Friday, April 08, 2016

How did Bernie Get Here?

This is --somewhat surprisingly-- never reported in the mass media, not even the pro-Bernie outlets, but is nonetheless well-understood by the cognoscenti: The reason Bernie Sanders --a grumpy old socialist who is not even a Democrat-- is the one running against Hillary in this 2016 primary is that no Democrat could do so, NOT that there weren't any qualified Democrats who would have loved to do so. Hillary Clinton has amassed so much power within the Democratic party by dint of her status as First Lady, NY Senator and the dozens of other roles she has played in the party over the last 20 years, that she is now demanding her just dues: nomination for the highest office. She has effectively attained such a tight grip over the party apparatus that no other Democratic-affiliated operative dare challenge her. The mechanics of this is simple: run afoul of her and she will divert DNC campaign funds from you, (or worse yet channel it to your primary opponent) and ensure that you never get to rise the party ranks through choice appointments and so on. Every Democratic politician knows this and so plays ball. They know that this is Hillary's time to run for the the Presidency and whether she is the best candidate or not, they MUST support her on pain of political suicide, because SHE has earned it.

Thus, no Democratic politician has taken up the primary bid in this election cycle. Biden and Warren, both of which could have been very viable challengers demurred in the face of the Clinton behemoth. Sanders, however, as a non-Democratic officeholder was not bound by this vow. Furthermore, he has never received funds from her DNC fundraising efforts, and as an independent has nothing to lose by not joining ranks with the Democrats on this or any other issue.

All of the aforementioned is well understood. But what just occurred to me today is something novel. If Hillary REALLY wanted to nip Sanders in the bud, she may have been able to do so. She may have dispatched some honorable progressive Democrat, such Elizabeth Warren, whom Sanders truly has enormous respect for, to prevail upon him NOT to rain on Hillary coronation parade.

But Hillary's didn't do this. The campaign probably reasoned that she needs some token opposition or else it the system may seem rigged or the media may not give the process enough desirable attention. What Hillary's campaign CLEARLY didn't reckon is that Sanders would be at this level of popularity --and rising-- both in popular esteem and delegate count. In the media, Clinton surrogates will of course continue to say that her nomination is virtually inevitable, that is "almost certain" to be the nominee, but this is all posturing in an attempt to manipulate voters, since no American wants to vote for a loser. Winning six out of the seven last primaries and being neck in neck in NY polls is alarming news for Hillary.

And so to restate: Hillary ALLOWED Sanders to run out of utter disdain for him. As a non-Democrat, Socialism-espousing, septuagenarian, she had no problem with him running at first. Now that he's thriving beyond anyone's (including Sanders' own) imagination, she's in a panic.

Anecdotal indicators on the ground seem to be pointing at a Sanders win come the NY Dem primary election day, April 19 2016. I am assessing Sander at even money beat Hillary in NY. The official polls are of course always behind the latest trend of Sanders' surge, so they're not much of help here, but they peg him at 10 points behind Hillary. Yet, I am amazed that the Predictit market is giving Hillary an 80% chance of winning NY.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

My Rebuttal to Carles Blow's ridicule of the Bernie or Bust movement

See the article at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/31/opinion/campaign-stops/bernie-or-bust-is-bonkers.html?_r=0

If Sanders wins the nomination, liberals should rally round him. Conversely, if Clinton does, they should rally round her.
Liberals surely will rally around him if Sanders wins. But why should they rally around Clinton if she wins? She is demonstrably NOT a liberal on economic issues. So, no, they should not and many of them will not rally around her if she wins (as indeed the poll you cite indicates).

When Al Gore ran against George W. Bush in 2000, some claimed that a vote for Gore was almost the same as a vote for Bush and encouraged people to cast protest votes for Ralph Nader. Sarandon supported Nader during that election. Bush became president, and what did we get? Two incredibly young, incredibly conservative justices, John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., who will be on the court for decades, and two wars — in Afghanistan and Iraq — that, together, lasted over a decade.
In addition to setting the tone and direction of the country, the president has some constitutional duties that are profound and consequential. They include being commander in chief, making treaties and appointing judges, including, most importantly, justices to the Supreme Court. Bush demonstrated the consequences of that. 

Okay, this seems like a good point on its face: If Susan Sarandon hadn't made the "mistake" of supporting Ralph Nader in 2000, maybe we would have had a Gore presidency and averted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the conservative Supreme Court appointees.

What's flawed in this argument, however, is that it doesn't proceed to its logical conclusion: that a Gore administration (which, evidently, Sarandon and others considered closely-enough-bad to a Bush presidency) would NOT have invaded Iraq, and would have nominated justices who were more "progressive".

As it turns out upon close analysis, this isn't at all necessarily so. Without the famous, supposedly liberal, NYT-published Judith Miller "endorsement" of the Iraq War (as it were), it's unlikely that Bush would ever have gotten a sizable number of Congressional Democrats to support the war resolution and thus have gone to war. If the Democratic-affiliated NYT can so easily push for this sort of aggressive and expansionist foreign policy, then I'm not at all convinced that a Gore administration would have not asked Congress to virtually declare war.

What Blow and many establishment pundits don't get, is that true policy differences are no longer divided along partisan fault lines, but along establishment/revolution battle lines. Establishment Democrats are more liberal only on social policies. When it comes to things that really matter to working-class Americans --as in the kind of policies that will affect their paychecks-- there was no demonstrable difference between Gore and Bush, just as there isn't any in the current election cycle between a hypothetical matchup between Jeb Bush (he has already dropped out) and Hillary Clinton, both members of the aristocratic power establishment.

Ditto to Blow's point about the Prez's power to nominate liberal justices: Sanders supporters and true progressives don't care about Elena Kagan and Sanya Sotomayor -type liberals. They are liberal about social policy alright (gay marriage, abortion, etc...) but these are distractors. The real challenge is overturning Citizens united, reforming the tax code, ending the corporate loopholes, taxing investments, ending foreign entanglement. Clinton stands for none of the above. Trump does stand for some of them. If anything, Trump is likely to nominate justices who are more favorable to the working class in those respects. What's more, it could be argued that his nominations could sail through Congress breezily since the Obama-obstructionist right-wing will now supposedly be on the same party Prez's side.
 The real estate developer is now talking carelessly about promoting nuclear proliferation and torture (then there’s Ted Cruz’s talk of carpet bombing and glowing sand).
He's completely taking Trump out of context here. Chris Mathews asked Trump whether he would take the nuclear option off the table. He responded with the common-sensical: why do we have nukes if they are not on the table? Mathews then continued to press Trump on whether he would use them on China, Europe etc... I was, frankly, disgusted by his line of questioning, which was obviously meant to fearmonger the audience. Why doesn't Mathews ask this question ANY OTHER candidate? Would Clinton or Sanders or Cruz answer any differently? If so, they're either fools or lying. OF COURSE it's on the table. It doesn't mean that it's even remotely LIKELY that nukes will be used in any given presidential tenure. But it's possible. (Recall that at the height of the Cold War, c. 1960, most people believed nuclear war was imminent. They would have been astonished and appalled by a presidential candidate running on a platform of taking nukes off the table).

Regarding torture, I know that many libs are against torture. Personally, I agree with Trump and other Republicans that there was and is nothing wrong with waterboarding and other torturous (a.k.a. "enhanced interrogation") techniques to extract information from suspects, in the interest of investigating an imminent national threat. I am surprised at how forgetful people are of 9/11 and the consequent necessity to gather intelligence by all reasonable means on possible future attacks. Is torture of a suspected terrorist enemy-sympathizer too high a price to pay for our national security? I don't think so!

I would in fact go a step further and support such torture even against American nationals (who are public enemies and have information that could avert a public disaster). And, no, I don't think this is prohibited by the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, since this it is investigative in nature, not punitive.

Furthermore, Toobin laid out the diversity of the Obama transformation, writing:
“Sheldon Goldman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a scholar of judicial appointments, said, ‘The majority of Obama’s appointments are women and nonwhite males.’ Forty-two percent of his judgeships have gone to women. Twenty-two percent of George W. Bush’s judges and 29 percent of Bill Clinton’s were women. Thirty-six percent of President Obama’s judges have been minorities, compared with 18 percent for Bush and 24 percent for Clinton.”
And beyond war and courts, there is the issue of inclusion.
Take Obama’s legacy on gay rights. He signed the bill repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And in 2012, Obama became the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage. Last year, Obama became the first president to say “lesbian,” “transgender” and “bisexual” in a State of the Union speech.
Of more substance, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute:
“To date, the Obama-Biden Administration has appointed more than 250 openly LGBT professionals to full-time and advisory positions in the executive branch; more than all known LGBT appointments of other presidential administrations combined.”
There is no reason to believe that this level of acceptance would continue under the real estate developer’s administration. In fact, the Huffington Post Queer Voices editor at large Michelangelo Signorile wrote an article in February titled, “No, LGBT People Aren’t Exempt from Donald Trump’s Blatant Bigotry,” responding to a trending idea that the Republican front-runner wasn’t as bad for queer people as other Republican candidates:
“It’s absolutely false — he’s as extreme as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and will do nothing for LGBT rights — and it’s time to disabuse the media and everyone else of this notion once and for all.”
To summarize: Blow argues that the current Obama administration, as well as a Clinton or Sanders administration, would be active in appointing more federal operatives who are:
  • women
  • black
  • Latino
  • LGBT
But I find this argument (a little but) not much worse than the argument to vote for Hillary because she's a woman. Whenever we address the question of how inclusive our civil service sector should be, the first thing we ought to ask ourselves is: are we talking about appointing a minority person because they belong to a disadvantaged group or despite that. There is a big difference. The former is affirmative action and is contentious policy; the latter is just, fair and open-minded policy. There is, in my view, no moral imperative to appoint minorities because they are minorities --to give them a leg up in the hiring/appointment process even if they do not measure up to the talent and qualifications exhibited by other, majority-identified candidates.

If Obama's reasoning in appointing two women, one of them Latino, to the highest judicial office is that we ought to make a symbolic overture to show that such underrepresented groups are fully equal citizens and nurtured and respected by our society, even if they are not the most highly qualified candidates --a compelling, though controversial argument to make--, let us yet at least agree that it is not a national priority above the problem of money in politics, and gross income and wealth inequality. If we are forced to choose between a candidate who does not support affirmative action but does support campaign finance/wealth distribution reform, on the one hand; and a candidate who does support affirmative action with respect to public servant appointments but does not support the above reforms -- I, and other BernieOrBusters affirm that the former (Trump) trumps the latter (Clinton) on this.

Then there are all the other promises — threats? — the real estate developer has made. He has said he would deport all undocumented immigrants, build a border wall between the United States and Mexico, end birthright citizenship, dismantle Obamacare and replace it with something “terrific” (whatever that means), defund Planned Parenthood and temporarily ban most foreign Muslims from coming to this country, among other things.
I find none of the above proposals terribly offensive. Hey, I am generally pragmatic when it comes to public policy. I want to see politicians who represent my interests. Frankly, as Rick from Casablanca would say, I stick my neck out for no one. EVEN IF (and this is a big if) it is morally wrong to do all or some of the above things, it is very far-fetched to argue that such policies affect me or other working class Americans negatively, or will do so in the future. Conversely, the positive consequences are fairly concrete: higher wages for Americans if illegals immigrants are deported, less public expense for children of illegal immigrants who come here for the express purpose of achieving birthright citizenship for their children and thus anchoring the whole family here, and so on.

Again, I grant that these are arguable points. But what I'm saying is that they are abstract moral questions with no absolutely definitive answer. What a working-class person does know for sure and feel it in their bones every day is that health care for all would be a huge relief, that higher education for all would be an enormous benefit, and that better infrastructure and better-paying jobs would make life for working-class citizens so much better. Those are the things Sanders fights for, not a pseudo-liberalist platform which centers on social issues and is meant as a red herring to divert our attention from the stuff that is consequential, namely the economic issues.

It is unfortunate for Sanders, who seems infinitely sober and sensible, that some of his surrogates and supporters present themselves as absolutist and doctrinaire. As Sanders himself has said, “on her worst day, Hillary Clinton will be an infinitely better candidate and president than the Republican candidate on his best day.”
Yeah, I know, Sanders did say that. I am not sure that he fully meant it, though. What we do know is that Sanders could have attacked Clinton and contrasted his philosophy with hers much more emphatically, but he strategically chooses not to. We also know that Sanders isn't a real Democrat -- or should I say that he isn't a contemporary, corporatist, centrist, "neoliberal", Clintonian Democrat (though he would fit right in with the FDR-type Democrat). He is running on the Democratic ticket because that's by far his best chance to win the presidency in a two-party political system, such as we currently have. Consequently it is only natural that Sanders would show loyalty to the party if he is to run under its mantle. This doesn't mean that his supporters, who are by and large non-partisan, ought to take Sanders' words here that "Clinton would be an infinitely better candidate" at face value.

But even if Sanders really means what he says, we citizen-voters do not heed him nor serve him. He serves the revolution; he serves the cause; he is elected to address our outrage at the absurdity of us getting so little of the rising national wealth, whereas the top 1 percent is getting so much. This is our revolution, not Sanders'. We are electing him into office. He doesn't get to tell us whom to vote for, though I would certainly respect his advice and take it earnestly into consideration at the ballot.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Why I prefer Trump over Hillary

This 2016 presidential election cycle is the most bizarre I have ever witnessed. The party system seems to be on the verge of collapsing.

The front-runner in the Republican party is Donald Trump, a non-politician and party outsider; he was not aligned with Republicanism any more than with Democratism in the height of his business career, during which he donated to both parties and his sole interest was favorable legislation for his enterprises. He is despised by Republican party establishment politicians who view him as a loose cannon who does not represent the party platform interests of war/defense industry, foreign entanglement, deregulation, low taxes on the rich, and so on. (Interestingly, this party elite doesn't care about his relatively pro-abortion stance, which issue it only espouses due to its evangelical constituency, one that doesn't constitute the core of the Republican party.)

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is growing stronger by the day and poses an enormous, underrated, threat to topple its establishment frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Sanders is not even a Democrat and was not originally seen as a viable contender by the party elite.

Thus on both sides we have strong party candidates who are aiming for non-establishment interests and the establishment in either party is scrambling to figure out what to do to regain control of the situation.

Overall I consider myself a centrist/independent ideologically. In some respects I agree with Democratic principles, e.g. sensible business regulation, high taxes on the rich and basic provisions for the masses. In some respects I lean more Republican, e.g. moral absolutism, authoritarianism (as in submission to "authority" without the pejorative connotation of the word), personal responsibility, elimination of affirmative action and a conservative judiciary. However, the current Republican party, hijacked by the 2010 Tea Party radicals, sworn to never compromise on its principles, and oppose the Obama Administration no matter what it proposes, is hardly the Republican party of Reagan. So I would normally vote Democratic (which governs from the center for the most part) in elections.

But like I said, this election cycle is different.

Whereas I am a strong Bernie Sanders supporter (for which reasons I won't discuss right now), it isn't because I bear any loyalty to him personally, let alone the party under which auspices he is running. I do not agree with everything he says, especially on moral issues (I am believe in greater moral absolutism and sterner government enforcement of the law), but I don't see elections as ever being black or white propositions. One most vote for the best of the bunch, not for the perfect one. Fortunately, I consider Bernie Sanders a very good representative for most of my interests as a member of the working class, struggling under many years of widening income and wealth inequality.

And I emphatically disagree with his statement that any Democrat would be better in the White House than any Republican, and that the policy differences between him and Hillary are negligible compared to any policy platform proposed by the other side. I'm not sure if he really means it when he says it; perhaps it's something he is expected to say, now that he is running for the Democratic ticket.

The reality of the situation is that Trump's actual policies, not his obnoxious persona or the things he says, are quite tolerable. Conversely, taking a look at Hillary's policies and her modus operandi as a politician I find her grossly repulsive.

So here's a breakdown of some Trump positions, takes from his website and how much I agree with them.

On Healthcare:
Completely repeal Obamacare. Our elected representatives must eliminate the individual mandate. No person should be required to buy insurance unless he or she wants to.
 Okay, I applaud this libertarian lean, but let's see how he solves the problem...
Modify existing law that inhibits the sale of health insurance across state lines. As long as the plan purchased complies with state requirements, any vendor ought to be able to offer insurance in any state. By allowing full competition in this market, insurance costs will go down and consumer satisfaction will go up.
He's scapegoating here. Lack if Interstate competition is NOT the culprit for high premiums. There is plenty of room for competition within a state. Eliminating state lines on the provider side poses a problem if we agree that states should still be allowed to enact their own healthcare, insurance, and business laws
Allow individuals to fully deduct health insurance premium payments from their tax returns under the current tax system. Businesses are allowed to take these deductions so why wouldn’t Congress allow individuals the same exemptions? 
I fully agree with this position, insofar as we take for granted that business ought  to be able to deduct their healthcare expenditures from their income. Even better would be, however, to scrap the healthcare deudction altogether.

As we allow the free market to provide insurance coverage opportunities to companies and individuals, we must also make sure that no one slips through the cracks simply because they cannot afford insurance. We must review basic options for Medicaid and work with states to ensure that those who want healthcare coverage can have it.

Sounds like an expansion of Medicaid to me. Isn't this EXACTLY what Obamacare did, and isn't this the one component of Obamacare that conservatives got the Supreme Court to strike down, and Republican governors had successfully repelled? Oh, right, it is. So when it comes to substance, Trump's position here isn't all that anti-Obamacare, or "conservative".
Allow individuals to use Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Contributions into HSAs should be tax-free and should be allowed to accumulate. These accounts would become part of the estate of the individual and could be passed on to heirs without fear of any death penalty. These plans should be particularly attractive to young people who are healthy and can afford high-deductible insurance plans. These funds can be used by any member of a family without penalty. The flexibility and security provided by HSAs will be of great benefit to all who participate.
I fully agree with HSA's as a major improvement to the pre-Obamacare state of affairs. HSA's are essentially a logical extension of the "insurance premiums should be tax deductible" doctrine. As I said earlier, I would have preferred that this be abolished altogether, but a selective application of it, as was the case prior to the ACA is patently unfair to those who do not get employer coverage. HSA's are also a very effective motive for acting responsibly in planning for a rainy day, all the while NOT involving the insurance company middleman, which is monumentally grievous distorter of the natural healthcare market. Prior to the ACA many young people went uninsured if it wasn't employer-provided. If HSA's were available to them, they may well have used them. As Trump insinuates, HSA's may not have enough money in the account to cover catastrophic care, but catastrophic insurance policies (as exemplified by high-deductible policies) are much more affordable.
Require price transparency from all healthcare providers, especially doctors and healthcare organizations like clinics and hospitals. Individuals should be able to shop to find the best prices for procedures, exams or any other medical-related procedure.
He couldn't have said it better! And I agree that government has a legitimate role to play here for the purpose of ensuring a fair marketplace. (This would thus meet the Libertarian principle of government action being justified to prevent fraud, as stipulated by Charles Murray.) Transparency in pricing also encourages HSA's as opposed to insurance policies, since consumers can then shop around and pay perhaps less than what an insurance company would pay for care on his behalf.
Block-grant Medicaid to the states. Nearly every state already offers benefits beyond what is required in the current Medicaid structure. The state governments know their people best and can manage the administration of Medicaid far better without federal overhead. States will have the incentives to seek out and eliminate fraud, waste and abuse to preserve our precious resources.
I agree with this. If a Medicaid program for the poor is to be implemented, the federal government is best off leaving the states to decide what constitutes poverty, and what and how benefits ought to be distributed. This is due to regional differences in income.
Remove barriers to entry into free markets for drug providers that offer safe, reliable and cheaper products. Congress will need the courage to step away from the special interests and do what is right for America. Though the pharmaceutical industry is in the private sector, drug companies provide a public service. Allowing consumers access to imported, safe and dependable drugs from overseas will bring more options to consumers.
I love this item the most! Trump takes a swipe at the omnipotent pharmaceutical industry here, which is so so overdue. Sanders comes at it from a completely different angle of course. But I do agree that if the free market is going to provide healthcare, the least the government can do is prevent powerful conglomerates from forcing the public to pay obscene amounts for basic necessity drugs. In this respect, I disagree strongly with Murray's libertarianism, in that the government does have a very legit role in regulating markets that provide basic necessities to the public.

Providing healthcare to illegal immigrants costs us some $11 billion annually. If we were to simply enforce the current immigration laws and restrict the unbridled granting of visas to this country, we could relieve healthcare cost pressures on state and local governments.
I agree that the illegal immigration problem is especially exacerbated with respect to health care. There are anecdotes of illegal immigrant expectant mothers coming here to give birth, both to have an "anchor baby" citizen by which they will remain moored to the U.S. and protected from deportation, and to get American-style high-quality neonatal care for free.

Although Trump doesn't mention it here, I also agree with him that the legal citizenship status of such babies is dubious. We need to to take a second look at the traditional assumption of birthright citizenship. The writers of the 14th amendment almost certainly didn't intend to grant citizenship rights to those "born or naturalized in the U.S." in this way.

Whether this $11 billion is accurate is immaterial. We shouldn't have to spend a penny on illegal immigrants, especially if they are deliberately entering our country for the purpose of receiving free benefits, knowing that we will be compassionate.

Finally, we need to reform our mental health programs and institutions in this country. Families, without the ability to get the information needed to help those who are ailing, are too often not given the tools to help their loved ones. There are promising reforms being developed in Congress that should receive bi-partisan support.
Not sure to what type of "information needed to help those who are ailing" he is alluding here.

Regarding Trump's Tax plan:

Too few Americans are working, too many jobs have been shipped overseas, and too many middle class families cannot make ends meet. This tax plan directly meets these challenges with four simple goals:
  1. Tax relief for middle class Americans: In order to achieve the American dream, let people keep more money in their pockets and increase after-tax wages.
This vision is highly dubious. With a staggering national debt, a crumbling public infrastructure and a bloated government, no responsible economist recommends a tax cut to ANYONE, including the middle-class. But certainly, if he considers me the middle-class, I could use a tax cut.
  1. Simplify the tax code to reduce the headaches Americans face in preparing their taxes and let everyone keep more of their money.
Right on!
  1. Grow the American economy by discouraging corporate inversions, adding a huge number of new jobs, and making America globally competitive again.
Touche!
  1. Doesn’t add to our debt and deficit, which are already too large.
Okay, then, how will you give a tax break to the middle class -- if you stipulate the tax break cannot result in an increasing deficit?
  1. If you are single and earn less than $25,000, or married and jointly earn less than $50,000, you will not owe any income tax. That removes nearly 75 million households – over 50% – from the income tax rolls. They get a new one page form to send the IRS saying, “I win,” those who would otherwise owe income taxes will save an average of nearly $1,000 each.
Wow, this us huge! This means that I will owe nothing in income taxes. This is so so welcome, but more importantly, the right thing to do! People like me who work extremely hard but make little income should not be taxed if the tax can be made up by increasing the burden on those who got lucky and are raking it in hand over fist.
  1. All other Americans will get a simpler tax code with four brackets – 0%, 10%, 20% and 25% – instead of the current seven. This new tax code eliminates the marriage penalty and the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) while providing the lowest tax rate since before World War II.
Sounds good.
  1. No business of any size, from a Fortune 500 to a mom and pop shop to a freelancer living job to job, will pay more than 15% of their business income in taxes. This lower rate makes corporate inversions unnecessary by making America’s tax rate one of the best in the world.
This solves the problem of global competitiveness for business headquarters.
Oh no, Mr. Trump. I am a very strong proponent of the estate tax. It serves to level the playing field and counteract the Matthew Rule (the rich get richer and the poor get poorer). Most importantly, it minimizes the effect of luck on material prosperity and lets grit, talent, and dedication shine.
  1. No family will have to pay the death tax. You earned and saved that money for your family, not the government. You paid taxes on it when you earned it.
But then again, what can one expect from such an egotistical person, as Trump? He knows only of his own success, and that certainly would not have been possible without his hefty inheritance.
  1. Reducing or eliminating most deductions and loopholes available to the very rich.
  2. A one-time deemed repatriation of corporate cash held overseas at a significantly discounted 10% tax rate, followed by an end to the deferral of taxes on corporate income earned abroad.

  1. Reducing or eliminating corporate loopholes that cater to special interests, as well as deductions made unnecessary or redundant by the new lower tax rate on corporations and business income. We will also phase in a reasonable cap on the deductibility of business interest expenses.
Income Tax RateLong Term Cap Gains/ Dividends RateSingle FilersMarried FilersHeads of Household
0%0%$0 to $25,000$0 to $50,000$0 to $37,500
10%0%$25,001 to $50,000$50,001 to $100,000$37,501 to $75,000
20%15%$50,001 to $150,000$100,001 to $300,000$75,001 to $225,000
25%20%$150,001 and up$300,001 and up$225,001 and up
Love it, but I need to see the numbers here. Do the rich pay less than a 25% "effective" marginal (non-investment) income tax rate presently?
10% is letting them off the hook. I don't see why it should be so little.
Agree.

For those Americans who will still pay the income tax, the tax rates will go from the current seven brackets to four simpler, fairer brackets that eliminate the marriage penalty and the AMT while providing the lowest tax rate since before World War II:
With this huge reduction in rates, many of the current exemptions and deductions will become unnecessary or redundant. Those within the 10% bracket will keep all or most of their current deductions. Those within the 20% bracket will keep more than half of their current deductions. Those within the 25% bracket will keep fewer deductions. Charitable giving and mortgage interest deductions will remain unchanged for all taxpayers.
Simplifying the tax code and cutting every American’s taxes will boost consumer spending, encourage savings and investment, and maximize economic growth. 
I hope that Trump is proposing these tax be marginal. It would be absurd to say that if a couple earns $49,000 it owes nothing in taxes, but if its income goes up to $50,000 its tax liability is now $5,000, thus netting less for greater productivity. If, on the other hand, these brackets are not marginal, it would explain why those in the lower brackets will have a wider range of allowed deductions.

However, if the goal of tax reform is to eliminate its complexity, then why not eliminate ALL deductions, period.

While I'm at it, I'm of the opinion that both charity and mortgage interest should be fully taxable. Those deductions have a distorting effect on the natural incentives of the market (e.g. buying or renting a home) and so it's bad policy.

Too many companies – from great American brands to innovative startups – are leaving America, either directly or through corporate inversions. The Democrats want to outlaw inversions, but that will never work. Companies leaving is not the disease, it is the symptom. Politicians in Washington have let America fall from the best corporate tax rate in the industrialized world in the 1980’s (thanks to Ronald Reagan) to the worst rate in the industrialized world. That is unacceptable. Under the Trump plan, America will compete with the world and win by cutting the corporate tax rate to 15%, taking our rate from one of the worst to one of the best.
This lower tax rate cannot be for big business alone; it needs to help the small businesses that are the true engine of our economy. Right now, freelancers, sole proprietors, unincorporated small businesses and pass-through entities are taxed at the high personal income tax rates. This treatment stifles small businesses. It also stifles tax reform because efforts to reduce loopholes and deductions available to the very rich and special interests end up hitting small businesses and job creators as well. The Trump plan addresses this challenge head on with a new business income tax rate within the personal income tax code that matches the 15% corporate tax rate to help these businesses, entrepreneurs and freelancers grow and prosper.
These lower rates will provide a tremendous stimulus for the economy – significant GDP growth, a huge number of new jobs and an increase in after-tax wages for workers.
It's a bit unclear here what his proposal is. It seems to me that he's saying that the low 15% tax rate will apply to not just corporations (which are taxed twice) but also to individual proprietors; in other words, EVEN if the business owner nets more than $100,000 (for a married couple) in personal income from the business --in which case ordinarily they would fall in the 20% bracket-- it will pay only 15% because its entrepreneurial income as opposed to labor income.

I can't say I agree with this. For genuinely small business owners I'm sort of okay with it. They often take significant risk in starting the business, so they should be able to reap a greater reward as a proportion of their gross income. But what if one owns a large, very wealthy enterprise that yields tens of millions in profit? Should he still pay a mere 15% tax rate, as opposed to the 25% that, say, a successful doctor/lawyer would pay for their $350,000 income? This makes no sense to me, nor to most Americans, especially those in the labor class who are treated adversely compared to the entrepreneurial class.

Regarding the essential premise that the corporate rate should not be greater than 15% lest it encourage inversions, I am fairly skeptical about this approach as well. As it stands now, even such "inverted" corporations, must legally pay the higher tax rate for the portion of its income generated in the U.S. So the inversion isn't all that straightforward. The reason it works is that accountants are attributing a greater share of the profits to the supposed host country that offers the lower rate. But if this tactic can be legally curtailed, then it won't work. Bottom line is that it's not true that we are helpless in our quest to get American business operators to pay the rate that WE deem appropriate based on OUR tax and budgetary considerations, as opposed to the lower rate offered by countries that have a lower per capita public expenditures than us.

This brings me back to the question of globalization. I don't believe we should relish the flattened world we live in. I believe it's totally fine to keep some trade barriers between countires, even at the expense of technological progress and cheaper consumer goods.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Why I flipped from pro to con-TPP and similar international trade pacts

Traditionally, I have been pro-International trade for a long time now. During the TPP controversy last year, I was solidly in Obama's camp, supporting the trade deal. In recent months I have started questioning it more, after two lawmakers whom I highly admire have come out against it: Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders. It took me a a few months to further ponder this question and I have now finally flipped: I am against trade deals unless perhaps if they are very narrowly focused and precisely implemented.

In explaining my reversal on this matter, first let me lay out out my traditional reasoning FOR International trade agreements.

International trade agreements, such as NAFTA, promise foreign countries that we will not impose tariffs on their manufactured exports to us, such as cars, toys, tools, furniture, electronic components, etc., in return for their agreement to purchase goods from us tariff-free, thus making us more competitive in their markets in fields that we are good at, such as weapons systems, medical technology and, recently, sophisticated software. (My understanding is that in the recent TPP deal, software and other copyright-protected American products are the main beneficiaries, as opposed to previous agreements which did not focus so much on such intangible goods for which foreign governments' cooperation with us in enforcing copyright is now so vital.)

In essence what we are saying here is: let us focus our energies on producing the types of goods that our smart, high-tech economy is really good at; let us then secure the cooperation of foreign governments to promise to pay a fair price to import such products and ensure that they are not pirated by their citizens. This will yield a nice profit for our high-tech sector. In return, we are willing to purchase from them cheap consumer goods such as apparel, inasmuch as such products cannot profitably be made here anyway due to higher wages and regulatory costs.

Obama has used the metaphor "the horse has already left the barn" to point out that the low-tech manufacturing that TPP calls for importing has already left our country anyway, and --willy nilly-- it ain't coming back. Why not then, argues Obama, should we not atleast fully profit from what we do make here by, in effect, threatening import tariffs (albeit this may be a bluff) if other countries do not pay a fair price for our exports?

To critics who argue "what about those workers who suffer the loss of jobs due to industries moving overseas?" Obama's solution is to offer government aid in retraining them for high-tech jobs that we are good at (and which constitute the backbone of our economy) and for the plethora of service jobs that support our core high-tech economy. This aid for retraining is known as TAA -- trade adjustment assistance.

Here's what changed my mind on this topic.

Charles Murray makes a very compelling assertion in "Real Education", one that has altered the way I think about education and the job market: About 70% of students are NOT CAPABLE of academic education. The standard educational track that American students are enrolled in --one that emphasizes reading and writing, advanced math, history, and natural sciences, and which leads to a college education and supposedly to a well-paid career and a good life-- is not suitable for most students. Most people do not have what it takes to succeed in such a track. They don't want it and they feel miserable being in it. He advocates teaching more traditional and simpler vocations such as plumbing and carpentry to such students.

As a teacher assigned to a "regular" 6th grade social studies class, I have become convinced from first-hand experience that his assertion is true. My students abhor reading and have no interest in what the Shang and Zhou dynasty did 3,000 years ago, nor in what ancient Hindus believed will lead them to moksha. I can honestly not envision that they will one day come to appreciate this stuff, as I did, and in any event this approach can only go so far. If students' ability and interest is severely limited then it's inappropriate to keep goading them in the fanciful hope and "high expectation" that they will eventually get it.

Upon some reflection on this I realized that Murray's doctrine is applicable in the job market as well: most people will never be a good fit for the kind of high-tech jobs that the Obama admin hopes America at large will specialize in. This could be formulated as a natural law: No matter how smart a given society is based on geography, genetics and historical circumstances, there will always be a majority within it which cannot rise to the level of productivity that the elite does. This explains what seemed an enigma to me for quite some time: how millions of Americans are actually quite content being cashiers, salespeople, security guards, phone operators and so on -- jobs that I view as numbingly and excruciatingly boring. I turns out that while they are boring to me, our society needs them; they cannot be exported, and there are always folks who not only are willing to take them, but will actually be content in them.

The corollary is that racing to the bottom --the idea of NOT making anything in this country that could be made cheaper and more efficiently in another-- may seem like a smart thing economically, but it is not an effective norm socially. Our society needs service jobs and manufacturing jobs that are simple and repetitive, not because the products and services can best be made here, but because they enrich and complement us as an integral, holistic society. A society without them is akin to a man without a woman or vice versa; one sector without the other is not a stable, functioning, and complete society. College for all, doctorate degrees for all, is not practicable.

Accordingly, there is a grave flaw in free trade. The assumption therein is that we can maximize high-tech employment by pushing everyone to get a "higher education" and keeping the service and low-paying manufacturing jobs (that could be outsourced more economically) to a minimum. If this is not achievable, as indeed it isn't, due to the inherent constraints in the basic aptitude of the majority of the population, then what we are in effect doing is creating a bubble in the service sector. Millions of Americans find work in the medical industry and as security guards and as cops and firefighters and special-ed teachers, not because they are really needed in those capacities, but because they can be hired cheaply by their employers and there is underlying social incentive to employ as much of the population as possible.

The end result is the exact opposite of what free-trade proponents are trying to accomplish. Instead of efficiency in the job market, entire service sectors are born and grow and thrive because its employees have nothing else to do in an economy that has been gutted of traditional jobs, such as construction and craftsmanship.

Moreover, because the service sectors balloon to such large proportions, the competition for its jobs is intense, which drives down wages, thus feeding the wide income gap between those employed in the core sectors of computer programming, medical technology and advanced weaponry, on the one hand--all of which are very profitably export sectors IN ADDITION to being consumed domestically-- and the service sectors which are by definition NOT exportable, on the other hand. Contrary to popular wisdom, jobs in the 21st century that are not exportable may indeed be fairly secure and command more than minimum wages, yet they are also by definition ("service") not part of our economic core. (After all, if all jobs were service jobs, we would have no surplus to spend on consumer imported goods.)

What we ought to do instead is nurture domestic craft industries that employ large numbers of people who do not have a college degree. Such workers will, of course, not make as much as the ones working in the cutting-edge high-tech sectors that are exportable and which are ultimately the engine of our economy. But such workers will get to do work that is satisfying psychologically, knowing that they are producing concrete stuff that is indispensable to their fellow citizenry, as opposed to boondoggling. In addition, unlike service jobs, manufacturing jobs are in theory exportable, even if in practice it won't happen often by dint of the higher cost associated with a higher standard of living, government regulation, labor rights, etc.

To summarize:

  1. Our service sector is one big bubble. Many of its jobs are unnecessary and unsatisfying.
  2. Service workers make very little money because there is a glut of job vacancies, many of which are boondoggles.
  3. The solution is to return to productive manual labor, not out of economic efficiency, but out of social necessity, and in order to close the income gap.
  4. Jobs that can be exported profitably should constitute the core of our economy and will only be occupied by intelligent and ambitious individuals --our "elite"-- around 20% of the population. Construction and craft work that COULD be exported but normally isn't should constitute the second tier. Service jobs that CANNOT be exported should constitute the lowest tier. Customer service call centers we can let go of completely (The Indians hold it in high regard and do it more efficiently).

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Democracy Gone Awry

In the last year or so I have come to the conclusion that the root of all the problems facing America today (growing inequality, profligate consumerism, materialism, greed, deception, a sclerotic state apparatus, and many more) is the very bedrock of our governmental system: democracy. To put it concisely, our democracy is based on old-school models of proper government. Such models do not work in the 21st century. The solution is to find a new model, especially adapted to our present epoch.

Most people take it for granted that democracy is obviously the right form of government. But this is not at all patently axiomatic. Most societies of the past, since neolithic times 10,000 years ago, both primitive pastoral ones and more advanced agricultural ones, were socially stratified ones. Some people (such as priests and governors) had clearly defined more power than others, and such societies often lasted for millennia, such as the Egyptian civilization.

By contrast, the few civilizations that did experiment with democracy, had a mixed record of success with it and none of them lasted for very long. The Romans, for examples, inexorably moved from republic toward empire through the various triumvirates, culminating in Julius Caesar's non-official abolition of the republic and declaring himself emperor. It is hard to envision any different historical path for a rapidly surging and prosperous 1st century B.C. Rome.

Greek democracy, almost from its very beginning was characterized by leaders' deception of the masses in order to secure their support for government policy.

Themistocles, the first non-aristocratic Greek politician in the newly-forged Athenian democracy of 508 B.C., sought to channel wealth generated by silver mines that had been recently discovered, into large naval fleet of triremes, in order to defend against what he feared would be an imminent Persian attack. As a populist leader he considered it tactless to cite the true reason for his plea to the masses to not splurge the newly acquired wealth. The people were terrified of the Persians and would have been shocked and dismayed to hear someone argue that Persians may return for an additional strike after having been stopped in the Battle of Marathon of 490 B.C.

Instead, Themistocles cited the the threat of Aegina as the reason for urging the massive naval buildup in 483 B.C. This is rather remarkable since the Persian threat was still quite vivid in the people's minds, and if it were to materialize, the outcome would be more detested than an occupation by a rival Greek city-state, since it would spell a complete annihilation of the Greek of way of life, by despised barbarians no less.

The modern equivalent to this is how the American government cited the threat of nuclear rearmament by Iraq as the reason for invading it and toppling its regime. Experts mostly agree that there wasn't any evidence for an Iraqi nuclear program and even if there were, there would have been other ways to deal with it (including doing nothing, as the administration did nothing about India and Pakistan and North Korea who similarly violated the global non-proliferation pact). The real reason for the Iraq war of 2003 was to appropriate (a.k.a. "steal"?)  Iraq's oil. As a bonus, it would be a boon for the defense industry, with which the Bush administration was in bed (Dick Cheney in particular).

Liberal would cry foul at any such declaration of war for the purpose of stealing the country's natural resources. Paradoxically, however, he might have gained the support of many ordinary Americans who do believe in the "might makes right" doctrine (which used to be taken for granted by all people). Still, in the Bush admin's reasoning, even if American may have retrospectively said decades from now "yeah, it's good that we got Iraq's oil; otherwise prices would have skyrocketed here and our lifestyle would have been crippled. After all, why does the oil belong to the Iraqis merely because it was found on their land?", such an argument couldn't have been made politically IN A DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY in 2003. The majority of American voters just wouldn't buy it, not to speak of the moral outrage the world would evince at this.

Thus, democratic governments are often forced to be deceptive to its electorate if its operating technocracy is to accomplish what is in the best interest of the people. A politician can either be an honest elitist, or deceptive populist, but honest populism doesn't do.

The solution.

The solution is to revoke the franchise from the hoi polloi. Voting for political office should not be an automatic right. Rather it should be a privilege for those who earn it by demonstrating proficiency in politics. Does it make sense for a plumber to get to tell me, a teacher, how to run a classroom, or someone who is not fluent in the social sciences to advise me as to what should and should not be included in the World History class that I teach? Everyone understands that in a highly specialized work force, such as is ours, the system runs best if disparate departments do not interfere in the operations of one another. When a contractor builds a house, the carpenter decides what kind of wood and nails to use and the type of drill, if any; the plumber decides what kind of piping to use and where to install it. The electrician has a slew of decisions to make in turn; and so on. Why then should politics be any different if the system has evolved, as it did, to be so complex as to require political professionals to give competent advice on how to run it?

To put this into practice, we should devise a written multiple choice test, drawn from a bank of thousands of questions. Those who want to participate in the democratic process, will take a 100-question-test, of which test items are drawn randomly from the bank, in a government testing center. If they get a passing score, they are then declared eligible to vote in elections. The test bank should encompass all subject matter that pertains to the contemporary political process, including constitutional law, major judicial rulings (e.g. Plessy V. Ferguson, Brown V. BOE, Marbury V. Madison, Citizen United, Miranda Rights), the branches and duties of our government, the function of government agencies (such as FCC, FAA, SEC, FTC, FDA, CIA, DOJ). You get the idea.

It is important to note that even though we have universal suffrage for all sane, law-abiding adults over 18, whose voting rights can easily be exercised in all elections, the fact of the matter is that an Athenian citizen in the 5th century B.C. assembling in the Acropolis and casting a stone to show their vote, was actually far more influential in government than ordinary citizens are today. For one, there were many fewer eligible Athenian citizens than there are Americans, so the weight of each voter was greater. Secondly, most citizens did not bother voting on any given referendum unless they actually cared about it (they would have probably been forced to take a unpaid day off work), thus further accentuating the relative weight of each vote. Thus, it is ironic that we tend to think that our representative democracy is more "democratic" since everyone gets to have input into who enacts the law; but in fact our system is less democratic insofar as our voices are frequently drowned out in a sea of votes, none of which specify what the elected official should actually do, only that the voters trusts that the official will faithfully represent their interest.

An even more sophisticated voting scheme could feature, additionally, the following:

1) Once a voter is certified as eligible to vote based on his politics proficiency test, the voter can then choose to specialize in one or more specialty fields, (e.g. foreign policy, consumer products, fiscal policy).

2) When a a policy question arises in a specialty field, those who have certification in the field can log in to an online portal where they can cast their vote within a certain time window. This moreover allows the two sides in a debate to make a persuasive verbal case for their respective positions, which the voting citizen "specialist" can then read and ponder prior to casting his vote upon online.

I am actually surprised that I have not come across any online voting proposal yet. It seems natural to me that, like so many other routine tasks that are performed online, voting should be done online as well. Even if we do not restrict access to "uncertified citizens" as my plan calls, one can envision many benefits enabled by an online voting platform.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What is the Purpose of K12 Schools?

The latest buzzphrase is "college and career ready", the idea being that the school's mission is to prepare its pupils for college if they so are so inclined and capable, or else prepare them for a non-"professional" vocational career straight out of high school, such as a painter, carpenter, salesperson, secretary, etc.

The problem with this mindset is manifold. For one, there is almost no vocational training available in today's k12 schools. Vocational schools used to be in vogue in this country years ago, when most people didn't go nor aspired to go to college. Back then it was considered the obvious and practical thing to do. If the student is not going to go to college, then what is the point of the k12 education if not, among other things, to train them for a job?

However, this approach is no longer considered equitable. No child or parent wants to hear "your little Johnny is not college-material and so we're putting him on a vocational track, rather than a liberal arts track", with all the attendant supposed stigma and lower earning potential.

This is why nowadays if you walk in to any middle school or high school, kids are indistinguishable from one another. The expectation is the same of all of them and insofar as they do not attain the same grades and achievements, it's deemed to be due to a lack of studying hard enough, or paying attention in class, etc. It's not deemed to stem from innate factors, such as intelligence, genetics, even socioeconomic conditions beyond the scope of the school.

This is all an illusion, and a costly one at that.

The truth is that all students are NOT the same. Some are capable of achieving a lot more than others. Some simply do not have the capacity of succeeding in any liberal arts setting, period. They are practical. They are artistic. They are concrete. They are kinesthetic. They are athletic. They are sporty. If a student is any of the above types, they loathe the atmosphere and curriculum in today's k-12 schools.

The solution.

The solution is to return to real tracking; not the kind of tracking that groups students based on ability but leaves the curriculum and assessment instruments uniform. We need real substantive differences in the way we teach college-bound individuals vs. non-college bound ones.

In order to do this, we also need to remove the stigma associated with not going to college. Charles Murray (in the book "Real Education") is a great advocate of this and I fully agree with him on it. His estimate is that about 80% of students do not belong in a college-bound track. He is flexible with the cutoff percentage; you may well argue that more students belong in college (which would be bound up with the debate over the level of rigor colleges should demand). One thing is clear, however, he rightfully points out: 50% of students are in fact below average, by definition. And so unless you set the standard really really low, by definition they will be unable to achieve even an "average"-referenced standard.

What can we do to remove the stigma?

At a minimum, what we can do easily in the here and now without much fanfare and revamping of the status quo is to design a different curriculum (and its aligned standards and assessments) for LT (lower-track) students. This means that the "general" students that I teach, for example, shouldn't be expected to learn the same skills and knowledge that the "advanced" kids learn in my school.

If this is done without unduly prominent announcements, then noone will have reason to resist.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How to Restore Discipline to Classrooms

What is the single biggest problem with today's public schools?

Ivory tower academics, from whom educational policies emanate are obsessed with research and data. They are fond of studying problems scientifically by conducting experiments, measuring results, drawing conclusions and then devising a solution. The problem with all this is that those academicians are not in the classroom. True, they are more intelligent and pedagogically proficient than the teachers whom they guide; but they are living in their own bubble of what has been "proven" to be sound.

From the Uncertainty Principle (and also from the Law of Unintended Consequences) we know that it's impossible to observe the environment without the environment being altered in response. The studies hold up in the observational and experimental field, but once applied they affect outcomes in unforeseen and deleterious ways, often to the extent of rendering social programs more harmful than beneficial.

The sad truth is that all of the harping about testing, evaluation of teachers, rigorous standards etc. pales as a significant factor in education in comparison to the one big elephant in the room: children coming to school mentally unprepared to learn. And there's nothing the teacher can do to change the child's mindset since the teacher's mandate is to teach, not to mentally enable the student to learn. Student discipline is almost completely neglected in today's teacher preparation courses, such as the one I attended "Teacher Ready".

What can schools do to restore discipline in the classroom?

First let me say that I categorically condemn the notion that schoolchildren, in general, can be disciplined without any corporal punishment. From my observation and experience in life and in the classroom, I have become convinced that children are not rational creatures, and so adults often (though not always) are unable to reason with them. Adults are simply unable to verbally make a compelling case for them to stop misbehaving. Skinnerian reinforcement (whether positive or negative) works better, but its inherent shortcoming is that whereas it motivates good behavior it does bot deter bad behavior. Deterring bad behavior is far more challenging than inducing good behavior since there are plenty of palpable rewards that a student can envision for getting food grades, for example. But there's often little in the way of a punishing consequence that a child will envisage for, e.g., talking in class.

The only thing left is for educators to administer physical punishment. Bodily punishment is swift (it takes seconds to execute) and has a pronounced and lasting effect on the delinquent student, AND on others present by way of deterrence. Whereas a pep talk must be long and its tone severe to be taken seriously, and even then the student is only under its spell while the event is ongoing -- the effects of physical punishment continue long after the punishment is over, as the child ponders the actions that led to such an adverse consequence.

Here's the type of corporal punishment regimen that I think is demonstrably implementable, even given the prevailing liberal spirit of the day:

At the beginning of the school year, principals (in Florida where paddling is legal) should send out a note and/or corral and orally explain to all parents why he believes that corporal punishment is essential to the success of the school and the child. The principal should take a brave stand by forcefully advocating for its use. Parents would then be asked to permit the school to use corporal punishment on its students without having to notify them first. It would be nice if the principal could give examples of an act or behavioral pattern that would result in corporal punishment, and non-examples of acts and behavior that would not rise to that level.

Principals and AP's will then command much greater respect from students. Teachers should be able to easily refer students to the Principal or AP for such punishment (thought of course they too will be trained on when to exercise such a referral and when not to). Even if such corporal punishment does not occur often, the very awareness on the part of students of its existence as an option will serve as an effective deterrent, possibly even for children of parents who have not opted in to his program.

I also recommend that teachers should be allowed to seize a delinquent student under certain conditions (for example, if the teacher asks a student to identify themselves after running in the hallway and they refuse, and the teacher then directs the student to follow him to the office and the student balks, the teacher should then be allowed to grab the students arm and say "you're coming with me"). I realize that this is a bit more controversial and could prove problematic in our times. It is clearly a notch above the practice of paddling by admins, and so I'm not insistent on its implementation, especially as a first step toward restoring discipline in schools.

Monday, April 27, 2015

REVIEW of Shulem Deen's book "All who go there do not return".

Shulem Deen’s book is arguably the best in the OTD memoir genre yet. Shalkom Auslander’s “Foreskin’s Lament” is possibly better but that’s meant to be more literary while Deen’s is a true memoir. Vincent’s “Cut me Loose” cannot hold a candle to this book and Feldman’s “Unorthodox” is comparable but probably no more than a close second overall. Here’s where Deen does exceptionally well:

He has a compelling story to tell. He grew up in Borough Park in an oddball household and studied in Williamsburg and Montreal for a while before settling in marriage in New Square. He has a very wide persepctive and a breadth of experiences --and, of course, the transition from Haredism to secularism—to bring to bear in his account.

Deen does a remarkably good job in selecting episodes from his life that are interesting, and not overwhelming us with narratives and asides that are not germane. I give him also an A++ in his pacing/timing of the stories. He starts off with his expulsion from New Square, he then flashes back and brings us up to date a bit and then vacilates back and forth in chronology, just enough to keep readers on their balls, but NOT confusing us. This is terrific!

Veracity/candidness: unlike other books in this genre, some of which masquerade as OTD memoir but are practically fiction, Deen’s account rings remarkably true AND candid. I get the impression that he’s able to probe the deepest abyss of his psyche to elicit emotions and reconstruct the memory of events that were profoundly meaningful to him in his transformation. This is essential for a story to be engaging, relevant and credible. Feldman’s second book and Vincent’s book fail spectacularly in this regard.

When I read how Deen “did not lose in court. Instead, I lost my children’s hearts, and with them, very nearly, my sanity”, I empathized so much I wanted to cry.

Now to the flaws. Broadly speaking the problem with this book is not the content, narrative or truthfulness; it’s vocabulary and grammar. He falls short in many areas of grammar. Now some people might consider this nitpicking. If these were isolated instances, I would give him a pass. But when these peccadillos recur in such regular fashion again and again, it becomes fairly annoying. I am compelled to pause reading and notice his solecisms and wonder what he means and why he chooses to write this way.
  1. 1)      Tense. The book is written mostly in the past perfect tense. It’s not “he said”; it’s “he had said”. As I am reading, I am antispiating the action to come, but it never comes. It’s as if he’s setting up the scene by telling us about all the events that preceded the big event, but the big event never comes. Actually, it does come. The Epilogue is finally written in the past tense. If he meant it this way on purpose, that’s inexplicable to me. Otherwise, he should learn how to use tenses and aspects correctly.
  2. 2)      Punctuation. He virtually never uses the dash to interrupt or set off portions of long sentences; and he uses the semicolon sparingly. When he wants to start indicate a pause he will put a period and then start off with a sentence fragment. Some of this may be a conscious literary decision (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt). But it was disturbing to me and interrupted the flow.
  3. 3)      Diction (word choice). In dozens of instances throughout the book, the author chooses obscure words, often in dubious context. He talks, for example about a teacher with a “cantilivered arm”, a “buggy” (I thought only the British do that), about passersby who don’t bother to “snigger”, about vulgar “sartorial” habits, about the Talmudic “digest” (which means a synopsis, except that the Talmud isn’t one), a “halcyon” (which means reminiscent of sweet old days, except that the author never had such days in his Borough Park youth), façade of a two-car garage, a “catatonic” depression, a battered “divan” (divans are not used among Hasidim), legalistic “arcana”, and –this is my favorite— about how one Hasid is the “Savonarola of the Hasidic world”. Really??? Do you or any of your readers even know this character? It seems that the author is sometimes using fancy words to feel good about himself and/or try to impress, but it actually detracts from the narrative. He has a very compelling story; there’s no need for ostentation. All those arcane words, make me pause to think why and how he’s using them, and I’m befuddled.
  4. 4)      Hebrew (and Yiddish) transliteration. His transliteration from Hebrew to English is TERRIBLE! I am pretty certain that some of this is done deliberately, perhaps to show the actual Hasidic dialect of Hebrew, which diverges from standard Israeli Hebrew. Nevertheless, he goes way too far in bastardizing many words, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what literary value this can possible hold. Here are some examples from the book: “Eynglish” (English), Shaygetz (Sheigetz), rezemay, (resume), mertzeshem (im yirtzeh hashem). There are many, many more! He’s entirle inconsistent too. For all his contrived effort to represent the Yiddish accent, he fails on “Halt arois di hant” for example. It should be “arows”.
  5. 5)      Does the author not know how and when to use the subjective mood? In numerous places, he uses “was” when it should be “were”. One example: After our fourth, I tried again to reason with her, but Gitty protested that she would feel naked if she WASN’T either pregnant or pushing a baby stroller. Since Gitty IS in fact pregnant or pushing a stroller, it is a hypothetical and should be “were”.
  6. 6)      “Or” instead of “nor”. I don’t see the point (if there is any) of using “or” when it should be “nor”. One example: “I had never had gin, or tonic…”.
  7. 7)      I noticed many additional grammar mistakes, as well as atleast two typos. I am a bit surprised that the publisher didn’t review and correct some of the more blatant mistakes. Example: Often I would end up in Greenwich Village, strolling the leafy streets, gazing at its nineteenth-century row houses and NYU campus buildings, observing the vibrant nightlife around MacDougal and Thompson and Bleecker, and IMAGINE [should be “imagining”] a different life.


Rosy-cheeked and plump, she was vivacious and quick with an eager laugh. She had more friends than Gitty and I could keep track of. “Oh, hello there, nice of you to visit again,” I’d say to whatever [better: whomever, or whichever] friend Freidy brought home on Sunday afternoons, imagining it to be the same as the little girl who came last week, and Freidy would hiss at me desperately, “This is a different one!”

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3092-3095). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Whether it was the ultimatum itself, or the realization of how much this truly mattered to me, Gitty finally relented. If I could find a “real” rabbi— not some English-speaking, clean-shaven, university-degree-holding one, but one close enough to our kind— she would accept a dispensation, if it was [were] granted.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3118-3120). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
At fourteen, I tried to set down the outlines of my autobiography— I imagined I’d fill it in over the years. Throughout my years in yeshiva, instead of Talmud [Talmudic] commentaries, the traditional obsession of an aspiring young rabbinical student, I wrote pages and pages of philosophical musings in florid rabbinic Hebrew.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3277-3279). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
The Internet might have become the real culprit for corrupting minds, but the television had been, for decades, de tumeneh keili [de tumeneh kaileh, or kayleh]. The profane vessel. So abhorrent that many would not even utter its name.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3402-3404). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Often I would end up in Greenwich Village, strolling the leafy streets, gazing at its nineteenth-century row houses and NYU campus buildings, observing the vibrant nightlife around MacDougal and Thompson and Bleecker, and imagine [imagining] a different life.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3512-3513). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
I would order a drink I had seen in the movies. “Gin and tonic,” I’d say to the bartender, as if I’d been drinking it all my life. I had never had gin, or [nor] tonic, but it sounded like something one might order in a bar.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3530-3531). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
But there was no question of making any of the young men suffer any consequences. [Technically a correct expression, meaning that the young men would definitely NOT suffer any consequences; I dislike this expression due its easy confusion with “there was no question that…” and there’s no question but…”]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Location 2745). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Chezky lowered his voice. “It’s called Beethoven.” “It’s about music?” [why not add: I asked] “No, no, no, it’s about a dog. The dog’s name is Beethoven. This family adopts him, after a bunch of puppies get stolen— it’s hard to explain, you have to see it yourself.”

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2769-2772). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
And so I couldn’t help but [omit “but”, as the author himself writes elsewhere: And I couldn’t help wonder: If it was so well known, why did I not know it? Did it have another name, maybe? Was I allowed to ask?] wonder: Who was right, my father or my teachers?

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Location 971). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Unable to let go, we would still be arguing long after the neighbors could be heard singing the Sabbath hymns through their wide-open windows, eating their sautéed liver and p’tcha, [what’s this? Why is there an apostrophe in it?] their chulent and kishke, and then retiring for their Sabbath afternoon naps.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2936-2938). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
I would imagine these conversations, but I would not have them. That’s not want [typo: what] they want to hear, I would say to myself.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3000-3001). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
You cannot speak of it because if you do, you will be like the lunatic who prophesies end-of-times doom and gloom, or like the one heralding some New Age brand of salvation and redemption. Passersby can barely be bothered to snigger [very rare word; what does it mean? What’s wrong with snicker?].

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3036-3037). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
After our fourth, I tried again to reason with her, but Gitty protested that she would feel naked if she wasn’t [weren’t] either pregnant or pushing a baby stroller. “People will look at me funny,” she said, and I sympathized. Who wants to be looked at funny?

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3081-3082). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
“Doesn’t matter. Wherever’s easiest.” After a moment, he says, “Near home, you know, at the corner is fine.” As if he doesn’t want to trouble me to go all the way. [why the sentence fragment? what’s wrong with “corner is fine, as if…”?]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4899-4900). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Ata sakum terachem tziyon. Raise up and have mercy upon Zion. Ki va mo’ed. Ki va mo’ed. Ki va mo’ed. For the time has come. For the time has come. For the time has come. [which dialect is he transcribing in to? Modern Hebrew would be “atta takum terahem tziyon”, Ashkenazic/Lithuanian Hebrew would be “atto sokum terahem tziyon”, Polish/Hungarian Hasidic Hebrew would be “attu sukim terahaym tziyoyn”].

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4735-4737). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
These small moments would evoke feelings I did not know were possible, a kind of grief that would, at times, strike me with such force that it would impair my daily function, throwing me for hours, days, into a nearly catatonic depression [“catatonic”? as in “can’t move”? really? Find a different word, please].

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4747-4749). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
I would often think of Gitty and the hardships of raising five children alone, and I’d feel badly [feel badly? Try again! Feel bad] for her, and then I would feel angry. She was raising five children alone, but she didn’t have to, not the way she had chosen.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4767-4768). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
When I heard, in 2012, that she had remarried, to a good man, a pious and kind Hasid, a scribe who made his living writing sacred ritual texts— Torahs, tefillin, mezuzahs— and who took my sons to the synagogue on Shabbos and treated them kindly, I hoped that it would allow Gitty to forgive me for some of the pain I had caused her. [what a sanctimonious prude! How about simply: it would allow Gitty to overcome the pain she had endured breaking up with me]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4768-4770). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
A man with long flowing white hair in a colorful unbuttoned shirt sat at the head of the trail to the main campsite. He stared at us unself-consciously [what does this mean? Did you simply read it in a book and liked the way it sounded?], with his sagging abdomen and his chest of white hair.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4778-4779). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
“Why doesn’t he want to come?” I asked, the message like a blunt knife scraping against my skin, causing a minor bruise, annoying but bearable. [what is annoying is this very simile. When does a blunt knife ever scrape against your skin? How many blunt knives do you even have?] It is what I’ve come to expect.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4867-4868). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Gitty and I were trying to sell our home in Monsey, but with the downturn of the housing market, it couldn’t be appraised for more [should be: it could be appraised for no more than…] than three-quarters of what we owed on the mortgage, which was soon foreclosed. [what was foreclosed? The mortgage?]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4601-4603). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
My father, however, did not appear to me in dreams. Or at least not in the way the rabbi meant it, as an apparition [an apparition, i.e. a shadow/ghost does NOT appear at someone’s bedside in a dream. In fact apparitions can only be recognized as such while awake; while asleep, one can’t distinguish between real essence and apparitions] at my bedside with secrets from another world.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4673-4674). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Now thirteen and ferociously bright, she showed the stubbornness of an ox and the indifference of an alley cat. [difficult simile: an ox doesn’t strike me as ferocious, nor an alley cat as indifferent]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Location 4439). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
“Has anyone been saying bad things about me?” Akiva shook his head vigorously, while Chaya Suri’s lids [why not “eyelids”?] turned red around her large glassy eyes. [what are “glassy” eyes, and how do they differ from un-glassy eyes?] Only Hershy looked me in the eye, and said, “Mommy says you want to turn us into goyim.”

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4508-4510). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Duly chastised, I began to rethink my strategy. I was a Hasidic boy, and I realized that I could be nothing else. I had been shown up for my hubris [hubris? Really? How does a 13 year-old’s defensive strike against a teacher constitute hubris, i.e. invincibility?], and what I wanted most now was acceptance. I wanted back at the yeshiva.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3921-3923). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
The area we moved to, a hilly road studded with one-story ranch houses and modest colonials, looked like any other suburban neighborhood in Rockland County: backyard swimming pools shaded by dogwoods and Japanese maples, manicured hedgerows along property edges, front lawns so green they seemed almost painted. Behind the halcyon [what’s so halcyon, i.e. nostalgic, about a Monsey house if you’ve never experienced one before?] facade of two-car garages and well-maintained landscaping, however, were attitudes not much different from those of New Square.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3938-3941). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
I remember parting from Leiby that day, lost in my thoughts, a powerful pang of envy hitting me. Leiby’s desire to join the army had struck me as fancifully adolescent, but college was a different matter. I had encouraged him, partly driven by my own wistfulness [why not “longing”?] for the opportunity. Now that his plans were taking shape, I couldn’t help thinking about myself.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3686-3689). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
I remember how, facing the girls from across the table, Akiva held up the edge [does the author mean “the end”?] of one of his ritual fringes and brushed it lightly into Hershy’s ear. Hershy, startled, slapped his ear with the back of his hand, as if to drive away an insect.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3708-3709). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
The call to appear before the bezdin [what’s wrong with “bes din”?] came several days after Leiby’s departure.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3720-3721). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
On the day that the call came from the bezdin, I had a conversation with Leiby’s brother-in-law, Yossi Pal. I had been driving [why not the simpler: I was driving] down Bush Lane in my Honda Odyssey, a block from my home, when Yossi, walking home from the kollel with his blue-and-gold velvet prayer-shawl pouch under his arm, was walking toward me [should be: walked toward me]. Our eyes met as I drove. His eyebrows went up in a flash of recognition, and he waved for me to stop.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3730-3733). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
I nodded, and he looked at me as if trying to discern [you discern colors or physical stimuli. Not whether something is worth doing or not. Why not “determine” instead?] whether this conversation was really worthwhile.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Location 3736). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
But Leiby was nineteen, an adult. The army would’ve taken him, if he’d followed through, sent him out into the world to make decisions about life and death, and to place his own life in jeopardy. [sentence is unclear. Is it to make decisions about placing his own life in jeopardy? Preferable rewrite: The army would’ve taken him --if he’d followed through-- sent him out into the world to place his life in jeopardy, and to make decisions about life and death.]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3766-3767). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
The adults hadn’t shaped up their act. My father hadn’t gotten himself better, and my mother hadn’t been much help, either. Before she had [add: had] time to follow through on her threats of divorce, my father had died, leaving our family in a state of turmoil.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 3849-3851). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
“Why are you dressed like a shaygetz?” he asked. [“shaygetz” MAY be correct if the author means to render the word in the Hasidic Yiddish dialect, in which case shay- rhymes with pie. Even then “shaigetz” would be better. However, I don’t see any reason why the dialect is relevant here. The standard transliteration of Hebrew שגץ should be “sheigetz” (akin to “sheitel”)[.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1090-1091). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
It was then that I noticed: a Yid! He was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car parked several yards away. He appeared to be a Litvak, with his thick, short payess [Bad transliteration. Better: peyos] tucked behind his ears, white shirt with no tallis katan [if you’re gonna render into Hasidic Yiddish, why not tallis kuten? Tallis katan is neither fish nor fowl. Modern Hebrew is “tallit katan”, Ashkenazi Hebrew is “tallis koton”] over it.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1324-1326). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
After purchasing what I thought was a suitable style, I brought the tie home and called to Gitty to have a look. I removed it ceremoniously from the store’s plastic bag, and held it across both hands, resplendent in its gradations of soft blue and gray. [“held it across both hands” makes no sense (since the tie doesn’t cross the hands). Also, modifier is misplaced: what is resplendent, hands or tie? It should be: “held it -- resplendent in its gradations of soft blue and gray-- across my body with both hands”]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2528-2530). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Around me, men in smart suits and women in tight skirts and fashionable heels strode purposefully between buildings, a corporate sheen reflecting off the many revolving doors. Stern, uniformed men looked out from behind security desks, guarding the entrances to these [“those” would be better, due to the author’s distnace and unfamiliarity with the object] palaces of capitalism.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2548-2550). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
My mother stood in a nearby doorway, in her arms my infant son, swathed [bad verb. What’s wrong with “wrapped”, or “swaddled”] in layers of white ruffles and lace under the gold-embroidered inscription: Elijah, angel of the covenant, behold, yours has come before you.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2581-2583). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
As custom dictated, the rebbe would be handing out cake and wine after prayers. The crowd, the entire student bodies of both the yeshiva and the kollel, were here for the cake. My own family celebration, elaborate with culinary delights as it would be, was subordinate to the greater, more significant event: commemorating the death of the old sage Reb Hershele of Skvyra. [Too much tense-shifting confuses the reader. Try “My own family celebration, though elaborate with culinary, was subordinate…”.]
Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2601-2603). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
It began with the shulem zucher on Friday night, when men gathered to eat fruits and boiled chickpeas and great quantities of roasted peanuts in their shells, which they would crack open and pile high on the table, on the chairs, on the floor, and drag fistfuls [how does one drag fistfuls with their shoes?] stuck to their shoes as they went back out into the night, tipsy on too many Heinekens.
The vach nacht followed, during which the father stayed up all night and studied Torah, while men— friends, strangers, all were welcome— sat around eating gefilte fish and kugel and drinking great quantities of Old Williamsburg whiskey and leaving even greater piles of peanut shells for the women to clean up after [“thereafter”, an adverb, would be the correct word here, not a preposition.]
Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2615-2617). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Around me, some men called, “Mazel tov, Reb Shulem, mazel tov!” I smiled in return, wished them mertzeshem bei dir [is it THAT terrible to transliterate correctly: “im yirtzeh hashem”, or something similar? Why the need to butcher this phrase?]— your own celebrations, too, if God wills it. Maybe this wasn’t all so bad.
Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2662-2664). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Amrom Pollack was a quiet man from across the street, several years younger than I. [what’s wrong with “younger than him”?]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Location 2730). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
It was a balmy night in mid-autumn [what is it with “autumn”? “fall” is standard in the U.S. Why the compelling urge to confuse people by introudcing another term?], the night of Shmini Atzeres, at the end of the Sukkos holiday.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Location 1763). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
“FUCKING HASIDICS!” I froze. I’d heard tales of this. From the very beginning, when the village was founded, there were those who sought trouble, and cries would ring through the village: “Shkutzim!” Vermin. Non-Jewish hoodlums. There would be violence, lessons taught, fists and blows and broken bones [violence by whom? Fist and blows by whom against whom? Why the ambiguity?], the meek sensibilities of our ancestors making way for a people who no longer looked away in the face of aggression. I had just such an incident before me now, and I stood facing it alone.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1780-1782). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Yeedel [standard spelling is “Yidel”] Israel stood at one end of our dorm room polishing his shoes, and Sender Davidovitch sat on his bed clipping his toenails.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1864-1865). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
All that is new is forbidden by the Torah, said the Chasam Sofer, an Austrian rabbi far from Hasidism’s Polish and Ukrainian origins. His principles had no connection to Hasidic teachings and, in a sense, ran counter to them. Hasidism, when firs formed in the mid-eighteenth century, had come to liberate the Jewish people from a worldview ossified under centuries of legalistic arcana. [“arcanum” meaning “secret, mystery” doesno’t belong here, though it is an “arcane” andimpressive word. Would the author write “…centuries of legal mysteries”?]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1905-1906). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
The teachings of Hasidism, many realized, were quickly becoming irrelevant in the face of the devastation wrought by the Enlightenment movement [au contraire: hasidism was attractive to many as a way of retaining yiddishkeit in an enlightened era], and so Hasidim rallied around the Chasam Sofer’s battle cry and rushed to carry his standard.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1911-1912). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Bans on media and popular entertainment keep away temptation. And so the Hasidim are spared the calamities [“calamity”, now that’s a strong word, try something milder] of modernity.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1922-1923). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
It was true. The prohibition against radio listening was not one of the 365 biblical prohibitions, for which the theoretical punishment [difficult usage of “theory”. A theory is an idea that explains phenomena; a better word here would be “designated punishment” or “specificed punishment”] ranged from lashes to the death penalty to extirpation. It was not even a truly rabbinic one, as it was not mentioned in the Talmud.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1930-1931). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
I returned several times to that set of encyclopedias, and the children’s librarian, a pleasant middle-aged woman, began to notice me and smile when I entered. Suddenly, I felt self-conscious: a grown Hasidic man sitting each day on the tiny orange chair at the green-and-yellow tables. So I moved on, hesitantly, to the adult sections upstairs, where the encyclopedias were heavier and denser, with fewer illustrations, the different sections like a maze in which the purpose was not to find the way out but to linger and stroll into each dead end and to gather as many treasures as possible along the way. [difficult simile; does not evoke any real image. What kind of maze has its purpose to linger and stroll in it?]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2043-2045). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
She turned a deep shade of crimson. [what color is crimson and what color is a “deep shade” of it? Do you mean red? Did she really turn into that?] “That’s why the Internet is so bad!”

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Location 2126). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
… yiss-borach, ve-yish-tabach, ve-yiss-po’er, v-yiss-romem [v-yiss-romam], ve-yiss-naseh, praised, glorified, and exalted be the name of kudsha brich hu. [if the author is so intent on rendering words in their Yiddish accent, why not “kidshu brich, hi”. Inconsistency is annoying].

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2148-2149). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
He stood facing a wall, his open prayer book resting on the ledge of a shelf. [how is this different from a prayer book resting on the shelf, or “the edge of the shelf”? Shelves don’t HAVE ledges, they ARE ledges if you inclined to see them as such or if you insist on using an impressive word].

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2146-2147). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Could one possibly provide evidence for the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai? For the crossing of the Red Sea? I couldn’t imagine it, but if it was [“were”, since this is a hypothetical at this point] possible, as Chezky claimed, then wouldn’t it only strengthen my faith?

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2277-2278). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
But I never disabled the radio. I either procrastinated or I forgot or perhaps I thought it useful to have in case of emergency. Still, we never switched it on, allowing it to serve only as a phantom [what is phantom (i.e. the an appearance of something, without substance) about this radio?] decadent presence in our otherwise pure and pious home.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1946-1948). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Secular influences were such anathema [anathema is something that you ban and completely dissociate from. It’s difficult to talk about “influences” that are anathema] to our lives that the presence of the radio on the kitchen table, right next to the silver Sabbath candlesticks my mother had just cleared off the dining-room table, was jarring [if your mother had just cleared it off the table, how can the radio be “right next to” it? Better wording would be “…next to the spot wherefrom (or “from which”) my mother had…”]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1956-1957). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
The dial seemed to hiss and beckon in a seductive whisper: I’ve got news for you. [how does a dial seem to beckon? Really?]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1969-1970). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
If one doubted that the word of God was indeed the word of God, if none of it was [“were” is preferable] true, then one would, logically, have to become frei, which was as bad as being a goy, and what kind of life would that be?

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2297-2298). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
In later years, I would see Avremel as a caricature of religious fanaticism, a Savonarola [who is this? Does his image really come to mind when you see Avremel? Somehow I doubt it] of the Hasidic world; but at the time, I idolized him.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 623-624). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
…scores of young men would squeeze into Avremel’s small dining room and sit around his table or on the battered divan [divan is a sofa without a back or armrest –not common among Hasidim. Are you sure that’s what you mean?] by the wall or cross-legged on the floor.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 627-628). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
“And you shall enter the ark, you and your sons, and your wife and your son’s wives,” he read from the Bible [why not “Biblical”?] text.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 747-748). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
“A wife isn’t a friend.” Avremel shook his head emphatically. “Eizer kenegdo,” he said, quoting Genesis. “A wife is to be a helpmate [what’s a helpmate?]. Your friends will still be your fellow students.”

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 650-651). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Hebrew music by a male singer came out of the tinny [what’s “tinny”?] speakers, and someone hit the Stop button in disgust.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 933-934). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
If the singer was [were] female, that would’ve been something else, but it wasn’t, and the cassette was ejected with disappointment.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 934-935). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Why else would they discard their long black coats and wide-brimmed black hats for the vulgar sartorial habits [sartorial sounds stilted; why not “...the vulgar apparel”] of common Americans?

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Location 938). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
The sight of my father, a tall Hasidic man in a fur shtreimel, a caftan down to his calves [are you looking at him from behind? Otherwise, why not ”down to his shin”], and white stockings, brought silence to the room.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 956-957). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
The non-Jews in our neighborhood, the Talyayners and Portrikaners, [the exact way of pronouncing words, which isn’t indicated in the text anyway, doesn’t add to the story. Why corrupt these words so badly?] seemed to reinforce that view.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 989-990). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Thou shalt not walk in the ways of other nations, we read in the Bible. This, our rebbes explained, meant that we should not play baseball, wear Western-style clothes [why not “goyish”, or “non-Jewish” or “gentile”, since the prohibition isn’t explicitly on western-style clothes], or sport popular hairstyles.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 999-1000). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
“Thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it, for it is a cursed thing.” [Incorrect translation. Should be “abomination”, “disgust”, or something similar]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Location 998). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
I remember frustrating visits to our local supermarket, where I would gaze at blood-red tomatoes and football-shaped green grapes [why the hyperbole?], and my mother would wave her hand dismissively: “If you only knew the chemicals they put in those things.”

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1032-1033). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
My parents had spent their youths not in the ultra-religious word [typo: world] of the Hasidim but in secular environments, where they were raised not with fur hats and flowing caftans and floral kerchiefs but with movies and boyfriends and secular educations.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1038-1040). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
I would realize later that my parents had joined the Hasidic world with knowledge of only its pious exterior. They found its teachings profound. So much love. So much joy. Such inner peace. In their idealism, they overlooked its harsher realities. They hadn’t grown up in this world, hadn’t seen the gruff attitudes [gruff, meaning “rough, brusque or surly” is not an attiude, it’s a manner, i.e. a temporary disposition. This word is dubious here. Also why the plural, “attitudes”?] with which children were raised, hadn’t been subject to schoolteachers who routinely beat students for not knowing the meaning of an Aramaic word in their Talmuds, or for removing their fingers from the tiny text of the Rashi script in the margins.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1054-1058). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Our interactions felt dictated, most of all, by the laws of family purity, the fear of forbidden contact hovering over us at all times. [recommend: put semicolon or double dash after “purity”.]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1123-1124). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
A woman’s hair is nakedness, says the Talmud, and so, once married, she must never expose any of it. [“ervah” should better be translated as “lascivious/erotic”. For example, in qol beisha ervah, the voice of a woman is ervah, “ervah” cannot be construed as nakedness.]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1136-1137). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
During the last of her seven clean days, Gitty would take the set of electric clippers from above our bathroom sink and shear [why “shear”, what’s wrong with “shave”?] with her entire head, leaving only several millimeters of growth, though even I, her husband, would rarely see those; a head-covering was required atall times.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Location 1140). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
I settled on a silver ring with a scalloped [what’s “scalloped”?], pattern and tiny diamonds inlaid across the top. I liked its understated elegance and hoped that Gitty’s tastes weren’t dissimilar.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1182-1183). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Gitty and I were both now twenty-one, with two children; before long, we realized that we were into [should be two words: in to]  something we hadn’t prepared for.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1418-1419). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
The day before my interview, I stopped into [in to?] Men’s Wearhouse, down Route 59.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 2523-2524). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Our in-laws bought us a baby crib, but we also needed a buggy [what’s a buggy?], a stroller, a bureau, baby clothes— never-ending streams of soft pink ruffles, Onesies [why capitalized?] embroidered with befuddled-looking [how so?] teddy bears, stretchies with colorful ABC pyramids.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1455-1457). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
I ripped off a hangtag [questionable usage; hangtag normally refers to tag on merchandise] and stuffed it into my pocket.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Location 1469). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
All we needed, Gavriel said, was to fill out these sheets—“ rezemays,” he called them— and he tossed a pile of forms onto each of the tables. My friend Zundel, sitting next to me, looked at the sheets like a child studying a tax form: “What is this, rezemays?” Gavriel explained: In America, before you get a job, a company needs to know something about you. Rezemays, he said, save time for everyone involved. [I don’t see the point of spelling “resumes” “resemays”. If he means to highlight how it is pronounced differently among the Hasidim, it is barely the case. Even if it is, why is this important?]

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1479-1483). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Where we were “holding” was the specific passage, line, and word in the text of our Talmuds, which we were to know at all times by keeping our forefingers pressed against the small square letters, moving along as the rebbe led us through the jungle of dense, unpunctuated Aramaic text, the digest [how is the Talmud a “digest”? It is quite lengthy and does not spare words to make a point] of rabbinic discourse in the ancient Babylonian cities of Sura and Pumbeditha.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1553-1555). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
English teachers could shout, stamp their feet, blow their cheeks into a bright purple sheen [really?], but they could not lay a hand on us. Still, as was common knowledge among us students, English teachers were to be despised as purveyors of profanity—“ Aynglish, foy!” [why not “English”? and how is English profane in the present colloquial sense of the word (namely obscen)] went the refrain.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1615-1616). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
Whoosh, thwack. Other hand. Whoosh, thwack. The rest of the class looked on with profound boredom as our rebbe, his arm cantilevered [this expression falls flat, a hand extending from a body for the purpose of striking someone is just notr “cantilevered” – a term used in construction and fairly specific] across the air from his shoulder, swung his wooden rod up and down in an almost robotic motion, the rod swishing through the air and breaking its course on my palm while the rebbe, keeping time with his swing, issued the plaintive admonition: You. Thwack. Shall. Thwack. Not. Thwack. Profane. Thwack. This classroom. Thwack. With dirty images. Thwack, thwack, thwack.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1626-1629). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
For the next two weeks, I held not a rod or [correct: nor] a wire but a little green-and-yellow notepad, in which I marked down which student earned points for his team or incurred a penalty.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1677-1678). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
When Chaim Greenfeld whispered something to Shea Goldstein during mincha prayers, I could see Shea’s eyeballs bulging [really?] and his words hissing from between clenched teeth, “Shh, the rebbe is marking points!” Chaim Greenfeld quickly set his eyes back on his prayer book.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1680-1681). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
On Yom Kippur, the following are forbidden: Be-achileh u-veshtiyeh. Eating and drinking. U-virchitzeh. Bathing. U-vesicheh. Applying ointments. U-vene’ilas ha-sandal. Wearing shoes. U-vetashmish ha-mitteh. [all –eh endings should be –ah; this solecism serves no purpose].

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1698-1702). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.
“That last one isn’t important,” I said. “It won’t be on the exam.” Berri narrowed his eyes [“glowered” would have been much better], as if he were the teacher and I were the student, and he was calling me out for bad behavior.

Deen, Shulem (2015-03-24). All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1707-1708). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.