many ways in which President Trump’s policies are doing this – regulatory reform that lowers labor costs and increases productivity, tax reform that restores incentives for investment, and reform of Obamacare that removes a big tax that employers must pay to hire workers. But tariffs and protectionism do not. They may preserve jobs for specific workers in specific industries, but at the expense of jobs for workers in other industries that no longer have access to imports and find their costs increased to levels at which they cannot compete. One study, by the Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition (CITAC), concluded that President Bush’s steel tariff cost 200,000 workers in steel-consuming industries their jobs in 2002 because of higher steel prices.

It will fix the trade deficit. The trade deficit cannot be changed by tariffs. Right now, we are borrowing immense sums from other countries so that the government can spend more money than it brings in. Just like a family that borrows in order to spend more than it earns, borrowing from overseas lets the United States purchase more from abroad than it earns by selling goods abroad. That is, borrowing equals the difference between imports and exports, and that difference is known as the trade (or current account) deficit. Tariffs may change what we import (and export) but as long as we are borrowing immense sums from overseas, the trade deficit cannot go down.

It is necessary for national security. No doubt, China is subsidizing exports and driving American companies out of the steel, aluminum and other industries. That does not amount to a national security threat, any more than Asian countries producing our televisions. By giving these subsidies, China is building an economy that can only sustain itself by constant increases in government-led investment, to produce goods to be sold on foreign markets at prices that fall further and further below their costs to produce. That is not a strong economy.

Our consumers are attaining a higher standard of living than would be possible if China were not making these gifts. The Chinese people are getting less and less for themselves as their government pushes greater subsidies into export industries. The Chinese government brings its day of political reckoning closer and closer by limiting domestic consumption in order to continue expanding its white elephant industries.

Even if China can sustain this kind of growth for a while, we have no need of an industrial policy to defend ourselves in modern wars. There is little likelihood we will face another World War II where victory went to the country that could produce the most and best armaments. If we do need to mobilize again, imports of steel and aluminum are available from many friendly countries, and the technology and mineral resources remain here. The national security argument is nothing but a smoke screen for the traditional pleas of the metals industries for protection from a global market.

This is not the first time that the steel industry has cried for relief. In 1969, 1978 and 1984 and 2002 protection was extended to the steel industry by Presidents of different parties. Sometimes the economy moves in directions good for US metals, and the demand for protection fades. Then things change, imports rise and the plea for protection returns. Most recently this happened with the end of the recession, with construction and investment taking off and steel and aluminum imports growing. That made U.S. steel producers look for a way to get a bigger share of the growing market, and getting some help for the government was the easy solution. They are in essence asking for the same subsidies the Chinese give, but paid for by consumers who, of course, are the ones who suffer in China too.

Protectionism is the Achilles heel of populism, where the right-minded desire of ordinary people to reclaim their culture and economic opportunities is unprotected from the arrows of economic nonsense. The drop in the stock market is the predictable and reliable indicator of the overall damage that these tariffs will inflict on the entire economy. Republicans in Congress have to remind President Trump that these tariffs will harm the very people who elected him, and take action to end them if necessary. That is good politics and looking out for the common good.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

Firearms and Evil by David Montgomery

School shootings are a moral problem, that cannot be solved by campaigning against firearms. These atrocities must be recognized for what they are – instances of evil that are becoming more common in our secular, individualistic society.

Instead of facing the problem of evil, elected officials and political activists are exploiting mass shootings to push for phony solutions that fit their social agendas. This should infuriate everyone sincerely concerned about the past, present and future victims – and perpetrators.

For example, a bill was introduced in the Maryland Senate (Senate Bill 1062) to criminalize the possession of magazines that allow a firearm to fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. It is already illegal to buy or sell such magazines in Maryland, even though they are readily available in other states and were legal before Governor O’Malley pushed that legislation through. As a result many recreational shooters and hunters already own magazines that hold more than 10 cartridges. They are compatible with a number of rifles and pistols that are legal to purchase in Maryland, and some that are legal to own but may no longer be sold here.

The proposed legislation would make current owners of such magazines subject to as much as 3 years in prison. That is a more disruptive form of gun control than ever before attempted in Maryland, and it would do nothing to prevent mass shootings.

Nibbling away at the Second Amendment is a cause that many progressives support, and setting a precedent for confiscation of parts of firearms from their current owners is high on their list of milestones. The Florida shooting appears to have given those activists an incentive to give it a try.

But criminalizing possession of high-capacity magazines in Maryland cannot possible reduce the likelihood or magnitude of mass shootings – let alone the other ways that evil men find to inflict harm on others. If a young man in Easton or Frederick or Bowie wanted to open fire on a school, it would take him less than two hours to drive to a state where purchase of higher-capacity magazines is perfectly legal. Intending to commit a crime of far greater proportions, he would hardly be deterred by the illegality of possessing it on his way to mass murder.

As many have already pointed out, existing law was quite sufficient to prohibit the Florida shooter from purchasing any firearm, if law enforcement had followed existing rules. That was also the case in many past shootings. But better enforcement and further tightening of restrictions on legal firearms purchases will have little effect as long as an even shorter drive puts a would-be shooter in a neighborhood full of illegal firearms for sale. As terrorist attacks in Europe demonstrate, cars and knives are also effective instruments for killing when firearms not available.

The introduction of bills like Senate Bill 1062 is an outrage not because of their potential effects on law-abiding gun owners, but because it will produce only wasted effort devoted to the wrong questions, no matter how it turns out.

That is because the evil that leads to school shootings is in the individual, and we can see how it arises. All the school shootings were perpetrated by loners, social outcasts, from broken homes, who were subverted by some evil ideology or philosophy. One writer points out that “Shooters have problems at school, family issues, violent behavior, and police encounters. They take medications, lack communication skills and show strange, unpredictable behavior. They indulge in violent video games and send disturbing messages through social media.”

These shooters did not become entranced with killing because they stumbled across a firearm; they searched out a firearm to carry out an evil intention fully formed without any reference to how it would be accomplished.

None of the mass murderers grew up going to church every Sunday with their parents. None had supportive families that showed their love, taught the difference between right and wrong, and brought their children up to believe in a higher power. None attended schools that included moral and spiritual development in their teaching, nor has there been a mass shooting at that type of school.

Those clamoring for action to prevent future mass shootings seem unable to recognize this. When they take a break from blaming firearms, the liberal media repeat that “the red flags were all there” to identify the Florida shooter, and then call for law enforcement to take preventative measures, advocate more social programs for disturbed youth, and demand tighter surveillance of social media. Unfortunately, all of those suggestions amount to looking for a very small needle in a very large haystack of disturbed youth who would be turned up by such profiling.

In all this, the fingerprint of liberal society becomes clear. The shooters are but one or two in a far larger number who fit the profile of an isolated and disturbed youth, yet most remain relatively harmless. All of them are nonetheless damaged by growing up without bonds of love or trust in anything good that is greater than themselves. Thus they become prey to the external evil of neo-Nazi and similar creeds and the internal evil of wishing for their own death accompanied by the deaths of others for whom they can feel no empathy.

Many of us see this as a logical consequence of liberal society. All around, liberalism is driving faith out of the public square and inculcating in its place a belief that nothing matters but an individual’s desires and feelings. Society is then not a community in which stable and permanent relationships (earthly and heavenly) give meaning to life but a place where isolated individuals pursue their own satisfaction.

For those children lacking a permanent community and belief in a power greater than themselves, the social group in school or neighborhood may seem a solution. But that simply makes the pain and isolation of being excluded from such an apparent source of meaning more intense. And exclusion does occur, because none of the members of the group see it as a community, but rather a playground for their own desires.

No wonder some succumb to a sense of loneliness so great that they only desire to kill and die. Firearms do not create that feeling, nor would some minor annoyances in obtaining firearms be sufficient to deter the very few who do become killers.

There are communities within this liberal realm of radical individualism that do provide the kind of upbringing and hope that give a child a reason to do good and avoid evil. They are almost all centered around churches, and despite all the attempts of liberalism to marginalize faith-based communities, they are saving their children from the evils of nihilism and despair. That is why it is worth continuing the battle to restore a core of faith to American democracy. And it is the only proven way to save as many as possible from the fate of the victims and the shooter in Florida.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.