Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions and Saruman the White

saruman-christopher-lee-300x159In the epic novel, Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien, there is a group of wizards sent down from on high to combat the forces of evil by inspiring the people of Middle-Earth. They are led by Saruman the White, a good and decent wizard but, like all of us, one with a soul that can be tempted by evil.

In the beginning, Saruman, it can be argued, is just being pragmatic. He seeks power not because he is evil, but to defeat evil itself in the form of the Dark Lord Sauron. But, in the end, the power he seeks is too intoxicating and he is overcome by the very evil he vowed, whether just to others or to himself as well, to destroy. It is a story as old as time and one which will be repeated until the end of time.

Politics is, first and foremost, the study and practice of human interaction and humans, being the imperfect beings that we are, are faced with imperfect choices. We are faced with supporting a bloodthirsty dictator in some far off country, but only because he’s less bloodthirsty than the militant jihadi terrorist he’s keeping at bay. We joke about having to choose between the lesser of two evils when we go to the ballot box every November; a joke we tell ourselves is a joke because the truth can sometimes be far more real than we’d like to admit.

And politicians tell themselves that their choice to support a particular piece of legislation or to join forces with another politician they often disagree with, while on its face may seem abhorrent, is in the end, a choice made for “the greater good.” After all, “if I don’t vote for this bill, a far more harmful bill may be passed or, worse yet, I could lose my bid for re-election and the other guy, who is far worse, will win.”

These rationalizations are just that; rational. In a world of imperfect choices what a wide-eyed idealist sees as irrational is, in fact, the only rational choice. But as the decent among us are forced to make decisions that are increasingly indecent, we continue to rationalize those decisions to the point that we can forget what the decent thing was to begin with. Sometimes the means can justify the ends.  It is an imperfect world after all so there are very few pure actions we can take anymore, if we ever could. But what we must never forget is that those actions are, in fact, impure and we may very well be sacrificing our souls for what many may deem the greater good. (It’s why so many soldiers are haunted by PTSD; the greatest sacrifices they must make are often not physical or even mental, but spiritual.) More importantly, we must not forget that the closer we get to the power we once sought to destroy, the more and more we mirror that power.

I don’t know Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, or the scores of evangelical preachers who have endorsed Donald Trump. I’ll assume that their motives are pure even if I believe their actions aren’t. Maybe they all believe that the GOP has become so watered down ideologically that the only way to save this country is to “shake things up”. Maybe they think the greatest threat to this nation is an influx of immigrants, be they terrorists or simply folks seeking to “take our jobs.” Maybe they view Trump as the inevitable candidate and believe we must get behind him now so we can take down the greater “evil” that is Hillary Clinton. All of these arguments have at least some merit to them and that’s exactly what makes them so dangerous.

At the end of World War II we dropped a pair of atomic bombs on Japan. All but the most naïve or ideologically stubborn believe that was the best course of action. Had we not, the war would have continued on for months, if not years, and resulted in far more death on the side of not only the Allies but the Japanese as well. Somewhat counterintuitively, dropping “the bomb” was the humane thing to do. But in doing so, the “collateral damage” done to tens of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have been the least egregious. The Cold War was anything but cold and the nuclear age remains with us, perhaps even more dangerous now with actors like Kim Jong Un and the Ayatollahs on the world stage. Was the Manhattan Project worth it? Probably. After all, if we, the “good guys” hadn’t invented “the bomb” the Communists would have been left to march freely across the rest of Europe and the rest of the world. But despite the threat that we curtailed because we went nuclear first, we must never forget that the genie we let out of the bottle can never be put back again.

And so it is with Trump. Forget that his claims of conservatism or Christianity are laughable (or at least they were until he started winning primaries). The man is just far too dangerous. In our desire to defeat Hillary Clinton or the lukewarm politicians in the Republican Party, we are employing a nuclear option that can never be undone and, hear me now, believe me later, will not defeat the opponents of the true conservatism that we all seek to defeat, but only embolden them after the Republican Party is left decimated by the mockery it has become with Trump at the helm.

So we have a choice. We can refuse to give in to our temptations to seek the “One Ring” that gives us the immense power to destroy the Dark Lord Sauron, whatever threat, real or imagined that may be; or we can stand with the light, however dim it may seem (and I do agree that it pales in comparison to what it once was or should be).

Pragmatism is important. In fact, in the game of politics, it may be the most important. But it is not so important that we must sacrifice our ideals completely in order to “make a deal,” especially a deal with a man like Trump, so utterly devoid of character and full of narcissism that he feels no need to seek forgiveness from God and threatens to sue anyone who dares insult him.

Millenials, Entitlement, and the Living Wage

Judging my the number of responses, this is my most viewed article yet on It also includes the requisite number of responses from the Trumposphere angered over my subtle dig at him. (The AT editors actually removed the other one so they didn’t even get the full effect!)  

By now, most people are probably aware of the latest stupidity trending on social media. If not, to briefly recap, on Friday a spoiled brat named Talia Jane told her boss to f-off via an open letter on and, surprise of surprises, got the ax. This is the kind of thing that should just be ignored (like most of the idiocy hogging the blogosphere and the twittersphere and the Trumposphere) but, then, what would we talk about? (John Locke? Rene Descarte? Heck, I’d even settle for some Robspierre at this point.)

Unfortunately, the idiocy in this nation has reached such a fever pitch that one must address it, and address it daily, before we all wake up one day to find a reality TV star in the White House. (Crap! What’s the date today?)

Talia Jane’s letters are so full of irony, if this wasn’t the year 2016 and millennials weren’t sucking up half the air in this country and supporting, rather unironically, someone who was the 60’s answer to Millennialism that I’d think it was ripped from the pages of the Onion. (Or maybe Talia Jane really is that good and we’ve all been had.)

I won’t even touch on her name being Talia Jane or that her avatar is a crass attempt at being artsy. Those things are pretty much par for the course these days and a sad indication on just how far we’ve come. I will start with her description though. Talia Jane is into “comedy – writing – better at thinking about things than actually doing them.” Mmm. Doesn’t that last bit just encapsulate the millennial generation perfectly. No more honest a phrase has ever been written by anyone. And guess what, Talia Jane, I completely #feelya. See, I love to write too, and writers, by nature, are thinkers, not doers. But one need not look any further than Ernest Hemingway or Ian Fleming to realize that even writers need to “do” if for no other reason than to have something to write about. If not, then they end up like Lenin (or Lennon for that matter) writing about struggles they only think they know, as is the case with our dear Talia Jane.

Talia Jane’s tragic story was doomed almost from the beginning. Firstly, she was using hashtags way back in the 90’s. Secondly, at that impressionable age of eight, she somehow got the notion that “having a car and a credit and my own apartment” were “what it means to be an adult.” Maybe on Friends or Seinfeld, but not in real life.

Let me tell you about being an adult, Talia Jane; it’s not all it’s cracked up to be; except when it is and those are the times they never told you about when you were eight years old, listening to “Spice Girls and owning a pager.” (As an aside, I think the real tragedy in all this is that the poor young Talia Jane only dreamed of owning a pager; her mother clearly being too much of an ogre to give her a cell phone. #QuelleHorreur!)

But I don’t blame Talia Jane so much as I blame her Gen-X parents. And I don’t blame her Gen-X parents so much as I blame their Baby-Boomer parents. And I don’t blame their Baby-Boomer parents so much as I blame the Baby-Boomers’ Greatest Generation parents.

It seems, sadly, that since the end of the Second World War, every generation, in an effort to give their children everything they wanted, gave them everything except what they needed. And who wouldn’t want the very best for their kids? Talia Jane doesn’t know this yet, but none of us take joy in telling our three-year-old that he can’t have a treat because he didn’t have his dinner, or that five minutes (which was probably five minutes more than we should have given in the first place) really means five minutes. But we do it nonetheless because we know, if we don’t, the child will grow up without any respect for himself or anyone else and join the masses of folks “feeling the Bern” or worse, setting fire to their own cities as a way to air their grievances.

You see, Talia Jane was brought up to dream big dreams but not to do the hard work that goes in to achieving them or to realize that some dreams are actually nightmares once reached. (San Francisco isn’t all that hip and trendy when it’s Oakland, is it, Talia Jane?) It’s unfortunate that Talia Jane had to learn the hard way that “a car and a credit card and an apartment would all be symbols of stress, not success” but it’s even more unfortunate that she hasn’t learned that her stress is of her own making. What Talia Jane doesn’t realize yet, is that she can take her grandfather’s beater car and that 10 pound bag of rice and make for somewhere her dollar goes farther (and the government takes less of it in taxes, ironically). Of course, she might have to talk to some Republicans (#QuelleHorreur!), but such is the price of freedom.

Talia Jane also doesn’t realize that the so-called “working poor” of today live better than the middle class of her grandparents’ generation and oftentimes better than some of the middle class in nations most of us would consider first-world.

Talia Jane, before she bit the hand that fed her, had a car, an apartment, a college degree, a job, and all the free coconut water, pistachio nuts, and bread she could eat while at work. Heck, at my job, all we get is coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. And Talia Jane’s job involved sitting on her privileged rear-end answering phone calls from other privileged rear-ends who apparently had to wait more than 30-minutes for their lamb vindaloo. Clean the fryers at the Bombay Grill at midnight then get back to me, Talia Jane.

Now free from her corporate overloards, Talia Jane’s decided she wants to do something constructive with her new found fame (this at the urging of her Rotarian grandfather;” good on ya, pops,” although action without knowledge can be a very dangerous thing, so maybe I should hold off on the praise). Her new raison d’etre? You might have guessed it by now; a “living wage” for all! (Can’t she just get a realty show on E?)

She writes “call me entitled [really, can I?!] but I don’t think you should be barred from growing and exploring and taking risks because your income isn’t in proportion with the cost of living in your area.”

Oh, Talia Jane, I really hate to break this to you, but if life were all unicorns and lollipops then it wouldn’t be a risk. I’ll leave you with this, you want to help the working poor? Get a new job, work your way up in the ranks to a point where you have a little disposable income, then join Rotary like your grandfather and give of your own time and treasure; my guess is Jeremy Stoppelman is already contributing more than his fair share.

Cross posted at

Show 080 – The Political Bistro Returns! (And the Cuisine of Japan)

After a three month hiatus, the Bistro has finally returned! Your Boy Named Sous-Chef, Steve Corda; and your server, Shelley Dudley, are still away but your Maitre d’ felt it was long enough to be away from the microphone. So here I am! I’m joined by long time friend of the show, Jack Greer who will be filling in on future weeks until Steve and Shelley can return.

Tonight we dined on 3-star Micheline cuisine from Japan and discussed the race for the White House and socialism. Enjoy!

Let’s Raise a Glass to John J. Blaine!

Saturday marks the 83rd anniversary of the passage of the Blaine Act, which initiated the repeal of Prohibition in the United States. It makes for a fitting time to recognize that our government is not the appropriate arbiter of morals, no matter how agreed upon those morals may be.

Prohibition came to pass as a result of the crusading Women’s Christian Temperance Union and others who sought to cure society’s ills, not through appealing to the better angels of its nature, but through the long arm of the law, and, as a result, largely failed. It was part of a larger movement by Progressives to end all sort of “abuses” like gambling and drug abuse. It’s no wonder that the Progressive movement of today seeks to combat their preconceived societal ills in much the same fashion, be they the internal combustion engine, guns, or 32 oz. sodas.

But surely, you protest, we cannot devolve into anarchy, letting everyone do as they please, no law to live by, only subtle persuasion. No, we cannot. Anarchy, like totalitarianism has been proven not to work everywhere it has been tried. So where do we draw the line between which morals to enforce with force and which to enforce with appeal? The answer, as is usually the case, rests in the first lines of our Declaration of Independence, which decree that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (also known as estate or property, if the Lockean origins of the Declaration are to be believed).

This means that my rights to do whatever I want end where the tips of my fingers touch the tip of your nose or whatever the tips of your fingers have created. So murder then, clearly, is an act which government has the duty to prevent. So, too, is theft, rape, and slavery. But drinking? Hardly, but I understand the motivations of the temperance movement and, to an extent, agree with them. Here we were in the footloose and fancy free teens. Men were gallivanting around, prone to the ills of the bottle, and leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves. This is not the basis of a good society.

So, just as today’s Progressives blame murder not on the man who pulls the trigger but on the trigger itself, Progressives of that era blamed broken families and broken vows on broken bottles of gin. It’s much easier that way, actually, for guns and gin can’t fight back and become easy targets for our wrath. But this approach doesn’t solve the problem. Just as murders continue to be committed by people who don’t legally have access to guns, public drunkenness and truant fathers continued to happen long after the 18th Amendment was passed.

The correct means of curbing society’s ills, then, is to appeal to the better angels of our nature. Let’s take seat belt laws. They are in place because seat belts prevent injury. This is proven. Yet a small percentage of folks refuse to comply with the law. And this is, or at least should be, their right. After all, if they go through the windshield they’re only hurting themselves. (Yes, if they don’t have insurance we’re all going to have to pay for their stupidity, but that’s a different argument for a different day.) And whether it’s seat belts, alcohol, or even murder, we need to realize that, no matter how many laws we pass, certain people will never comply.

And for those who don’t we have two options. We can, and should, ignore them when they seek to punish causal offenses, i.e., actions that are not harmful in and of themselves but can lead to actions that are; and we should punish the offenders severely when they break a law that actually does cause harm. Case in point of the first would be drinking and driving.

“What?! What?!” you say? “Surely drinking and driving should be a primary offense. Drunk drivers kill thousands of people per year!” Yes, but how many people successfully have a few pints down at the local pub and drive a few miles back home with nary a scratch? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that people drink and drive because they “drive better when they’re drunk” or some of the other nonsense I’ve heard. I’m just saying that, logically, drunk driving is a secondary offense. If you actually do drive better when you’re drunk and can manage to get all the way home without causing an accident or swerving about enough to gain the attention of the police, congratulations, you win. Like they say, nothing’s illegal unless you get caught. Of course I say that in jest, yet there’s more truth to it than we like to admit.

So all of this is to say that we, by all means, need to encourage and educate people to be safe, smart, and moral in their actions. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t go on a bender and gamble away next month’s mortgage or leave your wife and kids for Ashley Madison. But, more importantly for the purpose of this article, I don’t want government, which is already hard pressed to do the things we’ve asked it to do, to take on enforcing laws that it can’t enforce while walking ever closer toward that line of nanny-stateism (or father past it, as the case may be). After all, while the vast majority of us can agree on not drinking and driving, how many of us really agree on the morality of eating fois gras or driving a Ford F-350?

So let’s raise a toast to Mr. Blaine and thank him for allowing us to, once again, make our own decisions, at least in the part of America that doesn’t include a large part of Arkansas.

Cross posted at

In Defense of $4.5 million Super Bowl Ads


So this meme is going around (as memes tend to). And it’s got things exactly wrong (as memes tend to). It was shared by the Other 98%, a “grassroots network of folks committed to kicking greedy corporate asses for the harder working classes. And we have fun doing it.” Naturally. Yea Socialism! Let’s burn some s*** down!

There’s so much irony here. Off the top of my head I can name several “greedy corporations” that made this meme possible. (Because, you know, “you didn’t build that.”) Someone took the photo with their Android, Windows or Apple smartphone (or perhaps a Nikon or Canon SLR). Someone used software and hardware created by Windows or Apple or some other tech giant to create the meme. She posted it to Facebook using an internet connection provided by Verizon, Comcast or some other communications corporation. And I’d be willing to bet that she was doing all this while sipping a latte at Starbucks and listening to Beyonce rail against the very people who protect her wealth.

But irony aside, this meme goes to the heart of what is wrong with our society and the key difference between socialism and capitalism.

Let’s assume for a moment that the creator of this meme is genuine in her concern for hungry children and the homeless. She is assuming that, because $4.5 million was spent on Super Bowl ads (depending on when it was run, this is actually less than the cost of a single :30-second ad) that it won’t go to “feeding the foodless and housing the houseless.” But again, that’s exactly wrong. The money spent on advertising in conjunction with the Super Bowl helps multiple times more than that same dollar amount could put to directly helping the poor (i.e. giving them a “hand out”). Now don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should help the poor directly, especially those who are the eluded to “2%”. With great wealth comes great responsibility and all that and some folks, naturally, are in a hard place because of little or no fault of their own. But a poor man never gave another man a job.

Socialism assumes that the pie is only one size and can never grow. Peyton Manning earned $2,051,000 just for winning the Super Bowl (and, yes, he did earn it). But that doesn’t mean someone else went without that money. In fact, because Peyton earned that extra bonus, lots of people other than he are going to benefit. There’s his family, of course, and his agent. Those are a given and they, undoubtedly, contributed to his success through their support. But there are the advertisers too, especially those in Denver. And here’s the real kicker; because their local boy made good, these advertisers are going to pay for the privilege. Some local car dealer or plumbing company or mortgage broker is actually going to give Peyton another big pay out just to drive around their cars or refinance his mansion with their mortgage company. Why? Because they’re making the safe bet that the $100,000 they’re paying him on top of the $1 million dollars they’re paying the commercial producers, TV stations, and newspapers, is going to translate into $10 million in added sales. And it doesn’t stop with the advertisers. There’ll be a parade. There’ll be lots of Peyton Manning jerseys sold by people making minimum wage (but, hopefully, just happy to have a job) and on and on.

Capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other force in history. And that’s not just a side effect but by design because not only has a poor man never given another man a job; a poor man has never plopped down $100,000 for a new Mercedes. Capitalism wants people to be wealthy. Capitalism wants people to “waste” money on heated seats, tickets to the Super Bowl, and $5 lattes. If it didn’t, the guy installing that heated seat that feeds his family on the $70,000 a year he makes; the gal selling peanuts at the Super Bowl for, well, peanuts; and the barista, who is working her way through college so she can get a job doing what she really wants, providing free health care to poverty stricken children in Sudan; they’d all be the ones in need. And not only is that a horrible thing tangibly, but it’s a horrible thing, a much more horrible thing, mentally, because when you rob a man of his job you rob him of his dignity.

So who really cares more about the poor? Is it the socialist who doesn’t really care about the outcome as long as he “feels” he’s doing something (or even the socialist who does care about the outcome, even if he is blind to the reason for his failure)? Or is the capitalist, who, even if he is the greedy S.O.B. the “other 98%” like to chastise and just wants to make his next million, is giving not just the barista a job when he walks in to buy his latte every morning; but the farmer who grew and harvested the beans; the deckhand who worked on the ship that transported the beans to Los Angeles and the trucker who took them the rest of the way to Denver; the biology professor who is teaching the barista the anatomy she’ll need to save a child’s life; and the biology professor’s dry cleaner, who came to this country from North Korea with nothing but a $20 bill sewn into his sock and a dream that he couldn’t achieve in his homeland because someone was too concerned with “equality” and the “poor” to realize that there’s no virtue in everyone being equally poor?

Socialist caveman cartoon
“What, Ug? You want to paint some wildebeests using the berries we picked today? What a waste! Those berries could have fed someone! Go out and kill a mammoth!”

And, finally, the other great benefit of “wasting money on needless things”, is
that the needless things of yesterday become the necessities of today and help make our lives so much better. After all, what is absolutely necessary but the few berries and maybe a fish or a deer our cave-dwelling ancestors were able to scrounge up and the cave they dwelled in. And even if they aren’t the necessities of today, we, as humans (and even most animals), realize that there is much more to life than subsistence living. There’s even much more to life than the benefit of being able to call a tow truck from the side of the road in rural Montana during a snowstorm because you have that “needless luxury” called a cell phone. There’s the joy come from enjoying a movie with friends or a decadent chocolate cake with your wife (or by yourself). So the next time you watch a few million dollars go up in fireworks, or learn that some internet billionaire spent the equivalent of your life’s wages on a painting by someone you’ve never heard of, rejoice! It means capitalism is working and it means more and more people are living a better life today than everyone who came before them.


End lobbying? Might as well ban pencils to prevent misspelling words

It seems that, of all things political, lobbying and campaign finance raise the most ire among “the American people.”  They point out that “if we could just get money out of politics,” problems of corruption and the new “golden rule” would largely vanish.  They might be right, but the solution, in this case, is worse than the problem.

The U.S. Supreme Court rightly ruled in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and later Citizens United (2010) that money is a form of political speech and thus protected by the First Amendment.  The case is even clearer with lobbying.

The main problem with lobbying is that most people have no idea what it is.  They envision K Street folks dressed in $2,000 Brooks Brothers suits, pitching ideas that benefit only Wall Street over $200 lunches at Charlie Palmer Steak.  Certainly this happens, and certainly it is a bit grotesque.  But what those beating the anti-lobbying drum the loudest always forget is that they themselves are lobbyists, too.  Or at least they are any time they send an email, make a phone call, or march on the Capitol steps.

The widespread use of term “lobbying” dates back to the Grant administration, when Grant, oftentimes enjoying a cigar and brandy in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., would be approached by people asking him to push forward this or that policy and often “helping” him in the decision-making process by buying him additional cigars and snifters of brandy.  It seems, in many ways, we haven’t evolved much from those days.  That can be discouraging – that is, until one really begins to think about it.  Gaining access to our elected officials is easier than ever, what with technology the way it is.  And it bears repeating: every time we send an email, we’re lobbying.  Sure, some will say that’s different from the paid lobbyist representing the “special interest” group or corporation.  But it’s different only in orders of magnitude.

And these “special interest” groups wouldn’t even form if it wasn’t for the widespread interests of the people behind them.  Health care is a massive lobby, but only because most people in America are concerned by rising health care costs.  And while lobbying in some areas has become a way to make money off the taxpayer by taking advantage of loopholes, is it really the fault of the corporation?  If someone was handing out hundred-dollar bills and you knew someone was going to get them, wouldn’t you stand in line, regardless of how those bills were acquired, and especially if the person handing them out said it was all legit and not only your right, but your duty to accept them?  It’s a game, to be sure, but these days, sadly, you either play the game or get left behind.

So there’s a problem.  I assume those calling for the end to lobbying aren’t calling for the end of all citizen interaction with their legislators so I’ll give them that.  But if that’s the case, where do we draw the line?  The problem with creating more and more rules is that they almost always create more and more loopholes.  Do we say no one is allowed to be paid for lobbying efforts?  Well, then, only the truly rich would be able to lobby, for even a group of working mothers getting together to encourage lawmakers to strengthen drunken driving laws would be at a loss.  They could send emails, sure, and many of them do.  But if they wanted to devote their full time to it, or even just one person’s full time to it, they’d have to start raising money.  Everyone’s got to eat, after all.

Truly, the biggest reason lobbying has become such a massive industry is because of the massiveness of government.  Up until the federal government went after Microsoft with an anti-trust lawsuit, Microsoft didn’t have a government affairs division and spent little, if any, money lobbying government.  After being targeted by the Clinton Justice Department, Microsoft quickly realized that government isn’t just going to leave you alone.  No one is allowed to sit the game out.  So they ponied up and went into the lobbying business.

So what to do?  The answer, as it almost always is, lies in less government, not more.  The only reason corporations employ teams of lawyers to navigate the legislative waters is that these waters are so treacherous and hard to navigate.  Let’s take Indian Reservations as an example.  Tribes spend millions of dollars lobbying all levels of government for all sorts of things.  Maybe they want to run a casino or hunt whales in an area where it is otherwise illegal.  Maybe they want to mine for natural resources.  Maybe they’ve started a tribal business and want tax breaks.  Of course, there are other groups that don’t want to see this happen.  Maybe they are anti-gambling, or wish to protect sea mammals or trees.  Maybe they’re business owners who believe they should be receiving the same tax breaks as the Indians.  Now, instead of creating the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a massive Reservation system across the nation to pay attention to this particular “special interest,” why not just remove government from the decision making process altogether?  Make gambling either completely legal or completely illegal.  Institute a flat tax for every person or corporation.  Quit fiddling around the edges of the law to carve out special favors for your lobbyist friends, and watch how quickly those “friends” disappear.

We shouldn’t be blaming the lobbyists for showing up to the trough every time Senator So-and-So dumps a fresh load of slop into it.  They’re just doing what any of us would do.  No, instead, we should be blaming Senator So-and-So for taking our money and giving it to those we feel don’t deserve it.  (And funny how those we feel don’t deserve it are usually the ones whose policies we disagree with.)

Lobbying is nothing other than our freedom to ask our legislators to do something we think will benefit the nation (or us personally if we are short on morals).  Giving money to those legislators who we think are doing the most good in order to ensure that others hear about their acts and thus re-elect them is also nothing other than our freedom to do with our earnings what we see fit.  If our legislators are not acting in the best interest of the nation, then it is the fault not of the system we’ve instituted, but of the legislators themselves.  Outlawing lobbying to prevent corruption makes as much sense as outlawing guns to prevent murder or pencils to prevent spelling errors.

Cross posted at

We Learn from our Mistakes

The Washington State Legislature is back in session and that means one thing: time once again for government to ignore the things they should be doing, like making sure they’re not releasing rapists and murders before their prison terms have been fully served; and butting in to things they shouldn’t, like raising the legal age for smoking to 21.
I’m not a smoker, Scotch and a good Tuscan Red are my poisons, so I don’t have a dog in this fight other than the dog I like best; the dog named freedom. Yeah, yeah, that’s trite, but it’s true. And it is so because our society has slowly but surely, like that proverbial frog in boiling water, given away many of our freedoms already, however small they may be. Is smoking as important as voting, criticizing government, or owning a gun? I’d hope not, although for some I’m sure it is. The most important thing is that it’s not for me to decide. Am I okay with limited restrictions on certain behaviors where those behaviors may impose restrictions on the rights of others? Sure. (And banning smoking in a private bar, where people can choose to go or not, is not one of those restrictions. It’s a violation of private property rights.) But beyond those very limited instances where the risk to others’ safety is beyond dispute, say in the case of drinking and driving, government needs to leave the citizenry alone. (And, no, I’m sorry, but if you think walking past a smoker 20 feet away is going to induce vomiting, an asthma attack, or early onset emphysema, you have a serious health issue, and your respiratory system is not it. Or, if it is, you need to be living inside an actual bubble.)
So why is government pushing to raise the legal age for smoking to 21? They think 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds don’t have enough sense to make an informed decision on whether to smoke. Okay, that makes sense on some level. I do agree that a lot 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds are pretty foolish. Heck, I sure did a lot of dumb things at that age. But here’s the thing; I’m wiser now than I was then not so much because I’ve aged but because I’ve made mistakes. It’s absolutely true that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. And if we continue to raise the age to do this and that, relying on government to, quite literally become our parents’ nannies, then the age of wisdom will just continue to increase along with it. Lawmakers championing this bill point out that 90% of daily smokers started before turning 19. (I’ll go one further and bet that the large majority of those started before they were 16, which is partly why this proposed law is rather pointless.) So, okay, raise it to 21. You may detract a fair amount of kids from smoking. But then you might as well raise the age to 25, or 30, or 99, as one person commented on the article. And I actually agree with this sentiment more than I agree with those just wanting to raise it to 21. If tobacco is really as dangerous as Chicken Little is saying it is, then, yes, ban it completely. But then we might as well ban a whole host of other things and all go live in those bubbles, where nothing can hurt us. To throw out another cliché, what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger. So I, for one, want a little risk in my life; or at least the opportunity to legally choose which risks I’m going to take and which ones I’m not.
Of course the other logical argument that many pose around issues of the age of legality is that anyone who can die for this country should be able to smoke, drink and do anything else that is legal in the general sense, so set a limit and make that a limit for everything. I fully support that, but instead of making it 21 (or 30, as a few folks opined on the article) because “kids don’t know enough to make sound decisions”, let’s keep it at 18, or maybe even lower it to 16 or 14, or 12.
This is what scares me far more than cigarette smoke; the age or reason continues to march upward. We have become a nation of infants. College kids now need “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”; they fear “micro-agressions” and “hate speech”. And way too many people are bringing “emotional support turkeys” on board airplanes. I wonder how our youth would do today if they had to walk to school uphill, both ways, in the snow. No one can know because if you so much as let your child walk more than a few blocks away from your house unaccompanied you’re visited by CPS.
Now don’t get me wrong, some lessons are too painfully learned to be taught by the school of hard knocks. I don’t advocate giving an eight-year-old a shotgun, at least not unsupervised. I don’t think twelve-year-olds should be hitting up nightclubs and “cruising for chicks” (an activity, regardless of how it turns out, that is far more dangerous than smoking, by the way). But here’s what else I don’t advocate; government raising my children. I have two small boys, three and one. When they are old enough to understand basic logic I will sit them down and explain the benefits and downfalls of life’s various risks, drawing on, guess what, my own mistakes made in youth to guide them. And you might as well call CPS now, because I also plan on letting them sample a glass of Sangiovese before their 21st birthday (and maybe even a glass of Glen Livet if they’re good). Why? Mostly because I don’t want them turning 21 and buying a six-pack of Budweiser. (An uncultured palate is the real crime of under aged drinking.)
Jews mark the gateway to adulthood with the mitzvah at the age of 12 or 13. At this point the young man or woman becomes responsible for his or her actions. Back in the Revolutionary War, kids this young were even marching off to war with a drum or bugle in their hands and during World War II it was relatively common for young men to lie about their age just to have the chance to kill some Nazis. How far we’ve come. Now a kid that age who brings a GI Joe to class gets suspended. Our children are too old and our adults too young. It’s time to reclaim the mantle of responsibility. It’s time for us all to grow up. It’s time for us to take risks, for when we do, we fail; and when we fail, we learn. And only through learning do we mature. (Of course, the other argument for keeping the legal age for smoking at 18 is perhaps even more valid and was offered to me by an 18-year-old girl I knew my first year of college: “Live fast. Die young. Leave a good looking corpse.”)

Cross posted at

Reagan was a RINO!

This latest piece of mine was posted at yesterday. In reading the comments there, I realize that either AT readers have a very poor grasp of sarcasm (and blind loyalty to Trump) or I was not clear enough about the title of the article being sarcastic. Make no mistake; I do not believe Reagan was a RINO. I believe knee-jerk purists that would rather cut off their noses to spite their faces than win an election would call Reagan a RINO were he running for president today.

Various groups across our great nation have many traditions. Latino families may celebrate their daughters’ quinceañera. Marathoners may travel to Boston or New York. Hippies may attend a myriad of outdoor festivals, from Burning Man to Banaroo. And Republicans, or should I say a subset of Republicans, engage in a quadrennial event referred to by some as the conservative litmus test, or the circular firing squad, in which they enjoy comparing their chosen Republican presidential candidate to Ronald Reagan and comparing every other Republican candidate to Karl Marx (or possibly Groucho Marx). The length of this festival of futility usually runs from late November in the year preceding a presidential election and can end as late as the first Wednesday in November of the following year if the Democrat ends up winning the general election.

Republicans did this in 2008, when the party nominated “that RINO” John McCain (Lifetime ACU rating of 82.13) instead of the “true conservative” Mitt Romney. They did it again in 2012, when the party nominated “that RINO” Mitt Romney instead of the “true conservative” Rick Santorum (or maybe it was Rick Perry; the consensus among firing squad members is still out). And Republicans have trotted out the tradition once again. This year the “Establishment” candidate (aka the “RINO foisted upon us by the RNC”) seems to be either Marco Rubio (who, along with Ted Cruz, is the only candidate beating presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the one beating her by the greatest margin) or Jeb Bush.

Besides citing things like the “Gang of Eight,” “RomneyCare,” and “McCain-Feingold” during this period, these “true conservatives” pine over their memories of the 1980s and that gold standard of conservatism, President Ronald Reagan.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge Reagan fan. I don’t know any self-proclaimed Republican who isn’t. And, by and large, Reagan was quite conservative. But, were he to run today, it’s quite possible he’d have already gone the way of Lindsey Graham and George Pataki. Why? Well, let’s just imagine some of the things today’s “true conservatives” may bring up about Reagan were he making the rounds:

“Reagan is pro-gay-rights!” He vigorously opposed the 1978 Briggs initiative [CA Proposition 6], which would have banned homosexuals from teaching in public schools.
“Reagan is pro-abortion!” Six months into his term as governor, he signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act, which led to a rise in abortions in California from 518 a year to an average of 100,000 during his last two years in office.
“Reagan is pro-tax!” He raised taxes more than $1 billion during his term as governor.
“Reagan is pro-illegal immigration!” He signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act while president, which led to a rise in illegal immigration.
Reagan is a RINO (Republican in Name Only). He didn’t join the Republican Party until 1962, before then being an ardent supporter of FDR and the “New Deal.”
I raise these points about Reagan not to sully his good name and memory, but simply to point out that you can take nearly anyone and cherry-pick from his record to make him look liberal.

Besides being just poor form and inaccurate, chastising one Republican candidate over another is just bad politics, for when the nominee is eventually named, it leaves him open to attack not just from the jaundiced views of the Democratic nominee herself, but through the proxy of his supposed ally, maybe even his VP nominee. (Anyone remember all that footage of Biden commenting on Obama’s shortcomings?)

So Republicans should keep their eyes on the prize. Any one of their candidates would be vastly better for the conservative cause than Clinton or Sanders (with the possible exception of Donald Trump). Any Republican who doesn’t believe that needs to take an honest look in the mirror and ask himself: what would Hillary do with ISIS and Iran? What would she do with taxes? (Even if you believe that Rubio would be feckless in the face of a proposed tax-hike bill from a Democrat-controlled Congress, isn’t it logical to assume that Clinton would do even worse?) Whom will she appoint to the Supreme Court?

The choice is clear. As conservative activist and founder of the Leadership Institute Morton Blackwell is quick to point out, “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

And if Reagan were alive today, I am fairly certain he’d pull out at least one of his old standards. “That person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20-percent traitor.”

Form a Committee!

Oilman T. Boone Pickens has jumped into the political fray once again.  Like many of us, he’s fed up with the current political climate and dearth of “qualified” candidates for president.  So he’s got a revolutionary new idea.  We (he?) should put together a “bipartisan screening committee that vets presidential candidates like we do anyone else applying for a job.”  Capital idea, T.  (Or do you prefer to be called Boone?)  As you point out, the current system of picking a leader is more akin to Reality TV than the hallowed system our forefathers envisioned.  (Or is it?  I’d have to double check but it seems it’s been quite some time since we had politicians literally shooting each other or beating each other with their canes on the floor of Congress.)


But I do have to ask, who gets to serve on this brilliant committee of yours? Who elects the electors, so to speak?  And I will assume that, by “recommend” you actually mean “recommend” and that the decisions of this committee are in no way binding on the electorate as a whole so I’ll leave that dystopian thought alone.

And therein lays the rub.  Like I said, capital idea.  The only thing is, you’re about 227 years too late to the game.  Sure, your ideal committee may be considerably smaller than the committee known as the registered voters of the United States, but the fact remains, we have a vetting process.  And our vetting process, unlike many other nations, is more thorough than most.  We all like to bemoan the seemingly endless campaign season but would a two-week campaign like they have in France, or even a three-month campaign like they recently had in Canada (it’s usually shorter than that) really be more preferable?  Maybe folks would pay more attention, but I doubt it.  If the press and the people can’t properly vet a candidate in two years, I don’t see how they’re going to do it in two months.  Politicians are masters at obfuscation and the less time they have to obfuscate the better for them and the worse for us.

And as to your smaller committee, provided its decision is not legally binding, we already have those too.  Sure, most of them are not bi-partisan like you call for, but what the heck does bi-partisan even mean anymore?  People tend to coalesce around single issues; tax policy, foreign policy, guns, “family values”, the environment, etc.  I’d like to think most of us are intelligent enough not to be single-issue voters but most of us also tend to hold one issue above all others regardless of party.  So we join forces and form committees like the League of Women Voters or the Conservative Political Action Committee or the Americans for Tax Reform.  Then most of us tend to coalesce around the two biggest committees; the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee.

So maybe I shouldn’t call it such a capital idea after all, Boone.  Or perhaps it is best to quote Winston Churchill’s famous line about democracy being “the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Pickens ends his idea with a challenge for readers to come up with something better.  What have I got?  Well, like Reagan said in his landmark speech of 1964, “there is a simple answer – not an easy answer – but simple.”  And that answer is education, both in reason and in morality.  Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying the founders gave us “a republic, if you can keep it.”  John Adams stated that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The apparent decay of our nation rests at no one’s feet but our own.  We cannot blame our politicians.  We cannot blame the faceless bureaucracy as comforting and convenient as those scapegoats may be.  We turn out the first Tuesday of November every year to elect leaders from among us.  Any of us can run and because of this “experiment” started more than two centuries ago we alone are responsible not only for the triumphs we face, but also for the failures.

So I agree.  Form a committee, but not one to recommend a president.  Instead, form a committee to raise our children up with knowledge, wisdom, and morality.  Form a committee to help the struggling family buy groceries, then invite them over to your home for Christmas Dinner and share something so much more important than food; your table and your love.  Form a committee to help the kid struggling with his civics homework and tutor him after school every Tuesday.  Form a committee to plant a tree or clean up a park.  Form a committee with your neighbors and promise to watch over each other’s homes when you are away.  Form a committee to be that shining city on a hill that Christ spoke of in his Sermon on the Mount.  Be an example; for change happens not from pontificating and the passage of laws, but from example.  We will never legislate our way to peace and prosperity.  The only way to reach these hallowed ends is through personal action.  We do this, we form not just committees but communities that serve as moral and reasonable examples for the rest, it won’t matter much who our president or other political leaders are for we will be the leaders of our own destinies.  And we need not even wait until next November for our election is today.

Cross posted at

Show 079 – SPECTRE Premiere! (and the Cuisine of Mexico City)

For the finale of our regularly scheduled radio program on AM 1590 The Answer we celebrated, rather ironically, the premiere of SPECTRE by speaking with James Bond expert and creator of, David Leigh. We talked a little Bond history and (spoiler alert) some of our first impressions of the new Bond film.

We also discussed the UK’s shortage of curry chefs and recognized our political candidates (of all stripes) as bistroyers of the week (along with 97-year-old Margaret Bekema, who reminds us that you’re never too old to achieve your goals.)

Our menu came from one of the best restaurants in the world, Pujol, in Mexico City.

Our bumper music playlist, as always, is available on our YouTube channel.

The Political Bistro radio show will be taking a hiatus while we plan our next phase so stay tuned and, if you have any input on where you’d like to see the Political Bistro go next, please let us know! (We may continue as solely a podcast or may take it to the next level as a YouTube program filmed at restaurants around the Northwest.)

Thank you to all of you who have listened over the past year and a half! It’s been a real pleasure brining you news, insights, the food and culture of nations around the world, and, always, a healthy dose of laughter. Keep on bistroying!