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Monday links



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100 years ago today Austria declared war on Serbia, the first declaration of World War 1.

Heck of a way to get into the Guinness Book of Records: Teenager Gets 232 Teeth Pulled Out.

Surprising Facts About Sharks.

This trailer for a Family Guy/Simpsons crossover is a hoot.

Fully functional microscope is built entirely out of Legos.

Midwest Mayfly Invasion

ICYMIFriday’s links are here, and include how a polyester sling works as a male contraceptive, auctioning off the world’s longest dinosaur poo, British inventor builds giant fart machine to fire at France, and amazing balloon sculptures.

Fund: Congress Going to Recess Without VA Reform Would Be ‘Dereliction of Duty’



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Re: In an English Country Garden



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A friend who read my posting today sends me a reminder of Kipling’s poem “The Glory of the Garden,” which can be read in full here. But this stanza seems especially appropriate:

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing: ” Oh, how beautiful,” and sitting in the shade
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives.
There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick
But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.

As always with Kipling the poem works at several levels. There are passages that seem to refer to today’s international situation — once gardens have been created, they need to be defended. But its main theme is the value and necessity of work. Far more than being the poet of imperialism, Kipling is the poet of work, which he sees as a combination of duty and reward. Much of his specifically imperial poetry also sounds the same chords — the imperialist is there to work for the betterment of the native peoples. That is not a very fashionable theme today, but it is undoubtedly what Kipling deeply believed — about Teddy Roosevelt’s America as much as about the British Empire. And the “glory” of the garden lies less in the final achievement than in the work of creating it.

That said, on the evidence of this poem, Kipling would also have liked the advice (passed on to me by the late Peter Bauer) about the psychology of gardening:

If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk; if you want to be happy for a month, get married; if you want to be happy for a lifetime, take up gardening.

Web Briefing: July 28, 2014

Obama Skids to All-Time Lows in CNN Poll



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The latest CNN poll is perhaps the worst polling news the White House has seen yet.

By a margin of 53 percent to 44 percent, Americans would now vote for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama if they had it to do over again. That nine-point margin is significantly bigger than the four-point 49 percent to 45 percent spread for Romney that CNN found just eight months ago in late 2013.

On various personal characteristics, Obama has slipped below 50 percent in a host of areas. Asked if Obama “generally agrees with you on issues you care about,” only 43 percent of voters agree. Asked if he is a “strong and decisive” leader only 48 percent agree; only 42 percent think he can effectively manage the government. The one area where Obama retains majority support is when people are asked if he cares about them — the quality that helped sink Mitt Romney’s technocratic campaign. On that issue, however, Obama is down to only 51 percent agreement.

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Our Russia Experts



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One of the more depressing things in watching Vladimir Putin is the manner in which Russian “experts” at home have for years now all but cheered him on. In the latest Nation magazine, Stephen Cohen has written one of the most embarrassing apologies of Putin’s imperialistic misadventures imaginable. A Russian state public-relations official could not have offered a shakier contextualization of Russian expansionism.

In the last few years someone named Mark Adomanis (who identifies himself as “I specialize in Russian economics and demographics”) has perhaps offered the most unfortunate apologies for Putin’s Russia and the serially excused reset as proof of a strong Obama foreign policy (“Perhaps I am a deeply unserious person, but I think it is not only possible to ‘seriously’ argue that 2012 Russia is more reasonable towards the United States but that it is quite easy to do so”.) He routinely chastised skeptics (me in particular in often ad hominem style) for suggesting that reset with Russia would only empower Putin’s authoritarianism, weaken our Eastern European allies, and project a dangerous sense of U.S. indecision and vulnerability. At the time (2012) Adomanis ridiculed any suggestion that reset was counterproductive. In a 2012 piece that unfortunately bragged “One does not need to be a proselytizer for “the reset” to note that American-Russian relations are better now than they were when Obama first took office,” he argued,

I’m very familiar with conservative critiques of Obama’s Russia policy, and the most frequent criticism is that improved relations with Russia weren’t worth the cost: coddling up to a thug like Putin was simply too high a price to pay for the relatively paltry returns. But Hanson is making a far more radical argument. He’s arguing both that our attempts to improve relations with Russia angered our NATO allies like Poland and the Baltics and that attempts to improve relations with Russia actually worsened relations with Russia. I suppose it’s possible to imagine a foreign policy initiative that is so horrifically planned and executed that it worsens relations with everyone, but while I have been critical of the reset since its inception it seems very hard to argue that it has backfired so catastrophically.

In reality, Obama’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Russia has failed not due to its cowering weakness and accommodation, but due to its significant overlap with the previous administration’s bullheaded and illogical insistence on pursuing ballistic missile defense in Eastern Europe. That’s a criticism I would love to hear made, but it’s one that Hanson is incapable of making because it would require that he recognize Obama as a persistent and forceful advocate of American power. (emphasis added)

I do plead guilty that I could not and do not yet quite sense the supposedly forceful Obama advocacy of American power, and also to arguing for the last few years that attempts to improve relations with Russia actually worsened relations with Russia.” But I think most shared that conclusion; it seemed obvious from that the way that Secretary Clinton promoted reset that it would lead to worsening relations by undercutting Russians who had legitimate complaints about Putin’s thuggery and thereby would only further encourage his absolutism, by our acquiescence green-lighting more Russian adventurism that could only in the future destabilize the former Soviet republics and lead to increased tensions with the U.S. and Europe, and by inflating Putin’s stature that was not otherwise earned by the Russian economy, political system, military, or morality and that might in other regions run counter to U.S. interests.

Rogan: Perception Abroad of Obama Is That He’s ‘Disengaged’



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Make sure to read Tom’s latest, “Just Words, Just Words.” 

Does Obama WANT to Get Impeached?



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The signs are that President Obama is going to proceed with a massive unilateral amnesty that will effect one of his most important legislative goals without the legislature. As a brazen distortion of our constitutional system, this move will provoke a major reaction and, at the very least, lead to more calls for his impeachment. But for the cynics at the White House this appears to be not a bug, but a feature. Consider the comments by Dan Pfeiffer the other day:

Any such move would prompt a major clash with congressional Republicans, and at least some White House officials appeared to relish the prospect that the GOP might overreach in its response and act in a politically self-destructive manner.

When the decision is announced, it will “increase the angry reactions from Republicans,” Pfeiffer said.

“I would not discount the possibility” that Republicans would seek to impeach Obama over his next immigration moves, he said, adding that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had “opened the door to impeachment” by his plans to sue Obama for allegedly exceeding his executive authority.

Pfeiffer made his comments at a breakfast for reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

The White House may consider the unilateral amnesty a winning move on several different levels: it gets its policy goal; it satisfies an important part of its base; and if there is any serious move toward impeachment, it rallies the entirety of the Democratic base in a way we haven’t seen since 2008 and — assuming the politics of impeachment are bad for Republicans — drives the middle away from the GOP. An administration that is fast entering its dotage could consider this one of the few potential positive game-changers that it has direct control over — the Constitution and the rule of law be damned.

Mark Levin: Not Just the IRS — the EPA Spoils E-mails Too



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Those who pay attention to the Obama administration know that the practice of hiding information, and of improper treatment of electronic records, is hardly confined to the Internal Revenue Service. The Environmental Protection Agency has been particularly abusive, with former agency head Lisa Jackson inventing and using the fake name “Richard Windsor” for an EPA e-mail account on which she apparently discussed official business. (John Fund reported on this at NRO early in 2013, and Eliana Johnson followed up here.) Last week, in a long-running battle, the Landmark Legal Foundation — whose president is radio host and former Justice Department chief of staff Mark Levin — filed suit asking federal district judge Royce Lamberth to impose sanctions on the EPA for failing to preserve, or even intentionally destroying, e-mails it was required to produce to Landmark as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Landmark suspects that the e-mails will show that the EPA improperly manipulated its regulatory agenda in order to influence the 2012 election.

With prototypically memorable language, Levin said that “the EPA is a toxic waste dump for lawlessness and disdain for the Constitution.”

The motion filed last week specifically alleges that “Defendant Environmental Protection Agency (‘EPA,’ ‘Defendant,’ or ‘Agency’) has spoliated documents and repeatedly delayed in seeking to recover them even after pledging to do so before this Court.”

“The spoliation has continued during this lawsuit even after the failure to preserve documents was brought to light by Landmark’s depositions of EPA officials. EPA has failed to recover text messages and refused to cooperate with Landmark to investigate the loss of text messages by other senior officials or to recover personal emails from other senior officials,” it reads.

This isn’t a mere bureaucratic dispute. Levin and his team say they believe Administrator Jackson and her cohorts deliberately, and possibly unlawfully, delayed the release dates for controversial, indeed unpopular, regulations until after the 2012 election in order to avoid harming President Obama’s reelection chances. As one news outlet described it at the time (as cited in Landmark’s legal brief), knowledgeable observers saw “a crass political calculation at play: Don’t give Romney any more ammunition before the election – and then open the floodgates after the polls close.”

That, of course, was also the presumed motive behind the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups for harassment and delays in approving their tax-exempt status: to sideline those groups so their efforts to motivate conservative voters, presumably against Obama’s reelection, would be hobbled.

This misuse of the bureaucracy for political purposes (if it occurred, which it almost certainly did) is positively Nixonian. So is the destruction of electronic records. Bravo for Landmark for holding the administration’s feet to the fire.

Anatomy of a Hoax



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That parody story about Michele Bachmann proposing to set up labor camps for illegal-immigrant children, which took in our dear friends at Think Progress, has taken in the New York Times as well: Brazil bureau chief Simon Romero is tweeting the fake story as though it were real.

Nobelists and Others



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Several readers have sent me this article, headed “64 Public Figures, 7 Nobel Peace Laureates, Call for Arms Embargo on Israel for War Crimes.” I write about those seven laureates in my history of the peace prize, of course. (Actually, six of them. There is a Spaniard in there who has never won the prize.) The most harmful of them is Desmond Tutu: because he is a South African hero who, for decades, has peddled the lie that Israel is an “apartheid state.” Coming from him, it is more harmful than from (the countless) others.

As regards the current conflict — or the latest flare-up of the ongoing and endless conflict — the most important Nobel peace laureate is Barack Obama: his statements, his policies.

By the way, his friend Rashid Khalidi, of the PLO, is of course among the above-mentioned public figures who have called for an embargo on Israel and accused it of war crimes.

About That Editorial



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So, 18 years after WFB’s ”The War on Drugs is Lost”, the New York Times has finally come some of the way to acknowledging quite how disastrous drugs prohibition has been:

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana. . . .

Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex. But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime….

We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.

So let me understand this. It takes the New York Times decades to come to the right (in my view) conclusion on marijuana, but no time at all to blame “this Congress” (with all the subtext that comes with that) for being slow to take the action of which the Times belatedly now approves.

Chutzpah. Arrogance. Par for the course. 

The Liberal Redskins



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A reader alerted me to a lovely fact: Liberal High School in Liberal, Kan.? Their nickname is the Redskins. They are the Liberal Redskins. Their slogan is “It’s always a good day to be a Redskin!” And they are the “Home of the Angry Red.”

Check it out. Beautiful.

Hillary’s Contribution



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Here was a headline to raise an eyebrow: “Hillary Claimed Bill Was Addicted To Sex Because Of Childhood Abuse From His Mom.” (Article here.) So, after all these millennia, men have an excuse: “I can’t help it — Mama was bad.”

Thanks, Hillary!

Whoa



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A friend of mine sent me a note, saying, “This must be the comment of the month.” Find it within this article. Professor Marc Lynch of George Washington University said, “It must be so awkward having to check whether the dead child is from Gaza or Syria before deciding whether to be morally outraged.”

The weird thing is, Professor Lynch is the director of GW’s Institute for Middle East Studies. You can talk like that in a Middle East Studies department? If so, times have changed since I was in college (and in such a program) — for the better.

(Some years ago, I wrote a piece on this subject, called “An Area of Darkness.”)

Their Reliable Four



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Conservatives have sung a particular song for many years, but let me sing a quick chorus now. The Los Angeles Times ran an article headed “Federal appeals courts issue conflicting rulings on Obamacare.” In it, the writer said that the health-care law could be returning to the Supreme Court. And “this time, the outcome at the high court would turn on whether at least one of the five conservative justices agreed to uphold Congress’ broad goal of providing all Americans with insurance they can afford.”

Okay. But listen: Why is it that the votes of the Democratic appointees are never in doubt? How come no one ever says, “Gee, wonder how Breyer or Ginsburg or Sotomayor will vote”? You know?

All the interesting philosophical or jurisprudential action seems to be on the rightward side.

FAIR’s Fair



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Rand Paul is making a more than welcome effort to rein in asset-forfeiture abuse. There’s an explanation over on his website:

Sen. Rand Paul yesterday introduced S. 2644, the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) Act, which would protect the rights of citizens and restore the Fifth Amendment’s role in seizing property without due process of law. Under current law, law enforcement agencies may take property suspected of involvement in crime without ever charging, let alone convicting, the property owner. In addition, state agencies routinely use federal asset forfeiture laws; ignoring state regulations to confiscate and receive financial proceeds from forfeited property.

 The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property. State law enforcement agencies will have to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property. Finally, the legislation would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.

 ”The federal government has made it far too easy for government agencies to take and profit from the property of those who have not been convicted of a crime. The FAIR Act will ensure that government agencies no longer profit from taking the property of U.S. citizens without due process, while maintaining the ability of courts to order the surrender of proceeds of crime,” Sen. Paul said.

Over at the Washington Post, Radley Balko applauds, and explains the requirement that state agencies “will have to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property”:

Currently, a number of state legislatures across the country have passed reform bills to rein in forfeiture abuses. The problem is that the federal government has a program known as “adoption” or “equitable sharing.” Under the program, a local police agency need only call up the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or similar federal agency. That agency then “federalizes” the investigation, making it subject to federal law. The federal agency then initiates forfeiture proceedings under the laxer federal guidelines for forfeiture. The feds take a cut and then return the rest — as much as 80 percent — back to the local agency. This trick thwarts the intent of state legislature that have attempted to make civil forfeiture more fair when it comes to burden of proof, protections for innocent property owners and eliminating the perverse incentive of allowing forfeiture proceeds to go to the same police agency that made the seizure.

I’ve long thought that the idea of asset forfeiture in the absence of a conviction is very difficult (translation: impossible) to reconcile with any justice system worthy of the name. Senator Paul’s proposed bill is a step in the right direction.

It will be interesting to see if Paul can find the necessary co-sponsors. And no less interesting to see who exactly signs up, and who does not. 

Labour Loves America



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This week’s issue of The Economist has an article explaining how Britain’s Labour party is “besotted with Uncle Sam.” This surprised me, because NR’s resident British expat, Charlie Cooke, no Labourite he, has also been effusive in his praise of America. Shouldn’t one side love us and the other hate us? But a close reading of the Economist piece reveals the difference between the two.

According to The Economist, what Labourites love about America is its politics — blogs, biographies of past presidents, think tanks, universities, consultants, advisers, campaign managers, Elizabeth Warren, Bill de Blasio, and of course the unreciprocating object of their most ardent affections, Barack Obama.

Charlie, by contrast, loves America for its technology, for the Southwest, for Patsy Cline, for its citizens’ restlessness and their no-nonsense approach to national defense, but most of all for its freedom — particularly the Second Amendment. Not even Obama can diminish this admiration.

In other words, liberals wish America had a people worthy of their government, while conservatives wish America had a government worthy of its people. That’s true of Americophiles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Liberal Media Panel Blames Ted Cruz, American People for Harry Reid’s Do-Nothing Leadership



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Why has the Senate been unable to pass anything? According to an extraordinary panel of mainstream-media personalities, it’s the fault of Republicans, or of the American people.

On a Sunday discussion on NBC’s Meet the Press, host David Gregory railed against the “Do-Nothing Congress” and played a brief clip of Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz pointing out that Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who controls the Senate agenda, is the logical person to hold accountable for stalled activities in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.

Though the Cruz clip (which Meet the Press had been advertising for several days) came to less than a minute, it provided food for a ravenous panel of experts, who variously blamed Cruz, his party, or the entire nation for the lack of new enacted legislation that would solve the nation’s problems.

“Ted Cruz must be Texan for chutzpah,” Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus quipped. After a pause to let the uproarious laughter subside, Marcus dismissed Cruz’s comments as “ridiculous,” “complaining,” and “lamenting.” Marcus, whose author bio claims she is the owner of “the world’s cutest dog,” also took a swipe at Republican representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin over what she suggests is the House leadership’s blocking of the Senate’s never-popular “Gang of Eight” immigration bill.

“Everybody understands that the Senate’s immigration bill, if it were allowed to go to the House floor, would pass,” Marcus said.

“I used to think the problem was Washington,” added New York Times columnist David Brooks. “Now I think the problem is the country.”

Tags: Sunday Shows July 27 2014

Madeleine Albright: ‘To Put It Mildly, the World Is a Mess’



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Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright thinks that there have been two “huge game-changers” in world affairs recently: Putin’s actions toward Crimea and Ukraine and the unraveling of the Middle East.

In an interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday, she described the unrest in the Middle East as a result of an Arab awakening and reaction to the artificiality of borders that were drawn in the region following World War I. As for Russia, “Putin is living in his own world,” she said. “He has made up a lot of lies,” and seeks to “reestablish himself as the identification of Russian nationalism” and to recreate “something akin to the Soviet Union.”

When asked for her thoughts on the conflict in Gaza, Albright said that while she was a believer in Israel’s moral authority and its need to ensure its security, she is “concerned about Israel . . . in terms of their image,” given the mounting Palestinian casualities. She lauded Secretary of State John Kerry “for all the effort” he has put in to attempting to broker negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, while acknowledging that it had not succeeded.

Schieffer noted that in the face of all this turmoil, President Obama has seemed to be otherwise occupied. “Every time you turn on a TV he’s en route to a fundraiser,” he said, asking if Albright agreed that that was a fair criticism.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” she said. “He has his advisers around him” and “has been on the phone,” she said.

While Albright disputed the idea that the U.S. is “stepping back” from world affairs, she said that what has changed is Americans’ attitude to engagement: “We don’t want to be the world’s policeman.”

Tags: Sunday Shows July 27 2014

George Will: ‘The idea That We Can’t Assimilate These Eight-year-old Criminals with Their Teddy Bears Is Preposterous’



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Columnist George Will Sunday downplayed concerns about chaos at the border over the surge in underage illegal immigrants without adult guardians.

“We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America. You’re going to go to school, get a job, and become Americans,’” Will said during an appearance on Fox News Sunday.

Will dismissed objections that the country can’t assimilate the 57,000 unaccompanied children from Central America who have been appearing at the U.S. border with Mexico.

“We have 3,141 counties in this country,” he said. “That would be 20 per county. The idea that we can’t assimilate these eight-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous.”

Calling the North American Free Trade Agreement “Bill Clinton’s greatest act . . . which put the Mexican economy on the road to prosperity,” Will suggested something similar for Honduras and Nicaragua, and said American needs to curtail consumption of drugs illegally imported from these countries.

Tags: Illegal Immigration , Mexico , George Will , Free Trade , Sunday Shows July 27 2014

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