Bring Back the Cherry Tree


Today is President’s Day. In the wake of November’s election, the nation’s capital is busting apart at the seams as both parties strive for dominance and relevance. Each party wants to show that it has heard the will of the people.

If Congress wants to do something really important, it could do worse than bring back Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays as national holidays.


Killer Apps


I’ve had it up to here with you people out there making harassing calls to my technical staff to rush our new smartphone apps to the market. My number one technology guy, R.N.D. Funding, is threatening to quit. If he does, I’m coming after each of you fat [expletives]. Like many Americans, I have access to the NSA tapes and transcripts of your abusive calls to R.N.D. If you think Gen. Flynn got a raw deal, just wait until I get a hold of you.

However, my public relations consultant and part-time rodeo clown, Robin “Hood” Wink, has urged me to placate you knuckleheads. I told her, as I’m always ‘splaining to my Nobel Prize winning shrink, Sarah Bellum, I try to like people, but they are all so [expletive] stupid.


Death Café: A Growing Movement


“We live knowing that everything dies. Like the sun, it’s a fact of life. And like the sun, we tend not to look right at it. Unless you’ve experienced a recent death, it’s probably not something you discuss. But a new movement is trying to change that, with a serving of tea and cake.” – Deena Prichep

This new movement is called Death Café. I was motivated to look into the topic since we have a couple of them in Florida. In Ms. Prichep’s article, she explains the origins of the movement.


The GOP Tax Plan Is in Trouble. Many People Are Saying This.


As conservative political reporter Robert Novak once declared, “God put the Republican Party on earth to cut taxes. If they don’t do that, they have no useful function.” Now imagine a new Republican president and Republican Congress — both of whom ran on cutting taxes — not being able to pass a tax cut. It might seem unimaginable. If so, stretch your imagination. Border adjustment is a key element of the GOP tax reform plan. It serves several purposes: raises a trillion bucks, makes it harder for companies to escape US taxes by shifting operations overseas, and gives a protectionist president a perceived win on trade that may help avoid harsher trade measures.

But border adjustment is in deep trouble. Which means tax reform may also be in trouble. Imagine that.

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Hope and the Deep State


“Hope” by Aaron Zelman and L. Neil SmithI post reviews of every book I read here, but this post is about a novel I read fifteen years ago, Hope, by Aaron Zelman and L. Neil Smith, which, although I considered it a thriller bordering on fantasy when I read it in 2002, I now consider prophetic and highly relevant to events now playing out in the United States.

Alexander Hope, a wealthy businessman with no political experience, motivated by what he perceives as the inexorable decline of the U.S. into a land where individual liberty and initiative are smothered by an inexorably growing state, manages, defying all of the pundits and politicians, through a series of highly improbable events, to end up elected president of the U.S., riding a popular wave of enthusiasm he generates in large rallies where he tells crowds things they’ve never heard before from the lips of politicians of the Locust and Quisling branches of the unified party of the ruling class, or from their mellifluous mouthpieces in the mainstream media. Crowds find themselves saying, “Wait—that makes sense!”, and the day after the election finds America with a president unlike any in its history.


Drain the Real Swamp: Academia


Suppose for the past half century or so you’ve been forced to pay the Acme Swamp Company to engorge all lakes, caverns, rivers, streams, and puddles with effluents, along with enough reptiles to put Jurassic Park to shame. Then, after you’ve discovered that the Acme Company has also supplied Wile E. Coyote with Roadrunner-catching equipment since the Truman Administration, you decide to “drain the swamp.” And then—surprise! surprise! —you’re devastated to learn that the swamp you tried to drain simply filled up again from tributaries that cannot be shut off. And you’ve been paying for those tributaries, too, for a long, long time. In fact, you’ve discovered that these streams are not only exorbitantly pricey, but frequently destructive, parasitic, and virtually impregnable. Question is, what can you do?

The “swamp” in question of course is Washington DC, but also includes much of the bureaucracy, judiciary, and cultural command posts of the country, such as the media and entertainment industries. The tributaries comprise America’s educational system, long dominated by the radical left and protected by tenure and union power. It is this ideological effluent center that has done so much to poison the discourse of American politics, smearing every institution that contributed to the country’s greatness, and radiating hatred of all things most citizens hold dear—family, patriotism, free enterprise, free speech, freedom of religion, the Bill of Rights generally, and of course America’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.


Trump and Netanyahu on Israel: Enough Lies


I’m tired of the lies about Israel that have been perpetrated by the world and that have been supported by the United States for many years. It’s time to set the record straight on the history of Israel and the truth about the Palestinians. I’m hoping that Donald Trump will step forward and transform our relationship with Israel and call the world to accept the truth and the necessity for changing the narrative.

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Max Singer, founder of the Hudson Institute, suggested a path for Trump to pursue regarding Israel: “If Mr. Trump wants to advance the possibility of peace, he should begin by challenging the five big untruths that sustain the anti-Israel consensus.” To summarize his points, Mr. Singer offered the following myths (the information in brackets are my additions):


Patriotism Not Nationalism


National Review has sparked an important debate about nationalism. As someone who has been accused throughout her life of excessive love of country (can’t count the number of times I’ve been reproached for arguing that despite slavery, Jim Crow, and the internment of Japanese Americans, our country is eminently lovable), I feel a bit awkward rebutting anything that travels under the name “Love of Country.” Nevertheless, I must join Jonah Goldberg, Yuval Levin, Ben Shapiro, and others in demurring from Rich Lowry’s and Ramesh Ponnuru’s defense of nationalism.

Lowry and Ponnuru are two of the writers I most admire (at a time when that group is shrinking fast). If they make an argument with which I disagree, I’m inclined to question my own judgment. So I remain open to the possibility that they are right. But it seems to me that their willingness to believe that nationalism, as opposed to patriotism, can be benign is not convincing.


Stephen Miller: Tracked and Targeted


The latest Trump team member in the media crosshairs is White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller (not to be confused with Ricochet’s Conservatarian co-host or that ’70s joker, smoker, and midnight toker). Miller was one of the chief architects of the travel ban. To be kind, most feel President Trump’s bungled executive order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries was a public relations and logistical faux pas. Subsequently, Miller’s teleprompter-like Sunday morning news interviews were cringe-worthy and are now the likely low hanging fruit for upcoming SNL hazing.


US Department of Fake


I ran into Greg Potemkin in DC yesterday when I was in town to lobby for The Euthanamerica Foundation, which I helped establish to counteract the obsessive focus on young Asians being promoted by the Oregon-based Euthanasia Society.

Greg is considerably younger than I, but we became fast friends five years ago when we toured Uzbekistan together for the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM) to promote magic awareness and escapism. After exchanging the traditional IBM greeting, which consists of pulling multi-colored scarves from each other’s ears until we were worn out, we retired to the nearest Starbutts to catch up.


Would Fewer High-skill Visas Really Mean More Jobs for Americans? Hmm…


As I write this, President Trump still hasn’t selected someone to chair his Council of Economic Advisers, much less filled all the CEA slots. That, even though Gary Cohn, head of Trump’s National Economic Council, recently said his boss has “every intention” of appointing a CEA chair. (Actually, it’s the law. The CEA was created by the Employment Act of 1946.) What’s more, the CEA chair apparently will not be cabinet-level in the Trump White House. Still, maybe now that Steven Mnuchin is on the job as Treasury secretary, a CEA pick will be forthcoming. Who knows?


When Did Hollywood Lose Faith in Love?


It’s been nine years since a movie that could in any way be defined as “romance” made the year’s top 10 grossers list (and that one was the third Twilight film, so make of that what you will.)

Coincidentally or not, it’s been at least that long since any half-decent sex scandal rocked the industry. The most shocking thing about the Sony emails is just how totally unsexy the private talk is. Harry Cohn, the ruthless founder of Sony Studios, nee Columbia, was rolling in his grave asking, don’t these people ever talk about anything besides money and deals?


Time for Trump to Resign


The nearly four weeks since President Donald Trump’s inauguration have been the most divisive period of American politics since the end of the Second World War. The sharp lines that everyone is drawing in the sand pose a serious threat to the United States. On the one side stand many conservatives and populists who are rejoicing in the Trump victory as the salvation of a nation in decline. On other side sit the committed progressives who are still smarting from an election in which they were trounced in the electoral college, even as Hillary Clinton garnered a clear majority of the popular vote.

As a classical liberal who did not vote for either candidate, I stand in opposition to both groups. And after assessing Trump’s performance during the first month of his presidency, I think it is clear that he ought to resign. However, it important to cut through the partisan hysteria to identify both what Trump is doing right and wrong in order to explain my assessment of his presidency to date.


This Chart Shows Just How Hard a Balanced Budget Will Be


As a candidate, Donald Trump said he favored a balanced budget “relatively soon.” Then again, he also said, “I love debt. I love playing with it.” Just how much Trump loves or hates federal debt will be revealed in the coming months. Congress, too. Congressional Republicans have typically offered annual budget resolutions that would eliminate the budget deficit within a decade by reducing spending growth.

The same this time around? Goldman Sachs raises some issues:


A Valentine from the Weird Girl


That’s me, at age 12, with hair too big to fit into a ponytail and an awkwardly chubby body that few fashionable outfits could cover or even forgive. They called me the weird kid, at school, and they weren’t necessarily wrong. At that age, I collected pins from US presidential elections, would rather talk to horses than people and hid in the bathroom almost every recess to listen to The Doors on my beat-up Sony Discman. I didn’t fit in any of the boxes and at that age — hell, at any age — the people around you can smell the oddity on your slightly panicked breath.

As most kids of my kind, I reacted to the situation by adopting a “screw you” attitude, and that was never as visible as on that dreadful day when popularity and attractiveness was being judged and measured. On Valentine’s Day every year, students would send roses to each other, to be delivered in class on full display to the other students. The popular girls would ooh and aah over the bunches of flowers that landed on their desks, while others, like myself, would loudly declare how silly and obsolete this phony holiday was and how we actively refused to participate in anything from dances to decorations.


Rule 19 for Media?


Last week at my local Mensa Club klatsch I mentioned that my high-energy college basketball coach, Al E. Oops, was in town for the “Rule 19 For Media?” conference at our local university.

I was shocked to learn that many in our club did not know I was an NCAA Seventh-Team All-Conference Honorable Mention in college, and still hold the record at my alma mater for most double-dribbles in a single game.

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Don’t Tell Me to Be Loyal


We’ve had several conversations about loyalty on Ricochet: loyalty to Trump, to the Republican Party, to loyalty to conservative or libertarian ideas. Almost every time the topic appears, I’ve felt resistance come up for me, particularly when others were told that they had to be loyal, that we needed to show a united front to the hostile and crazy people on the Left. In one way, that expectation made sense, but I still felt like pushing back. Then I asked myself what does it mean to be loyal? What am I loyal to, and why? Why is it an important value to me? Is it appropriate for others to expect loyalty from me? This post is an effort to clarify the meaning of loyalty for myself, and to encourage a discussion about its meaning for you.

In exploring the meaning of loyalty, I decided to look at the degree of commitment it required. Loyalty in one sense is a loaded word; it implies a serious allegiance to someone or something. The term is often used in a way that trivializes it: we can talk about being loyal to a football team or to a television show, but I assume that claim is made in a lighthearted manner; that’s not the loyalty I’m discussing. I realized that for me, loyalty applies to people or organizations or ideas that are at an elevated level. For example, I am loyal to the United States, but I’m not loyal to Florida. I am loyal to G-d and Judaism, but I am not loyal (for better or worse) to all of Jewish law.


A Further Qualified Defense of the Ninth Circuit Attack on Trump’s Executive Immigration Order


My recent post on Ricochet took the position that the Ninth Circuit was correct when it set aside Trump’s controversial executive orders on legal permanent aliens and refugees and asked the Trump administration to reexamine the result. Most people in dealing with this order claim that it went too far because it did not accept the President’s position that the order was wholly unreviewable, regardless of its content, which was viewed as self-evidently correct by some and wholly outside the bounds of decency by others. Indeed, many of the comments on Ricochet took the former position by arguing that Presidents should follow the lead of Andrew Jackson and tell the Court to enforce its own order. But it is, as other readers noted, a wild overreaction to a particular dispute to throw out a set of institutional arrangements that have by and large served the United States well for over 200 years.

I put these grander objections aside, therefore, to look at two more fine-grained challenges. I start by noting that in making this decision, the Ninth Circuit was right to avoid grappling on a thin record with claims that both the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause applied to the particular case. That analysis would have been a major transformation of American law that could quite literally upset established practices on allocating scarce immigration slots on the basis of national origin. It also allowed the Court to side step the very tricky question of the extent to which alien claims generated some positive right to become an immigrant. I regard these claims when stated in their general form to be wholly unsupportable. In general, the power of every nation to protect its own borders means that no outsider has a categorical right to enter this country but must allowed to apply before entry.


Make America Safe Again, Free-Market-Style

Hundreds of passengers wait in the TSA security line at Nashville International Airport. (James R. Martin / Shutterstock, Inc.)

“Why do you always say that we have failed miserably when it comes to handling terror threats?” The question was offered in a less-than-sober setting by an adjunct professor in political science, and even though all in attendance were at varying stages of drunkenness, my reply was sober. “United and American Airlines are still in business.”

“What the hell does that have to do with anything?” was the incredulous reply from the economics professor at the table, as he re-lit his cigar. I nearly choked on my scotch, as I replied, “It’s a good thing you have tenure, darling. Seriously? Please, tell me, how much is it for a flight to London on Pan-Am or TWA.”


How to Do Immigration Right


The circus atmosphere bursting through breathless reports of the President’s recent immigration order have triggered incomprehensible judicial rulings and slanderous accusations made by public officials whose loyalties are to anything but the law, our Constitution, and fellow American citizens. But amidst the turmoil of events punctuating President Trump’s third week in office, one rarely encounters depictions of the soundless heartbeats fluttering in the reverential tone that envelopes the ceremony of an individual becoming an American citizen on a legal basis.

I have been privileged to welcome a person who legally entered our country, after first accepting our embracing love as a member of our family when she and my son became married seven years ago. That is quite a story in itself, involving long-distance correspondence between her and my son, while she journeyed throughout Brazil giving lectures as a high-ranking employee of an international IT conglomerate, while my son finished a tour in Iraq, only to plunge into the morass in Afghanistan at FOB Shank. They finally met at a site approximately between these distant points—at a military base in Germany.


Things You Can’t Say Without Being Castigated

Michael Gordon / Shutterstock, Inc.
  1. Nordstrom has every right to stop selling items that don’t sell well.
  2. Vladimir Putin is a vicious thug. He is in every respect America’s moral inferior.
  3. Yes, racism is still a real problem in America.
  4. Donald Trump actually did lose the popular vote.
  5. But voter fraud is indeed very real – not “nonexistent,” despite what so many in the media say with willful disregard for the truth.
  6. It was perfectly sensible both as law and policy for critics to say, as U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions said and as the Supreme Court confirmed, that the Voting Rights Act unfairly and unconstitutionally singled out certain states and locales for extra, vexatious administrative burdens.
  7. The original Violence Against Women Act was flawed in ways that had nothing to do with protecting women from violence.
  8. Racism, while very real (see #3) is not nearly as much of a problem in America as the Left and paid agitators say it is.
  9. It is extremely worrisome to read reports of a petulant President lashing out at allies such as Mexico, France, and especially Australia.
  10. It is unseemly for a President even to joke about “ruining the career” of a state legislator who disagrees with him on the proper boundaries for civil liberties.
  11. It is worse than unseemly for a President to poisonously attack the impartiality of a judge or judges, and to politicize court cases, even before a case has been decided. This rule applies whether the judge is Mexican, or is thought to be liberal … or, for that matter, if what’s at stake is one’s signature piece of health care legislation. (Yes, in other words, Barack Obama did it too, and he too was wrong.)
  12. There are indeed such things as alternative facts. But something that is false is not an alternative fact.
  13. If a President’s top aide accidentally conflates terrorist arrests with a separate terrorist “massacre” – and yes, there are enough such massacres that it is hard to keep track of them – and then admits she misspoke, then it is beyond asinine for multiple, major news outlets still to be obsessing about it with front-page stories a half a week later. Not all mistakes are malevolent, fergoshsakes.
  14. Just because not all complaints about the media are valid, and just because it is wrong for a President to give a tone of trying to throttle the press as an institution, this does not mean that the media as a whole is an honest or trustworthy institution.
  15. Yes, the establishment media leans way, way to the political left. And yes, it is prone to pack journalism of the most mindless sort. And yes, its double standards that favor the left are astonishingly blatant. And yes, its overall disdain for faith, for tradition, for traditional morality, and for “middle America” is obvious, obdurate, and obnoxious.
  16. Just because the media collectively exhibit all those flaws listed above, this does not mean that it is fair to disparage all members of the media or to lie when the media actually publishes the facts.
  17. By the way, facts do exist. Some things are not matters of opinion.
  18. There is not a very significant “pay gap” for women when adjusted for relevant factors such as years worked, hours worked, actual duties, and the like.
  19. All lives matter.
  20. The reason blacks make up a disproportionate share of the prison population is that blacks commit a disproportionate share of crimes.
  21. The absolute fact that blacks for years have committed a disproportionate share of crimes proves nothing about an individual black person’s propensity to commit crimes, nor does it mean that anything innate in blacks as a race is responsible for disproportionate criminality, nor does it excuse police profiling based on race alone.
  22. Police profiling based on multiple factors – such as style of dress, body language (and eye contact or lack thereof), and other behavior – is a valuable tool that in itself infringes on nobody’s rights, as long as police procedures related to the profiling are respectful, sensible, and of course lawful.
  23. Even though Coretta Scott King was admirable and well-intentioned, she also could be wrong. Even though US Rep. John Lewis merits admiration as a civil rights hero, he can be wrong and is not necessarily a saint.
  24. Hey, college kids: People have a right to have different opinions than you do. You have no right to be “protected” from those opinions. If you need a stuffed animal to hold and Play-Doh to massage because you don’t like election results, you’re pathe… er, you’re way too fragile for the adult world. And if you go beyond peaceful protest into interfering with the rights or property of others, or into violence, you should be arrested, charged, convicted, and heavily punished.
  25. If you don’t like # 24, grow up.
  26. US Sen. Chuck Schumer is a major hypocrite.
  27. US Sen. Elizabeth Warner is a massive hypocrite and a smear artist.
  28. Donald Trump is a smear artist. (See: Rafael Cruz, Heidi Cruz, Michelle Fields, the “Mexican judge,” residents of northern New Jersey, Ben Carson the “child molester,” and others too numerous to list.)
    Trump is absolutely right that we should build a wall.
  29. Trump was absolutely right when he insisted while campaigning that “we don’t do enough winning anymore.”
  30. Trump is dead wrong about trade in general, and about NAFTA in particular. NAFTA has been a huge net plus for the US economy, for the economy of North America as a whole, for geopolitical stability – and for keeping illegal immigration lower than it otherwise would have been.
  31. Nonetheless, Trump is right that the United States does experience some trade disadvantages that are correctable, and that blue-collar workers disproportionately suffer from those disadvantages.
  32. Trump is wrong that the way to improve our trading posture is by “getting tough” on foreign trading partners. Instead, the way to improve the situation is by reforming our tax code, massively streamlining regulations, and outcompeting — not punishing — foreign rivals.
  33. Trump was hardly unique in identifying laborers as a too-oft-ignored voting bloc with honest, legitimate concerns. Plenty of analysts recognized that reality, and so did a significant number of politicians.
  34. …Nonetheless, far too few politicians, or business leaders, or establishment media outlets, recognized the reality and acted accordingly to help. And because those with the most power were among the least interested in Middle America, Middle America did, broadly speaking, get rooked.
  35. Therefore, even though Trump’s act of giving voice to these forgotten Americans indicated no particular genius or particularly acute sensibility, it is still to Trump’s credit that he focused heavily on this reality and stuck to his guns.

The list could go on (and on, and on). For each opinion or fact above, an essay (or at least a mini-essay) could be written. All of them could be done respectfully. (Well, except for the assertions that Schumer and Warren are hypocrites. But the facts there are so numerous and obvious, and the harm caused by their hypocrisy so manifest, that a lack of respect can’t help but exist.)

The list is almost evenly divided between statements anathema to some on the right and to ones anathema to some on the left. But, watch the comments that come below: Many will be furious, disrespectful, and full of name-calling without any actual arguments. Many will be so blinded by any apparent “attack” on their team that they lash out while refusing to recognize the central point here: Both sides are prone to shibboleths, both sides prone to yelling down opposing opinions (or even facts) – and, therefore, that rather than getting furious, we should consider assertions thoughtfully, on their merits, and be willing either to reconsider our own thoughts or to try to persuade people that our viewpoint is correct, by using right reason.