Friday, December 11, 2015

Mr. Steyn Goes To Washington

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) talks to witness Mark Steyn at Tuesday's Hearing on Climate Change
held by the Senate Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee

Writer Mark Steyn had a Mr Smith Goes to Washington afternoon last Tuesday, when he testified in the Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee's magnificently ornate Senate Russell Office Building Hearing Room 253 in a hearing chaired by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) titled "Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over Human Impact on Earth's Climate".  

In a post on SteynOnline entitled Markey Mark, Steyn was bitter about his confrontation with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) as an expert witness, condemning the U.S. Senate as an institution--despite beating the odds by getting a Senator to answer a question from a witness, a very unusual if not unprecedented occurrence. But that very colloquy shone a spotlight on just how contentious and treacherous the issue of climate change has become--global warming revealed as a political "hot potato."

Intended to showcase climate data analysis from dissenting scientists, just as the COP-21 meetings also known as the Paris Climate Conference were taking place, the afternoon's hearing began  dramatically, when a Greenpeace activist approached noted Princeton physics professor Dr. William Happer for an ambush interview captured on video posted to YouTube:

Apparently there had been a protest rally prior to the hearing, objecting to allowing the dissidents to testify in the first place. So, perhaps this confrontation may have been designed to mau-mau a witness--Dr. Happer had, Wikipedia reported, been "stung" by Greenpeace before. In any case, nerves were obviously raw from the get-go, and there didn't appear to be much staff support for Dr. Happer during the ugly incident.

Seated a few rows behind the confrontation, I noticed a young man standing oddly, pressing his chest firmly against Steyn's. They looked like two wildebeest in a National Geographic nature documentary. The straining duo were soon separated by a policewoman. After watching the video, it turned out that Steyn had been trying to prevent fisticuffs, interposing his person between the outraged witness and his Javert. Steyn was acting as bodyguard. 

It seemed odd that that what ought to have been a cold-blooded discussion of scientific data points could produce so much heat. Who could have guessed that looking at temperature charts and graphs could set blood boiling?

In any case, following this brief clash, the hearing commenced with opening statements from Senators in attendance. 

Immediately, another phenomenon was obvious. 

Apparently, all the Democratic subcommittee members were present and accounted for: Senator Tom Udall, (D-NM), the Ranking Member; Senator Ed Markey (D-MA); Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ); Senator Gary Peters (D-MI); Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI). Also in attendance,  the Ranking Member of Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). 

In Washington, as Woody Allen once joked, ninety percent of success is showing up. All the Democrats showed up.  

However, John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the full committee, was a no-show. 

Thus, the most senior Senator present for the hearing, in an institution dedicated to Seniority (hence the name "Senate"), was a Democrat. 

Only one other Republican was present on the dais, Senators Steve Daines (R-MT). All the other G.O.P. members, including Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) were absent. Message: I don't care.

So the signal from the G.O.P. was clear: Chairman Cruz was almost home alone, while the Democrats were united. 

Given the rules of the Senate, where question-and-answer time at a hearing is allocated among Senators, as opposed to witnesses, it meant that the Democrats would enjoy a 6-2 advantage during the proceedings. Cruz had obviously failed to garner the support of his subcommittee. While he could chair the hearing as a personal prerogative, he would not be able to control the questioning, nor would he be able to count on the intercession of Republican Senators to  back up witnesses, should they be browbeaten or ignored.

The layout of the witness table revealed serious shortcomings in subcommittee staff work as well. Alongside Steyn were Dr. John Christy, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville;  Dr. Judith Curry, Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology;  Dr. William Happer, Cyrus Fogg Bracket Professor of Physics, Princeton University; and Dr. David Titley (Rear Admiral, USN (ret.)), Professor of Practice, Department of Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University, Director, Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk.

While Steyn and Professors Christy, Curry and Happer were Majority witnesses, called by the G.O.P. to raise questions about purported climate change data, Dr. Titley was a Minority witness, called by the Democrats. Given the attendance at the hearing, that meant for every two questions asked by two Republicans of four witnesses, six could be asked by Democrats of one witness. 

The principle of most Senate hearings is that Democrats call on Minority witnesses. and Republicans call on Majority witnesses. So, some back-of-the-envelope arithmetic shows that before one word had been spoken, Dr. Tilley would have  had 30 minutes during each round of questioning (6 Democratic Senators x 5 minutes) versus each of the others, who could be recognized for only 2.5 minutes each, if all were called upon equally (2 G.O.P. Senators x 5 minutes = 10 minutes / 4 witnesses = 2.5 minutes).

While subcommittee staff might not be able to command Senators to attend when the Chairman is unable to persuade them, staff could have arranged separate panels of Majority and Minority witnesses, so that Democrats would not have been able to dominate the questioning of Republican experts. In order to give a hearing to the complainants, Majority witnesses could have been scheduled first, then Minority witnesses on a second panel. It would have been fairer to the experts themselves--two of whom left the hearing room early after being alternately ignored and insulted by the Democrats: Dr. Christy, perhaps the world's leading authority on satellite remote sensing of global temperatures related to climate change; and Dr. Curry, author of Thermodynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans.

In the end, unfortunately, the hearing resembled farcical scenes with Senator Dilworthy in Mark Twain's satirical novel of Washington, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.

As someone who has testified before Congress in a similarly controversial debate, I would say based upon my experience that it is likely that poor staff work by the Majority permitted subcommittee witnesses to be abused by the Minority and the hearings to become a circus. 

For example, subcommittee staffers did not even manage to arrange for C-Span coverage of a hearing with a celebrity witness chaired by a Presidential candidate on one of the hottest topics in politics: Global Climate Change. Likewise, there was no coverage in major media such as network news, The New York Times, or Washington Post.

Indeed, during the hearing it was Mark Steyn, rather than either Republican Senator, who came to the rescue of a damsel in distress, when Senator Markey insulted Professor Curry's integrity as a scientist, then wouldn't allow her to respond. Stein demanded that the Senator allow her a right of reply, which resulted in an unusual colloquy, also captured in a YouTube video:

Only later, when Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) denied Steyn a right of reply, did Chairman Cruz recognize the witness himself:

Bottom line: While he deserves credit for raising important issues and inviting climate dissidents to present their concerns before the Senate, Chairman Cruz and his staff failed to properly manage the hearings to insure that expert witnesses were respected and their message communicated clearly to the public.

If Senator Cruz seriously wants to be elected President of the United States, he'll need to show he can do a better job of managing his own subcommittee.