Obama Disses Another Ally

Lost in the shuffle of Obama’s immigration diktat and his sham of a farce of a travesty of a climate agreement with China was his speech about climate change in Canberra, Australia, where Obama went out of his way to insult Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.  Apparently our embassy personnel in Canberra advised Obama against this course, but naturally Obama knows better.

Australian newspaper columnist Greg Sheridan reports on the matter in an article that is behind the newspaper’s paywall (but easily gotten around through Google if you want to), so here are the important excerpts from it:

BARACK  Obama defied the ­advice of his embassy in Canberra to deliver a stinging attack on the Abbott government’s climate policies in Brisbane last weekend.

The US embassy, under the leadership of ambassador John Berry, advised the President, through his senior staff, not to couch his climate change comments in a way that would be seen as disobliging to the Abbott government, sources have revealed. . .

It is normal practice when the US President makes an overseas visit that the ambassador in the country he is visiting is consulted about the contents of major speeches. It is unusual, though not unprecedented, for an embassy’s advice to be ignored.

The Obama speech in Brisbane was added to the President’s program at the last minute. During his extensive talks with Tony Abbott in Beijing at APEC, Mr Obama did not make any mention of a desire to make a speech, or of any of the contentious climate change content of the speech.

Only in Naypyidaw, in Myanmar, immediately prior to the leaders travelling to Brisbane for the G20 summit, did the US party demand that the President make a speech and that it be to an audience of young people. At the speech, the President did not ­acknowledge the presence of Governor-General Peter Cosgrove.

Despite repeated Australian requests, White House officials refused to provide a text of the speech to their Australian hosts in advance, and did not provide a summary of what would be contained in the speech.

Mr Obama’s repeated references to the climate change debate in Australia, his accusation that Australia was an inefficient user of energy and his repeated references to the Great Barrier Reef, which has figured heavily in the climate change debate, have led observers to conclude that the speech was a deliberate swipe at the Abbott government.

Historians of the US-Australia relationship are unable to nominate a case of a visiting president making such a hostile speech for the host government.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has accused Mr Obama of speaking in ignorance about the joint plans by the federal and Queensland governments to act to preserve the Great Barrier Reef. She sent a briefing on the reef to the White House after Mr Obama’s speech was delivered. . .

Sources in Washington said the Brisbane speech was a sign of deep divisions within the Obama administration over how to deal with Australia, and over Asian policy generally. . .

Since the Abbott government was elected last September, there has been a group within the Obama administration that wants to take a tougher public line against Canberra on differences over climate change, in particular the decision to abolish the carbon tax.

Washington sources say the figure who ultimately adjudicated on this internal debate was Mr Obama, who recognised that Mr Abbott had been elected with a clear mandate to abolish the tax. . .

Mr Obama has previously had a warm personal relationship with Mr Abbott. The President has been a frequent telephone caller to Mr Abbott, almost always with a request for Australian support for a US policy or initiative, from troops for the Middle East, US trade initiatives in Asia, or important regional diplomatic matters, especially those involving security. On every occasion the US President has asked for help, the Australian Prime Minister has provided it.

Doubt that will continue.

The protracted conflict

Earlier this month The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale held a conference in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of James Burnham’s Suicide of the West, republished in a new edition by Encounter Books. The festivities included introductory remarks by Donald Kagan followed by three panels and a keynote speech by former NSA/CIA director Michael Hayden. The Buckley Program conference videos are all accessible on YouTube here.

The Buckley Program is proving itself a fitting tribute to Buckley. Given the venue of the event at Yale and the participation of Yale faculty, the conference was also a credit to Yale.

Burnham was a founding editor of National Review. Jeffrey Hart etched a memorable portrait of Burnham at NR in chapter 2 of The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times. “His self-presentation suggested pure analytical intellect,” Hart writes. “The only problem with this interpretation,” he adds, “is that everything I knew about his tumultuous life contradicted it.”

Burnham was a consequential figure at the bloody crossroads of politics and literature. As a young man responding to the Crash and the Depression, he had a fling with “revolutionary politics and organizations that had less chance of seizing power than Little Orphan Annie” (Hart again). He taught philosophy at NYU. He wrote books that mattered. He served in the CIA. He was not only a founding editor of NR, until 1977 he contributed a regular column on the Cold War under the title “The Protracted Conflict.”

Our own Steve Hayward participated in the conference’s premier panel along with Burnham’s son and former NR editor John O’Sullivan, moderated by Encounter Books publisher Roger Kimball (video below). Clocking in at one second under an hour, not to put too fine a point on it, this is great stuff.

When you’re strange, cont’d

We quoted comments from a specialist in immigration law in “When you’re strange.” I emailed him a follow-up question and he elaborated his comments through the day. I thought those of us trying to understand what Obama has wrought might be interested in taking a look at the rest of our correspondence.

I asked whether the authorities have have discretion to grant work authorizations to the law abiding in order to equalize their disfavored treatment. He responded:

Well – who knows what the hell they can do?! Seemingly anything they want. I mean, what they are doing here – among other things – is stopping deportation (removal) proceedings for undocumented people in certain categories (parents of US citizens/green card holders who have been here 5 years) and then letting them apply for what I believe is “Deferred Enforcement” – which is a quasi-status and at the same time they are applying for work permits.

By the way, there is already discussion in the immigration bar that if you are not currently eligible because you don’t have a kid, you better get going on that! Perhaps we will see a baby boom in 10 months….

In the high skill area – where I know the most – there is a lot of back story about Silicon Valley lobbying. It is clear from those of us “in the weeds” that the Zuckerberg crowd “had its way.” They even got a guy named Bill Carlson canned. He was the head of the Foreign Labor Certification Unit at DOL. That’s the unit that requires labor market tests for employers seeking green cards for foreign workers. He was very tough (kind of obnoxious actually) and he had all kinds of policies that made the system tough on employers. He got canned something like a day after the elections. (“Reassigned” – not truly canned of course.)

This gets a bit outside my scope of expertise but it seems like Silicon Valley has been getting all kinds of stuff – they have a Christmas tree of gifts in this EA (executive action), expanded visa availability for Chinese, changes in the labor market test under a new director at DOL, heck – even net neutrality is a payback to Google, right?

According to the New York Times, Google has been an ardent supporter of regulation of the Internet in the name of “net neutrality.” At this point, however, it is exercising its right to remain silent on the administration’s push. Perhaps Google’s silence is “the perfectest herald of joy,” as one of Shakespeare’s characters has it. I’m guessing it is.

Further to his original point, the attorney adds:

My main point on this stuff is that the Executive Action violates very basic understandings of fundamental fairness. The Left is always telling us about fairness and even as wayward as the country is, I think there are a lot of people who do have a core sense of right and wrong and the fact that people who are in the US legally are in a worse position than people in the US illegally – that strikes a chord, and for Republicans looking for a way to engage on this issue, I think this is a perfect way to do it – to say that they oppose Executive Action because not only because it is Executive overreach but substantively it puts people who broke the law in a better position than many people who have abided by the law and for that reason it should be opposed.

And on the technicalities, he adds:

Procedurally what happens is an undocumented person applies for ‘deferred action’ and then after receiving this ‘quasi-status’ – he/she is eligible for work authorization.

See the last paragraph on page 4 of this key memo: “Applicants must file the requisite applications for deferred action pursuant to the new criteria described above. Applicants must also submit biometrics for USCIS to conduct background checks similar to the background check that is required for DACA applicants. Each person who applies for deferred action pursuant to the criteria above shall also be eligible to apply for work authorization for the period of deferred action, pursuant to my authority to grant such authorization reflected in section 274A(h)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

This is similar to what was done for the “Dreamers” in the summer of 2012, but this announcement is like Dreamers on Steroids, as it impacts/benefits 10x (estimate?) the number of people….But I still think the beginning of pushback can come by Republican officeholders saying, “I oppose immigration reform that is done unilaterally by the executive branch and I oppose immigration reform, as dictated by the President, that would allow those who broke the law to be in a better position than those who complied with the law.”

We will have to return to these issues.

The House Intelligence Committee’s Benghazi Report — more than fair

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has issued its report on the Benghazi attack. You can find it here.

The Committee concludes, among things, that CIA personnel on the ground in Benghazi during the attack behaved bravely and made reasonable tactical decisions that saved lives, and that the CIA received all military support that was available.

It further concludes that after the attack, the administration’s initial public narrative (via Susan Rice) on the causes and motivations for the attack was not fully accurate. In addition, edits made to the Benghazi “talking points” were not fully accurate, and the process that produced the talking points was flawed. However, the Committee stops short of finding misconduct or bad faith on the part of Susan Rice or any other administration official.

The Committee’s findings will disappoint many of the right. However, I believe it should be commended for attempting to be fair-minded, rather than partisan, about this politically-charged matter.

This doesn’t mean, though, that all of the Committee’s conclusions are correct, or that it drew all of the conclusions that it should have. Nor is the Committee’s word necessarily final. A Select Committee on Benghazi, under the leadership of Trey Gowdy, is in the process of investigating the matter.

For what it’s worth, I find persuasive the Intelligence Committee’s conclusions about the response to the attack by the CIA and the military. As I’ve said before, it’s doubtful that the CIA and/or our armed forces missed a realistic rescue opportunity. And recent allegations that the CIA issued a “stand-down order” to Benghazi security personal strike me as weak, for reasons I’ll discuss later.

By contrast, I’m far from persuaded by the report’s unwillingness to infer bad faith on the part of Susan Rice and/or other administration officials. The Committee relies on the fact that, at the time Rice went on television, there were conflicting intelligence reports about the Benghazi attack. This is true, but does not exonerate Rice.

Rice’s line on the Sunday talk shows was that the Benghazi attack was a “direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated.” Rice claimed that this was “our best current assessment, based on the information we have at present.”

But it’s clear to me from the Committee’s report that when Rice spoke, it was not the “best current assessment” that the Benghazi attack was “a direct result of a. . .video.” There was some intelligence that tended to support this view, but it never had a preponderance of the evidence behind it.

Rice chose to adopt the most politically convenient explanation and to invest it with a status (“best current assessment”) that it neither had nor deserved. This smacks of bad faith.

Then, there are the famous Benghazi “talking points.” The Committee finds that they were the result of a flawed process and were not fully accurate. But it finds no bad faith. Instead, it accepts Mike Morrell’s questionable claims that there was no political pressure from the White House and that the watering down of the document mainly reflected how little was actually known about the situation.

There’s an obvious disconnect here. The talking points supposedly were edited to reflect uncertainty. But in her television appearances, Susan Rice resolved the uncertainty in favor of an explicit claim that the attacks were directly caused by the video.

It seems obvious that not everyone was operating in good faith. In declining to so find, I believe the Committee is being “more than fair” to the Obama administration, and I mean that literally. The Committee is giving the White House more benefit of the doubt than fairness requires, or warrants.

Now, as promised, let me deal with the Committee’s treatment of the allegations by certain Benghazi security personnel that they were told by the CIA to “stand down” during the early stage of the attack. They have presented this claim in a book about the attack called 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi. They also presented it in a riveting hour-long Fox News special. Fox has continued to promote the allegation on various prime time shows.

The Committee rejects the claim that there was a stand-down order. It finds instead that “there were mere tactical disagreements about the speed with which the [security] team should depart [for the State Department's facility] prior to securing additional security assets,” i.e., local militias.

The Committee also finds that the decision by the Chief of Base to wait was a reasonable one based on the information available at the time. But whatever one concludes about the merits of the decision, I see no scandal here, just a disagreement about the best way to proceed in conditions of great uncertainty.

The Committee says that “the evidence from eyewitness testimony, ISR vedeo footage, closed-circuit television recordings, and other sources provides no support for the allegation that there was any stand-down order.” It’s my understanding that the authors of 13 Hours testified before the Committee. By saying that the eyewitness testimony doesn’t support the claim of a stand-down order, the Committee is saying, I think, that the authors did not testify under oath that they were told to stand down.

Finally, let me mention one aspect of the Committee’s report that you probably won’t read about in the mainstream media or in administration talking points. The Committee states that, according to CIA security personnel, State Department security agents repeatedly said they were ill-equipped and ill-trained to contend with the threat environment in Benghazi. Indeed, they knew well before the attacks that they could not defend the State Department’s facility against an armed assault.

These State Department agents told the CIA that they had requested additional resources. Their request was still pending on September 11, 2012.

The House Intelligence Committee has spoken. The ball is in the court of Chairman Gowdy and his Select Benghazi Committee. Let’s see what it concludes.

Is There Any Hope For Our Civilization?

I am an inveterate optimist, but the more I learn about what goes on in our universities, the more I conclude that our civilization has a death wish. Heather Mac Donald’s article in City Journal on “micro-aggression” at UCLA prompted this particular bout of despondency. What goes on in our universities is scarcely believable. Mac Donald’s article is lengthy and should be read in its entirety, but here are a few excerpts with my comments.

In November 2013, two dozen graduate students at the University of California at Los Angeles marched into an education class and announced a protest against its “hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color.”

Scholars of Color? Sadly, this is not a parody. And these are graduate students–i.e., presumably adults.

[UCLA], which trumpets its “social-justice” mission at every opportunity, is a cauldron of simmering racial tensions. Students specializing in “critical race theory”—an intellectually vacuous import from law schools—play the race card incessantly against their fellow students and their professors, leading to an atmosphere of nervous self-censorship. Foreign students are particularly shell-shocked by the school’s climate. “The Asians are just terrified,” says a recent graduate. “They walk into this hyper-racialized environment and have no idea what’s going on. Their attitude in class is: ‘I don’t want to talk. Please don’t make me talk!’”

They were silly enough to think that one goes to school to get an education.

Val Rust’s dissertation-prep class had devolved into a highly charged arena of competing victim ideologies, impenetrable to anyone outside academia. For example: Were white feminists who use “standpoint theory”—a feminist critique of allegedly male-centered epistemology—illegitimately appropriating the “testimonial” genre used by Chicana feminists to narrate their stories of oppression?

Um. Sure. Again, this is not a parody.

Other debates centered on the political implications of punctuation. Rust had changed a student’s capitalization of the word “indigenous” in her dissertation proposal to the lowercase, thus allegedly showing disrespect for the student’s ideological point of view. Tensions arose over Rust’s insistence that students use the more academic Chicago Manual of Style for citation format; some students felt that the less formal American Psychological Association conventions better reflected their political commitments.

Punctuation, I was always good at. Like spelling. On the other hand, when it came to calculus, I really wish that I could have claimed that my answers “better reflected my political commitments.” Dumb as those commitments may have been at the time.

After each of these debates, the self-professed “students of color” exchanged e-mails about their treatment by the class’s “whites.” (Asians are not considered “persons of color” on college campuses, presumably because they are academically successful.) Finally, on November 14, 2013, the class’s five “students of color,” accompanied by “students of color” from elsewhere at UCLA, as well as by reporters and photographers from the campus newspaper, made their surprise entrance into Rust’s class as a “collective statement of Resistance by Graduate Students of Color.” The protesters formed a circle around Rust and the remaining five students (one American, two Europeans, and two Asian nationals) and read aloud their “Day of Action Statement.” That statement suggests that Rust’s modest efforts to help students with their writing faced obstacles too great to overcome.

The professor was trying to teach students–graduate students!–to write properly, and they took it as an affront to their racial identity. As though there were some correlation between skin color and literacy. That is a view that used to be called “racist,” but is now apparently de rigueur among liberals.

It turns out that the professor was correct: the protesters can’t write.

The Day of Action Statement contains hardly a sentence without some awkwardness of grammar or usage. “The silence on the repeated assailment of our work by white female colleagues, our professor’s failure to acknowledge and assuage the escalating hostility directed at the only Male of Color in this cohort, as well as his own repeated questioning of this male’s intellectual and professional decisions all support a complacency in this hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color,” the manifesto asserts. The Day of Action Statement denounces the class’s “racial microaggressions,” which it claims have been “directed at our epistemologies, our intellectual rigor and to a misconstruction of the methodological genealogies that we have shared with the class.” (Though it has only caught on in recent years, the “microaggression” concept was first coined in the 1970s by a black psychiatrist.) Reaching its peroration, the statement unleashes a few more linguistic head-scratchers: “It is, at its most benign, disingenuous to the next generations of Scholars of Color to not seek material and systematic changes in this department. It is a toxic, unsafe and intellectually stifling environment at its current worse.”

Understand that the morons who wrote this incoherent drivel, which wouldn’t have passed muster at my public high school in South Dakota, are PhD candidates. They are going to become teachers who will do their best to transmit their venomous ignorance to the next generation.

How did UCLA respond? The administration appointed a Race and Ethnic Relations Committee, and they cut loose the professor who tried to teach his students to write. In American universities, as best I can tell, idiocy reigns supreme.

Does this mean that our civilization is doomed? It may. Our best hope seems to be that everyone realizes that academia is hopeless, and should just be ignored.

Funniest Paragraph of the Day, Courtesy of the NY Times

The New York Times has a longish story today about an internal fight going on at the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA, where Unitarian Universalists apparently go for advanced theological instruction.  Yes, that would seem like a short curriculum to me, too; either that or it’s one of those mail order diploma mills where you send in 25 cents and two cereal boxtops, and you’ll be given a diploma to ply your trade at the nearest congregation of the Church of What’s Happening Now.

But apparently there’s been a bitter fight about selecting a new president for this important institution, and some students who got in the fray are having their emails scrutinized, etc.  The punch line, though, comes in the very last paragraph, with a quote from one of students whose diploma is being withheld:

“Unitarian Universalism is not a theologically grounded religion,” Ms. Brock said. “If we mess up our principles and values, we don’t have a theology to fall back on. We’re not Catholic — we can’t just keep giving communion until we figure it out. If we don’t have our values figured out, our institutions become pointless bureaucracies.”

Evelyn Waugh or Peter DeVries could hardly write better satire than this.

UPDATE: A friend who attended another seminary clustered at Berkeley writes in:

Used to joke about Starr King when I was across the street at my seminary. Said they taught basket weaving as theology. Lo and behold, one term they listed “the Spirituality of Native American Basket Making” as an actual class.

Another al-Shabab Massacre In Kenya

Twenty terrorists from al-Shabab, the Somali Islamic group, ambushed a bus near Mandera, Kenya, with 60 passengers on board. They segregated those who didn’t look Somali and–since al-Shabab has nothing to do with Islam, as President Obama likes to assure us–demanded that they recite the Shahada. The 28 who couldn’t do so were lined up on the ground and shot. Warning: graphic photo.

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The dead included nine women and 17 teachers. Apparently none of the terrorists was wearing a shirt with pretty girls on it, so American feminists haven’t commented.

Kenya is a relatively advanced country, but its authorities seem unprepared to deal with brutal terrorists:

A shortage of personnel and lack of equipment led to a slow response by police when the information was received, said two police officers who insisted on anonymity because they were ordered not to speak to the press. They said the attackers have more sophisticated weaponry than the police who waited for military reinforcements before responding.

Kenya has strict gun laws, a policy it might want to re-think. When police don’t even dare pursue terrorists, the first line of defense is the only line of defense.