shutterstock_114904339If I know anything about Ricochet members, it’s that you love your weed. Half of you are probably baked right now. I can’t attend a member meetup without tripping over at least a dozen bongs and hookahs. (I don’t know how Peter Robinson gets the smell out of his fair-trade hemp poncho.)

So, happy 4/20, man. For that tiny minority of non-weedheads on Ricochet, today’s the unofficial holiday for marijuana and those who love it. The date is a reference to 4:20, which was the time of day a group of smokers called The Waldos would blaze up in 1971:

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The Bookmonger with John J. Miller
Days of Rage

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” sang Bob Dylan. Whatever elsDays of Rage Bookmongere this line accomplished, it inspired the name of a group of left-wing terrorists, the Weather Underground. In his new book Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence, author Bryan Burrough describes the men and women behind Weather Underground and their ilk, as they bombed their way across America in the 1960s and 1970s.

In a 10-minute conversation with The Bookmonger, Burrough discusses the motives of these violent groups, their legacy, and where their members are today–including the unsettling fact that although they’ve had plenty of time to mature, hardly any of them feel remorse for their crimes.

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Ryan T. Anderson: Public Enemy #1

RTAndersonI’ve met Ryan Anderson, infamous opponent of marriage equality. It was a terrifying experience. The eyes. Those crazy eyes.

I’m joking, obviously. Ryan is a perfect gentleman and clearly entirely sane. He also has a fancy education and no grey hair. (He’s around my age, I believe, so not easily dismissed as a nostalgic old codger who can’t quite get with the times.) Those combined factors make him deeply offensive to the left. In his way, I’m sure he’s far more offensive than your garden-variety Westboro Baptist, because he tricks people into supposing that young, intelligent and reasonable people can still regard marriage as an intrinsically procreative institution involving a man and a woman. Even in 2015.

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Underwhelmed By Greatness?

RearWindowHave you ever had this experience? Have you ever sat down with a book, a film, an album, what have you, that you’ve heard from time immemorial was a classic and thought…eh? Maybe you would have liked it if you had come to it cold, but it just couldn’t bear the weight of its own legacy.

I’ve always been a big Alfred Hitchcock fan. Vertigo is one of my favorite films of all time. The episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents entitled “Breakdown” is one of the most gripping 30 minutes of television I’ve ever seen (you can find it on Netflix or Amazon). While I’ve worked my way through most of the Hitchcock corpus, I had, until recently, somehow failed to make the time for Rear Window, considered one of the director’s all-time classics. Finding myself with some unexpected free time on a recent Sunday, I popped it up on Netflix. And, well…eh.

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Easy Political Wins

shutterstock_24055594Last week, I attended a users’ conference for a software provider. One concept that came up repeatedly was the importance of “easy wins”; i.e., small changes that noticeably move the ball in the right direction without too much effort (switching analogies, you might call them low-hanging fruit). They don’t constitute a full strategy or policy, but they make life marginally better by removing some pain points, while — equally importantly — building trust that useful things can and are being done.

This concept has a lot of political salience. Should the Republicans win the presidency in 2016 while holding Congress, we’re going to have a lot of big projects to set about (repealing Obamacare and reforming middle-class entitlements). While it’s vitally important to our country’s welfare to tackle these sort of issues, these are going to be high-casualty fights whose outcome is uncertain and for which we’ll likely have very little to show for years (I’m being optimistic). Before we tackle those issues, it would be wise to give ourselves some relatively easy tasks as an opportunity to build confidence and — who knows? — celebrate some small victories. Columbus might never have gotten his men to the West Indies if he hadn’t first shown them that he could lead them to the Canary Islands.

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Are Republicans Going to Abandon Entitlement Reform?


A few quick facts on entitlement spending: (a) CBO projects federal spending on Medicare and Social Security over the next 25 years will rise by roughly 3 percentage points of GDP, to 11% from 8%; (b) an aging US population will be the prime driver of that projected higher spending; (c) a middle-class, one-earner couple retiring in 2030 will receive $1.3 million in lifetime Medicare and Social Security benefits having paid in just under $500,000.

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Regaining the Moral Clarity to Punish Criminals

shutterstock_208296562Sounds easy right? Just a boring topic that states the obvious. The problem is, when it comes to the criminal justice system, the mainstream media has, on one hand, created the myth that prison is hell on earth, and, on the other, horribly mislead the public about the death penalty. The prison systems in the United States have been locked in the 1960s liberal fantasy that we can — and, worse, should — always try to rehabilitate career criminals.

To be clear, I am focusing this post on the worst of the worst: the murderers, violent gang members, rapists, child molesters, etc. The people who my wife and I have dedicated our lives to prosecuting. I will save discussing how retribution should apply to addicts or non-violent first time offenders for another day. But how we punish the worst of the worst will shock you. There is a massive moral deficit in the criminal justice system, one that values criminals far above victims — and it is disgusting. If we are to regain the moral clarity and fortitude to punish the worst of the worst, it will only come from the political right.

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The Biden Plan For Iraq: Some Bad Ideas Never Die

shutterstock_195311009A disturbing number of people have been praising Vice President Joe Biden’s plan to partition Iraq. In its original form, The Biden Plan was to have a greater degree of federalization of Iraqi governmental power with the 19 governorates being split into four regions (Sunni Arab, Shia Arab, Kurdish, and Baghdad), protected by a UN resolution, with four goals: 1) to change the federal structure of Iraq by creating a level of regional government between the governorates and the federal government; 2) to allocate oil revenues; 3) to protect women’s rights; and 4) to allow the US to withdraw militarily by 2008. A few months later, Biden updated his plan to lose Baghdad as a separate region, to drop women’s rights, and to include a new jobs program to be paid for by the Gulf States that would protect minority rights (how we’d make the Saudis go along with that last demand was never clear). He modeled both plans on the segregationist Dayton Accords in Bosnia.

Despite Biden’s plan not being implemented, two of these goals have happened anyway: the oil revenues have achieved ever greater degrees of formalized allocation, and women’s rights have been supported. On the other hand, the Surge happened and the Iraqis didn’t want regional level governments. The governorates (essentially, provinces) were given the ability by federal law to federalize into regions, combining such that the Sunni majority governorates could establish a regional government with greater powers, the Shia could do likewise, etc. Regardless, Arab Iraqis chose not to take that opportunity; indeed, at no point did even two governorates attempt to unify. The Kurds took the increased powers allocated to any such region that existed and added them to their already considerable number of autonomous powers, but there was no other regional identity that was able to coalesce into regional government.

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Ricochet: Home of the Conservatarians?

41HW16e6UrLLast year, my good friend Will Patrick, here in Tallahassee, Florida, introduced me to the Ricochet podcasts. The first episode that caught my attention was one dedicated to President Reagan’s first meeting with Gorbachev at Reykjavik. It was fascinating.

For more than 10 years, I have been involved in the conservative/liberty movement through my current work at The James Madison Institute (JMI) in Florida, and previously with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). Between what I read and the many speakers I get to meet and hear from in person and at conferences, I felt like I had a great grasp on all the top scholars and thinkers in the movement. However, the Ricochet podcast has served to introduce me to so many more, including people like Avik Roy and Charles C.W. Cooke. During my many travels visiting JMI’s supporters around the state of Florida, I listen to the podcast almost religiously and find it quite entertaining and thoughtful. [Editor’s Note: Want to become a member of Ricochet and get a free month on us? Join today and use the coupon code APRIL for your discount.]

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A Mass Grave in the Mediterranean

LAMPEDUSA-COFFINS_3039419bLate on Saturday night, as many as 950 men, women, and children perished in the Mediterranean 60 miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa in the greatest sea disaster since the Second World War. Last week, two separate shipwrecks off the coast of Libya claimed an estimated 400 lives. The Italian coastguard has rescued nearly 10,000 people this month. In Sicily and Lampedusa, medical teams regularly treat migrants who have been tortured by their smugglers.

Postwar Europe has never confronted a population movement like this. A human wave from the failed states of the Middle East and Africa has resulted in a 50-fold increase in migrant and refugee deaths since last year. There will be many more. The state apparatus has collapsed in Libya. There is no Libyan coast guard. Last fall, Italy ended the “Mare Nostrum” search-and-rescue operation, which had saved 100,000 lives in 2014; Italian naval units have instead been deployed off Libya’s eastern coast to guard against sea-borne attacks from the ISIS-occupied ports at Derna and Sirte. ISIS, meanwhile, is beheading Christians on Libya’s beaches, and Italian police have just arrested 15 Muslims on charges of throwing 12 Christians from a migrant boat.

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Lipstick for the Living

shutterstock_86910497Long before my mother got old-old (she died at almost 97), in one of those I-think-this-now-because-I’m-still-hale-and-hearty musings, she told me and my sister that she would be okay with us putting her in a nursing home, with one caveat: “Just make sure my hair is done; even if I’m in a coma, I’ll know.”

Things didn’t turn out that way, thankfully (she and I lived together for nine years in a sweet little house before she died of pancreatic cancer last August), but her comment came immediately to mind after reading the post “70 Years Ago Today” on the website “the beheld” about women survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

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Saturday Night Science: Einstein’s Unification

“Einstein's Unification” by Jeroen van DongenIn 1905 Albert Einstein published four papers which transformed the understanding of space, time, mass, and energy; provided physical evidence for the quantisation of energy; and observational confirmation of the existence of atoms. These publications are collectively called the Annus Mirabilis papers, and vaulted the largely unknown Einstein to the top rank of theoretical physicists. When Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921, it was for one of these 1905 papers which explained the photoelectric effect. Einstein’s 1905 papers are masterpieces of intuitive reasoning and clear exposition, and demonstrated Einstein’s technique of constructing thought experiments based upon physical observations, then deriving testable mathematical models from them. Unlike so many present-day scientific publications, Einstein’s papers on special relativity and the equivalence of mass and energy were accessible to anybody with a college-level understanding of mechanics and electrodynamics and used no special jargon or advanced mathematics. Being based on well-understood concepts, neither cited any other scientific paper.

While special relativity revolutionised our understanding of space and time, and has withstood every experimental test to which it has been subjected in the more than a century since it was formulated, it was known from inception that the theory was incomplete. It’s called special relativity because it only describes the behaviour of bodies under the special case of uniform unaccelerated motion in the absence of gravity. To handle acceleration and gravitation would require extending the special theory into a general theory of relativity, and it is upon this quest that Einstein next embarked.

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Small America and bin Laden’s Victory: Four Essays for the Weekend

AmericanizationLate last night, I came across four insightful essays, all in Tablet magazine. They’re painful to read, but they struck me as worthy of thought and discussion. Reading them all takes about a half hour.

The first is by Lee Smith, who attempts to define the difference between Obama’s and Netanyahu’s view of America. In my view there’s no reason to focus on Netanyahu; many of us find Obama’s view of America’s role in the world puzzling–and it’s not to our credit that the prime minister of Israel has become a better-known and more articulate exponent of the opposing case than any American leader. Smith’s understanding of Obama strikes me as more intuitively plausible than a view of Obama as deeply unpatriotic or actively hostile to America. For Smith, Obama is a Gladstone figure–a proponent of what Smith calls “Small America.”

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A Challenge for Hillary Clinton: Return to a JFK Growth Agenda

JFK 2_0When John F. Kennedy was elected president he surprised both Democrats and Republicans with a bold tax-cutting plan to solve the problem of a moribund economy. He had campaigned on “getting the country moving again,” and had set a 5 percent economic-growth target, but he never specified how he was going to do it. Then he opened everyone’s eyes with a plan to lower marginal tax rates across-the-board.

JFK’s advisors proposed a traditional Democratic approach: temporary targeted tax cuts. But Kennedy insisted on lower tax rates that would create much higher rewards for work, saving, and investment. And Kennedy argued that his lower tax-rate incentives would so expand the economy that after a few years his tax cuts would pay for themselves.

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The King of Clubs Is Dead

27ABC6F700000578-0-image-a-38_1429284252790Travel back in time to the hazy opening days of the Iraqi invasion. Hans Blix. Shock and Awe. The falling Saddam statue. You also might remember Coalition forces distributing an infamous deck of playing cards showing the 52 most wanted officials of the rogue regime. (I assume Michael Moore and Sean Penn were the jokers.)

Most of the figures were captured while others were shuffled out of the deck through more violent means. But the King of Clubs remained at large. “The King of Clubs? Who izzat?” Correct! It was Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, loyal Saddam stooge, Tikrit native and, following Saddam’s death, the leader of the banned Ba’ath party.

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Wave a Magic Wand

shutterstock_113996155On the latest Ricochet podcast with Rob Long, Peter Robinson, and James Lileks, they ask the following: If they could wave a magic wand, what one wish would they grant to change our country? I’ve thought about that a lot myself.

I would wish for a one-term limit on all offices. It would include lengthening that term for the President and the House of Representative to six years, just like the Senate. I see the possibility of so many benefits: less time and money spent running for office, fewer entrenched office holders seeking their own welfare instead of the welfare of their constituents, less money flowing to corrupt politicians, fewer politicians whose only experience in life is a series of political offices, more candidates that seek to make a positive contribution instead of seeking for contributions.

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Ask Amelia: Mayonnaise Is Thicker than Water

AskAmelia3It’s Friday and Amelia Hamilton is here to answer your questions on co-workers, drinking, and mayonnaise… but not co-workers drinking mayonnaise.

Dear Amelia,
I don’t drink alcohol or coffee. Most first dates I get asked out on are for “a drink” or “coffee,” and it is awkward when I just get water. Any ideas for an equally casual first date?
— Tired of Dating Dilemmas

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Power Line
Hillary, Scooby and the Burrito Bowl Incident

Last night, three of the PL crew (John, Paul and Steve) got together for a review of the presidential race as it currently stands. 3kgV0RJE_400x400A principal topic was Hillary Clinton’s bizarre rollout, complete with her incognito Chipotle appearance, “common man” meetings with Democratic Party officials, parking the “Scooby” van in a handicapped space, and more. Compared to that, Marco Rubio’s launch was seamless.

They talked about a number of the GOP candidates and debated their relative merits and prospects. It’s a fun 30 or 40 minutes that you won’t want to miss.

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In Defense of Harold Koh

KohI’ve been asked several times, including by the press, to comment on the controversy surrounding Harold Koh. Koh is a former State Department legal adviser — and occasional critic of mine — who’s now teaching international human rights law at NYU. That’s outraged some NYU students, who object to his appointment because of his role in the Obama Administration’s drone strike program, and are now circulating anti-Koh petitions. I can summarize my thoughts in short order:

While I don’t agree with Harold on many issues, the protest strikes me as silly. A university should bring forth all points of view, even those — especially those — that students, alumni, and faculty do not like. How better could law students learn than from someone like Harold, whose role as a government lawyer may have run counter to his views as a legal scholar and activist? If there are students, faculty, and alumni who think Harold should be excluded from the NYU community, they may want to go to a university that cares more about protecting their feelings than improving their minds. But they will be worse off for it.

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Need To Know with Mona Charen and Jay Nordlinger
Great Men … and President Obama

ntk-logoNo guest this week but Jay and Mona have no shortage of matters to discuss. It ranges from Hillary’s odd invention of immigrant grandparents (Rubio envy?) to Jeb Bush’s integrity. Plus, is there a time to defy the right?

If there’s an Iranian fatwa against building nuclear weapons, why can’t anyone find it? And if it doesn’t exist, shouldn’t someone demand to know from President Obama why he keeps referring to it?

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My Friend Richard

620xNx13169996972011Notes_Epstein620.jpg.pagespeed.ic.BOxI1yUuejAny time I talk with a young person who has every jot and tittle of his life planned out until the day he retires (this is especially common among the kind of sociopaths who have political ambitions), I always gently advise them that it’s generally more important to have a direction than a plan. It’s great to know what you want out of life, but you always ought to be humble enough to recognize that the road by which you get there — or by which you may get to a place you never though you’d venture in the first place — will almost certainly bend in directions you never anticipated.

Case in point: the college sophomore iteration of Troy Senik, newly immersed in a volume entitled Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism, would have been gobsmacked if you had told him that he would one day carve out a professional niche as a sort of sherpa (or, if you prefer, a poor man’s James Boswell) to the author of that book, a polymath law professor by the name of Richard Epstein who happens to be celebrating a birthday today.

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Taking The Chance Out of Insurance

shutterstock_151145456People buy insurance — well, used to, at any rate — to mitigate the costs and impact of unpredictable and expensive future events, and to share the risk of being that one-in-a-million unlucky person. Sure, paying monthly premiums is no fun, but it beats getting an unexpected $200,000 bill for life-sustaining surgery.

Of course, insurance is not just a way to pre-pay for services: insurers are smart and — entirely appropriately — try to hedge their bets by estimating the likelihood that they’ll have to pay out and charging appropriately. This requires them to get information about their customers, such as their driving habits, age, family history, educational attainment, credit scores, and whether (and how much) they drink and/or smoke. At least in theory, this allows insurers to charge high-risk people a steeper rate, while offering low-risk clients more competitive prices. And while the predictive quality of this information isn’t good enough to say much about any given individual, it’s more than adequate to work in the aggregate.

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