James Comey as Walter Mitty


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, by James Thurber, was first published as a short story in 1939 in The New Yorker. It has always been one of my favorites. Walter is a world class day-dreamer. He’s mild-mannered and shy but has an incredible fantasy life. He imagines he’s a surgeon, fighter pilot, and all sorts of brave, manly, heroic characters in his daydreams, which are often interrupted before his daydream’s tragic or triumphant conclusion.

Mitty is described in The American Heritage Dictionary as “an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs.” I just finished reading and re-reading all 15 pages of disgraced former FBI Director James Comey’s memos describing in great detail his three face-to-face meetings and phone conversations with Donald Trump.


No Planet Left Behind


PlutoTomorrow is Earth Day, and once again I will be boycotting everything associated with the holiday.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the Earth (I grew up an hour away from here) and it’s not that I don’t support conservation because as a gun owner, I contribute far more to the preservation of wildlife than the most vocal of Sierra Club members. Rather, I am turning my back on the celebration of one single planet in our solar system until a great interplanetary injustice is made right, namely, the designation of Pluto as a “dwarf” planet.


ACF Middlebrow #8: A Quiet Place


The podcast’s back with something new. There’s a horror movie atop the American box office; it’s made more than $100 million. What’s rarer still is that it’s for adults. Rarest of all, it dramatizes American middle class parents’ terror of the uncertainty surrounding their kids’ lives and futures. John Krasinski stars and also directed this remarkable success; Scott Beck and Bryan Woods wrote the screenplay (with him) and produced; and Emily Blunt gives the kind of performance that wins Oscars, if the Academy had any judgment. So my friend Pete and I are here to show how the movie reflects on American society and the good that art can do, if but people pay attention to it!


How Technology Affects Jobs and Wages, in Two Graphics


The Asian Development Bank has issued a lengthy report on technology and jobs. And it’s a pretty upbeat one, as described by the Financial Times:

The ADB’s analysis of 12 developing Asian economies between 2005 and 2015 found that rising demand had more than compensated for jobs lost to automation. The adoption of new technologies, such as modern machine tools and computer systems in factories and offices, had stimulated higher productivity and economic growth. That transformation, it estimated, had created 134m new jobs, compared with the 101m jobs lost to technology.


American Matriarch


Barbara Bush was the first first lady to make much of an impression on my childhood self, so I was pleased when The Week asked me to write a tribute to her. As I was gathering details on her life, though, my thoughts kept returning to my own mother, Merina Smith, also known to many here at Ricochet. Like Bush, she left college at 19 to marry and start a family. She raised five children, but also went on to get a Ph.D., publish scholarly works of history, travel the world, keep a resplendent house and garden, become a pillar of her community, and more other accomplishments than I could possibly list.

I am not, in general, the sort of person who likes to scold young women for having educational or professional goals. But it’s certainly worth appreciating what rich and admirable lives some women have managed to live, embracing the role of the matron.


Playboy Comes to DC


Playboy Enterprises just announced that it has purchased a table at this year’s White House Correspondents Association Dinner. Swell. Just what we need.

The dinner, as you’ve probably heard, is an annual ritual of narcissism in which leading press figures don black tie and hope to see, or better yet, be seen with Hollywood stars. Like much of politics, much of journalism has become entertainment, and though journalists dub the dinner the “nerd prom,” the self-deprecation becomes more strained with each passing year as journalists themselves have become, literally and otherwise, “beautiful people.”


Remembering the Formidable Matriarch, Barbara Bush


I first came to her attention after a 1982 event in Minneapolis at which George H.W. Bush, then vice president, delivered a speech I had written. Aboard Air Force II, Barbara Bush came back to speak to the staff. “Who wrote that speech?” she asked.

I shrank into my seat. A member of the staff for only a couple of weeks, I was just 25. It was my first full-time job. When the press secretary explained that I was the new speechwriter, I forced myself to stand. Mrs. Bush held me in her gaze a good long while. Then she smiled. “It was a good speech,” she said. “Write more like it.”

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The Best Part of Ricochet


I’m blown away — as well as humbled, delighted and honored. I put up a post this past weekend that had the potential for being controversial. But I decided to risk it, because I felt the subject was important to discuss.

The word “controversial,” as it turns out, was an understatement. The comments came pouring in, the passion was high, and the disagreement with me, in particular, was profound.


Mrs. Bush (and Mrs. Robinson)


A glimpse of Barbara Bush:

One summer day just over a dozen years ago, my wife and I took the kids to Kennebunkport to meet the Bushes. The former president greeted us, showed the kids around Walker’s Point–riding a Segway (his legs were already giving out), while our five children, then aged from 12 to two, trailed along, George Bush looked like a high-tech pied piper–ending the tour at the pool. There he opened the pool house, explained that at Walmart’s a few days before he had bought two swimsuits in every size, and began tossing suits to our kids. As they went inside the pool house to suit up, President Bush excused himself, climbing back on the Segway to return to his office for a telephone call. Within a few moments, the Robinson children were screaming and giggling and performing cannonballs into the pool. And a few moments after that, Barbara Bush appeared.


So When Will the Next Productivity Boom Happen?


If the US economy is going to generate sustained 3% annual growth, or anything close to that, it will require much faster productivity growth. The bull case looks something like this one, via my AEI colleague Bret Swanson and economist Michael Mandel:


The Unintended Consequences of Ending the Internet’s Grand Bargain


Is the Facebook kerfuffle really about privacy? Or is there something more fundamental happening here? I’ve written previously about my skepticism that people really value digital privacy as much as the media or activist groups suggest they do. And if Facebook doesn’t see an exodus of users after the Cambridge Analytica maelstrom, that will be a powerful bit of evidence my instincts are correct.

Another bit of evidence is the study “How Consumers Value Digital Privacy: New Survey Evidence, Program on Economics & Privacy” by Caleb Fuller, assistant professor of economics at Grove City College and a faculty affiliate at George Mason University Law School’s Program on Economics and Privacy. After conducting a survey of 1,579 internet users, Fuller found that “85% are unwilling to pay anything for privacy on Google.” And of the 15% of Google users willing to pay, the median was around “a paltry $20 per year.”


Gowdy on Mueller: Let the Man Do His Job!


Trey Gowdy is one Congressman whom I greatly admire. He was the 7th Circuit Solicitor and led an office of 25 attorneys and 65 employees before joining Congress. He has been at the forefront of the Congressional investigations and doesn’t mince words when he gives his opinion.

So when people have repeatedly attacked Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his work, Trey Gowdy supports him and suggests we let him do his job. As a result, I ask, why there is so much turmoil around the situation, so much gnashing of teeth? So, I investigated, and I think I know why people are so upset. And frankly, I think Trey Gowdy has the right idea.


Environmental Protectionism Run Amok


The House Natural Resources Committee is conducting an ongoing examination of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA). President Richard Nixon signed NEPA, often hailed as the Magna Carta of environmental law, to great fanfare in 1970. The legislation contains two key provisions. Section 101 sets out in broad terms Congress’s “continuing policy” to require federal, state, and local governments “to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony” for the benefit of “present and future generations.” The law envisions the government acting as a “trustee of the environment,” charged with ensuring that the environment is used “without degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences.”

Next, section 102 specifies a set of procedures by which all government agencies must prepare statements to accompany “proposals for legislation or other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” These statements must include a general assessment of the project’s environmental effect, coupled with an analysis of “adverse environmental impacts which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented.” NEPA contains no substantive requirements, but it does force government agencies to ensure that the proposed project meets the substantive standards of statutes such as the Clean Water Act. The agency must, therefore, point out any “irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources” on program implementation, with a view to examining alternative plans that meet these standards.


The Swamp Strikes Back


Disgraced FBI chief James Comey’s tortured explanation of his bizarre official conduct before and after the 2016 election aptly reflects the murky atmosphere in The Swamp, where Comey has long resided.

In his televised interview by Clinton Democrat George Stephanopoulos Sunday night to promote his new book, Comey, the Beltway Nostradamus, sanctimoniously declared President Trump to be “morally unfit” for the office he holds.


Rest Easy, Gunny


R. Lee Ermey, USMC drill instructor, bordello owner, Golden Globe nominated actor and TV host is dead at age 74.

Statement from R. Lee Ermey’s long time manager, Bill Rogin: “It is with deep sadness that I regret to inform you all that R. Lee Ermey (“The Gunny”) passed away this morning from complications of pneumonia. He will be greatly missed by all of us.”


Mike Pompeo and the Senate Kabuki


Then there’s the story about the old fellow who was acquitted for the murder of his wife. Asked by the judge if he had anything to say, the man looked thoughtfully at the floor, scuffed his foot at an invisible object before looking up at the judge with one eyebrow cocked high and said, “Welp, I never would’ve shot her if I’d known I would have to go through this much red tape.” Whatever that comment did for his cause, you have to admit that the candor was refreshing.

Did you know that what is arguably the world’s grandest and most lavishly appointed Kabuki Theater is the Kabuki-za, in Tokyo? No worries, I didn’t know it either until I looked it up just now. The theater dates back to 1899 — at least the original Kabuki-za dates back that far. It’s been destroyed four times since then; once by fire, once by earthquake, once by war, and yet another time when someone tried to build a skyscraper on top of the thing. But the theater continues it’s wondrously gaudy and elaborate performances with stories and themes that stretch the imagination and contort reality.


Quick, Measured, and Decisive


War is hell, and whenever the weapons of war are used, even in a measured and deliberate way, it is frightening and worrisome. People die, which is tragic enough. Beyond that, we can never be sure what will follow, and whether the situation will escalate.

Not everyone in the world shares our values. There are men with enormous power for whom the deaths of innocent civilians — even citizens of their own countries — mean little. There are cruel and despotic tyrants, men whose ambitions are all-consuming and who are willing to use any means to achieve their ends.

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Joe Garber: American Hero


We knew Joe through his wife, who was also called Jo. Joe was her second husband; she knew him through an organization to which her first husband belonged; both men were prisoners of war. When Jo’s first husband died, Joe eventually courted her and Jo and Joe were married.

A couple of weeks ago, Joe passed away. Both of them had been knocked down by a nasty strain of the flu; Joe didn’t make it. He had been unwell for a while, suffering for years from maladies such as a recurrent type of dysentery and vertigo, results of his year as a POW in a Nazi camp. In spite of the trials he’d been through back then, he was funny and engaged with others. His funeral was yesterday.


On Facebook, Regulation, and Unintended Consequences


Among my takeaways from Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg’s whirlwind Washington tour is that Congress thinks the status quo is unsustainable. Of course some politicians might think the “status quo” is the data privacy reality before the pre-Cambridge Analytica scandal. But the social media platform has announced a number of steps to tighten things up since then.

Yet none of those voluntary measures will stop legislators from trying to push new rules on Facebook. As Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, told Zuckerberg:


What Next for the Elephant?


Job interviewers sometimes ask: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Let’s take that question to a national scale. Where do you see the Republican Party in 10 years (or 15 or 20)?

I wrote about this at The Week today, and I thought it was kind of fun to muse on the topic. I figured it might be an interesting discussion question for Ricochet as well. Consider looming problems, shifting demographics, changing labor markets, and of course the likely evolution of the left. What possibilities will be open to us in the middle-to-long-term? Which appeal most to you?


The Meaning of Ryan’s Departure


I’ve always felt a kinship with Paul Ryan. Maybe it’s the fact that we are both Jack Kemp acolytes. Maybe I have a soft spot for upright family men who are attracted to public policy by the desire to do good. Maybe I love conservative wonks. But Paul Ryan’s fate over the past several years is as good an indication as any of how far our politics has fallen.

Ryan’s departure will be not be mourned by Democrats or Trump loyalists. The Democrats caricatured Ryan as the goon throwing granny in her wheelchair off a cliff. They actually ran TV ads with a Ryan lookalike. Barack Obama singled him out for scorn at a White House meeting, claiming later that he was unaware Ryan was in the front row.


The Left Thinks Mark Zuckerberg Escaped Danger in Congress. The Right Sees It Very Differently.


Facebook doesn’t seem any closer to data privacy regulation, much less getting broken up, after CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s two-day visit to Capitol Hill than before he came. That’s why Facebook stock rose so sharply during Zuckerberg’s testimony to the Senate and House. Investors saw the same thing everyone did: A smart, if slightly robotic, corporate chieftain easily answering or swatting away questions from tech-illiterate politicians. If Congress has only a tenuous grasp of how the social media platform’s ad-driven business model works, it’s probably not very likely Democrats and Republicans can agree on significant new rules constraining it anytime soon.

But as Team Facebook analyzes their boss’s performance, they should give special focus to his questioning by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Cruz used his five minutes to grill Zuckerberg about his concern that “Facebook and other tech companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship.” Among the examples Cruz cited: Facebook suppressing conservative stories from trending news in 2016, temporarily shutting down a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day page in 2012, and blocking the Facebook page of President Trump supporters and video bloggers Diamond and Silk.

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I’m Not the Smartest Kid in the Bunch


All my life I’ve known people who are lots smarter than I am. They are math geniuses, science masters, literature scholars, and every other kind of brilliant person you can imagine. I can’t help but admire this attribute.

So I realized that although I liked to write, the first time I wrote on Ricochet was very intimidating. All these extremely smart people would be reading what I’d written, picking my post apart in their own minds or haranguing me with comments. Instead, people were actually kind and curious, and it was a wonderful beginning for me. I’ve also made embarrassing mistakes in my posts: I’ve erred on some of my posts on Judaism, and people have been so helpful and forgiving. I’ve had incorrect information in an occasional post that I’m more than happy to correct if people tell me. I even recently had a spelling error in a post title! So I’m not the brightest bulb in the pack. But I can claim to have a modicum of something else, an attribute that is so very precious to me: Wisdom.

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Triumph of the Swill

Hearst and Pulitzer depicted as “The Yellow Kids” of journalism pushing America towards war.

When it came to foreign policy, voters in the late presidential elections had two choices — either choose Donald Trump, a man with no previous government experience, or the first female to occupy the Oval Office. The drawbacks to the former were obvious, the drawbacks to the second were too politically incorrect to speak out loud; namely, might Hillary Clinton initiate dangerous military action just to prove she had “the balls” to be Commander-in-Chief.

After the surprise election results, the latter became moot. But the Democrats and their media enablers chose to take a dangerous path. Rather than accepting the results, they decided to push conspiracy theories about how a foreign government with nuclear capabilities manipulated the election and “installed” Trump in the White House. Put the phrase “Putin’s Puppet” into Google and you’ll get over 66,000 hits.