Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Of Course -- They're Competitors!

Maybe it was a year back, and maybe it was Sebastian Gorka, or another commentator on foreign affairs speaking of certain countries and their relationship with the USA.  He referred to the notion of countries being our "enemy", or our "adversary."  Those closer to us were "friends" or "allies."

I don't know that those are formalized terms in the diplomatic circles in which people such as Dr. Gorka operate, but I think his point was to try to distinguish, certainly as far as what we would regard as characterizing unfriendly countries, the difference between an enemy, like Iran, and an adversary, like, in that case, Russia.

Several days ago, in preparing for the summit Monday with Vladimir Putin, President Trump referred to Russia using a different word that made me pause the TV to think about for a minute.

He referred to the Russians as "our competitors."

No president before Trump would ever have used that term, because no president before Trump looked at diplomacy and foreign affairs through the eyes of a pure businessman before.  And that is certainly made clearer when we look at the issue of LNG -- liquefied natural gas.

The USA has immense stores of natural gas that could power our country for centuries.  For some reason -- global warming, perhaps? -- the Obama people refused to allow us to sell natural gas to Europe or anywhere else, even though there was a strong market for it there and, by displacing coal-fired power, actually would have cut greenhouse gases.

President Trump reversed that policy, allowing us to sell -- if Europe would buy.  Of course, in the meantime, with no other source of gas, Europe started buying from Russia, which also has large supplies of natural gas and a land bridge to Europe.  Pipelines got built, and Europe -- particularly our historic friends like the Germans -- started sending money to Russia for natural gas they could have bought from us.

From a geopolitical standpoint, it made the Germans reliant on Russia for energy, meaning that they - and other NATO allies -- were reliant on, as Trump pointed out, the opponent that NATO existed to contain!

Now the Russians are not our "enemy"; we are not at war with them even if our defense posture is predicated on their being the major threat.  They are an adversary, not innately about to do anything to help us, and doing lots of things, like poking around in our elections (albeit unsuccessfully thus far), to cause harm or at least turmoil.

But when economic realities, such as the need for energy, cause our allies to get chummy with our adversaries, it makes it a lot tougher to achieve diplomatic successes.

So Donald Trump, the businessman president, sees things the way previous presidents, all swamp-bound in recent years, have not been able to.  By using economic pressure to achieve geopolitical ends (in this case, weakening NATO), Russia is behaving like a business competitor, and President Trump sees that quite readily.

How do you treat a global geopolitical adversary?  You treat them like a business competitor, and you negotiate as you would in business, determining what your competitor wants, balancing against what you want, and trying to achieve positioning to your favor.

I've about gotten fed up with the handshake, backside-kissing world of international diplomacy.  To me, it is yet another swamp where nothing is done to help the American people and the American taxpayer; that is not the primary goal of previous State Departments.

I'm perfectly happy to see us start looking at all relationships with other countries as either trading partners or competitors, just as much as we look at them as military allies, adversaries or enemies.

It's a fresh breath of common sense in a world devoid of it.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Lesson from the Grocery

I was at the grocery the other day, the local Lowe's -- we call it "Girls" Lowe's to distinguish it from "Boys" Lowe's, the hardware chain of the same name (the two chains are unrelated).  I was wandering around the produce section when I turned near the apples and just missed bumping into another gentleman coming from the opposite direction.

We didn't collide, but were close to what would have been a minor bump.  We then looked at each other, smiled, chuckled and went our respective ways.

As I was walking away, I thought about it.  I'm 67 years old, and the other fellow was probably of comparable age.  Our reaction, both of us, was to smile, laugh, excuse ourselves and go our separate ways.

What it was not, was to snarl at the other one, kick his grocery cart or his leg, cuss him out or do some other inane, obnoxious macho gesture to assert our superiority, as people 40-50 years younger than we would likely have done.  There was no "What the &#$% you doing, fool?", as we can readily picture from a couple puffed-up 2018 young men.

That's what occurred to me right away -- that, as the saying goes when properly cleaned up, "stuff happens", and accidental collisions (or, in this case, non-collisions) are "stuff" that happens.  No blame, no harm, no foul, and certainly no need for a confrontation.

I thought "Why can't young people, particularly males but really everyone, react to accidents like that with a laugh?".  Why, it occurred to me, must every little thing be considered an affront to our masculinity, our a sign of disrespect, when they can be defused with a smile and a chuckle?

I suppose that a video of our encounter should be mandatory watching for every 14-year-old kid, not that we did anything special -- the other guy probably has already forgotten it -- but that a smile should be the default posture.

So I think.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Monday, July 16, 2018

Strzoking the Swamp

I was able to have the Thursday congressional hearings up on the TV in my office while working at my desk.  These were the hearings where the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, the ones concerned with the FBI and Justice Department, brought in Peter Strzok, the disgraced former executive at the FBI, to talk about his bias in the Clinton email and Russian election interference cases.

You have probably seen enough clips to where I don't need to get into either why he was there, or what he said during the very lengthy questioning period, as about 70 or so congressmen had the opportunity to alternately grill him and over-praise him.

What struck me the most, however, was the attitude displayed by Strzok on the stand, an attitude that was there from his opening statement to the end of the questioning around dinnertime for those of us in the Eastern Time Zone.

This was pomposity rivaled only by people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the types who are utterly convinced that they are better than you and I are, and that by that fact and a position in government, they have an unalienable right to act as though they are better.  Strzok certainly had a position in government, he was a Senior Executive Service person, a sort of "flag officer-level" type in the civil service world.

I've probably pointed out in multiple pieces on this site when the swamp is out there in all its full glory, the seemingly God-given right to one's position and to lord it over others.  It is omnipresent in the Senate, where getting reelected every six years without fear of term limits is often assured, and with that assurance brings a sense of nobility that would make our Founders cringe.

Strzok is not a senator, but you might have thought so from the lecturing he periodically gave congressmen trying to get him to explain how he could have written the tens of thousands of texts to his mistress, many of which displayed intense passion against Donald Trump, including after Trump became his ultimate boss, and yet been a fair investigator into our current president's activities -- and those of the candidate he defeated.

I was certainly taken by what seemed like his "right" to sit there for hours and lie about something that probably cannot be proven by evidence -- his claim that despite his intense hatred of the president, he was able to lead an investigation into the Russian meddling probe and into Hillary Clinton's abuse of classified information without bias.

I could prefer to have seen him trying to sit there and quietly insist that, with over twenty years at the FBI, he was very capable of simply going where the evidence led, no matter what his views were.  I could have seen him apologetically conceding in an opening statement that he probably, on hindsight, should have steered clear of involvement in a case where his biases would be so impactful.

But that's not what we got.  We got, when the FBI lawyers allowed him to speak (why was the FBI defending him?), defiant insistence that he was fair and impartial and prepared simply to follow the evidence, as any other investigation would go.  We got attitude, and not in a good way.

What we got was the swamp creature in full flower, defiant, entitled and pompous as you please, all-knowing and self-righteous.

When the swamp is finally drained, God willing and Trump-dependent, it will be rather pleasant to see Peter Strzok in the vortex, washed out into the metaphorical sea.  The government will be the better for it.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, July 13, 2018

OMG -- He Bought Baseball Tickets!!!

It's Friday, and I try sometimes to be a little funnier, or a little cuter, or a little bit on a different tack on Friday.  So please don't assume this one is funny.  It is factual as heck, at least in the fact that an actual "news" outlet (Huffington Post, quoting from the Washington Post) published this piece, and an actual media company (Yahoo) reprinted it.  Those publications actually happened.

And it is factual in that, we assume, the events themselves that are cited actually happened.  What is laughable is that the two entities above regarded this as "news", to the point that they felt it worthwhile to inform their readers of the fact.  What is bizarre is to imagine what they were trying to convey.

I'm going to summarize the article in two paragraphs, which I will gladly attribute to the Huffington Post so they don't come sue me, at least if they wanted to admit that they had anything to do with it.  Here goes. 

"Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh charged tens of thousands of dollars to personal credit cards over the past decade, and was sometimes as much as $200,000 in debt, according to financial disclosure forms reported by The Washington Post.  The reason, according to the White House: baseball.  [He] incurred much of that debt buying Washington Nationals season tickets for himself and his friends, White House spokesman Raj Shah told the Post, noting that some of the expenses were also used for unspecified home improvements.  The judge had $60-200,000 ... between three credit cards and a personal loan in 2016, but all were paid off in full or had balances below reporting requirements by the following year.

"Kavanaugh has since stopped buying Nationals season tickets, Shah said. [His disclosures] also showed he had two assets worth up to $65,000 in 2017, far less than current members of the Supreme Court, [although] he is not required to disclose the value of property on such documents (he owns a house with his wife, Ashley, in the D.C. area, purchased for $1.2 million in 2006).  [The] average net worth of current members of the court was $4.6 million last year ... Kavanaugh ... draws an annual salary of about $220,000 a year. He also earned around $27,000 from teaching at Harvard Law School."

Let's see.  The judge bought Nats tickets -- from the value, it seems like he bought a set of season tickets, one or two pairs depending on where the seats might be.  The "... and his friends" suggests that he likely fronted the money on his credit card and was repaid by the friends who regularly joined him, or took all the seats at times, the usual arrangement.

When I lived in Virginia, a friend, Mike, had a pair of good Washington Capitals season tickets (in the front of the upper deck behind one goal).  He would put them up for sale via an email group for many games to a set of friends, of which I was just one of several -- I would regularly buy them to go with my older son, as many as 4-5 times a year -- and that was just me.  I know what the friend did for a living and thus his assumed income, and figure he probably sold about half the season.

Lots of people do that, fronting and handling the distribution of season tickets, much as the corporations that buy blocks of tickets do.  In the case of my friend's Caps tickets, he only charged face value; he was simply doing a favor for friends -- or perhaps we were doing him a favor; by offloading half the expense, he got better and more predictable seats for the games he wanted to see, plus playoff seat access.

If you had told me what you read in the preceding content, I'd have assumed that the judge had done precisely that -- fronting season tickets for the Nationals on his credit card.  And given the cost of a season ticket, I would have presumed that he used a mileage or cash-rewards card of some kind, telling his friends that he would front the big bucks on his card and handle the seats' distribution, in return for which he got a huge reward through his card.  Duh.

There is even evidence of that, circumstantial though it may be, in that the cards were paid off in full within the year.  That would be the likely scenario if what I suggested were actually the case, that he were reimbursed for much of the cost of the tickets.  You would assume that, too.

So now, let us take a look at the actual headline that accompanied the above article:

"Brett Kavanaugh Had Massive Credit Card Debt.  The White House Blames Baseball"

I'm not freaking kidding.  That headline appeared atop the article as presented online by Yahoo News [sic].  I saw the headline and immediately assumed what you also did, which was that Kavanaugh had been betting on the games and lost a ton of money.  I read just the headline to my Best Girl and asked her what she presumed, from just the headline.  She promptly said "He bet on the games."

For me, the reason my Best Girl and I leaped to that assumption was that it was impossible that even a bunch of lefties like Yahoo could possibly take fronting baseball season tickets for a group on a rewards card, and try to make it a bad thing.

But they did.

I feel a creepy sense that perhaps Yahoo actually intended for us to think that fronting season tickets on a rewards card is a bad thing for a judge to do for his friends and family.  Or maybe ... just maybe, they intended for us not actually to read the article, but to draw a conclusion from the headline, because a sizable percentage of Yahoo readers don't get any further than the headline.  And they wanted that conclusion to be far, far different from the facts.

Wow.  Now, let's put ourselves inside the mind of President Trump, who faces this sort of perverted reporting and broadcasting on a regular basis.  Is it any wonder that he repeatedly has to point out the "fake news" rampant in the industry?

I hope the president uses this as an example, and uses it repeatedly.  I hope he points out the headline and specifically calls out what it was intended to do and why.

Because it has gotten to the point where you simply cannot trust the news reporting, any of it.  I would not want to be an honorable journalist in that business today.

The well is completely poisoned.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Eurotrash

We've all heard the term.  When we say "Eurotrash", we are thinking about pompous, often lazy young people who populate their beaches, have too much money somehow (or act as if they do), seem to vacation half the year, prey on visiting American girls and, most importantly, look down their noses at the USA as if we are country yokels.

The last is most important, because the USA has now, by far, the highest GDP of any NATO member and bears more than half of the cost of the defense of, essentially, Europe, in doing so.  They laugh at us and ridicule us, while they simply ignored our pleas for the European nations to pay their fair share of the defense of their own continent from the threat of Russian intervention.

Beyond that, they banded together into the European Union, turned over their sovereignty to unelected bureaucrats, and among other acts, absurdly taxed imports of American goods into Europe.  In true Eurotrash fashion, they simply assumed that, yokels that we are, we would just go along with it and continue to import European goods without applying comparable tariffs.

Well, Donald Trump is many, many things, but is not a yokel.

Listening to his impromptu news conference this morning -- and he certainly enjoys engaging the press, in stark contrast to both his predecessor and his defeated 2016 opponent -- you could readily tell that this is not a president who will be walked over by those nations who think that soccer is actually a watchable sport.

It is not a president who is content to see the American taxpayer fund the defense of a set of nations who treat us as if we are stupid with our money.  It is not a president who will let grown-up Eurotrash spit in our faces and expect us to wipe it off and give them another few billion while they sun themselves on the coast.

It is a president who is an American, willing to stand up for my tax dollars and do his best to ensure that hard-earned wages are not just given away to nations who laugh and refuse to pay their share -- and then keep out American farmers' and ranchers' products with huge tariffs.

NATO has been a problem, and the EU has been a problem, because their leadership has behaved like grown-up Eurotrash and treated us like we are stupid.  And that has been exacerbated by eight years of a globalist like Barack Obama who was willing to bow down to European abuse of his own country and beg for more.

Those days are over.  Thank God.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Seeds of Their Own Demise

Cornelius McGillicuddy was an unfailingly polite gentleman, who also happened to have had an extremely long career in the world of baseball.  After a long career as a catcher at the then-major league level prior to 1900, he went on to become the owner of the Philadelphia Athletics of the American League, the team that, after a decade or two in Kansas City, moved to Oakland and became the Oakland Athletics.

When I say that he was the "owner", I mean that he was among the longest-tenured owners in the history of the game, having increased his part-ownership stake in 1913 to become majority owner, and not selling out until 1955, shortly before his death at 93.  He also managed the team for fifty years, by far the longest managerial run in history.

We know him, of course as "Connie Mack", Hall of Famer and brilliant tactician, who built successions of Athletics teams over the decades despite perpetual financial issues plaguing his operation.

I mention Connie Mack because of a comment of his.  Mack's first truly great team peaked in 1914, only to be steamrolled in the World Series by the "Miracle" Boston Braves, whereupon he dissolved the team.  Stating that "Every great team bears the seeds of its own demise", he sold off the stars of that 1914 team, and began a long rebuilding process that would take 15 years, before he was able to produce the championship 1929 team of Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove (and Bevo LeBourveau, but I digress).

"Every great team bears the seeds of its own demise."

And now we wonder about that notion.  Major League Baseball has 30 teams, of which ten -- five in each league (the division champions and two wild cards) -- will make the playoffs.  Theoretically, that means that each team has a one-in-three chance of making the playoffs and having a shot at the World Series, but that is far from the case.

Baseball does not have a salary cap that is meant to equalize the amount that each team can spend on player salaries.  It has a "luxury tax", a set of levels of team salaries above which teams get fined a percentage of their pay above the threshold, serving as a sort of brake on excessive hoarding of expensive players.  But the same teams end up leading the league in payroll each year.

So there are effectively the haves and have-nots -- over a ten-year period, assuming competent management, the haves can compete 9-10 of those ten years, and the have-nots can compete maybe two of those ten years.  When Kansas City wins a championship, as they did in 2015, Baseball trumpets how wonderful that a "poorer" team can win but, unable to afford to keep all their stars due to noncompetitive revenues compared to teams in New York, LA and Boston, the Royals are now a brutally bad team instead of a perennial competitor, exactly like the Marlins after winning in 1997 and again in 2003, breaking up both teams and stinking thereafter.

Today, a few higher-revenue teams are steaming through the season with projections of well over 100 wins, a huge number.  Many others are simply selling off their stars, or planning to, and on pace to lose over 60% of their games as they do so.  The difference between those teams that can sustain excellence and the rest of the league is immense.

This is what I mean by "seeds of its own demise."  Baseball is wildly successful -- mostly.  But Tampa Bay and Oakland cannot draw flies, because they cannot sustain a winning program long enough to build a really large, loyal fan base and get an attractive stadium to replace the dumps they each play in.  Texas is awful, Baltimore, Kansas City, Cincinnati, San Diego -- terrible years and revenues that couldn't sustain excellence if they could even produce it for a year.

How long can this last?  At what point do the fans of 20 of the 30 teams get tired of the same teams buying up all the best players and dominating?  How is it fair to have a luxury tax threshold as high as, say, $190 million of team salary, when 14 out of 30 teams couldn't even afford salaries above $125 million last year?

The NFL is going through an analogous situation.  After getting golden eggs from the golden goose for years, and dominating the "favorite sport" polls in recent years, the NFL has been plagued by the outcroppings of too much success -- scandals from the concussion cover-ups to bad on-field and off-field behavior by players, to the regrettable anthem-kneeling issue that immediately cost millions of fans, including this author.  The seeds of its own demise.

And that, friends, applies to the USA.

I tend to think that the nation is going through a lot of that itself.  Infected by a leftist minority that has tried to make us think that nothing is really right or wrong, we have allowed political expression to turn into violence without any sensible heads on the left to say "stop."

Our freedoms came at a price.  With freedom comes responsibility to manage being free, and unless we recognize that managing freedom means having defined wrongs as part of the legal framework, this nation could collapse because of our greatest virtue.

I hope you will think about these things.  Sports is often a metaphor for society and life in general, and if baseball loses its grip because it cannot control the greed of its participants, I fear the nation will not be far behind.

I'm serious.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Long Division

A year ago I did a piece during the nomination and approval process for Justice Neil Gorsuch.  The point was that the complaints about how divided we are now as a country were silly, in that we have always been divided and ever shall be.

Liberals are liberals because of whatever makes someone that way, and conservatives are conservatives because the opposite influences are the case.  Trying to have a candidate who claims to "Unite us, not divide us" is fruitless because (A) no one actually wants to divide us, and (B) we cannot be really united because, well, we are innately and environmentally different and, ah, just see (A).

But we are indeed politically divided, and unfortunately the rhetoric has gotten pretty bad, sort of like in the British Parliament on a bad day, except without the wigs and wool-sacks.  There is no way a sitting congressman (OK, she was standing, but you get the idea) should be encouraging people to harass government officials in their homes, in restaurants and other personal spaces, and not be censured and fired on the spot.

But we have gotten to where for the Democrats to censure Maxine Waters would be to say that she was not only wrong but criminally wrong, even though she was, and that would sound too much like it is actually all right to be a Trump Cabinet member.  God forbid that be thought OK, right?

So this weekend I was going to take the little lady out to eat in a little village by the seaside.  We got down to the area we were looking for and I saw an eatery that clicked with something in my mind.  Sure enough, we had been advised, or warned, or whatever the right word is, about the place.  Was the food not good?  Was it dirty?  Well maybe, but that was not the warning.

No, we were told, they were unfriendly to Trump supporters.  I couldn't recall what the incident had actually been, or whether someone had been kicked out, or had a MAGA hat confiscated, but that was their reputation -- I thought.  I looked them up on the Internet and their site was full of things the owners supported that suggested that yes, it was the place we'd heard of.

So we didn't eat there.

I can assure you that five years ago, I could not have cared less what the politics of the owners of any restaurant I ate at were, nor any shop I patronized.  We owned a bridal shop, and I daresay we did not advertise our political leanings in any way, lest we lose business we could not afford to lose in those financially perilous Obamanomics days.  We understood "Republicans buy sneakers, too" (from yesterday's piece).

But now you wonder.  If Democrats in Congress are advocating harassment of Cabinet members for no reason other than who their boss is, do I really want to eat food prepared by people who would actually do that, or at least not renounce someone who did?  Is that where Democrats are these days, and where the discourse has descended to?

I truly believe we will discover in November just how much the Democrats and the left in general have shot themselves in their collective feet by letting violence be deemed OK -- extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, but extremism to the point of harassment, in opposition to supporters of a sitting president is no virtue.  I guess if they're fine letting MS-13 ooze over our borders to murder people, they're just as OK with violence in the service of their "causes".

We yearn for reasoned discourse.  I'd be delighted to take time to listen to the rationales for liberalism from someone willing to do it at a civil decibel count.  I do not hold my breath, since liberalism has nothing to recommend it, which is why the left resorts to violence so much sooner than we do; they've run out of ideas that actually work.  But I would talk and I would listen.

I'm just not happy with a USA where I care what the owner of a restaurant thinks of my politics.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Monday, July 9, 2018

My Russians Are Back! We Missed You

I want to start the week by welcoming back my Russian readers, who were gone for a few week.  Last week, about 55% of the reads on this site were from Russian IP addresses, which was fascinating since there had not been a peep out of the Russians since June.

Your guess is as good as mine, friends.

The logical reason would be that I had written something that was of great value to them, or which they thought might have offered an intriguing insight into something or other that they had interest in.  But that seems not to be the case.

If that were the case, I would see that a particular essay or article had a lot more reads, and I could make the logical assumption.  But they appear to be reading a piece at a time.

Last week, they were focused on articles from 2015, reading one after the other.  The articles they were reading had no contiguity other than chronological, sequential relationships.  I mean, I appreciate their interest and all, but have they just discovered that there's some good stuff here?  Do they want to see how a particular writer who writes every day would be commenting on that era?

I hope they'll tell me.  In fact, I'd like to take a moment and ask them to contact me and let me know what it is that they find so interesting in this site.  Do they like the article about the leftist political science major on a date with a nerdy financial analyst?  That's my favorite.  How about the stuff from the 2016 campaign, as I came to appreciate -- eventually -- the kind of president Donald Trump would eventually be?

Whatever the case, I would love to hear from them.  After all, as I just happened to have quoted Michael Jordan when he backed out of political endorsement by saying "Republicans buy sneakers, too", Russian readers are indeed readers, and readers deliver advertising.

So if you're sitting there in Dnepopetrovsk and love the column, let me know.  Cпасибо!

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, July 6, 2018

What is Actually "Asylum"?

It is Friday, and I've taken to doing something different on the Friday columns, so I suppose today either is or is not an exception, depending on how it comes out.  It may be a bit stream-of-consciousness today.

The other day I heard a short clip about a woman who had left Guatemala, went through Mexico and crossed the border illegally at a place other than a port of entry.  During the piece, she mentioned that she had left, with her children, to escape an abusive husband, and was seeking asylum in the USA.

That got me thinking.

Iran has a corrupt, Islamist government from which people would want to leave to seek asylum.  North Korea is a dictatorial disaster that is systematically starving its citizens.  There are several countries where there is governmental persecution of sects because they do not allow the free exercise of religion.

But asylum from those places is from government persecution.

Assuming this lady's story was true, she was not seeking asylum from persecution but from domestic violence.  And given that we have a finite amount of resources to accommodate legal immigration (and, oh, by the way, we also have laws), dare we at least raise the question as to whether her case is even a legitimate one of asylum-seeking?

There is an argument, although I am not actually trying to make it, that what was going on in her home was domestic violence and, therefore, a Guatemalan police action rather than an impetus to seek asylum.

Now to me, I would tell you that if she had entered at a legitimate port of entry, as opposed to illegally sneaking across the border, it seems reasonable that her request for asylum would have been given reasonable hearing, and I would have been fine with that happening.

But with her having committed the crime of entering illegally at an unauthorized crossing, I start getting a bit chipmunky about her situation and have to ask the question -- what, in fact, is asylum-seeking, and at what point is an unpleasant situation in one's home country grounds, or not grounds, for seeking asylum?

I'd like to stimulate a little discussion here, either in the Comments or, at least, for you to think about and maybe get back to me.  Is any unpleasant situation grounds to seek asylum here, or should we rule out police actions?  Suppose she had robbed a bank in Guatemala City and was being pursued by the cops there?  Does she get asylum here?  I don't think so, but what is the definition that we use to say this appeal is good and that one is not?

Suppose that after being beaten, or claiming to have been beaten by her husband, she killed him and is fleeing the cops?  How about that one?  What do the asylum judges do about that?

I hope you get the line of thought.  There is, to me, a difference between leaving a country because of the country itself, its government, persecution and the like, and leaving a country because of some personal situation with another, non-governmental citizen.  I think it is a big difference; this lady is asking the people of the USA to take care of her domestic issue.  Why is she not asking the police in her home country to do their job?  Was it easier just to pack up the kids and cross the border, illegally?

Why did she not cross at a legal entry point and ask for asylum?  What was she told about our laws and, more importantly, by whom?

Lots to think about, if only we can allow cooler heads to have the discussion.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Guest Column: Oaths of Office


For today's guest column, we welcome back Ed Fenstermacher, an MIT classmate of mine who has written several previous guest columns here since 2014.  Ed is a regular reader of this site, a long-time leader in Scouting, and a nuclear engineer by profession -- and a very thoughtful commentator on life and society.  I should mention here that, although I knew of Ed's name during our undergrad years, we never actually "met", and I suspect that he might not have known I existed, back then.
                                        _ _ _

On June 1, 1973, Bob and I, along with about a thousand others, graduated with bachelor's degrees from MIT, adhering to the request to “not shake President [Jerome] Weisner’s  hand” as we received our diplomas.  The day before, in a much smaller ceremony, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.  

The speaker at the Joint Services commissioning ceremony, Rear Admiral Rumble, gave a brief speech.
 
"Many years ago," he said, "I was commissioned in the Navy.  I remember who the speaker was, but don’t remember what he said.  Years later, I graduated from the Naval War College.  I don’t remember the speaker or what he said.  So I don’t flatter myself that any of you will remember what I say.  So I’ll just say this: Read your commission, so you’ll know what you’re getting into."

Then he sat down.  What my commission said was pretty much what my oath of office said, and that oath was this:

"I, Thomas Edward Fenstermacher, having been appointed a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter. So help me God."

A check on the Internet gives not only the oath, but summarizes the meaning of the various phrases:

·        I (name) do solemnly swear (or affirm): Signifies a public statement of commitment. You are accepting responsibility for your actions. 
·        That I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States: You are not swearing to support the President, the Country, the flag or a particular service, but rather the Constitution which symbolizes all of these things.
·        Against all enemies, foreign and domestic: We must always be prepared for current and future wartime operations.
·        That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same: Officers pledge allegiance to the nation, not a military service or organization.
·        That I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion: Your word is your bond! Without integrity, the moral pillar of our core values is lost.
·        And that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter: Promising to give it our all. 
·        So help me God (optional): Signifies truth and commitment to what you have sworn to in the oath. It is a call to a higher being or divine agency, to assist with ensuring your own integrity and honesty.

Since I took that oath, I have also taken five other oaths of consequence.  The first was my marriage vow.  The next three were oaths I silently took before God when each of my children were born to do my very best to raise them as well as I could.  The final one consisted of the promises I made when I joined my church.  I have never violated any of these oaths.  They are sacred to me.  In a very real way, they define who I am.

A year or after graduating and being commissioned, I was on active duty.  A fellow officer whom I will call Major Tony speculated that, if Nixon were to be impeached and then convicted, the military would stand with him and refuse to let him be removed.  We were, after all, in the middle of a war.  Tensions and emotions were high.  

I reminded Major Tony that our oaths were not to President Nixon or any official, not even to our brother officers; they were to the Constitution of the United States.  That supersedes all other considerations. 

Now, four decades later, we are again in the middle of a Constitutional crisis you are likely familiar with.  It has little to do with the alleged collusion of President Trump with Russians.  What it has to do with is the refusal of certain civilian officers of the United States, who took oaths very similar to the one I took as a military officer, to perform their clear duty.  

In this case, that duty is to cooperate with the oversight of Congress, a co-equal branch of the Federal Government, just as the Constitution calls for.  They need to cooperate in word, by truthful and forthright testimony, and by deed, turning over the documents they are lawfully required to give to Congress.   

Deputy AG Rosenstein and FBI Director Wray need to remember this -- that when they took the following oath, as required by 5 U.S. Code 3331:

"I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God."

... that they took that oath not to the FBI, nor the Department of Justice, nor to their fellow employees, nor to their political party.  They took that oath to the Constitution of the United States.  It is time that they bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution, by doing their clear duty.   

That duty is to provide Congress with the truth, not to protect their agencies.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton and T. E. Fenstermacher
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

For the Fourth

I have written that "pride" is an overdone and often inappropriate sentiment.  That pride in things -- like ancestry, race, etc. -- over which we have no control is misplaced; that we should be proud only of what we ourselves have done or accomplished.  We may revere our ancestry, but we can be proud of ourselves and our descendants, because they are of our own influence.

Today, of course, we take pride in the 242 years of the United States of America, and although I am American by birth, I continue to be American by choice.  That pride is a legitimate one, and I have no hesitation in shouting that pride across the Internet through this poor medium.

We celebrate that 242 years happily and loudly, by killing cows and grilling them.  Now that's American.  Have a beer, too.  See you tomorrow.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Overblowing the "Roe" Factor

In a few days, President Trump will be nominating someone to become an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.  The president has described such appointments as being, next to declarations of war, among the most important actions that he will take as president.

He is certainly right that SCOTUS appointments are way up there in importance.  Whether the Court "stays its judicial hand" or becomes a bit more legislative in its approach; whether it interprets law in a more conservative or expansive interpretation of its role and the law, well, that has dramatic impact on our daily life.  I paid $6,000 more in health insurance premiums in a single year because the Court found that Obamacare involved a "tax" and not a "penalty", and therefore let that disaster stand.  Darn right they affect you.

Naturally, with the retirement of Justice Kennedy and the opportunity for President Trump to nominate another solid and brilliant conservative mind to the Court, the left is up in arms.  It is Armageddon, if you are to believe them. The end of the Republic.

Since even the left has to admit that this president has the Constitutional right -- and duty -- to nominate whomever he chooses to submit to the Senate for confirmation, they have to find a way to get the populace to support their opposition to whomever that may be.  So naturally the left, fearmongers that they are, have gone straight to the target that they always default to, at least when they are not defaulting to race or Nazism or throwing innocent people out of restaurants.

Their target I refer to, of course, is women's bodies, and by that they mean abortion.  Yes, according to the left and the press (but I ...), whoever the new justice is would immediately form a cabal with four on the Court now and overturn Roe v. Wade, the notorious decision that effectively legalized abortion (it's more complex than that, but who cares about facts).  Roe, of course, is discussed in 99% of the news media's commentary on the new justice.

President Trump, this weekend, noted that in his interviews that he would not ask candidates whether they would vote to overturn Roe, and that's probably a good thing that he won't.  First, of course, is that the Supreme Court does not make law, despite what Ruth Bader Ginsburg thinks, and cannot even debate the abortion precedents until someone actually brings a case where Roe is the precedent.

Since those under 30 have mostly never had enough U.S. History or Civics to have a clue, there are probably tens of millions of millennials who think the Court will overturn Roe the day after the new justice takes office.  Hint ... it doesn't work that way.

Now I have to say that of the top 100 things I'd want to know about the new candidate justices and how they think, "abortion" is pretty much not on the list.  It is a moral issue, and moral issues are the province of the States.  So as long as the Federal government neither subsidizes it nor prevents it, I'm fine.

But I apparently don't have much company on the left.

Unfortunately I cannot go to the future and see what will be in ten years, but I'm going to put on my forecasting contact lenses and tell you what I expect.

The new Roberts Court with Justices Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Thomas and the new justice, will definitely have a dramatic impact for the better in many decisions that affect the nation, but I predict that not one of them will have the effect of overturning Roe v. Wade, and the current panic among the left -- and it is palpable -- will turn out to have been 100% accurate but 100% misdirected.

Even before Justice Kennedy has left, the Court, in Janus v. AFSCME, has done an amazing service to the nation -- and by effectively defunding Democrats, an amazing service to the preservation of our republic.  That was the case making it illegal for government employee unions to force payment of union dues by non-members, a ruling which will drain many millions from use as donations to the Democrats.

It is Janus, not Roe (and, ironically, Janus was actually the overturning of a previous decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education), that we should be expecting more of, in the newly-comprised Court.  In fact, I could easily see the new Court declining to accept cases that require a consideration of overturning Roe, simply because after 45 years, it is sufficiently established, whereas Abood was based not on a moral issue but a completely Constitutional one.

I'm looking forward to the new Court, but the press and the left are way off on this one.  I imagine that Roe is far from on being the minds of either the President, the existing Court or the new candidates.  I think that Roe is only out there because the left, like Bill Clinton, goes right for the women's bodies, or at least to the "sanctity" thereof.

This summer there will be a ratio of 26 questions from Democrats on abortion and Roe v. Wade, for every one about everything else combined -- watch the Senate hearings if you don't believe me.  But that's all a red herring, and the left is making a huge mistake, especially given that if the candidate is as clean as Neil Gorsuch was, confirmation is a certainty.

The Democrats have an opportunity to raise all manner of situations to try to get the nominee on record with something they can try to use, but mark my words, it will be all abortion, all the time.  The nation will get sick of it, and the Democrats will have lost an opportunity to raise issues that are important, at least to them, in a forum where they could speak to the people.

Don't hold your breath.  The hearings may be all about Roe, but the new justice's tenure will be all about everything else.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Monday, July 2, 2018

Another Question for Chrissy Teigen

I will confess.  Even after writing an unflattering piece on Chrissy Teigen's uninformed tweet about Sarah Sanders and the Colorado baker case last week, I still haven't looked up to see what she actually does.  I'll just go with "celebrity" and leave it at that.  Oh, yeah, and she models -- I heard that from a reader.

As you recall, I criticized her for writing a tweet that completely misrepresented the facts of the Colorado baker case, trying to say that the baker had refused to bake a wedding cake for a couple because they were gay.

The facts, had she bothered to read them, were that the baker was willing to bake a wedding cake for the couple.  However, as an artist, he declined to create a specific design for the cake that celebrated their, um, gayness, since he was religiously opposed to gay marriage.  As a baker, he would bake for them; as an artist; he would (and, as the Court decided, could) decline a specific artistic request.

Now, I don't know if Chrissy Teigen does any acting.  As a model, I suppose she does, but it really doesn't matter for the point of this piece -- let's assume she does.

Let's also say that she is under contract to a studio, and that it is possible that she is assigned some roles according to the studio's wishes.  Let's also shed any mistakes I may have made in the way studios work, and just stipulate that they can ask an actor to play a part within their contract terms.

And let's say that the studio has a film to make in which President Trump is portrayed in a flattering, or even neutral way.  And they ask Chrissy Teigen to play Melania.  There is no artistic option, the first lady, in this notional film, is portrayed in a positive light, and a positive portrayal is what is wanted.

Does Miss Teigen "get her panties in a wad" about any possible positive portrayal of the current occupants of the White House and refuse to do the part?  I somehow think she might not take the money and do the job she's under contract to do.

So the studio would have to sue her under her contract.

What would her defense be?  That on some form of personal conviction grounds, she would refuse to use her "artistic talents" to do a positive portrayal of Mrs. Trump?  Do you kind of see where I'm going with this?

I know it is a hypothetical, but I would like to ask Miss Teigen if she would accept the assignment in accordance with a binding contract, or try to use some kind of grounds of artistic freedom to decline, despite a contractual obligation, to do the role.

"What then", I would like to ask, "is the difference between you and the baker in Colorado?  Are your principles better than his because what -- you're a better person?  Who decided that?  Is the baker's right to his artistic freedom somehow different from yours?"

Yes, I know no one will ever ask that, and it's a hypothetical anyway.  She might not even be an actress.  And I'm sure Chrissy Teigen still thinks the baker "refused to bake a cake because the couple was gay."  So she wouldn't even understand the question in the first place.

But dang, I'd like someone to ask.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, June 29, 2018

Movie of the Week

It's Friday, and we'll change it up a bit today if that's all right.  I do love to write words, but I thought you would enjoy watching a very short movie, courtesy of my brother, who thought I'd like it.  Perhaps a movie will be a break from the usual column for you, much as we preferred it when we got filmstrips instead of droning teachers, back in fifth grade.  If you don't remember filmstrips, look it up.

So just plug in, and enjoy the irony.




Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Why We So Love to Listen to "Celebrities' Opinions"

President Trump, a prolific tweeter, has long been accused of not thinking before he tweets.  I don't know if that's fair; for the most part it appears that he thinks about the issue before he tweets; he may just not contemplate the consequences of his tweetage, or may not use an editor, too much in advance of hitting "Send."  I do not mind; as I wrote yesterday, I think it gives the American citizen good and valuable insight into his thinking.

Now, when celebrities tweet it is a whole 'nother thing.

You see, celebrities, most of whom in Hollywood and New York being absurdly leftist, don't have to worry about the consequences of anything they tweet or say, ever.  Madonna can threaten to explode the White House and she is still walking the streets and maybe still performing (I wouldn't know, or care).  Peter Fonda can encourage the kidnapping and assault of the First Lady and a young boy, and he has a movie opening with him in it; Sony Pictures appears not to care, although the Secret Service supposedly did.  And on it goes.

Don't do that, of course, if you are a Trump supporter.  As Roseanne Barr can attest, an indiscreet tweet can get you fired promptly if you happen to support the, you know, president of the United States.

This acute double standard has manifested itself not only in tweets from leftist celebrities being more vicious than before (because of lack of consequence), but also in their lack of a need for a factual basis for pretty much anything they type.

Exhibit A today is Chrissy Teigen, who is a performer of some kind, married to John Legend, who is also a performer and well-known musician.  Both are devout leftists and haters of the president, which means that they are in the Hollywood bubble, nice and firm, and no one they know is around to tell them when they're being stupid in the eyes of the other 99.9% of the nation.

So as you know, after the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, was asked to leave a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, because she worked for President Trump, she politely got up and left, along with her six companions (family, I believe), and went to a different place to eat dinner.

That would have been about it, except that other people started notifying the press and posting online accounts of the incident.  Mrs. Sanders, who was not planning to comment immediately on the incident, decided after others had, that she needed to put out an account quickly, and did so the next morning after hearing that it had become news.

"Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left.", she tweeted.  "Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so."

Mrs. Sanders had not planned to say anything, but just let it go, until the news got out and she had to provide her summary of what happened.  I think we all can agree that it was necessary for her to have said something after it became known.  We can also agree that she acted with complete class from the time of the incident right through and including the issuance of her tweet.

Naturally, that was not good enough for Miss Teigen, who felt the need to say something, whether or not it were related to anything that she knew as factual.  So she decided to tweet out her ignorance of the news to the world:

Didn’t you morons get your panties in a wad defending the baker that didn’t want to make cakes for gay couples?", she wrote.

Now, her being a leftist and anti-Trumper and all, no one will take pains to dissect her tweet and point out what was wrong.  But I will.  I like doing that, you see.

I'll even get past the whole "morons" thing, even though we know Mrs. Sanders to be a perfectly reasonably intelligent person, serving in a position that requires quick absorption of facts and policies to be able to answer daily questions, and command of language that Miss Teigen probably wishes she had.

More than that, I'll let go the "panties in a wad" thing, because if there's anyone who clearly does not lose her cool when people behave like cretins to her, and who behaves calmly and with class, it is Sarah Sanders.  After all, she deals with a White House press corps that mostly hates her boss and asks vicious questions that somehow never seem to touch on the economy, the post-summit softening of tensions with North Korea, or the president's rising popularity as people can afford more in their lives.

But I will not let pass the notion either that "the baker didn't want to make cakes for gay couples", or that the actual case was even about that.  That is fake news of the worst kind, prejudicially fake, and used to make a point predicated on a non-fact.

Miss Teigen may actually believe that is what happened, not that she should be excused for it.  I mean, I do try to source material, when I'm not sure of the facts of an article on this site.  If I make a point based on something that turns out not to be true, I correct it and, if needed, run a retraction.

But the baker did not "refuse to make a cake for a gay couple."

Had he done so, actually refused to bake a cake for the couple, I'd have been on their side.  I mean, I owned a bridal shop, and we would have sold a wedding gown to a guy, if he wanted to buy it.  And I'm just as much of a Christian as the baker.

But he was willing to bake them a cake, and that's the fact the left doesn't want to hear, especially since they can say it incorrectly and no one corrects them.  He is a cake artist, and he has a history of not using his talent to decorate a cake with a message he does not agree with on religious grounds.  He previously, for example, had refused to put a design celebrating divorce on one of his cakes, although he was willing to bake the cake.

Did Sarah Sanders "defend the baker"?  Well, after the decision came down in the baker's favor, she pointed out that the White House was happy about it, on religious freedom grounds, so I suppose you could say she "defended" him, although the "panties" reference was not just over the top but wrongly assigned, given Mrs. Sanders's even temperament.

But if Chrissy Teigen is not informed enough even to know the facts of the case, not even to know that it was not a baker refusing to serve a couple because they were gay, well, she ought to confine herself to topics she does know, whatever those may be.

Obviously no one cares what celebrities say or think outside their artistic purview, although that does not keep them from spouting off.  Chrissy Teigen would have added herself to the list of people whose performances I will now not spend a penny on, except I don't know or care what she does, so it's no real loss for her.

I hesitate to give her the Michael Jordan lesson, but since there's absolutely no chance she reads this far, I'm probably OK doing so.  The greatest basketball player we'll ever see was asked to make an endorsement of a Democrat in a North Carolina governor's race.  He politely declined and, when challenged, pointed out that "Republicans buy sneakers, too."

Chrissy Teigen gained exactly zero by shooting off her mouth, or her Twitter finger, with an impolite remark that was based on an incorrect notion of an actual event.  She did, however, succeed in ticking off people who might have actually bought whatever it is she sells.  She added exactly nothing productive to the discourse (many, even before her, tried to relate the restaurant incident to the SCOTUS bakery decision, mostly getting the facts wrong and therefore sinking the analogy).

What it costs her, well, I don't know, but it didn't have to cost her anything at all.

Do I hope she reads this?  Sure, I do, because she might actually get the actual point, which is that if you are commenting on something you're passionate about, at least get your facts straight.  Basing a snarky tweet on incorrect information just makes you look stupid.

And she really doesn't need any more of that.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton