Thursday, April 16, 2009

Statement of President Barack Obama on Release of OLC Memos

Statement of President Barack Obama on Release of OLC Memos
White House, Apr 16, 2009

The Department of Justice will today release certain memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 as part of an ongoing court case. These memos speak to techniques that were used in the interrogation of terrorism suspects during that period, and their release is required by the rule of law.

My judgment on the content of these memos is a matter of record. In one of my very first acts as President, I prohibited the use of these interrogation techniques by the United States because they undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer. Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past.

But that is not what compelled the release of these legal documents today. While I believe strongly in transparency and accountability, I also believe that in a dangerous world, the United States must sometimes carry out intelligence operations and protect information that is classified for purposes of national security. I have already fought for that principle in court and will do so again in the future. However, after consulting with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and others, I believe that exceptional circumstances surround these memos and require their release.

First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program – and some of the practices – associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.

Going forward, it is my strong belief that the United States has a solemn duty to vigorously maintain the classified nature of certain activities and information related to national security. This is an extraordinarily important responsibility of the presidency, and it is one that I will carry out assertively irrespective of any political concern. Consequently, the exceptional circumstances surrounding these memos should not be viewed as an erosion of the strong legal basis for maintaining the classified nature of secret activities. I will always do whatever is necessary to protect the national security of the United States.

This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.

The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.

US State Dept on Moldova: Aftermath of Protests

Moldova: Aftermath of Protests. By Robert Wood, Acting Department Spokesman
US State Dept, Thu, 16 Apr 2009 16:38:10 -0500

The United States is concerned about the situation in Moldova following the violence on April 7. Although order has been restored and subsequent demonstrations have been peaceful, we have received reports from civil society and international observers of mistreatment of those detained by Moldovan authorities. We are also troubled by reports that students and journalists have been intimidated by government officials. President Voronin’s announcement of an amnesty for many of those detained is an encouraging step toward reconciliation.

We urge the government to act in accordance with Moldovan law and its international obligations when dealing with the opposition, protesters, and the media. All parties need to conduct themselves responsibly. It is also important that the government reach out to opposition parties and address their concerns about the April 5 election in a cooperative and transparent manner. We stress that there is no excuse for violence, such as took place on April 7. The United States remains committed to working closely with Moldova and its people as the country continues down the path of European integration. Respect for the rule of law and human rights are key elements in our relationship.


PRN: 2009/340

Libertarian: A Bold Plan B for North Korea

A Bold Plan B for North Korea, by Ted Galen Carpenter
Cato, April 15, 2009

North Korea's announced withdrawal Tuesday from the six-party talks in response to the UN Security Council's tepid reaction to the April 5 missile test raises a disturbing possibility. The US and the governments of East Asia have proceeded on the assumption that a diplomatic solution to North Korea's nuclear program is feasible. That settlement would entail Pyongyang's renunciation of its nuclear ambitions in exchange for diplomatic and economic concessions.
But what if the underlying assumption is wrong?

What if, for six years, Kim Jong Il's regime has been merely stalling for time while building nuclear warheads and perfecting a reliable missile delivery system? It would have been relatively easy for Pyongyang to ignore the UN's condemnation and remain in the six-party talks. The Security Council's action Monday was utterly anemic, since the outcome was not even a binding resolution. It was merely a statement from the council president condemning the missile launch and admonishing member states to more effectively enforce the hardly robust sanctions imposed in 2006 following the North's nuclear test. Yet North Korea used the council's response as an excuse to quit the talks.

It is time to ask what the US and North Korea's neighbors in East Asia plan to do if Pyongyang is not willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions. In other words, what is "Plan B" if the six-party talks fail? Since military action against North Korea is far too dangerous, there appear to be only three other options, and none is entirely appealing or without risk.

The first option would be to follow the suggestion of former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton and other hard-liners to impose far stronger multilateral economic sanctions. That strategy has a big defect, however. Both Beijing and Moscow are vehemently opposed to enhanced sanctions. China's opposition is crucial because without Chinese cooperation, coercive economic measures would have little impact on Pyongyang. And given the dependence on Beijing's willingness to continue funding the soaring US treasury debt, American officials are not in a good bargaining position to pressure China into endorsing robust sanctions.

The second option would be to accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state and rely on deterrence to prevent aggressive behavior. There is a credible argument for that approach. After all, the US has deterred other nuclear bad actors in the past, most notably the Soviet Union and Maoist China, and the vast US strategic arsenal probably could deter the likes of Kim Jong Il.

But being able to deter an outright attack still leaves room for dangerous North Korean mischief. Pyongyang's proliferation activities are especially worrisome. North Korea's apparent nuclear assistance to Syria makes one wonder what other countries – or even more troubling, nonstate actors – might also be beneficiaries of such aid. Living with a nuclear-capable North Korea would be, at the least, a nerve-wracking experience.

There is a final option that deserves consideration. It would amount to inducing (bribing) China to remove Kim Jong Il's regime and install a more pragmatic government in Pyongyang, along with the explicit condition of keeping the country nonnuclear. Part of the bargain also ought to be a commitment from Beijing to promote the reunification of the two Koreas within the next generation. During my visit to China last year, policymakers there professed loyalty to Beijing's longtime ally, but there was also a distinct undertone of exasperation with Pyongyang.

If the price were right, Chinese leaders might be bold enough to topple Kim with a palace coup. But the price would certainly not be cheap. At the least, Beijing would want a commitment from the US to end its military presence on the Korean Peninsula and, probably, to phase out its security alliance with South Korea. In all likelihood, Chinese leaders also would want US concessions on the Taiwan issue.

Those steps might not be easy for US policymakers. But American – and East Asian – leaders must ask themselves whether such sacrifices might be a necessary price to end the North Korean nuclear threat.

In any case, US and East Asian officials need to be thinking about a Plan B now. It is not a prudent strategy simply to hope that the six-party talks will produce an enforceable, effective solution. Given North Korea's record, that is merely the triumph of hope over experience.

A weaker U.S. military will undermine stability in Asia

Coming to Asia's Defense. By Dan Blumenthal
A weaker U.S. military will undermine stability in the region.
WSJ, Apr 16, 2009

Former President George W. Bush's critics liked to say that during his term America was "getting its derriere kicked" by China. By this the critics presumably meant that the war in Iraq was a big distraction and that the United States was not attending enough Asian multilateral conferences and showing off its "soft power."

While the case was never overwhelming, it contained a kernel of truth. Beijing did gain regional influence at Washington's expense under former President Bush's watch. Now President Barack Obama is doing his predecessor one better: By imposing draconian defense cuts, heavily targeted on high-technology weapons systems and "power-projection" platforms essential to preserving U.S. military superiority in the Pacific, America may not have much of a derriere left in Asia at all.

Though "soft power" and "smart power" are all the rage in foreign-policy circles, Asia remains a dangerous place where good, old-fashioned "hard power" still matters. Certainly China and North Korea think so. Pyongyang poses a major conventional threat to South Korea and is inching closer to obtaining delivery systems for nuclear weapons that can pose a threat both to Japan and the continental U.S. Pyongyang's ballistic missile launch this month is only the latest sign of its growing threat to regional security.

China has built up its military across the board. Its submarine fleet has grown faster than any other in the world, it now has a large and lethal arsenal of conventional cruise and ballistic missiles, and it has announced plans to deploy aircraft carriers. Worrying about China is far from a case of what Defense Secretary Robert Gates calls "next war-itis." The U.S. isn't in a war with China -- mercifully -- but there is a military competition. China has already changed the military balance in the Asia-Pacific region to the great consternation of America's key allies, such as Japan and India.

The point is not that Washington is poised to go to war with North Korea and China. To the contrary, only by maintaining its role as Asia's security guarantor can the U.S. hope to secure an enduring peace in this dynamic region.

That is why the Obama administration's defense cuts are so detrimental to American strategy. The day after North Korea's long-range missile test, the U.S. announced deep cuts to missile defense and satellite programs. The Airborne Laser program that Mr. Obama axed is not only the most promising and immediate method for intercepting ballistic missiles in the early "boost" phase, shortly after launch, but also the first significant use of directed energy, a technology that may prove to be yet another revolutionary change in warfare sparked by American ingenuity.

There are further implications for Asia in the Obama defense cuts: The decision to reduce production of stealthy F-22s ends any hope that Japan can buy this air supremacy aircraft and add to its own deterrent. Nor can American dominance of the skies, historically the cornerstone of U.S. military superiority, be assured.

Also missing from the defense budget is any increase in the submarine or surface fleet. The Navy set a goal of a 313-ship fleet only a few years ago, up from around 280 today (roughly half of the total at the end of the Cold War), yet the Obama plan falls well short of that number.

Indeed, the yin of American cuts is almost perfectly reflected in the yang of China's skyrocketing investments in its own fleet. This will inevitably chip away at America's ability to track the Chinese deployment of submarines throughout the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. Just last month China demonstrated its newfound military muscle when its warships harassed an American surveillance vessel conducting lawful missions in the South China Sea.

Worse still, growing Chinese dominance of Pacific waterways will begin to affect maritime commerce and will soon become a factor in America's strategic calculus in the region. Chinese military attack boats and ballistic missile submarines that carry the means for nuclear attack cannot be easily dismissed if the U.S. is to maintain its status as keeper of the peace in the Pacific. And regional commanders, presented with the reality of this growing imbalance between the U.S. and China, will be forced to give up important regional missions, from presence and security cooperation in South East Asia to deterring aggression and defending allies in North Asia.

In announcing his defense cuts, Mr. Gates stated that he was making "a virtue of necessity," conceding that the Obama plan was an exercise in budget cutting to pay for favored domestic programs. Mr. Gates promises that he will explain his judgments about "balancing risks" sometime soon, but a risk assessment is no substitute for a strategy. If Mr. Obama wants to continue America's strategy of guaranteeing Asia's security, his defense plan will not give him the means.

In the near future, Mr. Obama will announce his policies toward China and North Korea and they will, in some way, continue those of his predecessors. He will undoubtedly want to "engage" China and "hedge" against a downturn in relations. He will pronounce a nuclear North Korea unacceptable to the U.S. The problem is that without the military power to back up America's diplomatic goals, these policy proclamations ring increasingly hollow. America's allies know it. And, even worse, China and North Korea know it. The question is, can Congress find the political will to stop these cuts and the blow they strike to U.S. objectives in Asia?

Mr. Blumenthal is a resident fellow in Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

Technically feasible, but economically unfeasible? - On UCS Report on Renewables

Flaws in the UCS Report on Renewables
IER, April 15, 2009

In the ongoing debate over “renewable energy,” one of the primary sticking points is the compliance costs that government mandates would impose on utilities, consumers and the broader economy. Critics of a federal electricity mandate have warned that the Southeast in particular would be hard-hit by proposals to produce a certain percentage of electricity from approved technologies.

In response, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has recently released a new study prepared by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.[i] The study surveys some of the literature and declares that:

The Southeast has the ingenuity and renewable energy resources to become more prosperous and energy independent. Utilities across eleven Southeastern states can tap homegrown clean energy resources to meet a significant percentage of electric power demands. Our analysis of renewable energy estimates in the region show sufficient resources to fulfill an aggressive national mandate for renewable energy.

Yet despite the triumphant conclusion, the UCS’s touted study does little to move the debate forward. For one thing, its projections of renewable “potential” rely on very optimistic assumptions, and pick only the most favorable estimates from among the spectrum of plausible forecasts. Perhaps more significant, because the study focuses on matters of engineering, rather than economics, it almost entirely misses the point: The issue is not whether a proposed renewable electricity mandate is technically feasible, the question instead is how much will it hurt the economy? Unfortunately, the UCS study contributes nothing to answering this crucial issue.

Rosy Scenarios

The UCS study explores the feasibility of a national renewable electricity mandate that requires 15% generation from renewables by 2015, 20% by 2020, and 25% by 2025. (It’s fortunate they did not attempt such legislation a few decades ago; one can imagine President Jimmy Carter signing a law requiring 85% renewables by 1985, 90% by 1990, and 95% by 1995…)
In achieving its optimistic projections for renewable electricity production in the Southeast, the UCS study relies on many assumptions. In its words:

Twenty-first century policies must prioritize actions that will achieve energy independence and minimize global warming pollution. In addition to a national Renewable Energy Standard (RES), the following policies are needed (and assumed in this analysis) to help achieve these goals:
  • National carbon dioxide “cap-and-trade” or equivalent policy.
  • Third party suppliers of electricity paid at market-based cost of service, reflecting off-peak and peak system value.
  • A solar “carve-out,” feed-in tariff, or other policy that provides a premium value for investment in solar energy (to the extent that this value is not already reflected in payments at a market-based cost of service).
  • Complementary government biofuel policies.
  • Responsible and predictable permitting for low-impact hydro, onshore wind, offshore wind and biomass power plants.
  • Extension and expansion of state and federal tax credits for renewable energy and efficiency through 2020.
Beyond the above, the study goes on to explain that its analysis also assumed:
  • Moderately high fossil fuel costs.
  • Relatively low capital costs for renewable energy projects that are sustained from recent experience.
  • Biomass resources proven to be available at the higher end of resource potential range.
  • Relatively rapid rate of technology adoption.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has done various studies on renewable mandates[ii] that show that the Southeast would need to buy credits from other regions to meet the mandate and that the Southeast’s major renewable technology is biomass.[iii] The EIA analyses compare favorably with the assumptions for biomass resources and capacity in the UCS study’s “feasible” category,[iv] but the resources in the study’s “potential” category[v] are more than double EIA’s total “potential” for biomass. EIA’s maximum generation capacity in the Southeast from biomass is 40.5 gigawatts, irrespective of price, while the UCS study purports over 90 gigawatts of “total biomass potential.”[vi]

Other renewable technologies are even more exaggerated in the study, relative to the government estimates. For example, EIA indicates about 7 gigawatts of offshore wind “potential” for Florida, which is in relatively deep water and of the lowest quality wind resource. Yet incredibly, the UCS study shows over 40 gigawatts of “potential” offshore wind resource in Florida with no indication regarding depth or wind quality, and claims that 612 megawatts are “feasible.” If offshore wind gets built in the U.S., it is unlikely to be built any further south than Cape Hatteras since the wind quality drops off quite precipitously in the south and decent quality wind is in very deep water. Costs would be prohibitively too high to access these lower quality wind resources and would not make economic sense unless there is a very severe push toward local renewable generating technologies. Further, the UCS study indicates that 14 gigawatts of onshore wind are “feasible,” while EIA analyses show that low quality wind resources in the West would be built before lower quality wind resources in the Southeast—a situation that would require the Southeast to buy credits from other states. Some federal lawmakers from the Southeast are quite worried about this potential wealth transfer from their region to other parts of the U.S.

Solar technology is another area of major discrepancy between the UCS report and official government projections. EIA does not believe that solar will be competitive for wholesale markets through 2030. In EIA’s renewable electricity analyses, solar energy penetration, which is all in end-use markets, reaches 20 gigawatts for the nation due to being awarded a “triple credit” in the proposed bill analyzed, meaning that distributed photovoltaics (PV) is awarded three times the credit price. That is, if renewable credits are trading at 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, end-use PV would be awarded a credit of 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. The UCS study believes that almost 80 gigawatts of solar are “feasible” in the Southeast alone, with a total “potential” of 545 gigawatts. While it is true that there is enough sunshine in the Southeast to serve energy needs several orders of magnitude in excess of expected demand, the economics for solar central station generation are not competitive with other renewable technologies, with its cost being more than three times higher than onshore wind and biomass and 1.5 times higher than offshore wind.[vii]

Finally, the UCS study also has extremely high values for total “potential” capacity for geothermal in the Southeast, at over 1,000 gigawatts, though they admit that the “feasible” capacity is zero. EIA’s analyses of renewable electricity mandates result in less than 10 gigawatts of geothermal capacity nationwide.

Engineering versus Economics

In the section above, we explained the numerous shortcomings in the study’s estimation of renewable potential. But even if we conceded the UCS study’s numbers, just for the sake of argument, it would still not follow that a national renewable electricity mandate is a good idea, or that the Southeastern economy would absorb the blow easily. This is because the UCS study has confused engineering with economics.

At best, all of the tables and citations in the UCS study prove only that it is physically possible for the utilities in Southeastern states to adapt to the renewable percentage mandates under a national renewable mandate. But so what? Just because something is technically feasible, does not make it economically efficient.

For an analogy, suppose that in an effort to reduce carbon emissions, the federal government mandates that 20 percent of every large corporation’s employees must ride bicycles to and from work. Business groups would of course complain that this would put an undue burden on large corporations and many employees would likely quit and seek work elsewhere. It would also impose huge new expenses on municipalities, who would have to completely revamp their roads to accommodate the huge surge in cyclists. Yes, these adaptations would be possible, but nonetheless, the draconian measure would still be incredibly costly. It would make business operations much less efficient and Americans on average would be poorer, because many workers would now be producing less output per day.

We face a similar situation when it comes to electricity generation. Currently, the United States only relies on the politically correct “renewable” technologies to produce 3% of its electricity.[viii] The reason for this isn’t some pro-fossil fuel bias on the part of the utilities; on the contrary, they rely on coal, oil, and natural gas because these are the most economical and dependable sources of power, at least with current technologies.

The marketplace is perfectly capable of fostering innovation. It didn’t take a federal tax on buggies or an annual cap on horse manure to force the U.S. transportation sector to switch over to automobiles in the early 20th century. By the same token, as wind, biomass, and other sources of electricity generation become more competitive with coal, oil and natural gas, then utilities will naturally expand their use. The UCS study had to assume “Extension and expansion of state and federal tax credits for renewable energy and efficiency through 2020” precisely because renewable energy sources can’t survive without government handouts.

An Energy Information Administration (EIA) report[ix] indicates that Federal subsidies for renewable generation for wind and solar in fiscal year 2007 were almost 100 times those for oil and gas-fired generation and over 50 times that of coal-fired generation. For example, EIA data show that solar power was subsidized at $24.34 per megawatt hour and wind power at $23.37 per megawatt hour for electricity generated in 2007. By contrast, traditional coal received 44 cents, natural gas and petroleum received 25 cents, hydroelectric power 67 cents, and nuclear power $1.59 per megawatt hour.[x] For wind power, these subsidies include a production tax credit of 2.0 cents per kilowatt-hour.[xi] However, they do not include accelerated depreciation (a five-year write-off), a favorable accounting treatment that wind developers receive.

As these facts indicate, for the UCS study to point to even the existing level of renewable electricity generation as proof that it “can work” misses the big picture: An operation isn’t efficient if it requires government support against its competition. If the government cut off its preferential treatment for wind and solar, these sources would become an even smaller portion of the current energy mix.

In a small section at its conclusion, the UCS study briefly addresses the economic impacts of a renewable electricity mandate. Yet here the study informs the reader that an additional set of government constraints will help the economy. In its words:

A national Renewable Energy Standard (RES) that reaches a target of 25% by 2025 can play an important role in strengthening our region’s economy. Developing the Southeast’s renewable energy potential will create new economic opportunities and spur demand for a variety of skilled trades and professional careers.

This is quite simply a crude fallacy. There is nothing intrinsic to the argument here about “green” jobs. If this logic is correct, then any government mandate on business—for example, to put polka dot wallpaper up on all their offices—would “create new economic opportunities” and “spur demand.” Yet that analysis can’t possibly be right. It overlooks all of the jobs that would be destroyed by the new mandate. And in the same way, the UCS study is ignoring the jobs that are destroyed by an renewable electricity mandate. It cites studies purporting to show otherwise, but such studies often contain very basic methodological errors.[xii] They can’t disprove the commonsensical insight that the government doesn’t make the economy more efficient by imposing more hoops for businesses to jump through. If it really made economic sense for the solar panel and wind turbine industries to grow and attract new workers, then those industries would do so in a free market.

John Adams once said “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever maybe our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannon alter the state of facts and evidence.” All too often, this important edict gets lost in the public debates on energy and environmental policy. By focusing on the technically “possible” and then claiming that new business regulations would boost the economy, the UCS study ignores the reality that certain and immediate economic harm would come from federal intervention into energy markets. And while some may support such a policy without regard to the costs, they cannot – and should not – be ignored.


[i] See “Yes We Can: Southern Solutions for a National Renewable Energy Standard,” available at:
[ii] For example, see Energy Information Administration, “Impacts of a 15-Percent Renewable Portfolio Standard,” June 2007,; and Energy Information Administration, “Energy and Economic Impacts of Implementing Both a 25-Percent RPS and a 25-Percent RFS by 2025,” September 2007,
[iii] Energy Information Administration, “Regional Generation Impacts of a 15-Percent Renewable Portfolio Standard,” August 2007,
[iv] The UCS study defines a feasible resource as “one that can be developed without compromising an obvious restriction or and under a reasonable (but perhaps aggressive) policy scenario.”
[v] According to the UCS study, “total potential capacity indicates the potential maximum peak output if all resources identified in the study were used to generate power.
[vi] EIA’s Southeast region includes Maryland and West Virginia, which are not in the UCS’s Southesat region.
[vii] Energy Information Administration, “Annual Energy Outlook 2009,” levelized generation costs.
[viii] Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, Table 7.2a,
[ix] Energy Information Administration, Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy Markets 2007,, Table 35.
[x] For more information on renewable subsidies, see
[xi] Energy Information Administration, Assumptions to the Annual Energy Outlook 2008, page 155,
[xii] For a critique of several leading “green jobs” proposals, see: “Green Jobs: Fact or Fiction?” at: