More on “more than fair”

Yesterday, I wrote about the report on Benghazi issued by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The report found essentially no fault on the part of the CIA or the military in its response the attack in Benghazi — findings that I consider sound.

The report also finds that the administration’s subsequent narrative about the attack was the product of a “flawed” process. What’s more it finds that aspects of the narrative were inaccurate. However, it did not find willful deception or bad faith on the part of any administration official.

The administration and its supporters will, I assume, construe the lack of such findings as exoneration. They should not.

The Committee made no determination one way or another as to the motivation and thought processes of Susan Rice and other administration officials involved in the post-attack spin. It found neither bad faith and dishonesty nor their absence.

Why didn’t the Committee make such findings, one way or the other? The main reason, I suspect, is that the Republican members wanted bipartisan agreement as to the facts (including the fact that Rice’s comments were inaccurate). Keep in mind too that the House Intelligence Committee is something of an island of bipartisanship in the stormy seas of Capitol Hill, which is probably a good thing given the vital and sensitive nature of its work.

Republican members must also have been mindful that Trey Gowdy’s special committee is tasked investigating the Obama administration’s post-attack behavior, among other things. Thus, the honesty and good faith of Team Obama (or the lack thereof) remains the subject of an important, well-publicized House investigation. Indeed, by not opining on this subject, the Intelligence Committee invites Gowdy’s committee to focus sharply on it, and precludes any valid claim that the issue was resolved by another committee.

That said, I still would have preferred a report that was fair, rather than “more than fair,” to administration. For the reasons I discussed yesterday, such a report would have inferred bad faith and dishonesty by Rice and probably others. However, I understand why the Republicans on the Committee settled for less.

Team Obama and its friends in the media may try to create the impression that the administration has dodged a bullet on Benghazi. In reality, it hasn’t.

Rather, a bipartisan House committee has found that key statements by the administration about Benghazi were false. And it has left for Gowdy’s committee the task of determining Whether the false statements were bad faith efforts to deceive.

Renewable Energy Will Never Work, But Can Nuclear?

Via the indispensable Watts Up With That? come two of the most interesting articles I have read in a very long time. The first is by two Google engineers who were charged with thinking creatively about how to replace fossil fuels with renewables. After four years, Google shut down the project. The engineers concluded that it simply couldn’t be done:

At the start of RE

As we reflected on the project, we came to the conclusion that even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach. ...

Incremental improvements to existing technologies aren’t enough; we need something truly disruptive to reverse climate change. What, then, is the energy technology that can meet the challenging cost targets? How will we remove CO2 from the air? We don’t have the answers. Those technologies haven’t been invented yet.

Note that these engineers are not climate skeptics; they assume that the global warming theory is true. On that assumption, renewable energy simply can’t make a significant difference.

The second article is a comment on the Google engineers’ analysis by Lewis Page in The Register. Page elaborates on the impossibility of renewable energy making a significant dent in carbon dioxide emissions:

Whenever somebody with a decent grasp of maths and physics looks into the idea of a fully renewables-powered civilised future for the human race with a reasonably open mind, they normally come to the conclusion that it simply isn’t feasible. Merely generating the relatively small proportion of our energy that we consume today in the form of electricity is already an insuperably difficult task for renewables: generating huge amounts more on top to carry out the tasks we do today using fossil-fuelled heat isn’t even vaguely plausible.

Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear. All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms – and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on. The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race.

In reality, well before any such stage was reached, energy would become horrifyingly expensive – which means that everything would become horrifyingly expensive (even the present well-under-one-per-cent renewables level in the UK has pushed up utility bills very considerably).

That’s the bad news. The good news, Page argues, is that we already have the disruptive technology that is needed to replace fossil fuels–energy that is cheap, readily available and can be both distributed and dispatchable: nuclear power. Nuclear energy, he argues, is made expensive only by a ridiculous degree of over-regulation in the name of safety.

Both of the linked articles are brief and should be read in their entirety. Is Page right about nuclear power? I am not sure how low the true cost of electricity produced through nuclear energy could go, but I will say this: if climate alarmists really believed the claims they make about global warming–I don’t think they do–they would be agitating tirelessly for lightly-regulated nuclear energy.

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Miss World 2014: A Preview

I didn’t cover the Miss World pageant last year because the organizers, fearing possible terrorism in Indonesia, canceled the swimsuit competition. This year the event returns to London, its original home. The finale will be on December 14, but the contestants have already arrived and the sports events are under way.

More than ever, it seems that beauty pageants mirror the themes of current news headlines. This year, most tragically, domestic violence intruded, as Miss Honduras, María José Alvarado, was murdered, along with her sister, by the sister’s ex-boyfriend, the evening before she would have flown to London.

There are always a few countries where the local pageant takes a weird turn. Like, for example, Uganda, where the Miss World contest was taken over by the Army as a means of promoting agriculture. Seriously:

This was certainly a beauty pageant with a difference. The swimsuit section was cast aside for an army-style boot camp, the milking of cows, and showing your skills at handling goats and sheep. At the awards ceremony, contestants were quizzed on farming techniques, as the hosts believe agriculture is a “Ugandan value” and should be celebrated.

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Then there is the competing World Muslimah Award, which has just wrapped up:

Dressed in headscarves and judged partly on their knowledge of the Koran, 18 finalists took part in a beauty contest with a difference in Indonesia on Friday – one exclusively for Muslims, and seen as a riposte to Western beauty pageants. …

But they were being judged not only their appearance but also on how well they could recite verses from the Koran and their views on Islam in the modern world.

“We want to see that they understand everything about the Islamic way of life – from what they eat, what they wear, how they live their lives,” said Jameyah Sheriff, one of the organizers.

The eventual winner was a 25-year-old computer scientist from Tunisia, Fatma Ben Guefrache, whose prize included a gold watch, a gold dinar and a mini pilgrimage to Mecca.

“May almighty Allah help me in this mission, and free Palestine, please, please, free Palestine and the Syrian people,” she said in a tearful acceptance speech.

Yeah, whatever. I’m not sure this is going to catch on; certainly not in the West:

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With the real thing now going on, you can follow the proceedings at the Miss World web site, which, as in past years, is barely adequate. You can also see brief videos introducing the contestants on the pageant’s YouTube channel. Here, for example, is Miss Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Betting odds are barely beginning to take shape, so, until the favorites emerge, I will just note a few contestants who strike me as strong contenders. Like Anissa Blondin, Miss Belgium:

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Rolene Strauss, Miss South Africa, a medical student who says that bungee jumping “made me reconsider everything in my life”:

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Rosetta Cartwright, Miss Bahamas, whose favorite books are Harlequin romance novels:

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And finally–for today–Miss Colombia, Leandra Garcia Caicedo, whose favorite author is Oscar Wilde:

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More coverage to come.

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.