|10:21 AM, Jul 31, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
No state in the union could be more sympathetic to the Obama administration or to its immigration policies than Vermont (where I live). But there is only so much a small state, and a sympathetic governor, can do. As the Burlington Free Press reports, when Washington asked if Vermont could find a way to house 1,000 of the young people who recently arrived at the border:
Vermont lacks the capacity to host a large number of unaccompanied immigrant children, Gov. Peter Shumlin wrote to the the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday. The federal government had asked Vermont and other states whether there was a 90,000-square-foot facility that could host up to 1,000 children. Vermont looked for options in Burlington and statewide.
Nothing came of this search which turned up facilities that could handle 100 and fewer of the immigrant children. Shumlin also:
… offered to "assist" Massachusetts in its offer to host children at military bases
Tempting as it is to find proof here of political hypocrisy, it isn’t the case. If Vermont could have helped, it would have. And sacrificed to do it.
There are limits.
8:51 AM, Jul 31, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The 302,000 is a so, so number. But close to what was expected – 300,000. And not as good as last week’s 284,000. But as Bloomberg reports, the monthly average is encouraging.
The four-week average of jobless claims, considered a less volatile measure than the weekly figure, dropped to 297,250, the lowest since April 2006, from 300,750 the prior week. Claims in the period ended July 26 climbed to 302,000, in line with the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg, from a revised 279,000 the prior week that was the lowest since 2000.
So the economy continues to improve, if not to dazzle. And there are those other, more troubling and, perhaps, structural numbers. e.g. labor force participation, median net worth …
6:40 AM, Jul 31, 2014 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
The House Republican leadership is having trouble getting 218 votes for its immigration bill. The policy objections to the bill seem convincing to me—among them that it seems to appropriate more money, on a pro-rated monthly basis, than the president's proposal; that it might well make it harder, not easier, to send some or all of the illegal migrants back; that it changes the asylum laws in ways that might well backfire; and that it doesn't deal in any way the core cause of the problem, the president's 2012 executive amnesty for minors or his pending huge expansion of that amnesty. These objections haven't been convincingly addressed by leadership. And of course there's been no markup of the leadership bill, no hearings about it, and no amendments permitted to it. All of this is grounds for not rushing to pass dubious legislation. The House Republican leadership should pull the bill.
But the overwhelming reason to kill the bill is that it's not going to become law anyway. The president and the Senate leadership have made clear they'll never accept it. So what's the point of passing it? Leadership's answer is—well, we'll get credit for trying to do something. But will they? From whom? The mainstream media? Perhaps for one day. Then the media will focus on what further compromises the GOP leadership will accept in September, on why Republicans won't go to conference with the original Senate bill or parts of it, and on splits in GOP ranks about immigration. GOP town halls during the August recess will be dominated by challenges about the merits of the bill leadership rushed through—challenges members won't have an easy time answering and that Republican House and Senate challengers certainly don't need to be dealing with. Rushing the bill through now will make what Republicans think and don't think about immigration the lead topic for August. It will take the focus off what President Obama has done about immigration. Rushing through a poorly thought through GOP bill will take the focus off the man who is above all responsible for the disaster at the border—the president.
If the GOP does nothing, and if Republicans explain that there's no point acting due to the recalcitrance of the president to deal with the policies that are causing the crisis, the focus will be on the president. Republican incumbents won't have problematic legislation to defend or questions to answer about what further compromises they'll make. Republican challengers won't have to defend or attack GOP legislation. Instead, the focus can be on the president—on his refusal to enforce the immigration law, on the effect of his unwise and arbitrary executive actions in 2012, on his pending rash and illegal further executive acts in 2014, and on his refusal to deal with the real legal and policy problems causing the border crisis. And with nothing passed in either house (assuming Senate Republicans stick together and deny Harry Reid cloture today), immigration won't dominate August—except as a problem the president is responsible for and refuses seriously to address. Meanwhile, the GOP can go on the offensive on a host of other issues.
4:49 PM, Jul 30, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate and Kentucky's secretary of state, is turning heads with her confusing answer to a question about the military conflict between Israel and the Hamas-led government in Gaza. Asked by the Lexington Herald-Leader about American support for Israel's "Iron Dome" missile-defense system, Grimes had this to say:
Obviously, Israel is one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, and she has the right to defend herself...But the loss of life, especially the innocent civilians in Gaza, is a tragedy. The Iron Dome has been a big reason why Israel has been able to withstand the terrorists that have tried to tunnel their way in.
As the Washington Free Beacon has pointed out, Grimes's statement shows a complete misunderstanding of the Iron Dome by conflating the issue of the missile-defense system with that of Palestinians in Gaza constructing underground tunnels in order to subvert the Israeli-backed blockade and bring in weapons from outside the territory.
It isn't the first time in the campaign that Grimes, who is hoping to unseat Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell, has demonstrated a lack of understanding about some issues she may find herself dealing with in the U.S. Senate. In August 2013, as the Syrian civil war raged and the United States began considering military action in that country, Grimes was asked what should be done about the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime on its own people. The Democrat gave a vague, rambling answer in which she said she was "monitoring" Secretary of State John Kerry's position on Syria.
“Well, I’ll tell you, we have a lot of problems to take care of right here in Kentucky’s own backyard and that’s where my priority and focus has been," Grimes said to reporters on August 27. "But we also have to be cognizant of the impact that we have across the nation. But my priority is making sure we’re tackling the problems here at home, while making sure that the efforts we get involved with abroad, that we are not needlessly taking thousands of Kentuckians who have the privilege and honor to get to know and get to meet in the Middle East and involving them in conflicts that are open-ended. Thoughts and prayers go out to those, not just in Syria, but in Egypt as well and mindful and watchful of Secretary Kerry’s efforts to involve the United States.”
More recently, Grimes struggled to answer questions about the border crisis and whether she supported the president's emergency funding proposal. She criticized McConnell for voting against the Gang of 8 immigration bill, but was asked four times about the specific funding supplement without giving an answer, saying finally that she would "continue to monitor" the proposal. Watch the video below:
Hosted by Michael Graham.4:10 PM, Jul 30, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with senior editor Lee Smith on Hamas's attack tunnels, Operation Protective Edge, the Iranian factor, and what the media gets wrong about Israel's involvement in Gaza.
This podcast can be downloaded here. Subscribe to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's iTunes podcast feed here.
3:59 PM, Jul 30, 2014 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
On Wednesday afternoon, the White House Office of Management and Budget released a formal veto threat of the House GOP bill dealing with the crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America illegally immigrating to the United States:
The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 5230, making supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2014. Republicans have had more than a year to comprehensively fix the Nation's broken immigration system, but instead of working toward a real, lasting solution, Republicans released patchwork legislation that will only put more arbitrary and unrealistic demands on an already broken system. H.R. 5230 could make the situation worse, not better. By setting arbitrary timelines for the processing of cases, this bill could create backlogs that could ultimately shift resources away from priority public safety goals, like deporting known criminals. This bill will undercut due process for vulnerable children which could result in their removal to life threatening situations in foreign countries. In addition, the limited resources provided in H.R. 5230 are not designated as emergency, but rather come at the expense of other Government functions.
H.R. 5230 also fails to provide the necessary resources for the Department of Agriculture to address imminent wildfire suppression and rehabilitation needs without resorting to damaging transfers from other critical forest health and fire preparedness priorities. It also does not include the bipartisan proposal for a discretionary cap adjustment to provide funding certainty in the future for these needs.
H.R. 5230 does not include funding for the Department of Defense to support the Government of Israel's request for critical missile defense needs.
H.R. 5230 also waives important environmental protections for National Parks, National Monuments, and other public lands within 100 miles of the border for Customs and Border Protection activities.
If the President were presented with H.R. 5230, his senior advisors would recommend he veto the bill.
The Administration urges the Congress to pass sensible and responsible legislation to address these pressing needs.
3:55 PM, Jul 30, 2014 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
It’s surely the most hilarious academic story so far this year: Slavoj Zizek, the most Marxist-chic of all Marxist-chic philosophers, has been caught plagiarizing an article from American Renaissance, a paleoconservative magazine-turned-website with an obsessive focus on what it calls “racial realism.” Left meets right—in spades! The story made Newsweek, which in a July 11 story called Zizek a “big scalp” for the conservatives who caught him in the act.
What is funniest of all are the labored efforts of mainstream left-of-centrists to raise more questions about Zizek’s exposers than about the 65-year-old Slovenian postmodernist and hot scholarly property who has garnered professorships of various kinds at prestige universities—ranging from the University of London’s Birbeck Institute for the Humanities (where he’s director), to the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland (where he teaches not just philosophy but “psychoanalysis”), to Princeton, Columbia, NYU, the New School for Social Research, and the University of Michigan here in the U.S.A. That’s probably because, well, Zizek is, for left-of-centrists, one of us, more or less, whereas his chief outer, Los Angles blogger and columnist Steve Sailer, is well on the right ideologically, although not so far right as American Renaissance, which can boast a coveted “hate group” designation from the winger-witch-hunting Southern Poverty Law Center.
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, Jackson Doughart of the Canadian National Post, in a July 21 article titled “The Fetish of Plagiarism-Outing,” sniffed that efforts such as Sailer’s were the “product of ‘gotcha’ journalism, made ever easier by Google, which can be as easily employed by the hack investigator as it is by the principled critic.”
But first, a few words about Zizek himself. Born in Ljubljana, Slovenia—then part of Communist Yugoslavia—in 1949, Zizek had a ho-hum decades-long career teaching at the University of Ljubljana (still one of his many faculty appointments), until he burst into international fame in 1989 with a book in English, obscurely titled (how could it not be?) The Sublime Object of Ideology. It was one of around 70 books, plus innumerable journal articles, that Zizek has published over the years that weave together the theories of French postmodernist celebrities such as Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan with classical Marxist analysis (although he claims to be a critic of Marx), the ideas of such Marxist acolytes as Theodor Adorno and Louis Althusser, warmed-over Freudian psychology (Lacan was the pioneer in that department), blasts at “neoliberalism” (the leftist sobriquet for free-market capitalism), and an ultra-intellectualized brand of film criticism immensely appealing to ultra-intellectuals although perhaps to few others.
2:03 PM, Jul 30, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
A Democratic congresswoman told her colleagues at a House hearing Wednesday morning that the debate over a bill that would grandfather in otherwise canceled group plans under the Affordable Care Act reminded her of a comedy skit about "whiners."
"I don't know how many of you recall years ago on Saturday Night Live, there was a segment entitled, 'The Whiners.'" said Anna Eshoo of California. "You know, they sat on the sofa and all they did was whine. They were a broken record. And I can't help but think of that segment on Saturday Night Live."
Watch the video below (the appropriate segment begins at around 16:10):
Here's an example of the SNL sketch to which Eshoo refers.
The text of the bill that Eshoo and her colleagues were discussing can be read here.
2:02 PM, Jul 30, 2014 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
The latest Talk Business & Politics/Hendrix College poll shows Republican congressman Tom Cotton leading Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor 44 percent to 42 percent in the Arkansas Senate race:
Two previous Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College polls showed the race within the margin of error but with Pryor in the lead. In October 2013, shortly after Cotton entered the race, Pryor held a 42-41% lead. In April 2014, Pryor had a 45.5-42.5% lead. The Libertarian and Green party candidates each settled at 2% in the April survey.
In every other public poll conducted since May, Cotton has led Pryor by 4 points, according to RealClearPolitics.
1:47 PM, Jul 30, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
As I've made pretty clear, I am not a fan of the "explanatory journalism" trend that purports to take an empirical approach to explaining complex issues. Its chief practitioners are a bunch of young, terribly biased journalists who tend to treat politics and policy as some sort of game, even as they broadcast their ignorance. Anyway, if you want a concise example of why explanatory journalism is bad—so pure and crystalline it could have been produced by Walter White—let me direct you to this Vox.com piece on Medicare.
Right off the bat, the headline is not encouraging: "Medicare isn't going bankrupt. This chart proves it." Sure enough, Vox has produced a chart showing that for the last 40 years, the Medicare Trustees report has projected the date of Medicare's insolvency and those insolvency dates keep getting pushed back. The conclusion drawn from a narrow and silly set of data points is that "hand-wringing [over Medicare's fiscal predicament] is pretty much unnecessary" because Congress will take care of the problem:
What you'll see here is that this report has predicted, many times in the past, that the Medicare Trust Fund would run out of money. But its never actually happened: each time the projected insolvency date gets close, there's typically a pattern where Congress steps in and passes some type of policy to make trust fund dollars stretch at least a decade longer.
This blase attitude about very real financial problems is one of the defining characteristics of welfare state fan fiction. Read that again: "There's typically a pattern where Congress steps in and passes some type of policy..." Some type of policy? Doesn't it matter what specific policies will be employed to keep Medicare solvent? I mean, we could just double the payroll tax. It might have terrible consequences for working families, but if it keeps Medicare solvent for the rest of the century, problem solved, right?
Nowhere in the piece does author Sarah Kliff mention that every year the same Medicare Trustees report notes that Medicare's unfunded liabilities grow astronomically even as the even as the projected insolvency dates are put off. So whipping up "policies" to "stretch" the solvency date instead of doing meaningful entitlement reform is allowing the problem to get much worse. Currently, the unfunded liabilities for Medicare are a staggering $43 trillion. That's $7 trillion more than the trustees report said four years ago.
1:16 PM, Jul 30, 2014 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
Casual dining establishment TGI Fridays, you may have heard, is advertising what it bills as “endless” appetizers for a mere $10. Yet if you dine at Fridays here in the District of Columbia, you can expect to spend $11, not $10, on the “endless apps,” once DC’s 10 percent dining tax is included. (Nor are the medical bills incurred from eating endless TGI Fridays appetizers included in the $10 figure.) The extra $1 on the tab, I would imagine, come to the surprise of precisely zero diners. People have long grown accustomed to adding taxes to advertised prices.
Likewise, when the local electronics store—assuming it still exists—advertises the low, low prices on its laptops, people are well aware that they’ll end up paying more after taxes are tacked on. “$699!” the ad may blare, but people know that they’ll likely end up spending in the $750 range for that Dell Inspiron (unless they’re lucky enough to live in Oregon, Montana, or another state without a sales tax, that is).
Yet the government apparently feels that when it comes to buying airplane tickets, the American public is simply too stupid to understand that advertised base fares will invariably have taxes added to them. In 2012, President Obama’s Department of Transportation imposed a rule, as Bloomberg explains, requiring “that the airlines advertise fares inclusive of the base fare, taxes and fees.” It appears no other industry in the country—save gasoline—is saddled with this regulation.
It’s plainly unfair for the airline industry to be uniquely targeted in this fashion. Luckily, it appears that the House of Representatives agrees. Earlier this week, on a voice vote, the House passed the Transparent Airfares Act, which repeals the 2012 DOT rule and instead requires that airlines disclose taxes and fees through an “easily accessible” link or popup.
That’s a fair compromise. Another option, which would probably appeal more to Democrats than Republicans, would be to require that advertised prices across all industries include taxes. That would at least remove the glaring unfairness towards the airlines.
Or, if the DOT is so sincerely concerned about price transparency, it could lead a movement to remove the taxes on flying altogether. That way, a $250 ticket would actually cost $250. Problem solved!
12:02 PM, Jul 30, 2014 • By JONATHAN MARKS
Recently National Journal’s Ron Fournier published this story, “Why Benjamin Netanyahu Should Be Very, Very Worried.” Fournier’s strange line is that the Israelis until recently enjoyed a “near-monopoly” over “the mind share of public-opinion elites.” Partly because those elites “embraced and amplified the Israeli case,” “public opinion in the West, and particularly in the United States, firmly supported Israel.” But now, gee whiz, we have the Internet and “democratized media.” And so, Fournier strangely concludes, although Israel “has the absolute right to defend itself” and although no nation would fail “to respond fiercely to attacks like those of Hamas,” the inevitability of negative media coverage means that the Israelis had better “reset their strategic position with moderate Palestinians.”
Fournier has a point. After all, we now have the estimable Richard Cohen saying in the pages of no less an establishment paper than the Washington Post that Israel “has adopted the morality of its hostile neighbors. Now it bombs cities, killing combatants and non-combatants alike—men as well as women, women as well as children.”
Sorry. My mistake. Cohen said that in 1982, during the Lebanon conflict. Norman Podhoretz cited Cohen in a piece documenting the “explosion of invective against Israel” that year, the year that John Chancellor of NBC commented that “we are now dealing with an imperialist Israel” and that “Israel can't go on much longer horrifying the world by its brutal siege of West Beirut.” As Jonathan Tobin observes in a post at Commentary, if Fournier thinks that Israel has until recently enjoyed a monopoly on elite opinion, he “hasn’t been paying much attention to the coverage of Israel over the last 40 years.” Yes, when CNN correspondent Diane Magnay described some of the Israelis she was covering as “scum” on Twitter, she used saltier language than correspondents once used. But she was doing nothing new.
If you were to add a more triumphalist tone to Fournier’s piece, its assertion that Israel once seamlessly dominated the Western media narrative, but that such dominance is now, for the first time, being challenged, would be perfectly at home in a propaganda outlet like the Electronic Intifada. Of course, Fournier’s piece is written more in sorrow than in anger. But that should not stop us from pointing out, more in sorrow than in anger, that Fournier, who purports to describe recent changes in media coverage, rehearses claims about Israel that long predate the Internet.
9:50 AM, Jul 30, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
While the New York Times continues to editorialize in favor of the legalization of marijuana (Wednesday's installment posits the federal ban is "rooted in myth and xenophobia"!), others are pushing back against legalizing the drug. At the Wall Street Journal, Pete Wehner argues the push for the legalization of marijuana is at odds with recent science about its harmful effects. Here's an excerpt:
The potency of marijuana is much greater than in the past, with the mean concentration of THC more than doubling from 1993 to 2008. “It’s much more potent marijuana, which may explain why we’ve seen a pretty dramatic increase in admission to emergency rooms and treatment programs for marijuana,” Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the New York Times last year. Medical research is piling up about marijuana’s negative effects on brain development, particularly for young people. Staci Gruber, a leading figure in neuroimaging at McLean Hospital in Boston, reports that imaging scans have found detectable differences in how their brains worked.
“The frontal cortex is the last part of the brain to come online, and the most important,” Dr. Gruber told the Times. “Early exposure [to marijuana] perhaps changes the trajectory of brain development, such that ability to perform complex executive function tasks is compromised.”
Studies have also shown that regular marijuana use can lower IQs and worsen the symptoms of psychotic disorders.
Read the rest of Wehner's post here.
8:43 AM, Jul 30, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
After contracting in the 1st quarter, 2nd quarter GDP grew by an unexpectedly robust 4.0 percent. As CNBC reports:
Gross domestic product expanded at a 4.0 percent annual rate as activity picked up broadly after shrinking at a revised 2.1 percent pace in the first quarter, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday.
Good news. But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, this is not a powerhouse recovery:
But the figures also show that the economy grew at a slower pace than previously estimated during the three-year period that ended last year, expanding at an average annual rate of 2%, down from an earlier published estimate of 2.2%.
The U.S. economy remains stuck in second gear.
8:02 AM, Jul 30, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Yuval Levin, writing for National Review Online:
Many people in Washington seem to be talking about the prospect of the president unilaterally legalizing the status of several million people who entered the country illegally as though it were just another political question. But if reports about the nature of the executive action he is contemplating are right, it would be by far the most blatant and explosive provocation in the administration’s assault on the separation of powers, and could well be the most extreme act of executive overreach ever attempted by an American president in peacetime.
I am more open to some form of amnesty than most people around here, I suspect, though the form I could support (as part of a deal that included more serious border control and visa enforcement) would involve legalization short of full citizenship, for reasons well articulated by Peter Skerry here. But the question of how to address the complicated problem of the status of the more than 10 million people who are in our country without legal authorization is a matter for the political system as a whole to address. That system has made several serious efforts to do so in recent years, so far without success. The most recent such effort (which resulted in a bad bill, in my view) took place while President Obama has been in the White House. He knows that as things now stand in Congress the question is not about to be resolved, and that the 2014 election is not likely to lead to its being resolved in the way he would prefer. Presumably this disappoints him. But the notion that the president can respond to a failure to get Congress to adopt his preferred course on a prominent and divisive public issue by just acting on his own as if a law he desires had been enacted has basically nothing to do with our system of government.
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