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Chez Landrieu



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So, news came last week that Senator Mary Landrieu lists her parents’ home as her residence in Louisiana. I was just wondering whether she is one of the people Paul Ryan talked about in his 2012 convention speech: kids who are “staring up at fading Obama posters and 
wondering when they can move out and get going with life.”

Into the Gloamin’



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The momentum behind a “yes” vote for Scottish independence continues to gather pace.

The Spectator:

Tomorrow’s Sunday Times poll by YouGov puts the Yes campaign ahead at 51 per cent, with No on 49 per cent when undecided voters are excluded (even when they’re included, ‘yes’ are still ahead by two points: 47-45). In the space of four weeks, ‘No’ has blown a 22-point lead.

I think back to long childhood summers spent some way to the north of Inverness. The past may, very literally, about to become another country. 

Writing in the Daily Telegraph (before the latest poll), Charles Moore:

If you look at the list of British prime ministers since 1900, about half of them have been full Scots or of Scottish descent. Non-Scots quite often represented Scotland. The half-American, half-English Winston Churchill sat for a Scottish seat for many years, and so did Herbert Asquith, who came from Yorkshire. The first Labour prime minister, Ramsay Macdonald, who was entirely Scottish, sat for a Welsh seat, as did the equally Scottish Keir Hardie, the first leader of the Labour Party.

This intermingling is an example of what, in other contexts, people now celebrate with the word “diversity”. So complete has it been that it is barely regarded as such. It is British cultural self-confidence. Now we might be about to lose it. . . .

The interesting question is, Why? Never before in the era of universal suffrage would there have been the faintest chance of Scotland voting Yes. What has changed?

Of course it relates partly to Scotland’s century-long economic decline. It has more, though, to do with the idea of Britain. When that idea was strong, it acted magnetically. As it has faded, it has produced centrifugal pressures. Some countries weld themselves together through a constitution, like the United States, others through ethnicity or religion. Britain did it chiefly through its Parliament. Parliament weakened: so did Britain…

…In 1972, the House of Commons voted to subordinate itself to what was then called the European Economic Community. It handed power up, away from itself and from the people it represented. The effects were cumulative rather than immediate, but by the end of the Eighties, they were apparent in most areas of British life (hence Mrs Thatcher’s anger during her last years in office).

…Under Tony Blair, Labour’s response to this decline was not to restore Parliament, but to empower other institutions to make up for it. His Human Rights Act effectively confirmed that the rule of law – one of Britain’s most famous achievements – must now submit to exterior judicial authority. Hence, in the era of Islamist terrorism, people who hate us and wish to do us harm can live here, unextradited and on benefits. It was not easy to feel proud of being British when Abu Hamza was waving his hook on the streets of north London.

Part of the same process was the de-legitimation of British emblems. I remember suggesting to the organisers of the vast Countryside March in London in 2002 that everyone taking part should be issued with a Union flag. “Oh no,” they said. “We’d love to do that, but we’re advised that the flag has become a symbol of racism.” Racism? That flag interweaves the symbols of four nations!

Into this vacuum of confidence have rushed other forces. . . .

And, yes, there’s a lesson for these United States in this unpicking, this unraveling . . .

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Rogan: Obama’s Inability to Articulate an ISIS Strategy ‘Concerns’ Congress



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Make sure to check out Tom’s latest on the growing threat of the Islamic State in his recent column, “Jihadists in the Swimming Pool.”

Web Briefing: September 18, 2014

Flashback: Senate Dems Voted for Amnesty They Want Delayed



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Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) accused Senate Democrats of “colluding” with President Obama and interest groups to delay an administrative amnesty that they voted for in July.

“The only thing that is more shocking than Senate Democrats’ support for the president’s planned executive amnesty is the cravenness of asking him to proceed beginning the day after the midterms,” Sessions said Friday. “They don’t care what you want, or what you think — they scorn and mock our good and decent citizens for wishing their laws to be enforced. Never in recent memory has the divide between the everyday citizen, and the political elite, been as wide as it is now.”

Sessions made the statement apropos of a Friday report that Senate Democrats were encouraging Obama to delay the executive actions that he promised would come by the end of summer. On Saturday, White House officials announced that they were deferring to the Democrats, many of whom have difficult reelection campaigns and would not act until after the election.

“Two White House officials said Obama concluded that circumventing Congress through executive actions on immigration during the campaign would politicize the issue and hurt future efforts to pass a broad overhaul,” according to the Associated Press. “They said he fully intends to act before the end of the year.”

Sessions succeeded in forcing a vote that put Senate Democrats on the record in support of Obama’s proposal earlier this summer.

“Only Senator Joe Manchin joined with Republicans to try and prohibit the president’s issuance of work permits to 5-6 million,” his office noted on July 31. “Even the Senate Democrats who claimed to oppose the executive actions (Pryor, Hagan, Begich and Landrieu), voted with Reid, Durbin and Schumer to block Sessions’ motion and thereby support the president’s action.”

North Carolina state-house speaker Thom Tillis, the Republican Senate nominee, faulted his Democratic incumbent opponent, Senator Kay Hagan, for refusing to vote against Obama’s executive action.

“President Obama’s decision to delay executive amnesty for illegal immigrants until after Election Day doesn’t change the fact that Kay Hagan supports amnesty and has repeatedly voted against securing the border,” Tillis said Saturday. “When Senator Hagan had the opportunity to cross party lines and stop executive amnesty, she sided with President Obama instead of the people of North Carolina, yet another example of her saying one thing on the campaign trail but doing another in Washington.”

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The Euro: Deficits, a Growth Deficit, and a Democratic Deficit Too



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Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard sees the European Central Bank’s latest reflationary moves for what they are:

[ECB president] Mario Draghi has played a weak hand with skill, as always. He is a superb actor. Yet the package of measures unveiled by the ECB yesterday is pitifully small and mostly window dressing, an effort to buy time with a mix of vague gestures and outright gimmicks, a substitute for decisive action.

“This is a classic ECB play of the kind we have seen so many times over the last three years,” said Andrew Roberts, credit chief at RBS. “There is huge smoke and mirrors at the time of the announcement, but when you go through the figures 24 hours later you realise it is nothing like what you thought.”

The delirious reaction of market traders is interesting, but essentially just noise. What the ECB did will not move the macroeconomic dial by one iota.

As Christian Schulz from Berenberg Bank puts it, the latest rate cuts are a screen to “paper over divisions”. The ECB could not secure German political consent for genuine reflation, so it put on a pantomime instead.

When it comes to the problems of the post-2008 world, Evans-Pritchard writes from an essentially Keynesian point of view (to oversimplify), but whatever you might think of that, he is right to make clear that this is not simply a matter of politics, however much the Financial Times and others in the reflationary camp might like to pretend.

Evans-Pritchard again (my emphasis added):

The cut in the discount rate to minus 0.2pc is clearly intended to drive down the euro, so far successfully. It is however a hazardous strategy, which is why the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England never went this far. Much of Europe’s €900bn money market industry is sliding under water. We can expect an exodus over the next two months as maturities expire.

The ECB is twisting itself in knots, undertaking ever more complicated operations because it will not bite the bullet and launch plain vanilla QE, a €1 trillion blitz of sovereign bond purchases, starting immediately, and with no ifs and buts.

It is not doing this because Germany has a de facto veto, and everybody knows that there will be a challenge filed at the German constitution court the moment any such action is taken. This is not a criticism of Germany. I entirely agree with German patriots who say that QE is fiscal union by the backdoor and an assault on the budgetary prerogatives of the Bundestag, an evisceration of German democracy. It is a criticism of the irredeemably hopeless construction of monetary union. My argument has always been that EMU should be dismantled because it is a creeping danger to democracy.

Indeed it is. That was, of course, always the idea. The EU is, after all, a post-democratic project, a project of a parasitic class, unified primarily by greed, a shared misreading of history and a deep contempt for the ballot box. The monetary union should indeed be dismantled (starting with its division in two), and it should be followed into history by the notion of “ever closer union.”

There is, of course, a profound irony that the most effective way of extricating the euro zone from the worst of its current mess would involve an attack on Germany’s postwar constitutional order. 

The EU, you may recall, supposedly exists to stop Europe repeating the mistakes of its twentieth century past. As such, one would have thought that a German constitutional democracy was a good thing.

Apparently not, it seems.  Not if it gets in the way of the euro. 

Young People and Television



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My Dutch colleague Stan Veuger cables me from his home in Northwest D.C. to alert me to this fascinating article in the Washington Post.

The median age of a broadcast or cable television viewer during the 2013-2014 TV season was 44.4 years old, a 6 percent increase in age from four years earlier. Audiences for the major broadcast network shows are much older and aging even faster, with a median age of 53.9 years old, up 7 percent from four years ago.

These television viewers are aging faster than the U.S. population, Nathanson points out. The median age in the U.S. was 37.2, according to the U.S. Census, a figure that increased 1.9 percent over a decade. So to put that in context of television viewing, he said TV audiences aged 5 percent faster than the average American.

The research shows a sharpening age divide in the entertainment industry that has traditional media scrambling and newcomers such as Vice and Netflix establishing their own online empires.

You can read the entire article here.

The only reason I mention Dr. Veuger is to give me an excuse to point you to Timothy P. Carney’s beautiful smackdown of him over the Ex-Im Bank, which you can — and definitely should — read here.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at twitter.com/MichaelRStrain.

Inevitable Delay of Lawless Amnesty Announced



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There was never any chance Obama as going to announce a lawless immigration decree before the November 4 elections, and the White House finally acknowledged that on Saturday. This is not only because of the certainty that it would have caused the Democrats to lose control of the Senate, which prompted an increasing number of Democratic senators to call for delay. From a longer-term perspective, turning the midterms explicitly into a referendum on amnesty and increased immigration — and then losing — would have undermined the political case for “comprehensive immigration reform” for years to come.

But, in fact, the midterms should still be a referendum on Obama’s lawless immigration plans, if only the Stupid Party leadership had any sense. After all, from the standpoint of democratic governance, a lawless amnesty decree is bad enough, but openly saying you’re going to issue such a decree only after the people have had a chance to vote is much worse. Every Republican candidate in the House and Senate needs to make clear that, whatever your views on the substance of immigration policy, a vote for any Democrat is a vote for caesarism, for presidential rule by decree. There’s actually a good deal of support for that on the hard left, but most people, of all descriptions, recoil from Obama’s promised power grab.

Note that it’s a “promised” power grab; the AP report notes “the officials said Obama had no specific timeline to act, but that he still would take his executive steps before the end of the year.” So this isn’t some teabagger conspiracy fantasy, but a promise to decree sweeping extra-constitutional changes to the law, but just to do it around Thanksgiving or Christmas to avoid electoral fallout. So, despite the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments from the anti-borders crowd, the GOP must not let the Democrats off the hook.

As Brother Geraghty put it, “A new GOP message for the midterms: November is your last chance to send a message to President Obama to not unilaterally rewrite America’s immigration policy!”

Goldberg: Obama Not Figuring Out ISIS Strategy, But ‘the Words to Make Media Leave Him Alone’ on It



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Jonah wrote more about President Obama’s approach to the Islamic State in his recent column, “Obama’s Faux Pragmatism.”

Auld Acquaintance (In Some Trouble)



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Scotland votes on whether to break from Britain on September 18. It’s long been assumed (including by me) that the “no” vote would win pretty comfortably, but, particularly in the wake of a disastrous performance in the second of two big independence debates by Labour’s Alistair Darling, the momentum is now clearly with the nationalists.

The Wall Street Journal:

A poll released by YouGov on Tuesday showed a surge in support for Scottish independence, giving a boost to the “yes” campaign and its leader, Alex Salmond, currently head of Scotland’s semiautonomous government.The YouGov poll showed that the margin of voters opposed to independence over those in favor has shrunk to six percentage points, from 22 points less than a month ago.

That’s within the margin of error, and with the momentum going the way it is . . .

In the abstract, I’d be in favour of Scottish independence. As it happens, my ancestry is about forty percent Scottish, but beyond that I like nations taking control of their own destiny (Flanders, soon, please, and Catalonia too), not least because it gives the lie to the claim by Brussels that the nation-state is over (it says something that there are now more countries in the world — and Europe too — than ever before: It is the centralizing, top-down EU model that is old school). In Scotland’s case, however, I don’t think that full independence is yet the way to go. The country already has a great deal of autonomy, with more ( the misguided “devo-max“) on offer. The best next stage from here would be to move to a fully federal U.K. not least because the English deserve self-government too, something that David Cameron is too unimaginative and too arrogant to grasp. Tellingly, UKIP’s Nigel Farage does not make the same mistake: He’s sympathetic to the idea of federalism. 

The problem with an independent Scotland is not that the economics are dodgy (although they are), but it is that that is in the grip of an authoritarian leftist political class, a grasping, thuggish vulture class that should be wished on no people. There is also the little matter of the EU. If an independent Scotland wished to join the EU (the membership it “enjoys” through membership of the UK would probably not survive) its (enthusiastically europhile) leaders would have to commit to joining the single currency as soon as Scotland satisfied the necessary tests. They deny that, but the EU’s rules are clear. The euro would ruin what’s left of the Scottish economy and make a mockery of “independence.”

The problem with the “no” campaign is that it has been fought almost exclusively on pocket-book issues, while the yes campaign has played the emotional, national card deftly, dishonestly and well. There are a lot of young Scots (the voting age for the referendum has — hmmm — been reduced to 16) who believe that Braveheart is, so to speak, a documentary. But there is a case, based on the heart as well as the head, to be made for the survival of this remarkable union, but the U.K.’s politicians are, for the most part, too feeble, and, I think, too frightened of history to make it.

The Economist points to one lovely exception:

 On the Scottish bank of the River Sark, bang on the 500-year-old border between England and Scotland, a pile of stones is rising. Its structure, comprising inner and outer circular walls connected by a walkway, recalls a sort of Bronze Age chambered cairn. Yet this one, raised stone by stone in homage to the United Kingdom by thousands of patriotic volunteers, is barely two months old.

Named The Auld Acquaintance, it is the brain-child of a charismatic local politician, Rory Stewart. A native Scot, the Conservative MP for Penrith and the Borders was frustrated by the bloodless, pocket-book nature of the unionist campaign in Scotland’s independence referendum, which is due on September 18th. “In the end this is for me not about economics,” he said. “It’s about a long-term relationship. The union has existed for 300 years and we’d like it to last another 300 years. Relationships are about respect, commitment and love and unless England and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland love each other then we don’t have a country.”

When Mr Stewart first rose in the House of Commons, in February, to make that point, his parliamentary colleagues didn’t quite know where to look. British politicians do not talk about love much, or not in Parliament. Yet he was on to something….

A Scot of empire-building stock, Mr Stewart is unusually well-able to make the case for Britain. A former soldier, diplomat and academic, who is, at 40, one of Westminster’s leading experts on foreign affairs, he has an attachment to British institutions and power which is at once hardnosed and hereditary. Yet his apprehension that an argument over independence warrants more than shopping-bill logic has hit a popular nerve. Since he laid his first stone, in a field provided by a sympathetic landowner, 15,000-odd people have visited and added to the cairn, either from a pile of locally quarried stone or with their own offerings.

A woman from Glasgow brought the last stone fragment of her mother’s house, which was bombed in the second world war. Many former and serving soldiers have come, to lay stones from the Falklands, Afghanistan, or to spend a day laying local Cumbrian granite on the cairn. Old and housebound Scots and English have posted stones to the cairn, often colourfully decorated with the union flag, or the Saltire, or with personal messages….

There is no other organised outlet for such sentiment. Britons living outside Scotland—including some 800,000 native Scots—have no vote in the referendum. And Better Together has created no comparable rallying-point. Remarkably, Mr Stewart’s pile of rocks is perhaps the only feature of the Scottish referendum campaign that starkly suggests it has any more import than a routine general election.

It is surprising, therefore, how little interest it has attracted from other politicians. The cairn has been visited by celebrities and senior soldiers—including the actress Joanna Lumley, the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the former Scottish boss of British special forces, Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb—but by no cabinet ministers. Better Together’s Labour Party leaders have refused to endorse it, or even provide Mr Stewart with their mailing-lists. Meanwhile it is under attack from nationalist thugs, who have sought to deface it with their slogans. That is a significant contrast with the quiet decency of the cairn-builders, thuggery and intimidation having been a consistent feature of the separatist campaign.

And that says a lot too. I wonder how many people who favor staying with the union are too nervous to admit that fact to pollsters.

So is this all just a temporary panic, a bad case of last-minute jitters? Maybe, but I am hearing otherwise from people I know who are not the panicking sort.

And I couldn’t help noting this tweet by Rupert Murdoch:

London Times will shock Britain and more with reliable new poll on Scottish independence.  If right on 18th vote everything up for grabs.

I’ll stick with my belief that the Scots will vote to preserve the union this month (longer term is an entirely different question). If they do vote to go, there will be turbulence ahead, but not for David Cameron. If the prime minister has any self-respect he will be beginning a long, quiet and preferably obscure retirement.

Presiding over the break-up of the United Kingdom should come with consequences.

College Students: Want to Work in D.C. This Spring?



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If you’re a college student or recent college graduate who is interested in a career in the media, check out the College Fix and its paid internships. Accepting applications now!

Score One for Drones: U.S. Kills Al-Shabaab Leader



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It’s been rumored since a U.S. drone strike in Somalia on Monday that the co-founder and leader of the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate, had been killed, and the Pentagon confirmed the news today in a statement:

We have confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the co-founder of al-Shabaab, has been killed. The U.S. military undertook operations against Godane on Sept. 1, which led to his death. Removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to al-Shabaab. The United States works in coordination with its friends, allies and partners to counter the regional and global threats posed by violent extremist organizations.

The Wall Street Journal has a touching tribute to a man who terrorized one of the world’s saddest countries, and, increasingly, its neighborhood:

The Somali militant leader targeted in a U.S. airstrike on Monday loved to quote the country’s old poets and lambast his critics via Twitter. He combined these ancient and modern passions as he turned al Shabaab, an obscure outfit from the plains of Somalia, into a potent, al Qaeda-backed terror group.

His death, confirmed Friday by the Pentagon, could throw al Shabaab into disarray.

Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed, more commonly known as Ahmed Abdi Godane, had over the years sidelined or eliminated other powerful figures in the organization. In addition, some of his closest allies appeared to have been traveling with him, and may also have perished. . . .

But Mr. Godane himself wasn’t seen as a fighter. He is described by those who study al-Shabaab as bookish. As a young man, he held debates with Somali clerics on Islamic principles.

He was also the strategist who sought to raise al Shabaab’s profile globally, seeking to draw recruits and donor funds away from other jihadi groups. In a designated al-Shabaab Twitter account, he sniped at dissidents, ordering his followers to “stop gossiping and asking questions.”

This is a nice sign of the capabilities of the U.S. military — we have partners but few operations on the ground in Somalia, but managed to take out the group’s leader.

There may be some larger lessons here, too. As Bill Roggio of Long War Journal explains, Godane oversaw the development of al-Shabaab’s alliance with al-Qaeda, which had been informal for some time before it was made official in 2012. He led al-Shabaab during its two deadly international attacks: a bombing at a Ugandan rugby club in 2010 and a massacre at a mall in Kenya in 2013, both of which killed dozens and seemed intended to target Westerners. (Uganda and especially Kenya are such insecure places that it’s not quite clear how much capability these attacks demonstrate, though.)

Abdi Aynte of Somalia’s Heritage Institute (bet you didn’t know Somalia has think tanks) notes that Godane didn’t groom a successor (as far as we know), and argues Godane’s death opens up an opportunity for regional governments (all of which enjoy partnerships with the U.S.) to splinter al-Shabaab and blunt the group’s efforts to radicalize and enlist youth. That’s possible, but it’s also important to remember that al-Shabaab has morphed from a national insurgency, intent on running an Islamic state in Somalia (which it did for a bit in some places), into more of a transnational Islamist terror group. Plenty of members might be more interested in overthrowing the Somali government than killing infidels, but they’ve already had reason to leave the tent. (On the other hand, the fact that Godane was behind some of the internationalization of al-Shabaab might mean that parts of the group, or even the whole, go back in the other direction after his death.)

As I explained after its horrific attack in Kenya, this transformation happened unexpectedly: The U.S., the Somali government, and regional government peacekeepers succeeded in driving al-Shabaab out of the cities, substantially diminishing its relevance at a national rebel group and improving Somalia’s security noticeably, while al-Shabaab continued to ramp up its international ambitions, perpetrated even more deadly terror attacks, and adopted a more al-Qaeda-like transnational ideology.

The parallels here to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are striking, as that group is now focusing on gaining and governing territory rather than raising its international-terror profile. Yet al-Shabaab reminds us that it doesn’t take much time to move from being a national insurgency to an ambitious transnational terror organization, in terms of both ideology and operational focus. Indeed, it can start happening behind the scenes a while before the group acknowledges or publicizes it — that’s what happened in Somalia.

Neither group has shown any credible capability to hit the U.S. homeland yet (no, there is absolutely no reason to believe there are Islamic State sleeper cells in the U.S.), of course, but the Islamic State’s resources far outstrip anything al-Shabaab has ever had. And their learned leader has not had a Hellfire dropped on him yet.

Bob McDonnell Lesson: Be Nice to Your Chef, Or Cook for Yourself, Or Something



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Knowing now how the Bob McDonnell trial ended, it’s worth taking a look back at how it began: with a disgruntled cook who turned incriminating records over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Virginia State Police. The Washington Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman and Matt Zapotosky catch up with the former chef (executive chef to you) to the McDonnells at his new home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Todd Schneider was fired in March 2012 after being accused of stealing food bought by the taxpayers to supply his side catering business. (He maintains that he had worked out a barter system with Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell.) Schneider’s providing police with a $15,000 catering check from dietary supplement honcho Jonnie Williams, Jr., put authorities on the McDonnells’ scent, and they eventually turned up about $177,000 worth of gifts and loans Williams laid on the McDonnells in exchange for some promotion of his wares at state events.

Schneider in turn was able to plead no contest to two misdemeanors and pay a fine. Leaving behind a soured reputation in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Schneider set up shop in the Venice of America, and he now claims to feel pity for his former pal Maureen McDonnell.

Schneider’s reminiscences are both slippery and precise. A giggly wine party between the exec chef and the first lady is interrupted by persistent phone calls from the governor. Maureen McDonell’s irregular hours are detailed. (“He said he would often get texts from the first lady about the mansion’s food late at night, sometimes after midnight.”) But the question of why one of Schneider’s underlings, rather than Schneider himself, testified at the McDonnells’ trial goes unanswered. The chef is at the same time bitter over what he believes was a railroading from the governor’s mansion and effusive about the McDonnell’s sexual chemistry.

“Even when the spotlight was off, you would see them being cuddly and in love,” he says, a characterization that conveniently undercuts the legal defense the McDonnells were still using when Schneider apparently gave the interview. (The defense — that the state’s first couple had been estranged and under emotional strain — did not work, as the former governor was convicted on 11 of 13 counts and the former first lady on nine of 13 counts. The McDonnells will be sentenced in January.)

While the desire to romanticize the days of footmen and scullions seems to be deathless (even the first family of the United States tunes into Downton Abbey, lest we ever be allowed to forget), the 21st-century model of running your own home with more powerful tools but no human attendants carries distinct advantages. The primary advantage is that in the lordly past you and I and almost everybody else would have been the attendants, not the lords. Another is that a self-cleaning oven won’t work out a grudge against you.

The case against Robert and Maureen McDonnell originated in petty malice and never really moved beyond it. That the McDonnnells are going to prison over a total figure of $177,000 is a cruel joke on the public in a state that managed to liquidate $42.7 billion of the people’s money during McDonnell’s last full year in office. The taxes are high, the services are poor, and the traffic stinks. The governor’s wife (one of 50 such counts and countesses across a nation that already pays to maintain a presidential family in high style) is swanning around with an executive chef and that’s considered normal. Yet we’re supposed to be happy because somebody’s been caught with less than the down payment on a four-bedroom house in Loudoun County.

The only government that would not attract oily influence peddlers like Johnnie Williams would be one that does not have billions of dollars in goodies to give away. We have the opposite of that kind of government, and stories like this one remind us that we have it not only in Washington but in many smaller versions at the state, county, and municipal levels. Enforcing gift limits on the Senate candy dish or throwing people in prison for “lending the prestige of the governor’s office” are not going to solve the problem. The low character of so many people around the McDonnells is striking, but can you imagine the kind of people Terry McAuliffe hangs out with? It is foolish to give a person an executive chef and a mansion and a staff and a $43 billion budget, and not expect him to act like royalty.

Tags: Bob McDonnell , Virginia

Krauthammer’s Take: Obama’s Explanation of ISIS Is a ‘Paulism’



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President Obama’s account of the rise of the Islamic State, says Charles Krauthammer, is “a Paulism” — referring to Kentucky’s senator Rand Paul, a likely 2016 presidential contender for the Republicans. “[Obama] always likes — this is a Paulism — he likes to say that if there’s terrorism, ultimately the cause is the United States’ meddling, as if our meddling in Syria is the cause of the rise of ISIS. That is simply ridiculously wrong, and it’s hard to take seriously somebody who can say something like that.”

“The criticism of Obama,” noted Krauthammer, is not that he has meddled, in Syria or anywhere else; it is that “he hasn’t done anything to make sure that Assad leaves. . . . He has never lifted a finger. He hasn’t armed the opposition. He hasn’t really helped them in any way except rhetorically.”

“The idea that the growth of ISIS is a result of the degrading of the strength of the regime in Damascus as done by the United States is preposterous,” Krauthammer said.

Your Taxpayers Dollars At Work: Ex-Im Officials Blow through Their Travel Budget by $3 Million Flying First Class



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Who cares about living within one’s budget limits and being good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars? Not Ex-Im Bank officials, apparently. According to information acquired by the House Financial Services Committee and reported by the Hill last week, Ex-Im Bank officials exceeded the agency’s travel budget by $3 million over the last three years.

In fiscal 2012, Ex-Im budgeted $1.7 for travel expenses but spent $2.7 million. In fiscal 2013, Ex-Im budgeted $1.2 million but spent $2.2 million. And in this fiscal year, Ex-Im budgeted $1.3 million but expects its end-of-year spending to total $2.3 million.

That’s right: They had a budget of $4.2 million over three years and they spent $7.2 million.

Originally, everyone assumed that the reason for this excess spending had to do with all the addition traveling the agency officials had to do to go sell their services around the country. But that’s not entirely true: Officials also often splurged on first class tickets rather than travel like most of us in economy class. 

The Washington Examiner got the data and reported the following:

But documents newly obtained by the Washington Examiner show that it was not just the frequency of the travel that caused Ex-Im officials to exceed their budget, but the way they chose to travel.

No justification was provided for choosing first-class travel for three domestic flights. Documents for two domestic first-class flights cited “unavailability of coach class fares or space,” while two others cited “other reasons in the best interest of the bank.”

Among other flights, Ex-Im representatives flew first class to China ”to negotiate legal documents,” to Nigeria for “public affairs support to Chairman’s business development trip meeting with govt., business leaders and news media,” and to Los Angeles to be a “speaker at global events at UCLA with LA Chamber of Commerce and business meetings in Orange County.”

Neither the cost of the tickets nor the cost of a coach-class seat was included in the documents.

According to the Examiner, there were about 400 first-class trips during the time examined.

The whole thing is here, including examples of other agencies’ employees living large on taxpayers’ dime.

Poetry



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BLUE MOUNTAINS

Modest as mountains go, they have a charm
in that close-to-home majesty, surmounted
by a spine of falling away bald rock,
dangerous as any siren song of
explorer’s imagining, with plenty
of room for the solitude of empty
spaces, charcoal of centuries-old campfires,
flint arrowheads, where the way up, or
the way down, is bare rock, falling away
to deer paths, miles of unbroken forest,
and mountain springs, a few with tales of
darkness and death from the French and Indian
War; others, nameless, follow the dew
of daybreak, with far wider waters than
ever came forth from the mountains;
a mere dream, perhaps; yet recurring
and compelling, focusing a vastness
of sky and mountain many streams wide,
as sheets of water, transparent, of a
source never part of the physical
adventure, vivid and inviting,
untouchable, like a wild mountain chorus,
yet with bend of the road contours heartfelt,
ancestral, and as familiar as any hamlet
of the valley; and far reaching, and
unbridled as a new idea, free and
streaming sunrise and shadow
of clouds passing.

— This poem appears in the September 22, 2014, print issue of National Review.

What Ever Happened to Vocations?



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I just saw a clip on the New York Times website in which Joan Rivers says: “What we [comedians] do isn’t a job. It’s a calling. We make people happy.” It occurs to me that the concept of a “calling” or “vocation” has practically disappeared in public life.

We settle for “education” or “career.” But a calling is not about what you learn or how much you make. It is about how you will use your gifts to shape a good life in the service of others. It is also about the idea of doing something well, not for what you may earn by doing so, but because doing something well is, or should be, a desirable end in itself. In my experience, the concept is no longer stressed even in the Church, where it once was used strictly in religious terms, but with the understanding that one could have a secular calling. But you don’t have to believe in God to have a calling.

I wonder how many of our major universities (including Catholic ones) teach the idea of vocation? Oddly enough, one place where vocation is taken for granted is among professional athletes. Yes, they go for the big bucks (and I don’t blame them), but there is always the demand that “you play the game the right way,” combining craftsmanship, teamwork, and spirit. The great ones play the game for the sake of the game, and they do so with a particular kind of joy. It would be good if that kind of joy was fostered in higher education.     

— William F. Gavin is a former speechwriter for President Nixon and is the author of Speechwright.

Cruz to Introduce Bill to Stop Americans in ISIS from Returning to U.S.



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As soon as the Senate returns from its recess, Texas senator Ted Cruz plans to introduce the Expatriate Terrorist Act (E.T.A.) of 2014, which would bar Americans who have joined the Islamic State from returning to the United States. Via a statement from Cruz’s office:

“Americans who choose to go to Syria or Iraq to fight with vicious ISIS terrorists are party to a terrorist organization committing horrific acts of violence, including beheading innocent American journalists who they have captured,” said Sen. Cruz. “There can be no clearer renunciation of their citizenship in the United States, and we need to do everything we can to preempt any attempt on their part to re-enter our country and carry out further attacks on American civilians.”

The ETA amends an existing statute that provides certain actions by which a United States citizen renounces their citizenship to include becoming a member of, fighting for, or providing material assistance to a designated foreign terrorist organization that is working to attack the United States or its citizens.  Provided the requirements of due process are observed, if a U.S. Citizen undertakes these acts with the intent of supplanting his U.S. Citizenship with loyalty to a terrorist organization, that person can be deemed to have forfeited their right to be a United States Citizen and return to the United States.

Defense secretary Chuck Hagel has confirmed that more than 100 Americans are fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Report: Boston Man Heading Up ISIS Social-Media Operations



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A French-born man raised in the Boston area who is already on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list is believed to be running the Islamic State’s social-media operations, according to several outlets.

Ahmad Abousamra, a 32-year-old raised in the suburb of Stoughton, is wanted for multiple efforts to aid in the killing of Americans, including by engaging in military training in Yemen and Pakistan and by providing material to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Abousamra attended Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts–Boston, where he developed computer skills and eventually graduated from the latter with a degree in computer science. He is reportedly using his technological knowledge to target and recruit potential fighters, according to ABC News.

“If you do have a European language ability, if you have computer skills, if you are quite clever and you come join ISIS, you are likely to be used for social media output,” said Peter Neumann, the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

Abousamra first teamed up with Islamist terrorists when he joined al-Qaeda’s media operations in 2004 while in Iraq. He returned to the United States two years later, where he was questioned and released by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, but he then returned to the Middle East, this time to Syria. The U.S. government has offered a $50,000 reward for tips leading to his arrest since 2009.

‘Uncomfortable Learning’



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A Kidnapping in Võru County?



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BBC:

Estonia’s foreign ministry has summoned the Russian ambassador over what it calls the abduction of an Estonian security official by “unidentified individuals from Russia” on the border.  A ministry statement said the incident had taken place inside Estonia on Friday, near Luhamaa border checkpoint. The missing Estonian official works for the Estonian Internal Security Service.  The foreign ministry called it “a very disturbing incident”. It comes amid heightened tension with Russia.

Estonian Public Broadcasting had more color:

An official from the Internal Security Service (ISS), Estonia’s national agency for counterintelligence and high-profile corruption investigations, was abducted at gunpoint at Luhamaa border checkpoint this morning where he was discharging service duties, and taken to Russia. There is no indication that the abduction is more than an isolated criminal incident, but on the backdrop of international tensions, the situation is being treated seriously. The incident occurred at about 9:00 on the Estonian side of the border and was preceded by jamming of communications and use of a smoke grenade, the agency said; the interference was said to originate from the Russia side. The ISS said the official was in the process of interdiction of a cross-border crime.

Initially the Estonians seemed willing to treat this as a purely criminal matter.

The BBC again:

…The Estonian daily Postimees said the missing official in the security police (Kapo) was involved in tackling cross-border crime. The kidnappers jammed Estonian radio communications and used a smoke grenade during the incident, reports say. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves tweeted “let’s not jump to conclusions, folks. Estonia extremely good at stopping organised crime & smuggling. Among best controlled borders in EU”.

But Postimees also noted the suspicions of former police chief and interior minister Ain Seppik (of the center-right Reform Party):

Mr Seppik told Postimees the incident cannot be an accident; rather, this serves to demonstrate that Russian provocations have started. According to him, it was to be expected that the visit by US President Barack Obama will not go easy for Estonia.

Kidnapping a security police officer and hauling him into Russia at gunpoint, says Mr Seppik, is an act very brutal and demonstrative. “This is no accident nor a common crime, let them not even come up with a version like that,” said Mr Seppik, adding that in his opinion this is a targeted attack which needs to be taken very seriously. “In the light of the recent events, don’t believe in coincidences.”

And now there is this from the Russian side (ITAR-TASS):

MOSCOW, September 05. /ITAR-TASS/. An officer of the Estonian security police was detained on Friday on the territory of Russia’s north-western Pskov region while he was conducting an undercover operation, the public relations center of the Federal Security Service told ITAR-TASS.

“A citizen of Estonia, Eston Kohver, who is an officer of the Estonian security police bureau, was detained on the territory of the Russian Federation,” the press center said. “He had a Taurus handgun, an amount of €5,000 in cash, equipment for covert audio recording, and materials indicative of an intelligence mission.”

Note the difference. The Estonians are saying that their man was dragged across the border, whereas the Russians are claiming that Mr. Kohver was detained on their territory.

At this stage, I’d be inclined to believe the Estonians, for the reasons given by Ain Seppik.

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