Friday, May 18, 2018

Who's Doing the Ripping?

It is now a standard phrase of the left, as continually touted by their paid flacks and repeated by their senators.  When speaking of deporting illegal aliens, they constantly use the phrase "ripping families apart."

As if, you know, the left actually cares about families.

It has gotten laughable, and my feelings sort of crystallized during a hearing this week, when the pompous Kamala Harris of California (of course) kept pressing that phrase during a Senate hearing with the Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen.  "Why are you ripping families apart?", the leftist senator asked, or very similar words to that effect.

Secretary Nielsen, of whom I had not heard prior to her appointment to run DHS, is an impressive lady.  She does not need my help to answer questions from politically-motivated, self-serving clowns like Kamala Harris.  But I'll help, because clearly this is going to be one of those pet phrases that the left uses, and pet phrases have been a slight theme for the week.

"Senator, I'm going to answer your question first by acknowledging that there are actions that do separate families, that we take when illegal aliens are deported under the law.  It is a shame, because it is not an outcome that the government prefers, but it is only your job in Congress to make law, and ours in the Executive Branch to enforce law that you make.  You're free to change the law if you like.

"I will further point out that your sensibilities about ripping families apart may be well-meaning, but you seem not to have the same sensibilities when hundreds of thousands of black children are separated from their families each year by being killed against their will.  Of course, they have not been born quite yet, so perhaps you are misinterpreting what their will actually is.  But I digress.

[Given that Sen. Harris would surely have interrupted at this point, the Secretary would now say] "Please shut up and let me finish answering your question, Ma'am.

"While none of us is ever happy to see members of a family go their separate ways, deportation is hardly the most common instance of this.  There are over two million people incarcerated as we speak, for having committed crimes, including 136,000 in California's in just your own state prisons.  Every single one of them was convicted of violating the laws that have been duly passed by state and Federal legislatures.

"Every single one of those people was, as you and the left and the press (but I repeat myself) keep referring to it, ripped from their families.  I certainly have never once heard you, or any other Democrat, complain about enforcing laws against robbery, rape, murder, drug-pushing, any of those crimes that put people behind bars and rips them, in your words, from their families.

"The enforcement of immigration law is the same thing, Senator.  Laws requiring people to be removed, whether to prison or their home countries, are the same thing.  If you don't like the law, Senator, it's up to you to change it, that's your job.  My job is to enforce the laws that the Senate has already passed.  You passed this one, I will continue to enforce it to the best of my ability.

"If you continue to be hypocritical and political, to complain about immigration enforcement separating families but do not show the same moral indignities when other convicted felons are removed from theirs -- let alone unborn children being ripped from families they never even got to know -- then I'm glad I have used up all your time.

"Because, Senator, your time has expired."   

Have a nice weekend.  I plan to.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, May 17, 2018

#900: Me and the NIH Director

This is my 900th column on this site, five a week for going-on four-years now, with a brief hiatus or two when work intervenes too strenuously.  There are at least 100 more, so we'll see what the world tosses out.  Thanks so much for reading, and for my Russian readers who keep coming and going in large numbers, whoever you are and why ever you read this, "Спасибо за прочтение."

Dr. Francis Collins is the director of the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, the huge Federal enterprise that does many things, including coordinating Federal support of medical research in all manner of areas.  Dr. Collins has now served two administrations on utter opposite sides of both politics and reality (the previous one, of course, had a lesser grasp on reality).

Of course, Dr. Collins was also one of the two men who led the effort to break the genetic code, and his Human Genome Project has spawned amazing outcomes in research, forensics and other scientifically marvelous areas, and put him on the cover of Time way back (when it was actually flattering to be there), long before his tenure at NIH.

A serious Christian, he has authored, among a number of other books, the bestselling "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief", reflecting his view (which I share), that scientific theory, such as the evolution of the species, is perfectly compatible with a divine direction.  I have always admired his willingness to promote such a view.

I have paid attention to Dr. Collins over the years because, although I have not seen him in person in 44 years, we spent a fair amount of time together.  We were classmates in a class of 110 at medical school at the University of North Carolina, and pretty good friends back then.  His lab seat was in a group of four next to my group of four, in the room where we were based when not in the classroom.  So I think I can call him "Francis" without hesitation, and not like Gunther Toody would.

This piece is just a ramble, but forgive me; you might be amused.

Of the 110 in the class, about 90-95 had gone to school in North Carolina as undergrads, many right there in Chapel Hill.  Francis had gone to Virginia, though, and I had gone to MIT, as you know, which pretty much everyone in the class knew, since going from MIT to medical school was pretty unusual at the time.  Plus, I was kind of small and kind of loud back then.

Some time in the middle of the year, 1974 maybe, we had a class session that might have been a guest lecture -- we had a lot of them.  About 110 first-year med students in a theater classroom listened as the instructing physician talked about something or other for an hour.

There was a Q&A session at the end, and one of my colleagues asked a question.  The doctor pondered it for a moment, and decided that it didn't really have an answer.  "That", he replied to the student, "would be like asking why the sky is blue."  

I don't know what my mood was at the time, but I raised my hand and, sarcastically summoning my academic pedigree, I said, "Well actually, where I went to school we knew the answer to that."  Of course, the class went nuts, laughing for quite a while while the poor lecturer had no earthly idea what was so funny.

After the year was out, I decided to start an opera company in Boston, and that was it for my medical career.  Francis did better, of course, staying in school and becoming world-famous.  When he was named to head NIH, I sent him a congratulatory message, email having been invented in the 40 years or so since we had communicated.  Naturally he replied and was kind enough not only to have said he remembered me, but that because of me, the whole UNC Medical Class of 1977 now knew why the sky was blue.

Last year he was in the news again (he's often in the news, of course) for a commencement address he gave at SMU.  Francis is still a pretty funny guy, and decided to spice up his speech by singing a parody of Sinatra's "My Way" that was apropos for the moment.  It was great, and I was sent a link to it by a close friend who works at NIH and helps manage grant applications there.  Here it is, if you like, to list to when you're done reading.

I couldn't help it.  I wrote and told him what I'd been up to, and that I was now living by the beach and, while still working full time, had plenty of time for golf and other more relaxing enterprises -- including this column -- far more so than he.  And that I could write a parody or two if needed, including one of the same song, "My Way", directed right at him and the fact that he was still stuck in Washington and slaving long hours.  "Here you go", I wrote:

"So now – yes now you know, the sky is blue, just like I told you
And you – you use the smarts that UNC, way back then, sold you
While I – I’m playing golf, near Myrtle Beach, far from the freeway
And work just when I please -- the M.I.T. way!"

Bless him, he replied (edited), "Hey there Bob ... that sassy smart retort about the color of the sky, delivered to a touchy-feely professor ... is burned into the memories of all of your classmates, secure in a space where no amyloid or tau deposits can touch it.  Love the new verse!"

What a great guy.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"Virtue Signaling" -- Finally, Our Own Pet Phrase

I don't know who coined the phrase "virtue signaling", but this column is here to salute the individual who came up with it.  Not, of course, because it is, in and of itself, so wonderful a phrase, but because "the right" needs a phrase or two of our own to use when the left, as they are wont to do, get just a teeny bit, you know, pompous, overbearing, self-righteous, know-it-all, that sort of thing.

You have probably heard the term, but as conservatives are not too fond of actually using pet phrases to make our points -- we try to be more creative than that -- you may not have realized that it is being gradually brought into the official lexicon in a concerted fashion.  You may not even quite get what it refers to.

So I will point you back to this column I did not long ago as a decent example of the practice.  In the left's abysmal attempt to make victims out of all of us, except for white males (victims, after all, need a villain), so that they can make the case that we all need lots and lots of government, they have to send messages.

First, you have to explain to the victims why they are victims.  Your lack of success is not because of lack of talent or ability or ambition or effort.  No, it is because of your race, or your religion, or your immigration status or lack thereof, or your gender (or lack thereof).

Then, especially if you are a white male, or a famous person reliant on getting people going to your movies or buying your recordings, or attending the games of the team you own, you have to show that it is the other guy who is the racist, homophobe, xenophobe, sexist, misogynist -- surely not you.  And you have to show that LOUDLY.

So you "virtue-signal."  You take on some ostensibly self-sacrificial act to make sure that everyone knows that you just hate bigots, and you just love illegal immigrants, or Muslims, or black people, or LGBTQVFR people, or essayists.  OK, no one virtue-signals their love of essayists, but if you want to be the first, there is a Comments section below.

But I digress.

In a column a long time ago, before I had even heard the term, I brought up what happened when Ben Affleck, the actor, discovered that a long-dead ancestor had actually -- gasp! -- owned slaves.   This all came up at a TV look-up-your-ancestors show.  Affleck promptly virtue-signaled by deciding that he, who had never owned an actual slave, would do acute penance for the sins of his 200-year-back ancestor.

In the column I linked to, the owners of the Boston Red Sox, a team of 40% Latinos and black players, but owned by older white men, decided to be embarrassed by the name of the street on the first-base side of Fenway Park. The street is Yawkey Way, named after the long-time owner of the team.  Yawkey was a devoted philanthropist, but he was quite late to integrate his team (the last in the majors to do so, in the mid-1950s), and therefore has been branded a racist, applying 2018 morality to 1955.

So the owners -- John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner (who brought us The Cosby Show, by the way) -- decided that they just had to show us how non-racist they were by petitioning the City of Boston to change the name  of Yawkey Way back to its previous name -- Jersey Street.  I know what you are thinking.  Don't go there.

That was virtue signaling in its full flower.  Now we all know how offended the Red Sox owners were at the embarrassing legacy of Tom Yawkey.  They have signaled to us that they are not racists at all, but virtuous human beings, embarrassed at the history of the team they own, and for being white males, and all that.  They have virtue-signaled. It is OK to go to ballgames now.  Whew.

I like the term.  I don't like the actual signaling, of course.  If you are afraid of what your customers think, and are afraid they may not attend your games, or buy your recordings or go to your movies, then take the Dolly Parton approach and just concentrate on your music (or your baseball team, or your acting), and shut up about things that don't concern your business.

Of course, it's 2018, and people who don't like President Trump just have to show it, lest people think they might ... well, those people don't actually think, so actors and performers and sports-team owners shouldn't be worried about what they think.

But they will continue to virtue-signal, and we will continue to call them out on it.  Now we have a term that we can use, and it's great.  "Virtue signaling" sounds as pompous as the people practicing it are acting, so it is the perfect term.  It also calls out its practitioners for hypocrisy, since we know that John Henry and Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino really couldn't care less about the legacy of Tom Yawkey; they just want to act like they do, so no one will shy away from buying tickets.

Because, of course, Greater Boston is just chock full of people who refused to go to Red Sox games because one corner street was called Yawkey Way.  Yeah, sure.

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A Little More on the NoKo Friendship Thought

So yesterday, I declared that I really had no idea what each party in the upcoming summit between the USA and North Korea wanted, at least in the sense of a complete list.  And I don't, to be perfectly honest, although we certainly can guess some of the pillar points of each side's desires.

But then I went on to pose a thought that I believe wasn't even anyone's pipe dream, not left, not right, not them or even us.  No one is thinking this, unless you read this column yesterday.  I suggested this:

"And here is a huge aside ... there is a possible outcome that no one is talking about.  That is where Trump and Kim not only agree to denuclearize both Koreas and end the war and lessen tensions, but to take steps toward actual friendship and jointly re-developing a North Korean economy, and even becoming (gasp) an ally of the USA!  That would embarrass China to no end, of course.   As long as Kim feels secure in his own power, that is not impossible, though no one has even posed that."

Needless to say, I got more than a few emails, only some of them suggesting that my recent birthday had flipped me over to senility.  Believe me, as my friends have known for years, for me senility will be a very smooth transition.

Actually, I brought that peaceful-outcome notion up for no other reason than that I had been contemplating good outcomes -- in the sense of the press figuring out how to make President Trump look bad no matter what came out of the meetings.  If they don't know in advance what would define "success", they could literally decide to call anything failure, simply because they want the president to fail.

In defining the most successful possible outcome,  I then caught myself stopping at a fairly conservative point.  "What if Kim agrees to dismantle and blow up his nuclear sites, turn all the weapons over to the USA, allow us to inspect whenever and wherever, and after six months compliance maybe we'll send some wheat or something."  Pretty modest, conservative goals, right?  The press and the Democrats (but I repeat myself) would still kick and moan and declare it a failure, but normal people would think that was pretty good, especially for having been on the verge of nuclear war to get there.

I thought about it, and let myself shift the paradigm, a lot.  "Maybe it could be even better", I considered.  "What about ..." and let my mind wander.  Clearly the present situation, or at least the situation during the "Little Rocket Man" tweet period, was awful.  What would be the opposite?

I tried to picture a USA-North Korea relationship that was completely opposite of the way it was, and it actually didn't sound completely ridiculous.  Implausible, maybe, but not impossible.  So stay with me for a few more paragraphs.

President Trump goes to Singapore and tells Kim they can talk as long as they need to, all night.  That this is the most important thing for the world that day, and they had to end it right.  He realizes that Kim is not a religious fanatic like the Iranians and ISIS and those types (a little nutso, maybe, but driven by things we understand, like power), and so it was not out of the question that they could negotiate.

Instead of feeling like they would be successful if Kim blew up his nuke sites and we sent them some wheat (just my metaphoric phrase for the outcome most people would hope for), President Trump says, "How about they consider a much bigger shock to the world?"  They were going to shake hands for the cameras at the end anyway; why not declare a friendship, salute the peace, and regard each other as strategic economic allies?

What would that mean?  Well, with the military threat negated (and as long as Kim is assured we're not going to invade, it can be negated), they could dismantle the DMZ by the end of the year.  Kim would immediately cut off exports of weapons to Iran and the like, and allow us carte blanche to inspect his sites.

In return, President Trump could provide economic experts to go to North Korea and, with the South Koreans, help Kim put together an achievable two-year, ten-year and twenty-year program to rebuild its economy, and start creating wealth by identifying goods and services early on that could be exported.  This president knows a few of those types.  The USA would lead a coalition of Western nations that would -- without any effort to undermine Kim's chairman-for-life position -- help lead a resurrection of their economy.

All this time, the USA becomes, over time, the chief trading partner and economic support for North Korea, under reasonable trade agreements, displacing the Chinese and embarrassing them in the process.  In fact, Kim could ask the same question of the Chinese -- "Why didn't you do any of this for us?" -- that the black community should have been asking the Democrats who led their cities into decay and ruin.  And perhaps, years down the road, a path to a unified Korea can be seen.

Why should we not try for this?  Why should we have to see only Korean denuclearization and a fragile peace as the best we should try for?  How about imagining a future that's a lot better than just that?

Can you imagine?  I actually can.  And I'm not senile.  Yet.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, May 14, 2018

What to Expect from Mr. Kim

We know now the date and place for the upcoming meeting between President Trump and Little Rocket Man, the Dear Leader of the barren wasteland that is North Korea, Chairman Kim Jong-Un.  You know it as well.

What do we expect?

It's a lovely question to ponder.  After all, when you go into a negotiation, whether or not one side as actually written a book called "The Art of the Deal", there are things that each side wants of the other.  And that part is always colored by ancillary topics that get thrown in at the last minute.

One example is a meeting between the owners of the Red Sox and Yankees in 1947, where they discussed a trade where Joe DiMaggio would go to the Red Sox and Ted Williams over to the Yankees.  The owners, Tom Yawkey of Boston and Dan Topping of the Yankees, were quite drunk at the time, and although they tentatively shook hands on it, in the morning the deal was scuttled when the more-sober-then Yawkey asked Dan Topping, of the Yankees, to "throw in that little guy you have in left field."

The "little guy" was actually a catcher, name of Yogi Berra.  The deal fell through.

In this one, what each side wants is not so clear that you and I could sit down and try to mock-negotiate an outcome.  And that is a problem, since whether or not the leftist media tell us afterward that anything at all was good for the USA, depends on knowing what we wanted in the first place.

We know, for example, that we want the North Koreans to dismantle their nuclear weapons program, and get rid of all their nuclear weapons.  We also want to be able to maintain a military and naval force in South Korea, we assume, and be able to keep our forces in the area as a buffer against China and Russia, not that we need Kim's permission to do so.  We would like an end to the Korean War and a general sense of peace between the two Koreas, rather than a tense DMZ.  Beyond that, there's nothing the NoKos can really do for us.  The rest is just details.

But what does Kim Jong-Un want?  You see, everything President Trump wants out of the negotiations, as far as we can guess he wants, is for the USA and the world, not for Donald Trump.  He and we (except for the press and the left, but I repeat myself) want all the above things because we want peace and stability in the region.  We'd probably also like a better situation for the North Korean people, but frankly that's for Kim to provide.

What Kim wants, different from President Trump, is 99% for Kim Jong-Un and only incidentally for his people, whom he starves and murders at will.  So we can strongly guess that, while ultimately what we want is denuclearization of North Korea and a lasting peace, what Kim wants is his own security as president for life.  And he will give away some things to keep it.

A certain type of Kim Jong-Un is not a terrible thing for the USA.  That would be where he keeps his problems internal and ceases to pose a nuclear threat, or any military threat.  It's not optimal, but it's stable.  And we could be willing to accept his permanency if it comes without the threat -- or any nuclear program at all.

I mention that Kim is in it only for Kim because he is going to ask for something in return for dismantling his nuke program -- which at this moment may not exist much anymore, if stories of its collapse into a big hole are true (and we certainly know its actual status).  The question is whether what he asks for is for himself, or for his starving people.

I don't think that President Trump is going to be agreeing to send a penny over there.  He's a lot shrewder than that.  He is smart enough to realize that the leverage is all his.  Kim was cowed into agreeing to meet, partly because he discovered that Donald Trump and the U.S. military are a combination quite dangerous to his seeing tomorrow morning, and partly because his nuclear threat may have already dismantled itself into a mountainside.

Very likely he will try to play on our American sympathies for the plight of his starving people, asking for money to buy food, or even actual food.  Again, he is dealing with a challenge in that this president is not going to ship a pallet of euros to Pyongyang in the middle of the night, like the previous one.  Donald Trump is going to insist on tangible, verifiable results before taking any steps to help the North Korean people, and even then he will insist that, in so many words, the food gets eaten by the people.


And here is a huge aside ... there is a possible outcome that no one is talking about.  That is where Trump and Kim not only agree to denuclearize both Koreas and end the war and lessen tensions, but to take steps toward actual friendship and jointly re-developing a North Korean economy, and even becoming (gasp) an ally of the USA!  That would embarrass China to no end, of course.   As long as Kim feels secure in his own power, that is not impossible, though no one has even posed that.


I would like to think that the president, courtesy of Mike Pompeo and our intelligence services, has a pretty reasonable idea of what is important to Kim and what he is likely to seek.  I also think that for all the newsworthiness of the event, Donald Trump will get what he wants, at the price he wants, or he will politely excuse himself and walk away.

The press will have no idea what will happen, because they are not astute enough to know what Kim wants, and certainly what would constitute a successful negotiation on the part of President Trump.  We know for certain that the actual result will be between three and four times more positive for the USA than the media will portray it as being.  You can use that factor, by the way, free.  My gift.

But I sure wish I knew what they wanted over in Pyongyang.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, May 11, 2018

"Peace in Our Time": The Neville Chamberlain Statecraft Naivete Award

Neville Chamberlain was the prime minister of England 80 years ago or so, during the time of the ascent of Adolf Hitler to become the Nazi dictator, and for starting World War II by invading Germany's neighbors after committing not to.

Chamberlain had traveled to meet with Hitler three times in late 1938, ultimately resulting in the Munich agreement.  Hitler had been using the "plight" of Germans living in the Sudetenland, then a part of what was Czechoslovakia, as a pretext to invade there on their behalf.  Chamberlain sought to contain Hitler's ambition by allowing a plebiscite in the region whereupon, if it passed, the Sudetenland would be annexed into Germany.

Hitler offered to state that he would not thereafter invade Czechoslovakia and gave his assurance in the Munich agreement and a separate agreement privately sought by Chamberlain.  The prime minister then flew back to England, and famously declared that England would have "peace for our time.

Yeah, sure.

Of course, Hitler had no intention of staying his hand or slowing his armies, and the rest, I'm sorry to say so cliched, is indeed history.

The legend of Neville Chamberlain, whose embarrassment at being flummoxed by Hitler fortunately was short-lived (but only because Chamberlain did not live even two years after the meetings), is still discussed and still alluded to 80 years later.  The word of evil people, we learned through him, is worth nothing.

This lives again this week as President Trump has pulled the United States out of the Iran "agreement" (it wasn't a treaty, since it was never ratified by Congress and the Democrats there filibustered any attempt to have it brought up for approval that it wouldn't get) that Barack Obama and John Kerry had foisted on us.

It is pretty evident, after the Israeli presentation this past week dramatically showing Iranian cheating on the nuclear research side of the "agreement", that the Iranians simply had no intent to comply, but merely to hide what they were continuing to do under the lax inspection terms allowed by Kerry.  The Iranian regime was given time, billions of dollars, and relief of the crippling sanctions that had been in place previously.  But we already knew that, or surely suspected it.

The word of evil people is worth nothing.

What did we get out of the agreement?  Well, nothing.  The rest of us knew it then, and sane souls did what they could to prevent the agreement from taking force.  But there's nothing much worse than a leftist on a mission, with unchecked power and a few billion or so in crisp taxpayer dollars, and no regard for Constitutional restraints on foreign dealings.

So today, thanks to a brilliant reader recommendation, we end the week by bestowing the inaugural Neville Chamberlain Memorial Statecraft Naivete Award to John Kerry, mercifully former Secretary of State, for continued belief that the Iranians would ever accede to the terms of the deal and stop their nuclear program.

Although Barack Obama did receive a nomination as a co-recipient, it was not shown that there was adequate naivete involved.  He knew what he was doing, he knew the Iranians wouldn't follow the deal, and he knew that -- or thought that -- he would just get "credit" for it, flying Teflon-coated through his legacy years worshiped by his toadies and sycophants.  Kerry, on the other hand, was just stupid.  He clearly thought giving away the store to Iran was a good thing for the USA, and there is just no excuse for thinking Iran would comply.

Congratulations, Mr. Kerry.  Your award consists of a century of people laughing at you.

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

Thursday, May 10, 2018

So Can Everyone DATE Cheerleaders?

[Note -- before I start, I want to thank again all my readers in Russia, who have now, this week, returned en masse, and now represent the largest daily readership of this column.  I'm so glad you enjoy my takes and the subtle humor implicit in all you find here.  Welcome back.  I missed you. -- B.]


I don't know where Hanover Park High School is, except that it is in northern New Jersey somewhere.  I don't suppose that it even matters, except that New Jersey is near New York, where liberalism and idiocy coincide in much of the population (or at least the voting base), and presumably some of that spills over the Hudson.

If you have heard of that particular school this week yourself, it would be because their "leadership" has come up with a novel notion on, of all things, cheerleaders, in an attempt to become more -- and I'm using their own word -- "inclusive."

[Note -- again, for the Russian readers, "cheerleaders" are the (mostly) girls who do synchronized routines to cheer for (mostly) football teams at our high schools and colleges.  The routines are tough and require a level of athleticism, and cheerleaders are also stereotypically thought of as the popular girls in the school.  Does that help?]

So I will point out that while there are surely some things that I care about less than cheerleading, I care about a whole lot more things more.  Were there no more cheerleading, effective tomorrow, it would not elicit a peep from me, even though my best girl used to be one.  Yawn.

And I will also point out that "inclusivity" as a justification for doing almost anything in 2018 is likely a code for something else.  We all want to be "in", the old word we used for being part of the "good" group and not "out", which was bad.  For me, it is more important not to exclude people than it is to force inclusion on a group, but even that is a nebulous thought.

But this is, of course, "school", which means it is staffed by NEA-belonging teachers (among the most liberal of the unions) and led by people who surely wanted to do something else when they grew up besides being school administrators.  And schools are about as leftist as you want to get in this country.

So when some parents complained because their daughters had failed to make the cheerleading team at this high school, after trying out, we could have wanted the principal to have told them this:

"Dear Mom,

"We're sorry that your daughter did not make the team.  As you know, cheerleading is a strenuous activity that also requires a level of talent to learn and execute a routine.  Not everyone can do it well.  Our squad has a finite number of places on the team and, unfortunately, your daughter was not in the top 20.

"This is exactly the same type of decision that the football team makes when students try out for places on the team; not everyone -- even the writer of this column -- has the God-given size, strength, coordination and ability to learn and execute plays needed to be the best players for our team.  

"It is exactly the same type of decision that the chorus and band make when they have to determine their band players, and the chorus members who will perform solos at their concerts.  Some students are better at playing instruments and singing than others.  I wish I were a better singer myself, Ma'am.

"We encourage your daughter, if she truly wants to make the cheerleading squad, to work hard over the next year at the skills that are necessary.  Practice hard, work out, learn the routines anyway.  Go talk to the cheerleading advisor and create a program over the next year for your child to work on so that next year's audition will be a lot easier.  If she truly wants to become a Hanover Park cheerleader, nothing will help her more than to create a program, work hard and follow it for a year."    

Of course, that's not what the school did.  Using the sledge-hammer-on-a-thumbtack approach, they decided that everyone who wanted to be a cheerleader would become one, regardless of ability.  There would be one squad made up of juniors and seniors, and another made up of freshmen and sophomores.  Voila.  A triumph of "inclusion" over reality.

I can only imagine what will happen to those kids who make the team despite no ability whatsoever, when they start applying to college and get rejected, or they start applying for jobs and get rejected.  What exactly in their high school years prepared them for that reality?  Are they going to have their mothers go to the admissions office or the HR department, and complain that the college should let in everyone, or the company should hire everyone?

Come to think of it, maybe a bunch of unemployed people should go to Hanover Park High School and apply to be teachers.  Do you think they'd be "inclusive" about hiring non-union teachers, or teachers without a degree, or without any skills?  Sure they will.

Maybe the nerds in that school should all try out for the football team.  Is it being "inclusive" to require that you be coordinated and athletic to be the quarterback of the Hanover High football team?  You, nerd over there -- you get the third quarter of game 4.

And I have the real logical outcome.  Every boy who asks a cheerleader out on a date should have the right to insist that she go out with him.  That would be "inclusive"; every girl who makes the cheerleading team should show their regard for inclusivity by going out with any boy who asks her, right, rather than disappointing him by deeming him inadequate?  I mean, I married a cheerleader, but it took ten years to get her to go out with me in the first place.

There is no end to taking inclusivity to its illogical extreme.  So let's keep doing it.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

We Won't Miss the Iran Deal

Yesterday, as you know, President Trump announced that the USA was pulling out of the insane agreement with Iran, the one that Barack Obama and John Kerry and other players from the West made.  As you recall, or should, although that was a treaty, it was never brought to Congress for its approval, and it could be argued before the Supreme Court that it wasn't valid in the first place.

For the record, there are still 90 days left for there to be a negotiated change to the agreement, before the sanctions that had been imposed previously but were lifted under it, would go into place again.  This would certainly have an effect on the Iranian economy, so this is all getting their attention in a big way.

One could assume that the other Western nations, by holding on to the agreement and not reimposing sanctions on their end, would force Iran not to do the advancement of their nuclear weapons program that we all assume (and the Israelis showed) they are advancing regardless.  That really would be their issue at that point, and they can work things out.

For us, however, this was an important act on the part of the president, and it doesn't necessarily have to be about it being Iran, or about the billions in crisp cash that was spirited off in the middle of the night and given to the Iranians to fund more Hezbollah terrorists.

This was important because it was an act of decisiveness and an act of courage, because it was a withdrawing from an agreement that was done not in accordance with the Constitution or Federal law.  The Iran deal was the kind of swampy thing that parasites like Obama and Kerry do and lapdogs like those in Congress at the time just let happen without a peep.

We had practically given up, despairing that a president would actually do the right thing, do decisive and courageous things in defense of the country.

Now, the leftist media will all come up with some kind of spin that ultimately will fail the test of "Was it ever right for a president to make an agreement with a foreign nation without the approval of Congress, let alone one that funds the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, and which grants them the unfettered right to build nuclear weapons in a few years?"

Would CNN say it was right to have made the deal?  Would MSNBC or NPR?  Will any of the network news anchors go on record as saying that the deal stank to high Heaven from the start, and that it was an abuse of power for Obama to have brought our country into it without the approval from Congress that the Constitution requires?

Yahoo's news feed at about 2:00pm Eastern time yesterday had a big headline about President Trump's pulling the USA out of the deal, with a subhead about how we were damaging our allies.  Twenty minutes later, oddly and without explanation, the pullout of the Iran deal was completely gone from the feed -- not one story showed.

Somehow, I don't think Yahoo decided that agreements funding terror were not a good thing, but something happened more than "what the heck?".  I don't think opinions have a place in news reporting, and I haven't changed my view there.

We need a deal with the Iranians like a third nostril.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Mueller, Manafort and the Mafia

By know you should know already that the past weekend was a particularly rough one for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is ostensibly investigating the possibility of Americans having colluded with Russians to affect the 2016 elections.  That, at least, is what he was supposedly doing, and what he was supposedly mandated to do.

However, a bunch of his team was in a court in Virginia last week working on charges of bank fraud from 2006 against Paul Manafort, who for a time was the campaign manager for the Donald Trump campaign.  The charges were being put before the court of Judge T.S. Ellis III, and apparently he was a bit taken aback.

You see, there is a tactic used by experienced FBI organized-crime types against the Mafia, where they will pick up a lower-end button man and threaten huge charges against him to get him to "sing" against his don or capo or other higher-up type.  "Here you go, Tony, you tell us what's going on or you'll spend 80 years in the slammer on this and this and this, that we have the goods on you for."  You've seen the movies.

Manafort had actually moved for dismissal of the case, based on the fact that Mueller had no standing to pursue it.  So Judge Ellis looked at the charges against Manafort, and then he looked at the Mueller types doing the prosecuting.  "OK, who the heck ARE you guys to be prosecuting a 2006 bank fraud case?  We have a thing here called jurisdiction, and I don't see any evidence that you have any of that stuff."

Jurisdiction, of course, is the whole "Who can prosecute whom" thing.  A sheriff in Kootenai County, Idaho, cannot bring charges for a burglary in Augusta, Georgia, because he doesn't have the right to act legally outside his own county.  And, in the view of Judge Ellis, a special counsel who, we are all told, is supposed to be investigating Russian election tampering does not have the standing to bring 2006 bank fraud charges -- in 2018.

Of course, being a reasonable man, Judge Ellis asked the logical question, that is, would the prosecutor please produce the "scope memo", which is the authorization from the Justice Department that allows them to pursue this case.  "Hem-haw", the Mueller people hemmed and hawed, "We can't do that, except in a heavily redacted version, because you're just a lowly judge and this is real national security stuff that you aren't good enough to see."

Or words to that effect.

Judge Ellis, to his credit, would have none of that.  As far as whether he could or not see the whole memo, he declared "I'll be the judge of that", and ordered them to produce the unredacted version in 12 days or risk having their standing to prosecute summarily canceled.

Of course, he didn't stop there.  He looked the Mueller types in the eye and accused them of prosecuting people and not a crime, that they were just using Manafort as a singer to try to get President Trump without a shred of evidence of any wrongdoing on the president's part.

They're either going to come back with an unredacted scope memo, in which case the judge may see no authorization to pursue old bank fraud cases, or with a redacted version -- or with no memo at all, in which case the Manafort case may just get tossed on lack of prosecutorial authority.

Mafia tactics are for Mafia cases, we can assume the good judge was thinking.  It is a standard of prosecutors' malpractice to pursue a person as opposed to a crime, and Judge Ellis saw the Mueller people as doing just that.  So does this column, and so does the nation.

Judge Ellis is a hero today, and it is our hope that the law, not what is now the Mueller Mafia, prevails.

We'll be watching.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, May 7, 2018

Jeepers Creepers, Fix CPARs and PPIRS!

I think you may read the headline and decide this is not a topic for you.  Too obscure, maybe, or nothing you care about.

But you need to care.  And if you can help fix it (e.g., if you are in government), well, please.

The Federal government in D.C. buys stuff.  Lots of stuff.  Every agency of government does that, and while we joke about NASA blasting five billion dollars worth of incredibly valuable items and a half dozen astronauts into space, all on a rocket "built by the lowest bidder", you get the idea.

We should expect that the businesses which sell those items are treated fairly and evaluated fairly; that business is not awarded to a company just because the owner is friends with a Senator, or a Clinton, or both.

But even absent politics, there needs to be common sense in the process, and that is frequently absent.  Let me try to explain a real failure in the system that is pervasive today.

This is not actually so much about the Feds, in this case the Defense Department, buying "things", so much as buying "hours."  In order to avoid hiring more government employees, whose salaries and benefits are huge taxpayer expenses and who are tough to fire or even lay off, the government contracts-out a lot of work to service contractors.  The contracts are to supply experts or specialists for a fixed period of time, after which the people -- and their costs -- may go away, or be renewed if the need is still there.

My profession is writing the proposals that contractors submit to compete for that kind of work.  So I am reasonably astute in the process of competing for Government contracts, and I see systemic problems that put at risk not only the Government's ability to get the best value, but the intrinsic fairness of the process.

Lesson #1 ... If you are trying to sell experts to the government, you need to show the Federal customer that you have done that kind of work before.  This is the "Past Performance" part of a proposal, and typically you will provide 4-5 descriptions of previous contracts you've done well at doing the same work.

Of course, the Government doesn't simply trust what you said you did.  So along with the 4-5 citations, you would be asked to have your past Federal customers fill out a form stating how wonderful you were on that assignment, and send it directly to your hoped-for customer.  That is called a "Past Performance Questionnaire" or PPQ.  Past customers absolutely hate having to fill out a PPQ, because (A) it involves writing (several pages), and (B) it involves writing the same stuff over and over in a slightly different way.

A contractor company can easily have to ask for the same PPQ as much as 20 times a year from a single customer, if the work is common and the company is doing a lot of bids.  That really can tick off their customer, and sometimes the 20th PPQ is not as flattering for just that reason.  A less-than-perfect PPQ can cost a company millions in business.

So ... someone finally saw the errors in that system, and a few years ago created a system, used in the Defense Department, called "PPIRS" (pronounced "PEE-pers"), the "Past Performance Information Retrieval System."

The principle was simple -- every year, Federal customers would write just one Contractor Performance Assessment Report ("CPAR") and file it in PPIRS.  Any Federal official conducting a procurement could download the CPARs for whatever past contract a company was citing in its proposal.  The past customer wouldn't even have to know about it, let alone be forced to do another PPQ.

It's 2018, and most Defense contracts of any real size have CPARs filed for them every year.  You'd think that would have solved the problem, right?  Sure.

I work about 30 different proposals a year.  Sometimes I am the lead for past performance, sometimes a different part, but in every case I am aware of the procurement's requirements for past performance.  And sadly, it's as if they never heard of PPIRS.  Jeepers, creepers!

In at least 3/4 of the proposals I do, there is still a requirement for contractors to ask for a PPQ from their past customers, whether or not there is a CPAR on file for that work.  Some requests ask that you make sure there is a CPAR on file and, bless them, only if there is not one do they ask for a PPQ.  But most of them just ask for a PPQ, meaning that you have to ask for one, from a ticked-off customer telling you "But I just did a full CPAR for that work!".  And it's not your fault.

I am working a proposal now for a client, a defense contractor.  Before the formal Request for Proposals came out, there was a period where we could ask questions of the Government, relating to draft documents the Government had released.  I asked one question to the effect that "Your draft Request asked for PPQs from five customers.  We ask that you remove that requirement for any past performance citation if there is a recent CPAR on file."

The actual question was longer than that; I actually made the point that the CPAR system was put in place to avoid ticking off customers by asking for PPQs.  But the government replied, tersely, "We will require PPQs for all citations."

Gee, thanks.

So I contacted my client company's program manager, who is running the contract that I want to use as a past performance reference.  I asked him if he would be willing to ask his customer for a PPQ.  "I can't", he answered.  "The program is almost over and they're evaluating proposals for the next phase of that work.  Until they award it, in December, the customer is refusing to do any PPQs."

Now, please note that even in an evaluation phase, there are zero Federal regulations preventing that customer from doing a PPQ in that period.  His customer is wrong.  And there are perfectly adequate CPARs in PPIRs for that work for several years; a PPQ shouldn't even be needed.

Suppose that work was an exact match for the work I'm bidding on, and my client had done a spectacular job, so it would be an ideal citation to use.  We could not use it, because (A) the Federal customer we're bidding to forces us to have a PPQ from every citation and won't use CPARs, and (B) the Federal customer for the work we are already doing has misinterpreted the law and thinks he can't do the PPQ.

Then suppose that my client is far and away the best to do the proposed work, but can't provide its best reference to prove our ability, and the Government ends up with a much lesser contractor because my client can't be shown to be as good as it is.  The taxpayer gets the lesser performance for our hard-earned and tax-confiscated dollar, all because of a very screwed-up system.

If you have a shred of influence; if you are a congressman or Senator, I beg you to help mandate that DoD contracting officers be far, far better trained and that acquisitions mandate that only CPARs be used for validation, and that PPQs may only be required if no CPAR is on file.

Because jeepers, creepers, that crap has to get fixed.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Four-Out Inning That Could Have Been

In baseball, there are three outs in an inning.  When the third out is recorded, the inning is over, notwithstanding the home team scoring a winning run in the ninth or beyond.  That doesn't matter; there is no such thing as a fourth out in an inning, except when it almost happened.

OK, I can't say it "almost" happened, as much as my being reminded of the fact that it actually could, and the situation for it came up on Wednesday night.  The announcers, Jerry Remy and Dave O'Brien, did not point out that it was a possibility, but I saw it immediately.

The Kansas City Royals, a challenged club this year, was at Fenway Park to play Boston.  In the first inning, Whit Merrifield of the Royals walked, and went to third on a double by Jorge Soler.  That left men on second and third, with one out following a strikeout.

Second and third, one out.  Plot material.

Salvador Perez was the next batter, and he hit a fly to the outfield, quite deep but playable, an easy sacrifice fly but deep enough to where Soler could have tagged up on second and gone to third, had he actually remembered that there was only one out.  Fortunately for me and the column, he did not.

Merrifield tagged up and scored, followed closely by Soler, who had not bothered to tag up and was being screamed at in vain by the third-base coach.  Of course, the outfielders relayed the ball back to second, and Soler, nowhere near second and unsure what was going on, was doubled off second for the third out.  Since Merrifield had clearly touched home before the ball got to second, the run counted.

The broadcast went off to commercial, and I was scratching my head.

What, I thought, if Merrifield had left third base too early?  The play had already happened, but it was worth a look, since if the Red Sox had appealed at third, and Merrifield had been called out, the KC run would have been taken off the scoreboard.

Now, Merrifield had obviously not left too early, but what if he had?  The first out of the inning was a strikeout, the second the catch of the long fly, and the third was Soler being doubled off second to end the inning.  There would already have been three outs before an appeal play at third, but given that a run would be taken off the scoreboard, it would not have been moot; Boston would have to have made the appeal to get the run removed, and would have.

Merrifield would have been called out -- in order to get the run off the board, there would have to have been a different outcome for Merrifield and that would have been his being called out -- the fourth out of the inning.

I don't exactly have the Rules of Baseball memorized, but I'm guessing that situation would actually result in an inning of four outs, perfectly in keeping with the rules.

Remy and O'Brien didn't bring that up, but I hope at least this column will trigger some fun discussion of a four-out inning.

Footnote ... as you might imagine, I just had to know if this had ever happened and if the rule book, which by now covers about everything, actually had something in there for this instance.  In fact, it has never happened in baseball history, although it could have.  Definitely, if it is necessary to take a run off the board, a manager would have to appeal, but the rule book is also clear on the scoring.  Had, in this case, Cora as manager made a successful appeal, Merrifield would have been called out for leaving third too early.  But Soler, the runner who had been doubled off second in the original scoring, would no longer be "out", and the third out would actually have been recorded by Merrifield at third -- with Soler not a part of the scoring at all.  Three outs, not four.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, May 3, 2018

NBC Forcing the Issue on Tom Brokaw, It Seems

I suppose many of us were taken aback when the news person Linda Vester made headlines last week, with allegations that Tom Brokaw, the certified NBC News legend, had groped her and made unwanted advances in the 1990s, when she had just gotten her full-time status with the network's news division.

I don't have to go over the details too much, except that the incident's truth does pass the initial sniff test, in that she told several friends at the time -- who totally agree with her account of the incident and contemporaneous notification of them about it -- and that she documented the multiple incidents at the time.

The fact that it was not reported in public, or even to NBC's HR Department, at the time also has a rational basis, in that Brokaw was the god at NBC at the time -- and, apparently, is still -- while Vester had just gotten her full-time job there, and assumed at the time that it would end her career, without any compensation, if she were to make her account public.  Women simply did not come forward back then, even when men came uninvited to women's hotel rooms.

I tend to believe her, and it doesn't hurt that she is neither suing Brokaw or NBC News, nor asking for anything with this exposure of her story.  The worst inference one could make would be that this is a revenge act of some kind -- except that Vester was not anywhere in Brokaw's main organization at the time or later; she did not work with him or near him, and there is no reason to think he ever did anything to her (other than the unwanted advances of a married man) for which her story, told now, would be an effective way to go about it.  The climate is different now, so it is certainly circumstantially reasonable that this is happening.

NBC News, however, is not happy.

As written in this piece, it appears that they have taken the position that their god is not to be torn down and, accordingly, have produced a statement to be signed by every woman working at NBC News.  While over 100 have signed the statement saying that Tom Brokaw is a wonderful man who would never ever do such a thing and is nice to kittens and helps elderly women across the street, not all of them seem to agree.

Executives of NBC News, one staffer reported, were keeping tabs on who signed and who didn't, and God (the real One, not those at NBC News) help any staffer who chose not to sign, especially after Andrea Mitchell and Mika Brzezinski affixed their names high up on the list.  "They were watching", we are told.  When you are a young female wanting to advance in the news biz, and there are 2,250 exactly like you waiting in line outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza for your job, well, you sign.

NBC News, of course, claims that the letter is “purely grass-roots effort, led by women outside of the company who are motivated by their own support for Tom Brokaw . . . Management has played absolutely no role whatsoever.”  And we believe that, right?  Oh, by the way, the letter was written, in case you were wondering (and I would have been if I didn't know) by Liz Bowyer, a producer for Brokaw’s NBC documentary unit.  She has, of course, worked on two of his books.

I try to take each accusation of sexual anything on its face value.  The Al Franken thing was easy, because we had pictures.  The stuff with Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate, was a lot harder, because there were different types of accusations, and because a lot of them were interpretable as flirting, made odd to some of us only because of the age difference but perhaps less odd in Alabama -- but the more forward accusations of him were pretty bad if they were to have been proven.  The stuff with Bill Clinton -- not the Lewinski affair, which was consensual but extramarital and abuse of power -- but the rape allegations by Juanita Broaddrick and others, that is the stuff that should have been in court 25 years ago.

This one was an abuse of power (Brokaw could affect Vester's career at the time) and was an unwanted advance long past the "No, please stop!" and "I didn't invite you to my hotel room, Tom!" stage.  And it was documented, reported and corroborated, at least the simultaneous reporting of it to friends was, by multiple people without reward or contradiction.

This one stinks.  And to think that it is now being handled by NBC News bulling female staffers into signing off on a "Tom is great" letter with the unspoken risk of career impact, well, NBC News is now doing to its employees exactly what Brokaw was doing to Miss Vester.

And that doesn't pass the sniff test.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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