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Shorter Elijah Cummings

How dare Republicans harass the head of the IRS, who said that Lois Lerner’s e-mails may not be recoverable, even though, as it turns out, Lois Lerner’s e-mails may indeed be recoverable, and for all we know, the head of the IRS may be wrong about other things as well!”

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Quote of the Day

ABD AL-RAHMAN III was an emir and caliph of Córdoba in 10th-century Spain. He was an absolute ruler who lived in complete luxury. Here’s how he assessed his life:

“I have now reigned above 50 years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity.”

Fame, riches and pleasure beyond imagination. Sound great? He went on to write:

“I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: They amount to 14.”

Arthur Brooks. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals: Federal Health Care Subsidies are Illegal

The text of the Affordable Care Act informs us–as Peter Suderman points out–that the ability to dole out subsidies are limited to “Exchange established by the State.” It should therefore surprise precisely no one to find out that federal subsidies for Obamacare–subsidies which are not organized through “Exchange established by the State”–are illegal according to the plain text of the law, and should never have been given out in the first place. More from Suderman:

. . . Case Western University Law Professor Jonathan Adler, who was instrumental in laying the legal groundwork for the case, made the point that this is not the court changing the law. It is the court interpreting the law and its clear language. Which means that any of the ruling’s effects, including the loss of subsidies, were built into the law when it was passed.

“If people lose those subsidies, it’s because the courts rule that those subsidies are and always have been unlawful,” he said. The administration “never had the authority” to dish them out. “Halbig did not cause those effects. Those are the effects of the Affordable Care Act.”

“If that causes dislocation, if that causes disruption, I think the responsibility lies with the IRS and the administration,” Adler also said.

Quite right, of course, although one can easily imagine proponents of the ACA objecting to this common sense observation because it inconveniences them. More from Professor Adler himself, who anticipates the very reaction that I anticipate:

Although this decision is faithful to the text of the PPACA – that is, faithful to the text Congress actually enacted, as opposed to the health care reform some wanted or now wish they had gotten — it will provoke howls of outrage from ACA supporters. (Let the disdain campaign begin.)

To be sure, as Professor Adler himself notes, this is not the end of the matter. The Obama administration will likely seek en banc review of the D.C. Circuit decision, and there are other jurisdictions that have decided the matter differently. I suspect that the case is going to go before the Supreme Court before long, and if it does, one certainly hopes that the Court will decide that words have meaning and that we should respect the actual meaning of words, rather than wishing that words would mean something else, and trying to give those wishes the force of law.

Oh, and of course, the White House’s reaction to the ruling is absolutely precious:

“You don’t need a fancy legal degree to understand that Congress intended for every eligible American to have access to tax credits that would lower their health care costs, regardless of whether it was state officials or federal officials who were running the marketplace,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “I think that is a pretty clear intent of the congressional law.”

One thing we can be relatively sure of is the fact that Josh Earnest is in absolutely no danger whatsoever of being able to get “a fancy legal degree.”

The Public Catches On (Hillary Clinton Edition)

Hillary Clinton hasn’t any major substantive accomplishments to her name, and the people who will cast a judgment on any presidential candidacy of hers have taken note:

A majority of voters are unimpressed with Hillary Clinton’s performance as secretary of State, according to a new POLITICO poll.

Just 14 percent described her time at State — she served four years ending in February 2013 — as “excellent,” while another 28 percent defined it as “good.” Another 21 percent called it “fair” and 32 percent rated her performance “poor.” Six percent weren’t sure or declined to answer. The survey of likely voters in states and districts with the most competitive House and Senate races was conducted this month as Clinton traveled around the country to promote her new memoir, “Hard Choices,” and discuss her time at the nation’s top diplomat.

Clinton’s ratings did not vary meaningfully across income levels or age, but there was a clear partisan divide over the former secretary of State and likely 2016 presidential candidate. Some 79 percent of Democrats viewed her performance as either good or excellent, while just 12 percent of Republicans saw her that way. Only 15 percent of Democrats thought she did the job fairly or poorly, in contrast to 86 percent of Republicans.

Yet, in a potential warning sign for Clinton, independents gave her poor marks by a nearly 2-to-1 margin: 60 percent of viewed her performance as “fair” or “poor,” compared with just 33 percent who answered “excellent” or “good.”

So, I guess you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Delusion in Russia

How exactly does one engage in rational conversation with a country which is afflicted with . . . well . . . this?

Did you know Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently reinsured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH17 for Putin’s presidential plane, which looks strangely similar?

Did you know that the crash of MH17 was all part of an American conspiracy to provoke a big war with Russia?

Well, it’s all trueat least if you live in Russia, because this is the Malaysia Airlines crash story that you’d be seeing.

“But surely, the leadership class in general–and Vladimir Putin in particular–is better informed, Pejman,” I hear you cry. Alas, that may not be true.

Quote of the Day (Part Deux)

A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

I’m not interested in defending mothers who are under stress or are low-wage workers without a lot of great child-care options. I mean, fine, but these defenses should be unnecessary because what the heck are we doing arresting parents for things that were perfectly normal 30 years ago?

At the age of 9, I walked to school with a group of other 9-year-olds. Or by myself. Across the very busy streets of the Upper West Side, at a time when New York City really was very dangerous. Past housing projects. Around construction sites. My sister rode the subway to school at that age. My best friend got on the crosstown bus by herself in the first grade. Attrition rate among my classmates and myself: 0.

Leaving an infant in a car is extremely dangerous, and parents should take great care not to do so, including buying something like this. Leaving an 11-year-old alone in the car is no more dangerous than letting her go to the ladies’ room by herself. Infants die in cars because they can’t regulate their own body temperature very well, open the doors or windows, or get out of the car. If your 11-year-old doesn’t know how to open your car doors or has to be strapped in, then by all means, take them into the store with you. But if you are the parent of a normal, healthy child, then there’s no reason that he or she cannot be left by themselves for a few minutes.

Nor is there any reason that a normally intelligent 9-year-old cannot be allowed to play in a busy, safe park by herself. Could something bad happen? Yes, though the risks of accident in a crowded park are pretty limited. But something bad can happen anywhere. The rate of stranger abductions is very low, and it has been very low for a long time. Yet when I ask parents why they can’t let their kid out of their sight, stranger abductions generally top the list.

Megan McArdle.

The Intellectual and Moral Derangement of Opponents of Israel

The periodic hate campaigns that get launched against the state of Israel are uniformly obscene and disgusting, but the current one appears to be working to set new records. Just by way of reminder, we have one of Israel’s mortal enemies (Hamas), an entity that has never accepted Israel’s right to exist–let alone a right to exist in safety and security–launching missiles against Israel and actively trying to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible. As though that were not execrable enough, Hamas is also actively trying to use Palestinian civilians as human shields. And yet, despite these facts, and despite the simple truth that the moral calculus is heavily in Israel’s favor, there are enough benighted people on the planet who claim that somehow, in some way, Israel is at fault for the current conflict between itself and the Palestinians. These people, confident in the belief that derangement is a contagion, are trying to spread that contagion to as many others as possible:

Tens of thousands protested in London Saturday afternoon against Israel’s military operations in Gaza, denouncing Israel as a terrorist state and castigating British Prime Minister David Cameron for backing Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas rocket fire

Led by speakers on a podium, protesters holding placards and banners chanted pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel slogans.

At one point, a woman on the podium shouted “from the river to the sea” — a call for the elimination of Israel — and protesters responded by yelling “Palestine will be free.”

More:

Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters marched in French cities on Saturday to condemn violence in Gaza, defying a ban imposed after demonstrators marched on two synagogues in Paris last weekend and clashed with riot police.

French President Francois Hollande said he understood emotional responses to the killing of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in a flare-up of hostilities with Israel but would not allow violence to spill over into France.

“That’s why I asked the interior minister, after an investigation, to ensure that such protests would not take place,” he told journalists during a visit to Chad.

[. . .]

The far-left New Anticapitalist Party, an organizer of last Sunday’s rally and the banned one in Paris, urged protesters in Paris to defy the ban, prompting police to issue a warning.

[. . .]

In the first three months of 2014 more Jews left France for Israel than at any other time since the Jewish state was created in 1948, with many citing rising anti-Semitism as a factor.

Of course, it ought to go without saying that no one should dare call the organizers of these protests “anti-Semitic.” Because that would hurt their feelings, or something.

Now, for some sanity. Brendan O’Neill has a proper reply to the anti-Israel fanatics:

Why are Western liberals always more offended by Israeli militarism than by any other kind of militarism? It’s extraordinary. France can invade Mali and there won’t be loud, rowdy protests by peaceniks in Paris. David Cameron, backed by a whopping 557 members of parliament, can order airstrikes on Libya and British leftists won’t give over their Twitterfeeds to publishing gruesome pics of the Libyan civilians killed as a consequence. President Obama can resume his drone attacks in Pakistan, killing 13 people in one strike last month, and Washington won’t be besieged by angry anti-war folk demanding ‘Hands off Pakistan’. But the minute Israel fires a rocket into Gaza, the second Israeli politicians say they’re at war again with Hamas, radicals in all these Western nations will take to the streets, wave hyperbolic placards, fulminate on Twitter, publish pictures of dead Palestinian children, publish the names and ages of everyone ‘MURDERED BY ISRAEL’, and generally scream about Israeli ‘bloodletting’. (When the West bombs another country, it’s ‘war’; when Israel does it, it’s ‘bloodletting’.)

Anyone possessed of a critical faculty must at some point have wondered why there’s such a double standard in relation to Israeli militarism, why missiles fired by the Jewish State are apparently more worthy of condemnation than missiles fired by Washington, London, Paris, the Turks, Assad, or just about anyone else on Earth. Parisians who have generally given a Gallic shrug as French troops have basically retaken Francophone Africa, stamping their boots everywhere from the Central African Republic to Mali to Cote d’Ivoire over the past two years, turned out in their thousands at the weekend to condemn Israeli imperialism and barbarism. Americans who didn’t create much fuss last month when the Obama administration announced the resumption of its drone attacks in Pakistan gathered at the Israeli Embassy in Washington to yell about Israeli murder. (Incredibly, they did this just a day after a US drone attack, the 375th such attack in 10 years, killed at least six people in Pakistan. But hey, Obama-led militarism isn’t as bad as Israeli militarism, and dead Pakistanis, unlike dead Palestinians, don’t deserve to have their photos, names and ages published by the concerned liberals of Twitter.) Meanwhile, hundreds of very angry Brits gathered at the Israeli Embassy in London, bringing traffic to a standstill, clambering on to buses, yelling about murder and savagery, in furious, colourful scenes that were notable by their absence three years ago when Britain sent planes to pummel Libya.

As does Charles Schumer (hey, when Charles Schumer is right, he is right):

Amid the recent troubles between Israel and the Palestinians, many Americans and media commentators are drawing disturbing lines of parallelism between the two societies, asserting a false moral equivalency to the actions of each.

In essence, the claim goes like this: “Both sides are fighting each other with similar degrees of violence; both treat each other equally badly; each side is equally to blame for the violence, and they just can’t come together.”

That notion that there is a moral equivalency between the defensive and targeted actions that the rule-of-law-based Israel is compelled to take, and the proactive and indiscriminate actions that hate-based organizations like Hamas takes, is completely unfair, unfounded and infuriating to supporters of Israel — with good reason.

In fact, there is no moral equivalence between the actions and reactions of Israel and Hamas and the Palestinian community to the violence that has occurred.

Two glaring examples stand out. The first revolves around the difference between Israel’s and the Palestinian community’s reactions to the horrible kidnappings and coldblooded murders of four boys, three Israeli and one Palestinian.

No doubt the loss of these children is one beyond words. Both incidents were abhorrent.

But the reaction on both sides was not the same. How did Hamas and too many diverse parts of the mainstream Palestinian community respond to the kidnap and murder of three young Israelis? They cheered.

The official Hamas spokesman called the kidnappers “heroes.” The mother of one of the suspected kidnappers, Abu Aysha, said, “If he [my son] truly did it — I’ll be proud of him till my final day.”

And is it no wonder, given the vitriolic hatred of Israel that has been preached in textbooks and schools to two generations of Palestinian children. Such propaganda has been propagated by not only Hamas, but by the Palestinian Authority, and has created a perverse mythology throughout Palestinian society that calls suicide bombers “martyrs” and extols kidnappers and murderers as heroes.

Those who killed the Israeli boys have not been found, and the cooperation of Palestinian authorities in the hunt for them has been lukewarm at best.

Compare that to the reaction of the Israeli people to the murder of the Palestinian teenager. Israelis were aghast. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately called the murderers “terrorists” who committed deeds equal to the terrorism on the other side and said that Israel must find “who is behind this despicable murder.” The Israeli government has made every effort to bring those responsible to justice, and there are now six arrests.

And Eric Yoffie:

On “NBC Nightly News” on July 12, David Gregory spoke of growing pressure from the United Nations for a ceasefire in Gaza. He noted that the United States and many other nations believed that Israel had a right to self-defense. Nonetheless, Gregory reported, these countries were likely to be sympathetic to calls for a ceasefire because of the “disproportionate” number of casualties between the two sides. Among the residents of Gaza, the death toll then exceeded 100, while Israel had suffered dozens of injuries but no casualties.

Mr. Gregory was simply reporting the news, but I found his comments disturbing, nonetheless. What does it mean to say that the casualties are “disproportionate”? And is that really the moral issue that we need to be concerned about?

The implication of the “disproportionality” claim is that, given their losses, the people of Gaza are the real victims. But morally and politically, this is an intolerable and distorted interpretation of the realities in the region.

The reason that Hamas has not killed more Israelis is not because they haven’t tried. In the seven years during which it has controlled Gaza, Hamas and its proxies have fired more than 5000 rockets into Israel; almost 800 have been launched just this past week. Each one has been aimed at civilians and intended to murder and maim. The reason that more Israelis have not died is that the weapons are mostly crude and inaccurate and that, over time, Israel has prepared herself with shelters, warning sirens and an anti-missile system. In addition, Israelis have been just plain lucky.

But that luck could change at any moment. If a single rocket were to hit a school or a mall, the number of dead could balance out in a flash. Then, to be sure, you would have “proportionality,” but there is no moral calculus by which additional dead civilians is a preferable outcome.

For Israel, the fundamental issue is the responsibility of its government to protect its citizens. As missiles have fallen on her cities over the years, the government has not succeeded in providing that protection. The reasons are many, including sensitivity to American wishes and a concern for world opinion; but the desire not to hurt the innocent is the most important. Now, however, as children in the south continue to live in terror and civilians throughout Israel flee to shelters several times daily, Israel’s leaders have concluded that they must act.

There is something bizarre, in fact, about the idea of “proportionality” being used as a moral criticism against Israel. A proportional response by Israel to the attacks of the last seven years would mean that every time a rocket is fired by Hamas at an Israeli civilian center, Israel would respond by firing a rocket at a civilian center in Gaza. Israel, of course, rejected that, then and now. Still, when Hamas violated the ceasefire yet again and got its hands on longer-range rockets, something had to be done.

Joshua Muravchik informs us why the casualties are “disproportionate”:

. . . Already, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, EU foreign policy czarina Catherine Ashton, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty [International], the British press and the usual array of “progressive” voices are assailing Israel for this fight in which Hamas is the aggressor and Israel is acting, with unmistakable reluctance, only in self-defense. True, most casualties are on the Palestinian side. Why? Israel has spent billions on civil defense and [the] Iron Dome to protect its citizens. Hamas urges its subjects to disregard Israeli warnings and to stay put in targeted buildings in order to become “martyrs.” They’re fulfilling their mantra: “You love life; we love death.”

And finally, David Harsanyi shows why Jeff Bezos was unwilling to part with any money in order to keep Ezra Klein & the Gang around at the Washington Post:

Not long ago, Vox’s Max Fisher argued that Israel was liable for the entire conflict in the Middle East. He then accused Israel of welcoming Hamas’ execution of three Jewish teenagers as a pretext to engage in the vengeful massacring of Arab civilians. And then he lamented the fact that Hamas’ rocket barrage was met with Israel’s technological superiority and, consequently, a lopsided outcome.

Nowadays, as Hamas ignores cease-fires and is caught using children as human shields by the United Nations, many apologists have given up. Not Fisher, who attempts to whip up some moral equivalency in a new piece titled “Yes, Gaza militants hide rockets in schools, but Israel doesn’t have to bomb them”:

This is the one thing that both Hamas and Israel seem to share: a willingness to adopt military tactics that will put Palestinian civilians at direct risk and that contribute, however unintentionally, to the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Partisans in the Israel-Palestine conflict want to make that an argument over which “side” has greater moral culpability in the continued killings of Palestinian civilians. And there is validity to asking whether Hamas should so ensconce itself among civilians in a way that will invite attacks, just as there is validity to asking why Israel seems to show so little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods. But even that argument over moral superiority ultimately treats those dying Palestinian families as pawns in the conflict, tokens to be counted for or against, their humanity and suffering so easily disregarded.

A “partisan” writing about a conflict as if he we an honest broker is distracting, but read it again. You might note that one of the institutions he’s talking about is the governing authority of the Palestinian people in Gaza, which, applying even the most basic standards of decency, should task itself with safeguarding the lives of civilians. Instead, it makes martyrs out of children and relies on the compassion of Israelis to protect its weapons. This is a tragedy, of course, but Israel does have to bomb caches of rockets hidden by “militants” in Mosques, schools, and hospitals. Since Hamas’ terrorist complex is deeply embedded in Gaza’s civilian infrastructure there is really no other way. And that only tells us that one of the two organizations mentioned by Fisher has purposely decided to use Palestinian as pawns and put civilians in harm’s way.

It is also preposterous to claim that Israel is showing “little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods.” Actually, Israel is far more concerned with the wellbeing of Palestinians civilians than Hamas. This week, 13 Hamas fighters used a tunnel into Israel and attempted to murder 150 civilians in Kibbutz Sufa, with Kalashnikovs and anti-tank weapons. On the same day, Israel issued early warnings before attacking Hamas targets – as it often has throughout this conflict in an effort to avoid needless civilian deaths Hamas is hoping for. It was Israel that agreed to a five-hour cease-fire so that UN aid could flow into Gaza last week. It is Israel that sends hundreds of thousands of tons of food to Gaza every year, millions of articles of clothing and medical aid. That’s more than restraint.

Quite right, of course, but as always, the argument over Israel’s actions ends up pitting responsible and sane people against those whose complaints against Israel always amount to “the dastardly Jews aren’t allowing their enemies to kill Jews quickly enough.”

Quote of the Day

Income inequality has surged as a political and economic issue, but the numbers don’t show that inequality is rising from a global perspective. Yes, the problem has become more acute within most individual nations, yet income inequality for the world as a whole has been falling for most of the last 20 years. It’s a fact that hasn’t been noted often enough.

The finding comes from a recent investigation by Christoph Lakner, a consultant at the World Bank, and Branko Milanovic, senior scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study Center. And while such a framing may sound startling at first, it should be intuitive upon reflection. The economic surges of China, India and some other nations have been among the most egalitarian developments in history.

Of course, no one should use this observation as an excuse to stop helping the less fortunate. But it can help us see that higher income inequality is not always the most relevant problem, even for strict egalitarians. Policies on immigration and free trade, for example, sometimes increase inequality within a nation, yet can make the world a better place and often decrease inequality on the planet as a whole.

Tyler Cowen.

The Cover-Up Begins

I trust that no one is surprised by this:

Ukraine accused Russia and pro-Moscow rebels on Saturday of destroying evidence to cover up their guilt in the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner that has accelerated a showdown between the Kremlin and Western powers.

As militants kept international monitors away from wreckage and scores of bodies festered for a third day, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the rebels to cooperate and insisted that a U.N.-mandated investigation must not leap to conclusions. Moscow denies involvement and has pointed a finger at Kiev’s military.

The Dutch government, whose citizens made up more than half the 298 aboard MH17 from Amsterdam, said it was “furious” at the manhandling of corpses strewn for miles over open country and asked Ukraine’s president for help to bring “our people” home.

After U.S. President Barack Obama said the loss of the Kuala Lumpur-bound flight showed it was time to end the conflict, Germany called it Moscow’s last chance to cooperate.

European powers seemed to swing behind Washington’s belief Russia’s separatist allies were to blame. That might speed new trade sanctions on Moscow, without waiting for definitive proof.

I am not sure how much more proof is actually needed. If it were not for the obstruction of the Russian separatists, there would be a full-scale forensics investigation already underway. And does anyone actually believe that the Russians are really trying to get the rebels to cooperate with the investigation?

Did the Russians Down the Malaysian Airliner?

It sure seems like it:

Social media posts by pro-Russian insurgents — most of them hastily removed — suggest the rebels thought they had shot down a Ukrainian army plane before realising in horror that it was in fact a packed Malaysian airliner.

The Twitter and blog messages were immediately publicised by top Kiev officials in their furious information war with the Kremlin for global opinion and the hearts and minds of ethnic Russians caught in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Confirmation of separatist fighters killing 298 passengers and crew on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur would further complicate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to paint their uprising as a fight for self-determination.

Russia’s state media avoided any mention of the controversial posts and instead reported militia leaders’ later charges that the Ukrainian air force had shot down the Boeing 777 liner instead.

There is, of course, a great deal more to learn about this story, but the indications are strong that Russian separatists were behind the downing. And of course, given that the separatist movement in Ukraine would not be possible without Russian backing and support, Moscow–and the Putin regime–very likely has blood on its hands.

Speaking of which . . .

Back in March, when Vladimir Putin’s Russia was rearing its increasingly antagonistic head, supporters of Mitt Romney saw a measure of vindication. Russia, it seemed, had become the United States’ No. 1 geopolitical foe – the same distinction Romney claimed for it in 2012 (and President Obama scoffed at). Well, here we are, four months later, and we finally have some good data to evaluate that claim.

And we can say that, at least for now, the American people agree with Mitt Romney (pretty much).

According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, Americans see Russia as the No. 1 future threat to the United States.

Twenty-three percent of Americans give that distinction to Russia, while 19 percent say it’s China and 16 percent say it’s Iran. (Just 7 percent cite North Korea.)

Sometimes, public opinion gets it very, very wrong. In this case, public opinion gets it quite right. Maybe Team Obama will take notice and acknowledge as much . . . one of these days.

Slavoj Žižek: Academic Fraud

No one who knows anything about Slavoj Žižek should really be all that surprised by the likes of this story:

Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek — who is one of the world’s most prominent living public intellectuals — has been accused of plagiarizing from the white separatist magazine American Renaissance. (The magazine calls itself a “race realist” publication, while the Southern Poverty Law Center calls it a hub for “proponents of eugenics and blatant anti-black racists.”)

Last week, a blogger called “Deogolwulf” posted a comparison of passages from an article by Žižek in the journal Critical Inquiry and from a book review in American Renaissance. The review, by Stanley Hornbeck, is of Kevin Macdonald’s anti-Semitic book The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth Century Intellectual and Political Movements. Although the two pieces of writing come to different conclusions (Žižek calls it “barbarism”), passages summarizing Macdonald’s book appear with nearly identical wording in each publication.

In a statement emailed to NPR, Žižek wrote that he had been sent the words by a friend who said he was free to use them and that he did not realize the friend had in turn borrowed words from Hornbeck. Žižek added, “As any reader can quickly establish, the problematic passages are purely informative, a report on another’s theory for which I have no affinity whatsoever; all I do after this brief resume is quickly dismiss Macdonald’s theory as a new chapter in the long process of the destruction of Reason. In no way can I thus be accused of plagiarizing another’s line of thought, of ‘stealing ideas.’ I nonetheless deeply regret the incident.”

NPR asked Žižek whether he considered it acceptable to borrow, even with permission, the words of a friend without citing the source. Žižek responded: “My friend not only agreed, he wrote those words for my use! Plus they are a resume of a book, not any creative development of ideas. So I really don’t see a problem here.”

Žižek’s “explanation” is, of course, ridiculous. Since when do friends send words from a racist publication and say, in essence, “go ahead; use them! It’s fine by me!”? To be sure, if Žižek really does have friends who encourage him to plagiarize from racist publications, then he has made the wrong class of friends, but I for one don’t believe in this absurd scenario for a moment. At minimum, Žižek was very clumsy in his writings by failing to properly attribute the words of another. At worst, he actively tried to get away with plagiarism, and now, he is making his problems worse by concocting a silly explanation for the incident in an effort to absolve himself.

That Scandal the Obama Administration Assures Us Is Not a Scandal Sure Seems Scandalous

Wow:

Anyone paying attention to the Internal Revenue Service scandal has been waiting for the next smidgen to drop. Well, two more hit pretty hard this week. At the president’s next encounter with the media, I will scream collusion if no one asks him for his exact definition of a “smidgen,” and if he thinks he has seen a smidgen of corruption yet. At this point, only the most gullible or culpable can continue to claim there is no compelling evidence in this case. Given the delays, lies and stonewalling, there is no viable argument against a special prosecutor.

In a stunning revelation this week, it was disclosed that former IRS official Lois Lerner told colleagues,“we need to be cautious about what we say in emails” and then proceeded to ask the IRS IT department, in an e-mail, “if [instant messaging] conversations were also searchable.”  When she was told they were not, she e-mailed back, “Perfect.” This is a smoking gun e-mail in that it makes plain she had a cover-up in mind. There is no other plausible explanation.

Just imagine what might happen to you if you behaved this way towards the IRS. Also: Can we start calling this scandal a scandal now? I see more than a “smidgen” of evidence that we should.

If Only We Had a Rational Foreign Policy Discourse . . .

In a world where Reason ruled the roost and rationality was the order of the day, more people would be asking Jeffrey Goldberg’s question: Why is Hamas, by its own actions, undermining the creation of a Palestinian state by pursuing policies that will not lead to the destruction of the state of Israel? It’s a good question, and one that I would love to get an answer to, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to be on the lips of many pundits and observers, which should count as a gargantuan failure in ratiocination on the part of the pundit class.

Speaking of muddled thinking, behold Chris Bertram, who seems to think that because Israel uses the Iron Dome missile defense system to save the lives of innocent Israeli citizens, while Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields, Israel is somehow morally deranged (“the current death score is 159-0,” Bertram tells us, as though this statement is dispositive of something). Of course, Bertram does not acknowledge that Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, and that it actively puts the general Palestinian population in danger through its actions, but that is likely only because it would undermine his (reflexive?) anti-Israel bias. Bertram does take the time to call William Saletan some names, but other than proving that playground insults are the best that Bertram has to bring to the table, this does nothing to enlighten any reader. I suspect, of course, that enlightenment is not Bertram’s goal; he is likely just smart enough to see that Hamas is the culpable party in this conflict, and he wants to muddy the waters by engaging in a furious bit of handwaving that is supposed to convince us that Jewish people are at fault for not dying as quickly as Bertram might like them to die.

In Which Fred Hiatt Misses the Point

This editorial by Fred Hiatt details the second term failures of the Obama administration in accurate and devastating fashion, which is why I am disappointed that it ends up going downhill by the end:

The administration was surprised when Russian President Vladimir Putin swallowed Crimea. It was caught flat-footed by the crumbling of Iraq and emergence of an al-Qaeda state. Now the region is “a cradle of violent extremism,” Obama’s attorney general said last week. But the president is uncertain how to respond.

Increasingly friends and foes around the world seem comfortable disrespecting the United States . In Egypt, a court sentenced journalists to prison hours after Secretary of State John F. Kerry left Cairo expressing confidence in the government’s commitment to democracy. U.S. ally Bahrain, home to the Navy’s 5th Fleet, expelled an assistant secretary of state. Days after Obama visited the Philippines to support rule of law in the South China Sea, China towed a massive oil rig into waters claimed by Vietnam and, Vietnamese officials said, intentionally rammed two of their ships.

Obama visited Berlin in 2008, promising to build bridges between continents that had “drifted apart” in the Bush era. Now Germans are furious at the United States for spying on them. Burma, which Obama recently claimed as a foreign-policy successlast week sentenced four journalists to 10 years of hard labor, one of many signs that reform there has stalled or worse. China barred a U.S. scholar from visiting and rounded up dissidents immediately before last week’s U.S.-China strategic and economic dialogueIsrael and Hamas are drifting toward war after Obama’s second failed effort to broker a peace accord.

Hiatt’s conclusion is that all of these failures (and others that he lists–read the whole thing) point to the president’s need to ask himself “whether his team is making the best of whatever difficult circumstances it cannot control.” He also says that “a president needs are people who will challenge his thinking and, when necessary, tell him news he would rather not hear.” That’s all fine and good, and to the extent that Hiatt is claiming that the junior varsity team currently running the executive branch ought to be benched in favor of some star players, he is right.

But it is not enough to blame the failures of the Obama administration on bad staffing. Indeed, it is my understanding–and I am pretty sure that I am right about this–that the president is ultimately responsible when the people he appoints and nominates to consequential government positions screw up on the job. So, while the second term personnel ought to take its share of the responsibility for the fact that the second term has–oh, how shall I phrase this?–failed to live up to optimistic expectations, President Obama should put both feet forward and accept that his leadership has been lacking as well. Teams of rivals are nice and good, but the absence of a team of rivals does not excuse an absence of leadership at the top.

This Passes for “Moderation” in Iran

Those who believed that an era of political and social liberalization was about to dawn in Iran will not like reading this article:

Eight social media activists in Iran have been sentenced to a total of 127 years in prison, after they criticised the country’s government on Facebook.

The eight people – whose identities have not been revealed – were administrators of unnamed Facebook pages.

An Iranian court found them guilty of using the pages to spread anti-government propaganda, attemp to undermine national security, and insult Iran’s leaders. It is unclear whether they were acting together.

It is understood that those convicted will appeal the ruling, having each been handed sentences between 11 and 21 years, Iran’s IRNA news agency reported according to Sky News. The terms were passed in April after the eight appeared in court several times.

The rest of us will be appalled, but entirely unsurprised.

Quote of the Day

In our postmodern times it is increasingly irrelevant where the good and the bad reside. Does it matter that the Israeli youth dream with being inventors and scientists, while the youth of Hezbollah and Hamas dream with being martytrs? Apparently not. Does it matter that in Israel children are not taught to hate the Arabs, while among the Arabs, the Protocols of Zion and Mein Kampf are best sellers, and that the Egyptian TV broadcast a repulsive series where the Jews would extract children’s blood for their rituals? Apparently this doesn’t matter either.

The only thing that matters is that Arabs and Palestines look weaker compared to Israel’s might. The victim is the weak; the perpetrator is the powerful; other reasons are irrelevant. That is why public opinion tolerates anything from Palestines and Arabs, and condemns everything that comes from Israel.

Yet Israel is the planet’s most vulnerable country, surrounded by a sea of fundamentalists, hallucinating preachers, and dictators who anxiously wish to erase it from the map. Ever since independence Israel was harassed, not so much for its Jewish character, but for being the embodiment of modernity and progress, democracy, pluralism, tolerance, free press, an independent judiciary, the alternance in power, the individual and human rights. It won Nobel prizes in sciences and literature, it invented effective irrigation systems, it educated eminent artists, and it contributed discoveries to the biological sciences.

Above all, Israel s tired of war. Already several generations of stoic Israeli citizens have defended the country with one hand while working with the other. Israel always wanted to be Athens but was forced to be Sparta. But this absurd postmodernity will never understand it.

Marco Aguinis. About the only statement that I disagree with is the one that claims that Israel was harassed “not so much for its Jewish character.” Not so, alas. Israel was–and continues to be–very much hated “for its Jewish character,” in addition to its “embodiment of modernity and progress, democracy, pluralism, tolerance, free press, an independent judiciary, the alternance in power, the individual and human rights.”

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