Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Visiting Column #21 -- Poll Weevils

I am not one of those people who complains about polls because "Well, they never call me!".  They do indeed call me, and even when it's not a campaign season I get called about polls for this or that topic, including yes, whom I would vote for if the election were held today.

The topic of polls struck me a bit today when I saw one on TV.  The topic was what are called "red flag laws", and they concern the broader topic of gun control.  Red flag laws are laws which would allow jurisdictions to decline to issue firearms permits, or even seize weapons from, people who had somewhere written or recorded themselves in some way to give the impression that they would pose a threat to another person and therefore should be denied their Second Amendment rights.

The poll was phrased ... well, they didn't say how it was phrased, so we have to assume the simplest, which is that respondents were simply asked "Do you favor red flag laws, which allow government authorities to deny firearms ownership permits to, or seize weapons from, people who have documented mental instability or have made specific threats to others?"

Or something like that, in fifth-grade English.

At any rate, the results were not unexpected.  About 57% of respondents to the poll were in favor of such laws, 22% were opposed, and 19% had no opinion.  What, I thought to myself, would I have answered, had I been polled on that question?

Needless to say, I couldn't answer.  Well, the "needless to say" part is because as you might have guessed if you've read the preceding 1,020 columns, I very much appreciate the fact that many things are not black and white.  Red flag laws are definitely not black and white.

Laws are not concepts; they are, well, laws.  They are black and white, in that they specifically state what you can and cannot do, the conditions that apply, and the penalty for violation.  You want to have a law, you can't waffle.

I am probably OK with the red flag concept, at least as a "concept."  We already have classes of people to whom it is illegal to sell firearms, so that is not new ground.  If we are putting red flags on people who make overt threats, or who display disturbed writings online to where the "reasonable man" test would lead you to not think their being armed is a good idea, well, I can handle that.

But here's the problem.  It's called "subjectivity", and I don't trust government at any level to execute it.

At what point, we must ask, does a red flag get thrown?  That's really the problem of subjectivity.  Somewhere between a Facetwit post that says "I'm gonna get you!" and one that says "I'm gonna kill you!", perhaps.  What actually constitutes sufficient threat?  Who decides what is sufficient evidence of mental instability?  Would you want to be entrusted with limning the distinction and setting the point at which there is enough evidence of a threat to take someone's Constitutional rights away?  I didn't think so.

I don't want that responsibility, and I don't think that you do, and I absolutely know I don't want that done by some faceless government bureaucrat.  At best, I would consider Congress laying down some pretty clear guidelines (don't hold your breath), and then letting some challenge get up to the Supreme Court to validate it with perhaps even more guidance, the kind that lets the wrongly flagged person appeal.

So sure, but if I believe all that, how am I supposed to answer the poll?  I'm only "for" red flag laws if the criteria are well-defined and laid out and administered properly; I'm "against" them otherwise.  I'm certainly not "undecided."  They give me one choice to make. Yuk.

And if that weren't enough ...

There's the whole 'nother shoe.  That is, let's suppose that someone is denied a permit, red-flagged by some nameless government bureaucrat for an Instaface post that was misinterpreted totally and didn't represent any kind of a threat in context. What is the appeal process for that? 

No, really -- ask yourself this:
- Who actually hears the appeal?
- What evidence is needed to show a rational state of mind?
- Is the presumption innocence or guilt?
- What process is needed in order to execute the reversal?
- Is there an appeal of the appeal (if, say, a total anti-gun judge hears the first one)?

As I said, I'm OK with the consideration of red flag laws.  But if the execution, the logistics, the actual legislation and the details are full of devils, well, there's no way a poll can accurately represent my view.

So, I guess, stop asking me if you don't want the full answer.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Visiting Column #20 -- The Colonel of Truth

It's been a while since I wrote up one of those self-deprecating pieces, and since these days it's probably good to laugh at ourselves, it's clearly time to do that one more time, as I have plenty of reason to be self-deprecating.  Plenty.

The year was probably 1992 or so, which I remember because of where I was working at the time.  I was a program manager running a support program for the Marine Corps, which involved doing various briefings around the major Marine installations in the world to explain what my program was about (it was actually a data library that other programs used to create logistics models, but that's not very important.)

My running around the world was principally to install that library on small systems and show how it was used, but occasionally I'd have to sit in someone's office and go over the program, in general terms, using 1992 technology which, in those happy days before laptops, PowerPoint and Windows, consisted of transparent "cells" that you would put on an overhead projector and project onto a white wall if there happened to be one, or a movie screen if you were lucky.

So in the course of arranging my visits, I reached out to the colonel in charge of logistics programs at Camp Pendleton, California (I was based in an office in Woodbridge, Virginia at the time), setting up a time to go out and see him.  The colonel was named Jack Holly, and he was one of those people that you encounter in your life whom people just gravitate toward and you want to do whatever he tells you.  Leadership just radiated from him, and you would be ready to go through a brick wall if he asked you -- and that was just on shaking hands with him the first time.

You can never explain that effect very easily, why you might react to someone that way without even knowing them.  I recall also having that reaction on being in a hall with President Reagan in 1987.  Whew.  When I met Jack, I immediately recalled that experience.

So I had met him once previously, at a trade show, probably, and had known then that I'd need to come out and see him.  At the time, and possibly now, there were three Marine Expeditionary Forces, called MEFs, and their respective headquarters were in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Camp Pendleton, California; and the third on Okinawa.

Col. Holly and I agreed on a time to visit him in California, and I headed out for what I assumed was (among other visits on that trip) a briefing in his office.  I carried my briefcase out there to the base, and was ushered into his office for what I assumed would be a professional half-hour or hour discussion about the program.  He'd ask questions, I'd answer, we'd talk, and then see what he might need to know.

I am quite OK with one-on-one discussions like that.  On the other hand, standing in front of a group gives me major stage fright, which throughout my career I had to deal with, including on stage as a singer.  Since in my profession I had to talk to groups all the time, I made sure to design my speaking slides for me, not for the audience.  They'd see them, of course, but the content was designed to remind me what to say next, so I wouldn't be so scared.  Eventually I got to trust my preparation and stopped fearing failure, but I always prepared slides very carefully, even very late in my career.

That wouldn't have mattered here, though, it seemed.  I was in a chair in Col. Holly's office this particular morning, chatting about the program and how it fit into what he was doing.  I liked talking casually with people, and still do.  You can sense how they're reacting and adjust on the fly.  This was going very informatively and professionally, and we were about 20 minutes in when the colonel said "Well, they should be ready for you now" and stood up.

As an old actor, I'm well-schooled in the notion that "the show must go on", which means not only that, if you break your leg onstage you keep acting, but also that you don't break character.  In this case, I had no earthly idea what the colonel was talking about.  "They should be ready"?  Who, I thought?  Ready for what?  I just shut up and played along as if I knew what was going on.

We walked out of his office and across the hall, and entered a larger room.  This was a conference room that seated about 20 people -- and there were about that many there, most all of them marine officers and a few senior non-coms.  Clearly, they were waiting for little old me, although for what I didn't know.

But I figured it out really quickly -- apparently I was supposed to give a lecture to the assembled marines on what I was doing.  Yep, there was the obligatory overhead projector there.  After a brief moment for suitable panic, I reached into my briefcase and took out some transparencies I would normally use for a briefing, stacked them up on the shelf next to the projector in what I hoped was a rational sequence, and put the first one on the glass.

I can't say it went "well", but only because it was an information-sharing brief and there wasn't anything specifically to accomplish.  So "went well" wouldn't have any real meaning unless one could say it "went well" if I didn't pass out, which I didn't.  With the slides there to guide me, I was able to get through them and talk about the information on each one, ask for questions, answer those I could and deflect the others.  I truly believe none of them knew I'd been ambushed without knowing it.  An hour later, I sat down with Col. Holly for a few more minutes, thanked him for his time and left.

There was absolutely nothing in the correspondence setting up the meeting to suggest that I'd be doing any kind of public briefing to 20 marines, nothing other than an hour in the colonel's office.  And I know for a fact that he simply assumed that a formal briefing was what I would be doing, and arranged for all the staff to be there to hear it.  I just didn't get the memo.

All's well that ends well, I suppose.  I'm quite sure that no one who was in the room thought anything was wrong, just another contractor in a suit come out to brief them on some logistics program, no different from 50 other briefings they got except for the guy in the suit was a little shorter than the rest of them.  I know I went to the hotel bar that night and had a double just to calm my still-frayed nerves.  Stage fright is a cruel master.

I next saw Col. Holly a few years later.  We were attending a trade show in Honolulu and I saw he was there and asked him to have a drink between sessions to catch up, as we had corresponded a bit in the interim and remained acquainted.  He was retiring from the Marine Corps fairly soon and I wanted to find out what his plans were.  I figured whatever company he joined, he'd be president of it before long.

Of course, I did mention that visit to Camp Pendleton and the briefing room surprise.  He remembered the visit but apparently assumed that the group lecture was planned, as he recalled nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly not that there was any perception of a miscommunication.

Perhaps I can't properly describe what happens when you walk into a room full of uniformed marine officers sitting at a conference table, expecting you to speak to them, when until you entered the room you had no idea you were supposed to.  I was seriously scared.  You have nightmares about things like that.

I survived though.  Preparation is a good thing, like having a tire-inflator aerosol can in your car.  Or a manila folder full of transparencies.  It can keep you from coming off like a fool.

Still felt like one, though.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Visiting Column #19 -- The Not-So-Sudden Death of the New York Times

You might have seen the words, unless you blinked a few times during the period in which it was the front page top headline in the New York Times, formerly a newspaper of repute.

"Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism"

The story for which it was the caption was, of course, the speech given by President Trump this past weekend on the two mass shootings in Dayton, OH and El Paso, TX, each of which was committed by a person with inflamed and misdirected passions -- Dayton by a leftist Antifa supporter (though his specific motive is unclear at this writing), and El Paso by a racist white supremacist.

The president made about as apolitical a speech on the topic as one could possibly have expected from any president, passionately condemning the actions and their motivating impetus, specifically calling out "white supremacy, bigotry and racism" as needing to be defeated and eliminated.  Those are sentiments I think we can all get behind.

And it would seem that the speech was so suitable to the occasion that the president-hating Times swallowed hard but chose the headline that it did.  The four-and-a-half words accurately portrayed the sentiments of the president as presented to the viewing and listening audience from the White House.

I don't read the Times, so I can't say that I actually saw the headline or the front page when it was issued, but as it turns out, apparently, rational, accurate journalism cannot be tolerated by the intolerant left, particularly when it involves President Trump.

The Democrat candidates for president, sparked by their hero, a 29-year-old former bartender from New York, began to beat their Twitter drums loudly.  "Oh, dear", they drummed, "that headline is too pro-Trump and needs to be removed!"  And, to the surprise of no one, it was.

Now, there are a couple things here that have to be noted.  First, of course, is that the headline was quite accurate.  I heard the speech live, and immediately saw it as being fair, conciliatory, healing, and at the same time clearly condemning the racist dogma that appears to have incited one of the shootings.  The president said what he was supposed to say, that is, what everyone on the left would have complained if he had not said, and had he not said it fast enough for their taste.

There was not only nothing inaccurate about the Times saying that the president called for unity against racism, it was actually the logical headline for what was the principal message he wanted to offer the American people.  Had the left not desperately needed to have gotten their panties in a wad about everything President Trump says or does, because he is succeeding and they're not, the headline would have been perfectly fine.  But they do, at least as far as their panties.

The other thing, though, is far, far worse.

As we know, or should, it is a long-established fact of journalism, taught the first week of Journalism 101, that there is a news reporting part of a paper, and an editorial part of a paper, and they are separated.  The editorial part is found at the end of the first section of the print edition, and it is clearly marked "Editorial" so that we know that what is printed there, the opinions of the paper itself, as well as on the opposite page (the "op-ed" writers, who are not the paper's editors), are opinions and not facts, per se.

When I say that the news and editorial parts of a paper are "separated", I mean "walled off", as in nobody works on both sides.  That purity-by-insulation is done to protect the reporters of the news from accusations of bias in their reporting.  No one need protect the editorial writers; everyone has opinions.  They don't all have editorial pages to voice them, which is why there are blogs.

Why is that separation necessary?  Because if there is a sniff that the reporting of a story is slanted by influence from the editor, the paper's journalistic integrity is forever lost.  We can then no longer assume that what is reported as "fact" is actually what happened.  Once you get to that point, there is no reason having a newspaper.  All you have, reporters and editorialists alike, is slanted to where the reader can no longer trust what is printed.

This is where we are today with the Times.  The facts are plain and well-documented; a bunch of Democrats protested a headline in the reporting section of the paper, and the Times capitulated and changed it to something else.  That decision was made by the editor, meaning the editorial side of the paper, violating the sanctity of the separation of news and opinion.

There will be an edition of the New York Times tomorrow, and the day after.  But it will never be the same.  If we have ever had a shred of confidence in the veracity of the news reported by its team of intrepid reporters, not that I ever did, that confidence is blown to the moon.

If the editorial team can change one word of a news story, let alone the top headline on Page One, there is no longer a single word of any page of the paper that can be relied upon for being accurate and unbiased, a correct accounting of the event being chronicled.  We will always assume that the editors may have changed the content of a basic news story to suit a political narrative.

"Democracy dies in darkness", the equally untrustworthy Washington Post likes to trumpet when trying to defend its Lilliputian integrity.

Journalism dies in bias, I would counter. 

R.I.P., the New York Times, 2019.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, July 26, 2019

Visiting Column #18 -- I'll Be HBCUing You, Kamala

Oh, dear.

So now Kamala Harris, the wannabe president, has proposed what she refers to as an "investment" of $60 billion of your taxes and mine, to go to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Now, HBCUs are a recognized category of institution.  They have a favored status in pursuing Federal contracts; that is, there are Federal contracts that require that a percentage be subcontracted to HBCUs for areas like research and development, that sort of thing.  So they already do have a favored status, in that they are cited in the Federal code.

There is no "sunsetting" to that recognition, of course.  The left, who is entrenched in our government, does not allow any program to end easily, lest the citizenry realize it doesn't actually need more government.  So long past the point where any private institution based on racial preference should even exist, let alone be subsidized, HBCUs will be treated favorably by your government and mine.

But at bottom, they are colleges.  Private colleges are indeed private; they are either for-profit entities (owned) or not-for-profit.  But either way, they are responsible to manage their affairs in a fiscally responsible manner.  And colleges don't always do that too well.  Just ask Bernie Sanders, or at least Mrs. Bernie, about that.

Kamala Harris wants to toss $60 billion over to them to do ... well, it doesn't matter, except suffice it to say that the initial proposal was to fund science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) scholarships and activities as about 80% of that, er, "investment."

Now, $60 billion is a lot of money.  From an order of magnitude perspective, it is pretty much like taking Bill Gates's entire bank account and seizing it to give to these schools ... oh, excuse me, "invest" in them.  I mention that metaphor because it is important to see that kind of spending for what it is, i.e., taking from one group to give to another, all to try to buy votes in a primary.

Politicians, our current president to the distinct contrary, typically have no sense whatever of the value of a dollar.  So pandering pols like Kamala Harris can be expected not to understand the meaning of the word "investment."

We who work for a living understand that an investment is money that you use to fund some company or operation with the explicit intent that over time you will receive back more than you put in.  That is called your "return on investment" or "ROI", and I'm not sure why I'm even telling you that.  If you read this site, you already know more than Kamala Harris does about the value of a dollar.

There is no ROI to be expected here.  The proposal will never go through, since (A) Kamala Harris is not going to be president, and (B) even if it went to Congress, it would turn into some legislative mush that would not resemble the original intent, and would get sent to committee to die.  But even if it somehow did, there is no ROI because there is no place for an ROI to materialize, not $60 billion and not 46 cents.

The same students who would be going to HBCUs to pursue STEM careers are going to go, whether they borrow the money or get it from a scholarship fund like that.  There is no route to an ROI, friends.

So what is Kamala Harris talking about?  Well, duh, she is simply not getting the black vote in the polling for the Democrat primaries, and figures that she'll just follow the leftist playbook and promise lots of money that she doesn't have.  Her assumption, I assume, is that the Democrat primary voters are so stupid that they think that money in Washington is unlimited, that they don't understand economics any better than she does, and that they don't recognize a blatant pandering appeal when they see one.  Her anemic polling probably answers that one.

My real objection is simply that there is no explanation of what the problem is that requires seizing $60 billion from the American worker, or borrowing it from China.  What, we need to ask, is the specific problem?

Perhaps peeing $60 billion of seized or borrowed money into the wind is not the best way to solve it.  Maybe the nation doesn't agree that what she thinks is a problem even is one, or that it should be solved at the Federal level, or that government should be the one to fix it.

But that is the thought process I had when I read the article.  I don't trust Harvard or M.I.T. to manage their finances well enough to give them money taken from the American taxpayer, except for very specific research projects that are overseen and have accountability built in.  Why would I trust any college or university to do so when we don't even articulate the problem that is supposed to be solved?

And that's before we ask, as I've written before, how we will measure whether the program is successful (which you have to define before you ask for a dime) or when the program is terminated, having achieved its goals.

Kamala Harris has some 'splaining to do.  But we have time.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Visiting Column #17 -- The Land Mines in the "Reparations" Discussion

It seems pretty silly that the Democrats in Congress, the party that supported slavery for generations, and which even in 1964 did not support the Civil Rights Act as strongly as Republicans in Congress did, are now pushing a proposal for a committee to discuss the possibility of "reparations" -- some kind of cash payments -- to the descendants of American slaves.  But they are, which tells you that it must have something to do with votes.

That would explain why they're not, in the same discussion, bringing up some of what I will call "land mines" in the whole notion of reparations.  If it were brought up in the face of the reparations types, they'd have to come up with an argument, when they don't, of course, have one.

I have heard reparations described as "payments to people who were not slaves by people who never owned them", and unfortunately that is not the only problem with the whole notion.  But we can start there.

We MIT grads tend to be almost immediately analytical in our thinking, even biology majors like me.  At most all of our final exams, we brought books, notes, calculators (OK, we brought slide rules in those days before the invention of calculators), anything we needed.  I brought beer to my sophomore thermodynamics final).  They wanted you to think, not memorize.

So naturally when I heard of the reparations idea being barfed up again, I started thinking of why it was a stupid idea and impossible to implement.  And I analyzed.

Slavery was outlawed in the USA in the 1860s, which means that all former slaves are dead.  All slave-owners are dead as well, as are all their children.  Now I can name you two people still alive whose grandfather owned slaves, brothers Lyon and Harrison Tyler (actual grandsons of the tenth president, John Tyler), but I think we can call them the exception.

None of my ancestors was in the USA as early as 1865 and so none owned slaves.  According to the 1910 Census, both of President Trump's paternal grandparents were born in Germany after 1865, and we know the president's mother was born in Scotland.  So his family had nothing to do with slavery in the USA.

Back to the analytics then, and lets stay on the "to" side of the equation.  Let's say for example that we actually want to do a reparations deal.  That involves a payment, which means from someone to someone -- and an amount.  We'll look at the "to" part first.

Let's say that we establish a value that a purely descended-from-slaves person would get.  Let's say $100,000 just for argument's sake.  In order to qualify for that, you must be able to document that every single one of your ancestors in one generation were slaves.  Why?  Well, clearly such a person is more "entitled"than someone only descended, say, on their mother's side from slaves.  If there was "harm", they only were "harmed" half as much, right?  They'd only get $50,000.  Only one grandparent purely descended from slaves?  You get $25,000, and you'd better prove those relationships.

How about the time value?  Remember that someone 40 years old today probably had 32 direct ancestors in 1850, and 128 in 1800.  Notwithstanding the fact that a claimant to a pure (highest value) reparation, the full $100,000, would have to demonstrate that all 128 of those ancestors were slaves, there is another dimension to that.

Slaves were being imported in 1850 as well.  How does someone, all of whose ancestors came over in 1850 and therefore slaved for "only" 15 years, compare in reparations to someone whose ancestors were already in the USA in 1700 and lived their whole lives as slaves?  Shouldn't the descendants of relative newcomers get less of the pie than those ancestors slaved for generations?

The calculus has to handle that too.  Verified ancestry percentage, verified time as a slave.  That will be fun.

Lots of land mines on the "from" side as well.  John Brown was a notable abolitionist, a white man who fought slavery to the bitter end and was hanged for the Harper's Ferry raid of 1859.  He died for the cause, so to speak.  Do his white descendants get a proportional discount on their reparations bill, having sacrificed their ancestor (and two of Brown's sons, who died in the raid) to the cause?  How, in any sense of fairness, should they have to pay as much as a slave-owner's descendants, right?

And of course, the same argument applies to pretty much any Union soldier's descendants, those who fought, those who died for the same cause.  Now they're supposed to pay -- "again", as it were?  And of course, any retroactive credit they get has to be apportioned for the percentage of their shed blood their descendants have.  Got to keep it fair, you know.

And once you get into a "credit" computation -- and you have to, to be fair -- you have to go to the "to" side again.  It's not like we have done nothing to offset the effects of slavery on black Americans.  How much of that $100,000 has already been paid over the years in the form of racial preferences, job points, affirmative action, college admissions, court decisions that take race into account?  Aren't we going to factor that in?

I hate to say, before my last point, "finally", because just the few land mines I mention above in computing a reparations deal themselves make it almost impossible to implement (and just try to prove that you had even one slave ancestor in 1800, let alone 128 of them).

But "finally", there is one more point.  Let's assume that we could do all that, and that at some point there is a reparations settlement that pays the deserving and does not dun people whose ancestors had nothing to do with slavery.  Money gets transferred.  Reparations are implemented and paid.  All done.  It's over.  It's so over.

Now what?

In my view, that's the biggest land mine.  At the point at which reparations are paid, black Americans no longer have the right to claim any preferences whatsoever based on the presumption of a history of slavery.  You wanted it, you got it.  Here's your check, now you've been paid and no one owes you anything anymore.  It's up to you to become self-reliant and teach your children self-reliance, because you can't rely on preferential treatment anymore.

Reparations could become the biggest weapon for non-black Americans in the future, predicated on the idea that, having won a settlement, black Americans' claims are over and no longer can be used.

I've often written that the left does not want solutions; they want problems (mostly perceived) to exist forever so they can claim that only all-powerful government can solve them.  This one would backfire on the left in ways they could only imagine.

But they read it here first.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Monday, June 10, 2019

Visiting Column #16 -- Tariffs and Diplomacy in the Land of Trump

Some brilliant clown who runs the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (I think his name is actually "Brilliant", but we don't critique names here, just ideas) was asked about President Trump's efforts to influence Mexico on immigration enforcement with a tariff threat.

I don't believe Mr. Brilliant's actual words are fresh in my mind, but he rambled on about what a terrible idea it was to link tariffs to foreign relations, because it would cost American consumers in additional price hikes on imported goods, blah, blah, blah.

Now let's recall that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is vehemently opposed to border security, since they are funded in part by large companies that rely on illegal immigrant labor because it's so darned cheap, human trafficking and drug cartels notwithstanding.  The old Chamber is no more interested in fixing the porous border for their own reasons than the Democrats are for their own reasons (i.e., illegals voting Democrat).

So Mr. Brilliant went to the same well that the Democrats have been going to, criticizing the president for doing things in a way that, you know, works, but using a strawman argument regarding higher costs to the consumer.

Now, "strawman" might not be the right term here.  Yes, if we were to impose tariffs on Mexico, certain items we import would become more expensive, like Corona Light and cars manufactured there.  It's not that this wouldn't happen.

It's that it won't.

The prices won't go up because ultimately the tariffs on imported goods from Mexico are not going to be imposed, and yes, I know that they have already been suspended as I write this.

You see, the tariff threat, while an absolutely real threat from President Trump, was never going to have to be imposed.  Mexico can absolutely not get into such a fight with this president; they will lose at a time when the Mexican economy cannot bear the loss of the American market or challenges to its entry there.  So they backed down, agreeing not only to protect their borders and act on illegal immigration, but to have to do so reliably, lest the tariffs be reimposed.

Donald Trump knew that; using strength is how he has operated his whole life.  He has been repeatedly frustrated by the USA being unwilling, under his predecessors, to leverage the economic might of our country when it is in the interests of the people of the USA.  He is perfectly willing to do so and, here, he has.  To his delight (but surely not surprise), it actually worked -- the Mexicans were absolutely sure that he would indeed impose tariffs if they did not act, and it was less painful just to act.

They folded like a cheap suit.

The same lesson is not lost on the Chinese, the EU and others who have taken advantage of previous presidents.  This president has no problem doing what is in the best interest of his own people, at the expense of other countries over which he has no authority and almost as little interest.

Do not for a moment think that many, if any, tariffs, actually will need to get imposed; they are a threat but not a bluff.  No other economy can stand the suspension of access to the American marketplace, and they will do what is necessary to stay connected, even if it means capitulating to President Trump, the first president in memory to be willing to put America first in this regard.

Mr. Brilliant, as we know, does not want the border fixed; he wants a regular flow of cheap labor no matter what.  But there's no excuse for Nancy Pelosi or anyone else worrying out loud about how tariffs will hurt the American consumer (whom they never worried about before Trump anyway).

They know now that those tariffs will never happen, and that we have only scraped the surface as far as using our economic leverage to achieve political gains with our allies and adversaries.  Of course, since the American left should be supporting those tariff threats, in that they represent a way to achieve positive gains for the USA, they should absolutely be supporting President Trump and not opposing him.

It would be so much more helpful if our economic adversaries looked at Washington and saw a united front, saw that both parties were willing to stand up to the rest of the world and say "Enough" to their abuses.  China would roll over in a heartbeat, even though they will likely do so regardless.  But at least they would see that "waiting out Trump" would not be a viable option.

But Donald Trump wants what is good for the USA, we know now.

The Chamber of Commerce and the Democrats, well, not so much.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Visiting Column #15 -- Playing Out the Impeachment Musical

It should probably have music written for it, in the style of an early-1960s Broadway musical with production number choreography, that sort of thing.  Since we know how it will play out, and how it will end, it's best to try to dress up the pig as well as possible.  Score it for strings, percussion, standard woodwinds and brass.

I'm talking, of course, about the whole impeachment charade.

As of this writing, lots of Democrats in Congress are running around flapping their jaws about impeaching President Trump, although on what grounds few of them will offer a hint.  It does bear mentioning that they are doing that at the expense of actually legislating, actually addressing what anyone thinks are the problems we face in the USA.

It also bears mentioning that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, is decidedly not a fan of this dance.  She is well aware that, if properly handled by the Republicans, an impeachment proceeding will serve to ensure the reelection of President Trump, and it is a sure thing that the GOP will handle it properly -- the GOP knows it, too.

So the Democrats don't actually have to go through with the process, as it has no chance of ultimate success and no support from the speaker.  But with the weird statement earlier today by Robert Mueller, in an effort to avoid his having to face a congressional committee hearing, Miss Nancy will have no choice but to capitulate and allow an impeachment hearing and a vote to be taken.

Mueller never wants to face Congress, mind you.  For the record, it is because he does not want to be asked "If you knew immediately that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, why didn't you say so before the election in 2018?" and have to answer that, even though all America wants to know.  So the farce will go on.

And here's what will happen.  Cue the strings.

Jerry Nadler, the bumbling chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, will hold hearings to recommend that the full House take a vote on impeachment.  He's already on record as favoring it, and couldn't wait until Mueller was done talking before tweeting out that it's inevitable, actual justification be darned.

The Republicans on the Committee will show up there, of course.  They will politely use their five minutes or so each to point out that impeachment is a sour and miserable way to express a party's political disagreement with a sitting president, and that by the Democrats doing a stunt instead of legislating, it makes a lot of sense for voters to dump the Democrats next November.  If they know what's good for them, the Republicans on the Committee would each be wise to use their time for a little ol' campaigning speech.

The Committee vote will be on party lines, of course, meaning that a resolution of impeachment, with or without grounds, will get voted out of Nadler's side of the Committee and sent on to the House.  Nancy Pelosi, with no choice but to schedule a vote, will do so at the earliest possible time.

Why? The longer the process drags out, she knows, the worse it looks for the partisan Democrats, she knows.  It gives more air time to the embarrassing radicals in her party that are getting a lot of air right now, to the detriment of her chances of keeping the House in 2020.  She'd be wise to get the floor vote out of the way, and the whole inevitable mess off her plate and over to the Senate.  The Republicans will try to drag the House process out, quietly, of course, the better to keep the Cortezes, Schiffs, Nadlers, Tlaibs and Omars in public view where they will unashamedly embarrass their party without knowing it.

The vote will happen, of course, and with the Democrats holding a majority in the House, and few if any of them possessing the moral courage to vote against a political accusation toward their opponent, it will indeed pass.  Interestingly, we can expect that some Democrats we already know oppose impeachment, like Steny Hoyer and Pelosi herself, will vote for the Articles rather than risk losing the support of the radicals.  None will be in any future Profiles in Courage book.

With the political House majority having voted, President Trump will have been technically "impeached", as were Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton before him.  Mitch McConnell will then have to figure out (hint: he already has) which of two paths to take -- either ignore the House vote and never bring it up, or, as he actually will do, go through the actual trial in the Senate.  Chief Justice Roberts will preside, and senators, all of whom already know how they'll vote, will make a speech and cast their votes.

Ultimately, the vote will come nowhere near the two-thirds needed to remove the president, and the whole thing will come to a sad "poof."  The only question in the Senate is whether McConnell will want the process to play out for a while (again, making the Democrats look like fools as they'll have their imbeciles-in-chief like Warren, Harris and Booker sucking up air time).  Letting it drag out a bit could poison the nation's attitude toward the Democrats in time for the 2020 elections.  Oh, darn.

While all this is going on, President Trump will be paying far more attention to the needs of the nation; the economy, foreign affairs, etc., will take his time while the Democrats come off as petulant and political to the point of being willing to corrupt a Constitutional process for their own power grab.

And if this is allowed to drag out through perhaps next spring, it will leave the Democrats' candidate for president with nothing whatsoever to run on.  He or she will be perceived as the titular head of a party with no plan to improve the country, and interest only in more and more power -- much as was seized by the Democrats in 2008 and 2009, when the first thing Barack Obama did was to grab the health insurance market for the government.  And we know how that went over.

The final act will take place when Donald Trump is reelected with even more states than he won in 2016.

And that, friends, will be a good thing.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, April 19, 2019

Visiting Column #14 -- Kate Smith and Mickey Mantle

I truly don't have to come up with more reasons to hate the New York Yankees.  I dislike the city itself, can't abide being there (it was tolerable when Rudy Giuliani was mayor, but not before or since), and truly despise the team itself.  It has always been a pretty strong negative feeling for me toward the team, but it got worse as I grew up and realized that they could simply buy whomever they wanted for their lineup, and other teams couldn't.

The point is that it doesn't take much for me to generate more dislike for the Yankees.  Duh.

So when they actually do something really stupid, I have to celebrate, even if there is nothing good actually to celebrate, other than perhaps getting others to share my contempt for the organization.  And man, did they go south on the IQ meter.

As you know, during games, the National Anthem is played or sung (or both) before the start of the game.  Since around 9/11 or so, it has also been customary to perform "God Bless America", the great patriotic number, during the seventh-inning stretch.  Even prior to 9/11, that was a custom in some places.

At Yankee Stadium, it had been a tradition to play a recording of Kate Smith (1907-1986) singing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch, and that was how their stretches went for many, many years.

Well, not now.

Back in 1931, as a young singer, Kate Smith recorded a song called "That's Why Darkies Were Born", from a musical of the time.  Now, the setting was satirical, even for 1931; the song was meant to satirize racism, not reflect it, in the context in which it was written, set and sung.  Paul Robeson, one of the great black singers in that era, it should be noted, also recorded it.  And Robeson was not exactly a shrinking violet about race issues.

So somewhere along the line, someone dug up a recording of Kate Smith singing "That's Why Darkies Were Born" and decided to whip up a frenzy about it.  They cast Kate Smith as a racist on the basis of that recording alone, ignoring the satiric context, and the inconvenient fact that Robeson also recorded it. And, I suppose, they ignored whether there is any actual evidence of her being racist.

But the Yankees, morons that they are, decided that anyone who would record that is unfit to have her voice played in the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium.  That's where we stand right now, and I'll bet you $2.75 Canadian that you never hear Kate Smith at Yankee Stadium again.

OK, fine.  Darned if those Yankees will ever have their overpriced seats besmirched by some accused racist singer!

Except there's kind of another inconvenient fact that the Yankees may have to confront.

Just beyond the center-field wall in the House That Money Built, is an area called Monument Park, where the Yankees have put up granite monuments to honor former players and managers, and where they have hung their numerous retired numbers.  It succeeds the version that was in the first Yankee Stadium, and is assumedly more elaborate.  People tour that area, though I have never been there and have no reason to.

Now Mickey Mantle, good old number 7, is honored with a plaque and a retired number out there.  The Mick has been dead for a while, but his memory is there for the looking if anyone wanders around Monument Park, and there is no plan to do anything about it.

But maybe they should.

I have probably noted, a few hundred columns back, that as a reader, I prefer books about baseball, and strongly prefer biographies from the very, very few writers capable of doing the detailed, painstaking research needed to bring these people to life.  For every brilliant Ted Williams bio written by Ben Bradlee or Leigh Montville, there are forty books that are simply pap, lightly researched and just out there to waste paper and sell fodder.

One author, though, whose works are truly inspiring in the diligence of their research is Jane Leavy, the Washington-based author of works on Sandy Koufax, Babe Ruth and ... Mickey Mantle.  I have read her first two and am, as I write this, a quarter through "The Last Boy", her work on Mantle.

There is, of course, a wealth of legend and some generally-known facts about Mantle that we've always had.  He was the "Commerce Comet", out of Commerce, Oklahoma, that the men in his family died young, and that he was an outsized drinker, partier and carouser who thought he, too, would not see age 40.  And, of course, he was a great switch-hitting outfielder with huge power, an MVP and Triple Crown winner, lots of World Series, all that stuff we always knew.

Leavy has, through extensive research, interviews, and all the things we wish all writers did, broken down Mantle's youth and what made him the person he was.  And one thing that person was will not exactly please the Yankees.

Commerce, Oklahoma was quite white.  It was a zinc and lead-mining town, mostly "mined out" by the time Mantle was a child in the '30s and '40s, and lead miners in Oklahoma were not exactly the most racially sensitive folks out there.  That's how Mantle grew up, as a professional baseball player signing right after high school, in an organization that did not integrate until Elston Howard joined the team years later, well, you get the idea.

So perhaps, heaving read of his upbringing, I was less startled than many to hear that it was something the young ballplayer did, when Leavy related Mantle lowering a car window to yell at a black man in the streets to "take a bath", after regarding him with an unpublishable epithet.

We don't do that in 2019.  We don't imagine anyone doing that in 2019.  But the familiar racism of the era of Mantle's youth seems extreme even for that era, simply unprovoked verbal attacks starting with race.

I know our instinct is to write it off as "the times", but the Yankees have put themselves in an ugly and uncomfortable place now.  How, I have to ask, do they square maintaining a monument to a player of well-documented racist attitudes, with banning the playing of the recording of a singer for having done a song that was, in actuality, a satire on those attitudes?

Paul Robeson, by the way was not only a singer but played in the NFL, which black players could do then.  Suppose instead of football, he had played baseball -- as a Yankee.  And, let's say, he had been great enough for a monument in Yankee Stadium.  It's not that big a stretch; he certainly was a professional athlete.

He recorded the exact same song.  They banned Kate Smith for not a single racist accusation, save for the singing of that particular song.  What would they do with Robeson, who did the exact same thing?

And let's face it, although in his later years Mickey Mantle took far more racially-accommodating positions (again, as documented in Leavy's book), he was not only clearly more backward in his racial attitudes, for a goodly portion of his life, than Kate Smith ever was, but is honored in Monument Park a whole lot more than she is.  How do the Yankees possibly not have to pull down his plaque?

I don't know how this will end, but boy, it has to.

I'm just glad the ones most embarrassed by it are the Yankees.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Visiting Column #13 -- Tax Returns, Subpoenas and Stalin

As I start this, the Democrats in Congress, through their various committees, are trying to do a subpoena of President Trump's tax returns for some number of years back.  They are threatening to hold someone or other in contempt if they don't get their way.

At the same time, over in Moscow, Vladimir Putin is doing what Putin does, whatever that may be, but I am assuming that along the way it involves (or includes) taking care of his opposition one way or the other.  After all, he has no real challenge to his power, so he can do as he likes, and that includes arranging for opposition to disappear somehow.

I don't think we want to get there in this country.

Barack Obama tried, allowing his FBI to be corrupted into becoming an espionage agency on an American political candidate who opposed his hand-picked successor, Hillary Clinton.  The political cruds at the top of the FBI used a fraudulent opposition-research document as an excuse to spy on Americans even without a crime being suspected or, as we now know, having been committed.

And now the Democrats in the House are trying to pull a very Putin-like trick, having failed to keep Donald Trump from being elected, and then failing at trying to use the FBI's corrupt leadership to get him out of office.  They are searching for a crime where none is known to exist.

Now I suppose that I'd rather have seen Barack Obama's transcript in college, than Trump's 1040s.  After all, I understand college transcripts, where I'm less convinced on the tax returns that I could properly interpret them, even though I have a lot of experience in that area -- enough to know what is not going to be found there.

Donald Trump was part owner of a huge construction company for most of his life.  That was his primary source of income and, given the vagaries of the construction biz, it can be safely assumed that his income ran all over the place, maybe $500 million one year, $1.5 billion the next, $400 million the year after, and so on.

But that income came through the business.  I assume he was paid a huge salary that was a regular amount, and then on top of that, he would have paid taxes on income that flowed through to him depending on how the Trump Organization is organized as a corporation (it is an LLC, so I assume net income flows to its owners).  Plus, there were books and other revenue streams as well.

I assume that there is almost nothing that a tax return could provide as far as insight into the business, unless they were to try to get their hands on the business returns, which is a whole 'nother thing.

So at what point is someone going to stand up and ask the logical two questions:

(1) What crime, specifically, is the president suspected of having committed, when?
(2) What compelling evidence exists of that crime that warrants subpoena of personal information?

You see, absent an actual crime, Congress has no business looking for that kind of material and, given the intelligence of the Democrats' leading voice, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, it can be very, very safely assumed that they have no more capacity to understand a tax return than my cat does.  And I have a very intelligent cat.  Does AOC even realize that all the dealings of the Trump Organization would be totally absent from his personal return, save the little detail from the Schedule K-1?  Does she know what a K-1 is?

But it's the absence of a crime that bothers me.  This is not Putin's Russia, and it's not Stalin's Soviet Union, and Putin learned from those who learned from Stalin. 

The very first time that a Congress goes off on a "Here's the person, find us a crime" investigation, it sets a precedent that such behavior is OK, and once it is used by one party, it is fair game for another.  I would like to think that the Republicans are better than that, but if it took that to unwind the dirt of the Clinton Foundation, I'm not sure they could hold back in a future situation.

I can read a tax return, my friends.  I used to prepare them professionally, and I know what is and is not in them.  Having heard what some of the morons on the left say they think they'll find in Trump's 1040 tells me that they're going to have to invent a lot of interpretations that aren't there to explain what I expect will be found -- what won't be.

But then again, when the economy tanked under their president and roared under the current one, I suppose they have to do something.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, March 29, 2019

Visiting Column # 12 -- Shall We Teach THIS, Please?

We are subjected on about a weekly basis to factual errors in economics on the part of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the "honors" graduate of Boston University in economics and, until recently, bartender, who appears to have sucked the oxygen out of contemporary political discourse.

This leaves us to determine if the biggest downer is that the people of her district in the Bronx couldn't come up with anyone better than a bartender to represent them, or for the poor Economics Department up there at BU, that gives degrees "with honors" to someone who apparently can barely count change.  Or, worse, that their degree is so useless that six years later their honors graduates are reduced to tending bar.

Or, perhaps, the Democrats, who are stuck having this ninny representing the current thinking of their party.

Either way, this all sort of led me to the thesis of this piece.  You don't have to have an economics degree, even from BU, to know that when you chase Amazon out of town and claim the tax break "can be spent elsewhere" as if it exists after chasing away the jobs it would produce, you're showing a total lack of understanding of what you are supposed to have studied.

But do we actually think that most incipient high school graduates from the class of 2019 would be able to explain why her logic is totally blank?  I don't.  I don't think so because I wasn't taught that sort of thing as a high school senior in 1969, and I'm pretty sure that the left has sufficiently drained any remaining unbiased economics training out of contemporary curricula 50 years since.

Now, I don't think that we have to mandate a full year of economics for high school students, but with the "block scheduling" more prevalent in today's high schools, featuring half-year classes, it would seem that we could provide a semester's curriculum on "handling money for life" that would not only help teach teenagers about micro-economic concepts like debt, savings and compound interest that affect their family, but perhaps some macro concepts about business, taxation and tariffs so they understand the terms.

There is one specific lesson that I believe spans both the micro and macro sides, that I think could be taught in two sessions and which would have immense benefit to every student, even if it is NEA union members doing the teaching (ugh).

That is the notion of the value of labor.

I'm on record as having espoused the notion that people should be paid not what they need, but what their value is to their employer -- within reason, of course ("reason" includes the value of longevity, the prevalence of available labor, the niceness of the employer, etc.).  That value is the fundamental driver of wages, after all, and it would be extremely helpful if children came out of high school with an understanding of that -- seeing things, albeit briefly, through the eyes of the employer.

My first professional job was for $11,000 a year as a programmer for the old Burroughs Corporation in Boston.  But before that time, I had made (in no order) $3.00 an hour behind the desk of a bowling alley, $3.00 an hour working landscaping, $2.50 an hour behind the desk of a different bowling alley, $3.00 an hour sweeping up a cabinet-maker shop, and $8,000 a year as the statistician for the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Massachusetts (which I don't regard as "professional" since I did only clerical work).

No one taught me this lesson, but I came to understand, osmotically, that the reason that I wasn't paid more than I was, was because my work wasn't really worth more to the people paying me.  I could have done a brilliant job behind the desk of that bowling alley, but it wouldn't have generated any real amount of new business for the place that I could claim credit for -- my job was to keep things going and avoid problems.  Avoiding problems was worth $3.00 an hour in 1971, and if I didn't take it, some other kid would.

What, I would ask, if today's high school graduates had at least a fundamental understanding of business accounting?  Not that they have to get the notion of debits and credits and double-entry stuff and the like, but at least to understand the difference between an income statement (or P&L) and a balance sheet.  In other words, to know what an asset or a liability is, and why having a high income doesn't mean, a priori, that you are wealthy.

If they came out knowing that "tax breaks for the wealthy" is an oxymoronic concept, since we don't really tax "wealth" except for property taxes, that might be nice.

If they came out knowing that a business can have high revenues but not be profitable, that would be nice.  Top line, bottom line ... that sort of thing.

Mainly, though, it would be great if they came out with enough understanding of how a business makes profit.  How it earns money but has to expend that money on labor, rent and operating expenses, and if anything is left, well, that's what "profit" is.  How the amount left after rent and operating expenses determines what kind of salary budget can be available, and how that becomes the real driver of wages in the private sector.

And that the private sector operates under different guidelines from the way government works, mostly.

If our next generation applies for a job with the understanding that what they will be paid stems not from how big their mortgage is, or how many kids they have, but rather what the business has available to pay employees, well, that would be a winner.

Because then they would understand that, in order to earn more, they would have to make the connection between the service they provide their employer and how that service produces more revenue or lowers costs.  If a better job brings in more revenue to the company, then it can be rewarded with a raise.

It seems so simple, but if even honors graduates from Boston University in economics don't grasp that concept, then perhaps we need to find a way to get it across in high school.

I'd love to teach it.  May I, please?  Oh, wait.  I just did.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Visiting Column #11 -- Where a Third Party Could Actually Happen

If you go back to the very, very first column on this site, you will be aware that I have believed that there is no such thing as a "moderate"; that people's opinions on a variety of issues assort so readily into two poles that it is impossible for someone claiming to be "moderate" or "centrist" to have sufficiently popularly-supported opinions to have a third party congeal around him.  Or her.  Or whatever (it is 2019, after all).

Never, however, did I account in that well-reasoned position for the possibility that a third party could indeed materialize, as long as it was not in fact an attempt at some form of centrism, but actually one which planted its flag to the distal ends of the scale.

Specifically, I am observing the curious dissipation of the Democrats.  The party that was once a mishmash of union types, people between 20 and 30 whose brains hadn't yet developed, urban black voters, etc., has mishmashed itself into an odd group today.

The Democrats have always tried to represent themselves as for the "downtrodden" in society, trying to pit themselves against the Republicans, whom they portrayed as the party of big business.

Now, in order to do that, they have been continually adding new versions of "downtrodden" -- where it was once women and black people, they have been gradually adding new presumably aggrieved groups.  Those groups now include Muslims, gays and lesbians, transgender people, illegal immigrants, people with every psychiatric disorder under the sun, and the psychiatrists who keep adding newly-described disorders to that list.

Of course, that's a problem.  For example (and there are more), it's not anti-Semitic to say that Jews in the USA have voted heavily Democrat over the decades, even when it was not in their best interest to do so.  And when there were hardly any Muslims in this country to speak of, that was not an issue.  But now there are, and these two historically antagonistic groups are not cohabiting well under the idyllic tent that the 2019 Democrats claim to be, particularly when it comes to Israel.

The Democrats' response has been to try to widen the door to that tent even further, and that has furthered the bottom line argument of the left -- that Government is the source of all solutions, and if you vote Democrat and for big government, you will get taken care of.

In other words, whoever you are, we of the left will give you whatever you want -- free this, free that -- and create a socialist paradise to get there.  Rainbows.  Unicorns.  Sort of like that "Imagine" song that I always hated.

Now, that old party, the one with union types and the like, well, they know better than to believe that kind of crap, but they're also historically antagonistic to voting Republican unless it is an exceptional situation -- Ronald Reagan on the 1980s, or Donald Trump in 2016.  They might vote for Joe Biden in a primary, but they can't support Bernie Sanders, or Kamala Harris, or Spartacus, or Pocahontas, or "Beto", or pretty much the rest of the current Democrat candidates.

And it won't be Biden, an old white guy, getting the nomination of a party that is trying to find a half-black transgender Muslim female abortionist to run, as if they're trying to win a government contract by checking every preferenced group.

Every single one of those candidates is pushing further and further to the left, promising everything for free even while ignoring Constitutional guidance.  And in that drive toward socialism, what passed for mainstream in the Democrat Party is wondering what hit it, including Nancy Pelosi, who is trying in futility to run to the head of the stampede to look like she is leading it.

That is the point.  There is a fertile ground for a new party, and it is not in the fields of the old Democrats but in those of the new ones.

Here is the prediction, or at least something I thing could easily happen.  The Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders or one of that type, and get defeated in 2020 again.  This time, realizing that they can't keep trying to blame the election on Trump and going all Mueller on him, they will look inside, and the split will be permanent.

One or more of the losers in the primaries, and possibly including the losing nominee, will realize that they can't stay old-time Democrat.  A New Socialist Party, further out than traditional Democrats, will be the answer.  This third party will leave the Democrats and will quickly pick up all those aggrieved groups and split them off.

They'll even win some House seats and possibly a Senate seat or two in places like California and Massachusetts, depending on what happens to the Democrats remaining.  And we will have three parties.

Except that the third party will be an extremist one as opposed to a centrist one.  I think it is not inevitable, especially given that the mainline Democrats in power today will realize that they'll lose power completely, and God knows they're only about power.  They'll fight hard.

But much as people both calling themselves "Democrats" are at a state of verbal war regarding issues like Israel, the Democrats of 2019-20 are inevitably splitting, and I believe it is the socialist wing that will be what leaves and creates its own "tent."

Let's look back in a couple years, shall we?

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Monday, March 4, 2019

Visiting Column #10 -- What the Tax Cut Pays For

I have now done my taxes for 2018.

OK, I didn't do them myself; we have an accountant prepare them since I am a sole-proprietorship business, as a private consultant to a small number of defense contractors.  When the tax law is overhauled, you're better off ensuring that the law is being followed, especially when the IRS has already audited you once.

But inasmuch as I used to do taxes when my best girl and I owned a tax-processing business a few decades back, I always go over my return after it is prepared.  So I like to think I am astute enough to take a hard look at the changes in tax laws over the years.  In particular, I looked at the difference between what my household's income and expenses were this year under the new tax law, vs. what they would have been under the law for tax year 2017.

Well, surprise, surprise.  Had I had the same figures the previous year -- and for the record, I pretty much did -- I would have paid well over $4,000 more if President Trump had not pushed through the reform in the tax law.  In other words, had Hillary Clinton been elected, my family would have been demonstrably $4,000 poorer, and that money would have been in the hands of a rapacious Congress that would have spent it on a host of things I disagree with.

I suppose that, as a proportion of income, I am in line with most filing Americans, certainly those who are independent business types, in the improvement in my tax posture vs. the old law.  But interestingly, I wanted to put my benefit in perspective.

You see, as I wrote a number of times a few years back (including here, the most fun piece), I am still recovering from what Obamacare did to my family.  As you will read if you follow the link, we were quite comfortable with the health insurance policy we had up through 2014, when the worst aspects of Obamacare kicked in.

We were quite healthy, and therefore had a fairly low-priced, high-deductible policy that had worked well for us.  Since I did not have employer coverage (being independent), I had to go find my own policy, and did indeed obtain a family policy that worked.  In 2014, the premium was $550 a month, and it covered a 63-year-old couple.  Just as we wanted it.

In 2015, however, we were not so lucky.  Obamacare, passed a few years earlier, had finally kicked in, the Jonathan Grubers of the world having helped Obama ram through a lapdog Congress the notion that people were too stupid to decide what coverage was appropriate.

Where we had the plan we wanted in 2014, that policy was now illegal for our insurance company to offer in 2015.  We could only buy one of three offered in Fairfax County, Virginia, where we lived.  That was it.  The least expensive of the three was $1,090 per month for the two of us, that high partially because we now had to pay for coverage we neither wanted nor needed -- even Gruber would have to admit that a pair of 64-year-olds didn't need maternity coverage, and certainly not pediatric dentistry, given that at that time our younger child was 34.

But we had to pay for both, and between that extra, useless coverage and the lack of competition in our county, we had to pay through the nose until mercifully we turned 65 in 2016 and could switch to the coverage of Medicare -- which we had been already paying on since 1974, but had not yet received any benefit previously.

In just that year and a half, my wife and I paid about $9,200 more, because of the Obamacare law, than we would have had the law never been passed.  And here is the real crime in all this -- that $9,200 didn't go to the Government.  Nope -- every penny of that additional cost to my family went to the insurance company, Aetna, Inc., which happily sold me a policy for thousands more than I needed or wanted.

In case you were wondering who privately was thrilled when Obamacare was passed, you can start in Hartford, where the suits in the insurance industry was doing cartwheels.

So tax cuts.  OK, the way I look at it is this: The government cost me $9,200 in medical insurance premiums I should never have had to have paid, by passing a law that now, with the individual mandate gone, is probably unconstitutional.  I want that money back.

And now, with a different president in office and some shiny new tax laws in place that actually encourage businesses to grow and expand, and carry the economy even beyond the heights that President Trump has already brought it, well, it's my turn.  As long as Congress doesn't mess around with the tax law, somewhere around May of 2020 I will have broken even, and the tax law will have paid me back for what Obamacare took from me.

Needless to say, my individual case is being replicated nationwide.  Thank God.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, March 1, 2019

Visiting Column #9 -- The Performing Arts and the People

OK, I haven't written for a while.  This piece has the kind of title that might get a few more people to read it, than if I titled it more in line with its topic.  But it is going to be a more interesting, or at least curious, read than a more precise titling would have suggested.

The "arts" fall into two broad categories, in one way of slicing it.  There are the -- I don't know, "productive arts", where there is a tangible product as their outcome, like a painting, a book or sculpture. People come to see the product and marvel or jeer, accordingly, but save any decay, the product lasts and is the same thing tomorrow as today.  The "artist" is the creator.

The other would be the performing arts.  That's very distinct for a key reason.  There are then two artists in play; one is the creator (and arranger) of the musical composition or play or whatever; the second is the individual or group that performs the piece.  They can be separated by centuries.  Both need to be good in order for the "art" to come forth; a great cast couldn't save an atrocious play; a top orchestra can't make "Louie, Louie" sound like music, and Beethoven's Fifth as played by a third-grade band will not sound great -- except to the parents, maybe.

For the last 35 years, my performing art of choice has been the barbershop quartet (and, to some extent, the barbershop chorus).  I performed for 25 of those years, and four times was fortunate to be part of an international championship group.  But the organization devoted to its continuation is in serious jeopardy, and losing members -- even as the best of its performers today are as good or better than anyone performing the style has ever been.

That's what I wanted to write about today.  And it's a philosophical discussion I can't solve.

Briefly -- the organization is the Barbershop Harmony Society, long known as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America.  It is based in Nashville, and has about 700-800 chapters in the USA and Canada, but is now under 20,000 members.

The art form itself is a style of music with four parts, a lead (melody), one part (tenor) above the melody, a bass singing foundation chord parts, and the baritone singing whatever note is left.  There are distinct rules of harmony at play, which are logical when you hear the music, but complex when written down -- so I won't.

Here's the thing.  Barbershop music is about as schizophrenic as it can get.  When it is done by a champion quartet or chorus or a high-level competitive group, it is mind-boggling how good it is.  Those rules of harmony are made to blend four sounds rapturously when done right.  They produce so many overtones, that you regularly hear five or six harmonically-pure notes per chord amidst a beautiful blended and large sound.  The story of the song is also conveyed sincerely -- that's also important -- and the musical theme is conveyed ideally.

On the other hand, when it is done poorly, as we too often hear, it is painful to listen to.  Men who are not good singers to start with, can make their offerings so unpleasant that your ears bleed, at least figuratively.  You just don't want to hear that, and it does no one any good.

So what is the problem?  Just this.  Virtually all men's barbershop is done under the auspices of the Barbershop Harmony Society, either by a BHS-chapter chorus or BHS-member quartet.  But while the very best of these performances, jaw-dropping as they can be, are spectacular, they are generally the exception.  Those who win contests are fabulous, but not in the majority.

Of those 700-800 chapters out there, the preponderance are of an average age over 55 or 60, beyond the age at which an amateur, untrained voice is at its peak.  These are the performers who, by default, are most often charged with "preserving the style", which is the formal mission of the Society.  And they generally feel that the way to preserve the style is to perform it.

They're right, of course.  At least someone has to perform it in order for those unfamiliar with it to like it enough to want to preserve it.  The problem is that these chapters get together once a week, often just 20 or so men, and spend the night singing -- mostly not very well, and mostly nothing you would regard as entertaining.  And they do shows, too, where they do this in public.

Ultimately, this is a conflict that is diminishing the membership of the Society.  As older members pass away, despite substantial efforts to bring youth into the contest venues, the numbers are not being replaced and the membership declines.

This is not a new phenomenon; we have been dealing with it for several decades.  The reason I am writing about it, and the reason I feel you might be interested in reading about it, is that it is a conflict that has analogous situations in other aspects of the arts -- the people with the responsibility for preserving the art form are singularly incapable of performing it well enough to attract others into sharing the interest, and thus preserving it.

When I was younger and far more active -- I stepped off the stage in 2009 and no longer sing, although I retain my membership -- I strongly advocated for the BHS to stop thinking of itself as a member-service organization, and to start thinking of itself as a performing-arts preservation one.  I suggested that, while we could keep the chapter structure, it no longer be the sine qua non of the organization -- that our primary goal be to have the largest possible population in North America exposed to the best we had to offer.

I still believe that, although there is always the second half of the equation to worry about.  That is, after someone has heard a champion quartet and says "I want more of that", what do we offer them?  What do we want them to do to help preserve the art form?  If the guy whose attention we get, can't really sing too well, what can he really do, and how do we leverage his interest?

That was where we kept running into the performance vs. preservation conflict; the member service organization vs. arts preservation organization conflict.  For decades, small choruses around the USA and Canada would have a show, and maybe bring in a high-quality guest quartet.  A good young singer would happen to be in the audience, and get so excited by the guest quartet that he would show up at the chapter's next Tuesday rehearsal, only to find 22 guys, 21 of them over 60, croaking out sounds not at all reminiscent of what attracted the young man in the first place.  He is never seen again.

I hate to raise all this without having an actual solution.  The best I could suggest would be for the Society to professionalize a half-dozen of its best quartets and send them on tour to every possible high school and college.  To try to overhaul the prevailing stereotyped notion of four guys in striped vests and straw hats not singing that well.  To create a ten-year plan to change the accepted notion of what barbershop is.  After all, people's impression of the "a cappella" style in general (barbershop is one subset of that style) has already been able to change through shows like Sing-Off and the work of a few dedicated individuals such as Deke Sharon.

BHS has opened its doors to female members recently, after being male-only for 80 years.  For the sake of the harmony itself, that's not a great idea (the overtones are somewhat diminished in the female range), and to be sure, I expect this had a lot more to do with legal-adjacent concerns about male-onliness, and more to do with offsetting the declining membership.  Contests at the top level will still be male only for now.

Of course, why I dislike that notion has nothing to do with the music, or genders.  Not much, anyway.

I dislike it because it is taking up a huge chunk of effort, but it has nothing to do with preserving the style and advancing the promotion of the style -- and everything to do with the notion of BHS as a membership organization.  As long as BHS thinks of itself that way, it will continue its long slide into irrelevance, no matter what gender its membership has.

I have the greatest respect for what is often called the "Joe Barbershopper", the guy in the little chapter in a small town who wants to enjoy his hobby on Tuesday nights.  He should be allowed to do so without anyone telling him not to.  I am not.

But while he may be called the "heart of the Society", to celebrate him is antagonistic to the Society's mission -- preserving an art form.  That preservation is going to be done when the nation, hungry for actual talent after years of having celebrity foisted upon them as "singing talent" (coughRodStewartcough), sees what the best of our artists can do with a great arrangement of a song suitable to the style.

Were it up to me, I would start focusing on developing and funding the performances at the highest level, and getting them in front of national audiences, even if a few bucks needs to be moved from some programs that are designed for the local chapter.  Say, this kind of performance, if you're wondering.

What happens after you listen to something like that?  Well, you want more, so you start picking through YouTube, and getting a bit more familiar with the range of music such groups can do.  And you start downloading albums.  That's "preservation by listener."  Only if you're an actual singer do you think about how to perform it, and maybe inquire into it, and maybe then check with the Society.

But if we turn into producers and promoters, as opposed to being overwhelmingly a membership organization, we add the possibility of actually perpetuating the art form as opposed to suppressing it.  If people get to where they hear "barbershop" and think -- well, more like what that video clip looks and sounds like, and less like the stereotype, less like their local 23-man group -- at that point we will have done more for preserving the greatness of the style than we'll have done in the 80 years previously.

That won't go over well internally, and this piece would greatly bother the leadership of the Society if and when they read it.  It would have to bother them; their premise is that we exist as an organization for the membership.  My premise is that we exist to preserve the style of the music.  At the moment, those two goals are in conflict.  And at the moment, the hemorrhaging rolls are indicating that we're failing.

I want to preserve the music by promulgating the best of it.  I want our focus to be getting the best performers and the best performances on stages, on line, into the public consciousness.  In no other form of music is the equivalent of Charlie's garage band put out there and try to portray that as representative of the best, as an entertaining act, as actual talent.

We can do better.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Monday, February 11, 2019

Visiting Column #8 -- Revisiting Global Warming

Over four years back, when I was new to writing this column and dumping out on a daily basis some things I'd wanted to say for a long time, I did a column on global warming and the alarmists on the left

My point, then, was that we knew that the leftists who were trying to make global warming an excuse to socialize the nation were being disingenuous.  My premise was that if we were talking about climate change, there was no reason that every single outcome of it was a bad thing, yet you never once heard a lefty mention anything good that would befall the earth.

That, I wrote, was prima facie evidence that the left was just using fear of global warming for their insidious, socialist ends, rather than actually to do something positive for the planet.  And clearly, there are some good outcomes if the planet's temperature kicked up a degree or two.  I believe that I mentioned the fact that a bazillion square miles of land in Canada and Russia would become suitable for agriculture and ranching, a huge boon to those trying to feed the hungry.

There's no question about that, of course; it's just a matter of how much warmth would lead to how much increase in agricultural productivity, at least until the next Ice Age comes and hauls us back into a deep freeze, as it eventually will.  We would actually know the answer, of course, if universities weren't so rigidly leftist that no one is allowed to do a paper on the topic.  God forbid, you know, that climate change might be actually a good thing.

And that was my point.  Climate change is by definition "change."  Change is not, a priori, good or bad.  We should expect a reasonable balance of positive and negative outcomes, not the Hades on earth that the left would have you think.

What I didn't say was this.  The global climate is a complex thing, of course.  It is great in Hawaii, cold at the Poles.  The vast "temperate" areas on earth vary all over the place -- it's what we call "seasons."  Although I live in a sort of sub-tropical area, I spent nearly 40 years in northern Virginia, where the temperature could vary from near zero degrees (F) in February to 100 or so in July and August.

Without leaving home, I dealt with literally a 100-degree variance on an annual basis.  Now that, friends, was climate change!  But I stress the part where I said I "dealt with it."  I did, and a few million other northern Virginians did too.  We turned on the air in the summer, and hauled out the snowblowers and the ski jackets in winter.  Duh.  We dealt with it.

That's what I don't understand about the global warmist alarmists.  Do they not think that if the temperature slid up a couple degrees, we couldn't just deal with it?  Or that "dealing with it" would be a heck of a lot easier than socializing the entire economy?

Here's the thing.  To say that we need to fight climate change is to say that the current temperature norms are perfect; that they are exactly what our global temperature should be.  That the current flora and fauna habitats in February 2019 are ideal and must not be changed, even though the flora and fauna regularly have adapted to broad climate fluctuations for millions of years.

Does anyone believe that?  How does a huge population on earth regularly sustain 100-degree variances in the course of a normal year, but according to the left, if that 100-degree variance phase-shifted even a couple degrees up, the planet would suddenly be uninhabitable?  Moreover, that we need to kill our entire energy model to prevent that from happening?

You know how you never get a straight answer from a leftist if you ask what the highest rate that anyone should ever have to pay out of his income in taxes?  They won't tell you that, because then they can't try to get even more from you.

Well, the same applies here.  Has anyone asked a climate-change fanatic to describe what the perfect climate model is?  What, I would want to ask them, would constitute the actual goal of their movement, as expressed in a high and low temperature for every nation on earth?

You won't get it, of course, because the left never gives you an endpoint, lest once it is reached they no longer have an excuse for running your life.  But even if they did, there is Part Two of the question:

Why?

What, I would ask, is the reason that that particular temperature pattern is so in need of preservation exactly as it is, that it is worth overhauling the entire world economy and energy model in a doomed effort to keep it that way?

I would tell you that all the points in this column are precisely, collectively, why I will never subscribe to the notion that we should lift a finger to change, or prevent the change of, our planet's climate.

I encourage those of opposing views to answer me.

Copyright 2019 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There are over 1,000 posts from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com, and after four years of writing a new one daily, he still posts thoughts once in a while as "visiting columns", no longer the "prolific essayist" he was through 2018, but still around.  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton