Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Separating Ideas' DNA from Their Authors

Recently the Obama administration conducted a long series of discussions of some type with the outlaw island nation of Cuba.  These resulted in some movement forward on the normalization of relations with Cuba.  I confess to fear that I will misstate what the outcome will actually be, or what constitutes normal relations, or whether there will be consuls or ambassadors or what.

I did a piece on this a week or so ago, but the topic was about the proper path to civilize Cuba.  Today, normalizing relations with Cuba is merely the example of the issue I perceived as I wrote the other column, namely, that although I agreed with the idea, the fact that it came from this White House caused me to challenge it on its surface (before getting more rational).  I certainly continue to question the motivation, and assume that the path that will be taken will be the most kowtowing, the least productive for the USA and most carefully positioned to make Obama look good for his legacy portrait.

We should agree with the idea of normalizing relations, though for hardly any of the reasons put forth by the White House; rather, as I wrote, I see a healthy, vibrant economy in Cuba operating under a democratically-elected government to be a wonderful partner for the USA, another Canada (more baseball than hockey, of course, not than there's anything wrong with that).  I see a blitzkrieg offensive to turn Cuba into that end state as best being economic rather than military; open the markets, turn up the Internet full blast, and the Castros will have no ability to hold power.  It will be Poland in the late 1980s, and that certainly turned out well.

I shouldn't have to grit my teeth to say that.  Although I disagree fundamentally with liberal thinking on almost everything, it is not at all out of the question that there can be ideas coming from the left on certain issues that are very much worth discussing.  And I am willing to listen, especially if they can actually explain the end state and show how their proposed process for getting to it has worked before, or why, based on facts, it is likely to work this time.

I think it behooves both sides, liberal and conservative, to start showing a willingness to listen and avoid the knee-jerk, "It has to be wrong because [fill in the blank] said it" reaction.  Sure the proposal may be for the wrong reason but the outcome might be agreed upon and we can discuss process.  Ted Cruz can have a splendid idea.  Elizabeth Warren might have a point somewhere we need to discuss.  Let us not simply scrunch up our faces, hard as it may be, when we see these folks on TV (of course, you are permitted to scrunch up your face when Al Sharpton comes on).

I'm willing to listen, if you can explain how something I would otherwise disagree with can work, and maybe show where it has.

Let's talk, can we?

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No Other Place for Your Money

A short while ago there was an article in the leftist Huffington Post by former White House senior policy analyst Jeff Schweitzer, complaining that the poor beleaguered president was getting all the blame for bad things and no credit for good things.  This morning, left-wing Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson chimed in on the same theme.  Of course, as we sit here with our enemies hating us, our friends no longer trusting us, insurance prices doubling and fewer people employed than when Obama took office, it's hard to find those "good things."

Since they're so invisible, let's make them up, shall we?  Or, in Schweitzer's case, let's just go all post hoc, ergo propter hoc again -- he was in office when good thing X happened, therefore he gets credit.

Today's example from the article: "The stock market doubled in value during Obama's first 14 months in office; it is now well into the 17,000s."  It's actually over 18,000 as I write this, which is a good thing unless you're heavily into short positions.

Now, Schweitzer is a marine biologist by trade, and I'm a biology major by education and a defense contractor by trade.  Neither of us is a professional economist (I hear my father nodding from Heaven, turning away from his and Mom's 73rd anniversary dance up there, and saying "Thank God!").

Schweitzer is only mentioning the stock market in the context of "Gee, give him credit for it", but the subtle message is that correlation equals causation, i.e., that he had something to do with it.  In my view, there are two major reasons the Dow is as high as it is.  One has nothing to do with Barack Obama; the other does -- but not in the good way.

The first is quite simple, and its roots are squarely attributable -- to the Federal Reserve.  Stock prices fluctuate with the profitability of companies, and with the underlying stability of the economy based on global forces.  They also vary because investment dollars (and rubles, yen and euros) follow where they can get the best bang with the lowest risk.  Stocks have innate risk; U.S. Treasury-backed bills, bonds and notes almost none.  But if Treasury securities earn almost no interest, you might as well stuff your cash in a mattress -- or buy stocks.

So as long as the Fed keeps interest rates near zero, investment dollars from mutual funds, pension funds, foreigners and all the other entities seeking to maximize returns and capitalized enough to move the needle, will turn to stocks.  More buyers, higher prices.  Supply and demand.  Bingo, 18,000 on the Dow, at least until the Fed starts letting interest rates rise.

The complementary reason does trace back to Obama, and it isn't good.  Corporate America simply regards him as socialistically anti-business, an over-regulator, high-tax, high-minimum wage leftist who needs to be waited out (i.e., no action until the next president takes over).  As long as they're very fiscally prudent with Obama in office, they're going to resist spending and get very cash-hoardy.  While that does nothing for the economy as a whole, it looks better for the profitability and the books of the companies as they don't invest as much internally.

So the essential profitability of the companies in the Dow looks better because they've tightened their wallets (at the expense, it should be noted, of strong growth that needs investment).  More Obama regulations, more conservatism from corporate America.  More conservatism, less spending, less growth, but higher perceived profit.  Higher profit, better perception of the books, which supports higher stock prices.

Obviously it would be better if the stocks were rising because of profit associated with profitable growth, rather than because they're the only place to put money.  But for that, we'll have to wait until at least 2017.

I agree with Schweitzer that there's no point blaming Obama for hurricanes (I agree with Robinson on nothing in his article), and I promise not to do so.  But I'm not going to stand by and let anyone try to give him credit for stock prices being high now.

I'm glad my retirement fund, such as it is, is getting a bit better.  But credit goes where credit is due, and that's the Fed.  Thanks, Fed -- please keep those interest rates low.  I'll send you a Christmas card.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Monday, December 29, 2014

But They're ALL Side Effects!

Unless you have succeeded in watching 100% of your TV using a DVR and completely avoided commercials forever, you've seen these commercials.  The prominent Law Offices of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe declare in sonorous tones that the drug Bftsplkabib has been linked to significant side effects, and if you or a loved one has experienced any of these, such as teeth growing out of your fingers, knee cancer, delirium or other injury or serious death, you should call them to get justice.

We are so glad that attorneys now have the privilege of advertising on TV, aren't we.  They don't have to be ambulance chasers anymore; they just need to advertise in the hope of winning the lottery with a class-action suit, those ones where the lawyers walk away with swimming pools and Rolls-Royces and the actual injured party gets $78.42.  Because of one of those lawsuits, the State of Maryland recognizes me as "black", but I digress.

Most of those ads that don't relate to auto injury cases have to do with pharmaceutical companies, and that's the topic of today's happy piece.  The thesis is quite simple: Given the fact that the FDA has to approve a new drug before it can be released to the public, at what point should pharmaceutical companies be insulated from lawsuits associated with the use of their products?

Why should we have a hard time with this?  To me, as long as we're not talking about contamination in the product, there should be complete protection from lawsuits for the drug companies whose untainted product is provided through the prescription process (sorry for the alliteration).

Why?  Because of the Side Effect Principle; i.e., all outcomes of the use of a drug are side effects.  You take acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) to reduce pain, which is its most common (side) effect, pain inhibition.  It is also, of course, a blood thinner (another side effect) and a stomach irritant (yet another).

Aspirin is approved by the FDA for use as a pain reliever, with warnings on the label about the other effects.  I daresay that if someone taking aspirin bled to death from the stomach from excessive use, they'd have their case thrown out in court if they tried to sue.  We know about those effects, because aspirin is so widely used that that there is an immense statistical baseline to show that in 83% of patients, it relieves pain, and 2.3% have gastric bleeding, and so forth.

Obviously we have that data because pretty much everyone has pain and gazillions of aspirins have been taken.  So what happens with drugs that are not for headaches, but rather for much more obscure conditions?  The manufacturer has to submit to the FDA for testing for safety and effectiveness, and only when the right clinical studies show whatever FDA thinks it needs, can the drug be approved.

However, you can only study a drug in so many patients, generally not enough to be able to document every side effect, for which you would have to test huge populations.  We know that.  It's the price we pay for effective medications.  So why, then, do we not simply acknowledge that truth and hold the drug companies harmless from financial damages once they pass FDA testing?

Stuff happens, very often without malice.  Drug companies are in business to make a profit for their shareholders, which they can only do if they produce effective medicines.  To prevent their being produced willy-nilly, we have the FDA to be the Federal gatekeeper, testing away to make sure drugs pass muster before being released.  Make the "gate" real.

We know that, particularly for rare treatments for rare maladies, eventually we'll see unforeseen side effects.  We are sad for the patient when it happens, but stuff happens.  The drug companies do not want to see injured patients; they want their products to be seen as effective and safe, and should be assumed to have taken appropriate steps -- as should the FDA be equally assumed.

The proper outcome in such a case is that the insurance company is the accountable party, not the pharmaceutical manufacturer.  The job of the insurer is to reckon the risk and charge for it.  They themselves have lists of drugs they will and will not pay for, based on perceived risk.  If the patient takes on the risk by agreeing to a drug outside the insurer's approval, they take on the obligation in the event of unforeseen harm.

And a note -- this also is colored by the post hoc, ergo propter hoc rule, i.e., that just because you took the drug and your toes turned lavender doesn't mean that it was the drug that tinted your tootsies.

Although the outcome would be that we'd get some high-end arguments between patients and their insurance companies, those are the right arguments to have.  If we suitably indemnify drug makers if they do their job properly and if the FDA has blessed their product, the liability cost built into pharmaceuticals will take a dive, and the price of the products to the public will drop as well.

Which is better -- a lower across-the-board cost for drugs for all, or a fat payment from a lawsuit to one or two aggrieved parties, most of which goes to their lawyers.  I vote for "A".

That would be a side effect I'd like to see.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Friday, December 26, 2014

No, I Mean What Is an Ace REALLY Worth?

Back to baseball for a moment ...

Last week, after the Chicago Cubs signing of Jon Lester, the former star lefty of the Boston Red Sox, I wrote a piece on the value of such long, expensive contracts.  My thesis at the time was really about how such contracts don't pan out for older players, particularly pitchers, and that the Red Sox valued him at one figure, and the Cubs at a much higher one, presumably based on a balance of need and expectation that was higher on the North Side of the Second City than in the Hub.

I neglected a whole perspective on the Lester deal that has now happened, and the expected deal for Max Scherzer, the other ace starter, which as yet hasn't happened as we await the annual dance between 30 clubs and agent Scott Boras's free-agent player for the year.

That perspective was sharpened by the realization that the Red Sox have constructed a rotation of five pitchers -- Clay Buchholz, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson, Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly -- whose expected performance, were they to pitch to their expected level, would be at the same time remarkably similar and similarly unremarkable.  Each is an experienced major-league starter with success in the majors.

That's not to say that they're not very good; they are indeed very good starters.  We think of those who are aces as "#1s" in a five-man rotation; so by that description the Red Sox have five "#3s".  This is distressing to a lot of fans clamoring for an "ace", but the more I think about it from a team gestalt perspective, the less I care, and here's why.

Let's say for a minute that the Red Sox were to sign Max Scherzer to something like what he wants, $25 million a year for 6-7 years.  Set aside what I wrote before about the expectation that the contract's last few years would likely be expensive and non-productive.

Scherzer would replace one of the five "#3s" the Red Sox have in the rotation.  Say it is Wade Miley for argument's sake.  Miley would then be moved to the bullpen as the long reliever and spot starter.  Scherzer goes into the rotation in the #1 position.  The pitcher who was in the bullpen in the long reliever/spot starter role (currently a minimum-salary rookie like Brandon Workman or Anthony Ranaudo) either goes to the minors or shifts to a late-inning reliever and replaces a different rookie who goes to the minors.

The movement of the other pitchers in the food chain is of very little moment as far as effect on the team's wins in 2015.  The real impact is felt in the rotation, where Scherzer is in and Miley is out.  Given that, we have to look at deciding whether signing Scherzer is worth it on the surface, because -- and here is the perspective thing -- to sign Scherzer is to place a $25 million per year value not on Scherzer, but on the difference between the expected performance of Scherzer and the expected performance of the pitcher he replaces, i.e., Wade Miley.  

If the Red Sox had a rookie penciled in to the fifth spot in the rotation, then Scherzer's value to the team would be pretty much the "absolute of his value".  That is, he would be replacing a replacement-level player, and the cost of his contract would be weighed only against his own expected performance.  But he isn't!  If your fifth-spot starter (the "#5") is of the same quality as a typical #3, as Miley is, then you have to ask yourself if the additional team wins expected, by raising the quality of one position in the rotation from Wade Miley to Max Scherzer, is worth $25 million in 2015.

If Scherzer pitched every day, there might be an argument.  But he will start only 33 games in 2015 assuming he is healthy.  I agree that if you could flip a switch and turn Miley into Scherzer tomorrow, you would do it.  But to pay $25 million for the privilege of doing so, and commit to doing the same for $25 million for seven years, knowing that the difference between a very good starter and an excellent starter is not really all that much, well, it seems fiscally irresponsible.

An ace is worth not what he performs, but how much better he performs than the starter he replaces.  If it is I, I'll take the five more easily-replaceable #3s and apply my revenues to improving the quality of the guys in the field playing 162 games.

Of course, my business card doesn't say "GM" on it.  At least not yet :)

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Thursday, December 25, 2014

And a Merry Christmas to You, Too!

All over the world there are men and women of the cloth, presenting Christmas messages to their flocks, congregations, parishioners and anyone else who will listen.  Their words are no doubt more articulate than anything I can say, and display more understanding of the message of God than anything I can ever know.

So my message will be brief.

Today we celebrate the birth of Him who was sent to take our sins and redeem our humble lives, if only we accept the grace of our Father in offering that gift to us.  How excellent is that grace, and may we all, amid the secular trappings that surround the season, pause to appreciate the One who loved us that much to show that grace to us.

A very Merry Christmas to the readers of this site, and a passionate wish for peace on this day.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

That's "Trillion", with a "T"

Yesterday the Dow Jones Industrial average passed 18,000 points for the first time.  This, of course, is not nearly as much a reflection of the health of the economy as it is of the fact that with interest rates around zero, stocks are pretty much the only place left to put one's money.

But there's another number starting with "18" that should scare the living heck out of us.

The good old USA is now extraordinarily in debt.  We were pretty much badly in debt (about $10 trillion worth) before the current president took office in 2009, and six years later we're up to here in debt, having just surpassed an 18 trillion dollar obligation (yes, that's "trillion") to our Government's creditors.

I'm not going to tell you how high 18 trillion dollar bills stacked up would reach, because then we'd be talking about diversions and not about the serious issue they represent, which is itself pretty simple:

The US Government is authorized by the Constitution to perform certain enumerated functions in support and in defense of the citizens of our nation, and in protection of the sovereignty of the country and the individual states.  To pay for those services, the Government is authorized to collect taxes and fees from its citizens based on their commercial activities, wages and transfers.  When it budgets more spending than the projected taxes and fees it will collect, it must borrow to raise money to pay the excessive spending.  As of right now, that obligation is over $18 trillion.

I suppose you could argue that's OK, as long as we can afford the payments, the "service on the debt."  After all, I have a mortgage whose balance is about four times my annual gross income.  Since the balance is spread over another 20 years or so, my debt service expense is well within my ability to pay it down.  Of course, unlike the Government, I am not making the situation worse by buying a new house every year and adding to my debt.

My bank has a lot of leverage with me.  Since I owe them a lot of money and they have a recorded claim on my house if I miss a payment, I have to be very careful in my dealings with them.  And that's kind of the point -- when we keep borrowing as a nation because we can't control our spending, we develop the same situation, that of a creditor with leverage.  Only ours are not as friendly as bankers are.

Who are those creditors, you ask?  Oh, well, we needn't worry; they're all countries we are very friendly with, starting with the largest creditor in terms of holders of US debt -- you guessed it, the People's Friendly Democratic Republic of People Who Wouldn't Ever Mess with our Internet.  That would be China, holder of about one and a quarter trillion of our dollars worth of USA debt. Close behind them would be Japan, but no worries there, we haven't fought a war with them in at least 69 years.

The largest nation-creditors (the majority of our debt is held by institutions and individuals) total about $6 trillion worth, or a third of our debt, including pleasant, chocolate-making places like Belgium ($300 billion) and less-pleasant, vodka-and-AK-47-making places like Russia ($100 billion).

The current Federal budget of about $3.7 trillion includes about $420 billion in debt service.  Since total projected revenues are about $3.0 trillion, we are spending some $300 billion we don't have on services we can't afford, before we pay $420 billion we also don't have, in debt payments on borrowing we've already done to pay for things we couldn't afford.

Back when Barack Obama was a part-time US senator, he famously declared the level of debt to be "unpatriotic", words that you would think would have come back to haunt him, had we an actual journalistic community to challenge him on it.  But it may be the one thing he has ever said that I would agree with.

Balancing the budget (including debt service) for enough years in a row to pay down the debt will not be easy, but it is certainly not a topic that we should avoid.  Every additional dollar we borrow from China simply ratchets up the leverage that unpleasant set of communists has over us.  Every additional dollar we borrow from anybody means that there is more and more competition for the lent dollar, such that when interest rates are finally allowed to float to meet the market, our Government is going to have to compete at higher and higher rates to finance its profligacy.

Debt is not a pleasant situation.  My mortgage is on my mind all the time, even though I can afford the payment.  It is long past time for Congress to step up to the plate and inform the nation of its intent to budget spending at a level of only what it can take in.  If a healthy USA economy produces $3 billion in revenues in taxes and fees, then our spending should be capped at $3 billion -- including debt service -- China be darned.  Belgium too, unless it affects our chocolate importing capacity.

Let's start talking about that, shall we?

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ben and Barry, Grab a Mic

So if you are the President of the United States, in the last two years of your term, with power sapped from you daily and your legacy being pulverized by police being murdered on your watch, what do you do next?

That, my friends, depends on what the current president actually wants.  I would pose that he should only be wanting one thing in regard to the police vs. black communities saga -- peace.  And by that I mean a lasting peace, predicated on these assumptions accepted by all:
(1) The cops in black communities are on the beat to protect the black communities
(2) Citizens are responsible for the natural consequences of their actions
(3) The American system of justice actually provides justice.

If Barack Obama does not believe all the above, he needs to tell the American people that and explain himself, because all of the above is true.  If he does believe it, as he should, then he has the moral high ground, and an amazing leadership opportunity I'll present in a second.

Remember what we are dealing with here: two criminals, at least one violent, were killed by police in the process of resisting arrest.  Worse, "resisting" in the Ferguson case entailed robbing a convenience store, then punching a policeman, trying to wrestle his gun from him, running off a bit and then charging him after having already been shot.  In both cases, the grand juries looked at the evidence in detail, met with witnesses, and determined that the police acted within their guidelines as law-enforcement officers.

In both cases, unfortunately, the racism industry, led by the "Reverend" Al Sharpton, incited riots by declaring that the grand juries were wrong, prejudiced and unjust and that, without any evidence, both cases had racial elements.  As a result, we have at least two dead police officers that we know of, and hatred for the police, and verbal and Internet threats to the very people who are paid to protect the citizenry from people like Michael Brown.

So back to leadership.  If indeed Obama wants this whole thing defused -- and I don't know for sure he does but I sure hope so -- he needs to do the following:

Place a call to Dr. Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon thinking about running for president as a Republican next election.  Carson is a reasonable person, black, poor upbringing in Detroit, that sort of thing.  He'll take your call. 

Then the two of them need to stand together on a podium and explain the grand jury process in St. Louis County and how, in this case, it actually worked.  Justice was served; the bad guy ended up dead because he acted in a way that should expect to cause death-by-cop.  The justice that was served was justice for the community of Ferguson, not "against" Michael Brown; Brown got "his" justice, in that he was unfortunately but unsurprisingly killed after a robbery and police assault.  Obama and Carson need to explain that the next person in that county in need of the justice provided by a grand jury is likely to be one of the community, one of them who may be unjustly accused of something for which there is inadequate evidence to bring to trial.

If Obama does that, along with another respected leader who happens to be black, it may not matter that much what the outcome will be -- but he will have defended the Constitution he twice swore to uphold, and stood up for the justice system that in this case actually worked.  He will have shown the ability to distance himself from the Sharptonite race-panderers who are clearly not interested in a better America, only one tense enough to provide them with an income.

Think about it, Barry.  Give Ben a call.  Show a little leadership, while you still have the bully pulpit.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Monday, December 22, 2014

Care-Givers at Home

I daresay most of us have been to nursing homes, generally to visit someone who is living or staying there.  I do not have to tell you they are not pleasant places.  Very old people sit in the halls doing nothing until they die.  The caregivers, dedicated as most are, have no real capacity to brighten up the lives of the residents.  I don't know how they do it, and I don't know how the residents manage.

There is also a financial component, of course.  Medicare, the Federal insurance, does not cover nursing homes, which cost the residents thousands of dollars per month each.  Medicaid, the Federally-funded but state-run program for the poor, does cover nursing-home care in certified facilities.  So if you're poor, you can afford it, but if you're not poor, you probably can't, although presumably you can sign over everything you have to the facility and they'll take you in some way.

So here's the thing.  My wife and I are 63 (she looks great).  Her mother, who lives with us, is 88 and unable to live on her own.  She has a walker that allows her to move from her bedroom to her bathroom to the adjacent family room, as far as she can manage.  She takes 15 different medications over the course of the day, over 20 pills total.  She is incapable of managing her prescriptions on her own, as she cannot see close-up well enough to read labels, but can dress herself, although just able to do so.

She does, however, have a much better quality of life than most all of the other 88-year-olds similarly incapacitated.  Although she cannot leave the house save for doctor visits, she watches a large-screen TV, reads books on a Kindle-type device that enlarges the print, has three good meals a day, talks on the phone.  She never misses a pill or gets the wrong one.

That, friends, is because her daughter, who is an expert in government contracting and a recent business owner, is confined to the house to take care of her 24/7.  She does that because she is committed to her mother's care; she does it 24x7 because her mother doesn't qualify for Medicaid; cannot on her own afford a nursing home, and home nursing care is not covered by Medicare.

As a result, from the perspective of the Government, a person who is quite capable of contributing to the economy, with skills in demand in her profession, does not work and thus is not paying income tax; no, instead she is an unpaid home care nurse.  Early this year, her mother was in the hospital for five weeks, and my wife was there 14 hours a day, overseeing prescription balancing (which she understood better than the staff relative to her mother's care).  Even worse, now she is confined to the house lest her mother fall, or have a health emergency, or some personal accident only her daughter could attend to.  "Confined" means she can only leave the house for an hour at most, and that perhaps once every week or two.

What's wrong with this picture?

There's a lot wrong.  There absolutely needs to be a significant reevaluation of the Medicare coverage of intermittent home-care nursing for the elderly.  Is it beneficial to the Government to take working-age people out of the workforce and cease receiving income tax from them, rather than providing some level of home visitation care to alleviate the caregiver's confinement, perhaps to allow them to work?

May we at least run the numbers?  I know that based on her previous professional income and tax rate, my wife would be paying the US Treasury about $25,000 per year in taxes.  She now pays nothing, since she cannot leave the house to work.  We have a tax-preference category for child care to allow (primarily) mothers to work.  Has Congress even looked at the upside-down economics of home care for the elderly, and the possibility that it could be revenue-positive, if not at least revenue-neutral, to legislate around such situations?

I don't know the answer.  What I do know is that a very intelligent and immensely capable woman is completely out of the work force and, worse, completely confined to her home, with no compensation, for providing care that in a different situation, would be paid for by her mother's Medicaid if she received a little less in Social Security.

She is a claimed dependent on our taxes, of course.  She would be a claimed dependent if she were in perfect health, too, it should be noted.  So the net tax effect of the exemption, given our rate, is about $80 per month.  I guarantee you my wife would gladly pay $80 per month if she could perhaps go out to dinner once in a while.

This is just all wrong.  My congressional district has a new representative, Barbara Comstock, who takes office on New Year's Day.  I'm going to forward this to her in the hope that we might be able to testify to the absurdity of the situation.  Of  course, it will have to be I speaking, since my wife can't leave the house long enough to go to DC and testify.

We're not looking for money here, guys.  We're looking for attention to the proper solution for the caring for the very elderly in their homes.  It's a great alternative to the Government subsidizing nursing homes, if only someone will take up the cause.

I'm sure you didn't hear it here first.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Friday, December 19, 2014

Desi, We Hardly Knew Ye

So now we have to contemplate the possibility of a diminishing of "tensions", such as they were, between official Cuba and the official U.S.   How ever will our moral compasses deal with that one?

I've never been to Cuba and known very few people who have.  I'm old enough to remember a joke on a 1959ish-era TV show where the riddle was something about a U.S. space rocket, and the answer was "Batista's getaway car", which was funny when the old miserable dictator Fulgencio Batista was driven from office and the new, even worse dictator Fidel Castro was grabbing power.

So now the president has tried to open doors to end the 50-year-old embargo and establish diplomatic relationships with the Castros.  Naturally, I am suspicious; it is really hard to think that anything Obama does -- especially when this has apparently been in the works for a year without a hint to Congress -- is being done for good reason.  Right now we are in the "Barry's Legacy" years, meaning that we assume first that any action taken by the White House is to give the future Obama canonizers something to work with when they rewrite history.

But what could happen as a result?  Better yet, what do we want to happen as the result of any particular action toward Cuba?  I think the answer is pretty widely agreed-upon.  We want a successful, democratically-governed Cuba with a free (i.e., capitalistic) economy and a thriving people not victim to human-rights violations and a repressive dictatorship.  We want an ally to our south.

I'm always looking at the end state.  As it's often said, all roads are equally valid if you don't know where you're going.  The above is the end state I'd like to see and I think the USA does as well.  So how do we get there?

There's an old Aesop fable where the Sun and the Wind bet that they can each get the coat off a man.  The Wind goes first, but the more it blows, the tighter the man wraps the coat, until finally the Wind gives up.  Then the Sun takes over, shining brightly until the man finally takes off the coat and throws it over his shoulder and the Sun wins.

The metaphor applies here, of course.  One could easily argue that the Soviet empire fell when the metaphorical Sun started shining on it, the blinds lifted by Pope John Paul II and the Polish movement Solidarity, Ronald Reagan's promotion of the Strategic Defense Initiative which forced the Soviets to try to respond and ultimately bankrupt itself doing so, and the network of walls ultimately falling.  Eventually even the Russians, at least for a time, were a westernized economy.

So could it be here.  The global marketplace is so electronic, so, well, "global", that it would take very little time for the Cuban economy to start sprouting pockets of success.  Word spreads, entrepreneurship spreads, and before long the economy outstrips the dictatorship's ability to control it by force.  The USA happily smiles and subsidizes Cuban start-ups, vesting American entrepreneurs in opposing any local Cuban governmental opposition to growth.  We are, after all, only 90 miles away.  The USA, not Venezuela, starts selling energy to Cuba.  Before long, we're their big trading partner.

If the end is a successful economy that demands a democratically-elected government, then I have to say, the Sun and not the Wind would be the successful path.  I've no idea what Obama is thinking -- or if he is thinking -- and I do believe we need to work diplomatically with leaders in the Cuban-American community somehow (actual Cuban-American leaders like Senators Rubio and Menendez, not some Cuban Al Sharpton).  But I have to think some kind of Cuban glasnost, followed by a huge economic assault of American capitalism, would lead to the desired Cuba faster than anything else.

Desi Arnaz would be proud.  We could rebuild those clubs in Havana again.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rethinking the Morality of Torture

As I write the draft of this piece (17 December), the Washington Post today is chock full of torture articles and letters to the editor on its opinion pages.  Sadly, they are overwhelmingly debating whether this act or that act is, or is not, "torture".  Semantics.  We're wallowing in semantics.

The left typically has an issue with the concept of morality.  For some reason it seems not to want to allow us to decide that anything whatsoever is actually right or wrong, as if it might, I don't know, validate the Judeo-Christian ethic or something.  One day racism is wrong and terrible; the next day it's OK as long as it's practiced by Al Sharpton, that sort of thing.

But, again, I digress.  For the purpose of this piece, I'm going to abandon the semantic argument about what is or is not torture, and stipulate that anything past asking a prisoner of war a question while the prisoner is seated in a normal position constitutes torture.  POWs being kept in large numbers in a POW camp and being fed reasonably and given a place to lie down is not torture.  How's that?

So here is where morality comes in.  I believe that every prisoner of war who is a battlefield participant (i.e., is a soldier of their side) has a fundamental right to be treated without torture as defined broadly.  However, and this is the big one -- that right is not unlimited.  In other words, prisoners of war lose their protection from torture when they commit, or conspire to commit, acts of terror upon innocent civilians, and prisoners who commit such acts outside of a declared war forfeit them entirely. 

Now, this is badly in need of legal definition, and I'm not a lawyer (though I've played one on stage).  How, for example, would we have protected the crew of the Enola Gay, in a declared war, from being thought of as terrorists?  How do we properly exclude uniformed participants in declared wars between nations?  Would the 9/11 attacks have been less appalling in concept had it been done to us by Germans in 1942, since we and they were bombing each others' innocent cities already?  War is, indeed, heck.

I do have a moral compass on this issue.  The USA is not in a declared war against any sovereign nation and hasn't been for years.  There is a group of individuals, not Americans and not a sovereign state in and of themselves, who for 20 years at least have been planning and in some cases carrying out terrorist attacks against the USA (and others).

Absent the protection of sovereignty and a declaration of war, they are a special class of international criminals, and not subject to the protection of the Geneva Convention or anything else.  In at least my moral code, they have forfeited their right to be treated as normal prisoners, and are open to being treated by whatever means are necessary to extract the intelligence needed to protect our citizens, and to deter future comrades from taking up terror.  They have forfeited their own humanity, and we have every plausible right to oblige them by treating them as sources of the information needed to protect our citizens.

The morality of torture is not just defined by the morality of the appliers, but far more so by the immorality of the criminal.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Price Acedom

Last week, the former Boston Red Sox pitching star Jon Lester, who had been traded to Oakland in the latter part of the 2014 season, rejected a $135 million, six-year contract offer to return to Boston, signing instead a $155 million, six-year contract to play with the Chicago Cubs.  If you have read this far, you certainly know that the Cubs' record of futility, not being in the World Series since World War II, and not winning it since 1908, justifies almost any action at this point.  This included hiring the former Red Sox general manager, Theo Epstein, who had developed Lester after his predecessor drafted him back in 2002.

Who made the mistake?  Was it the Red Sox in not raising the ante, or the Cubs in risking over $25 million of their finite resources on only one of 25 major-league roster slots?  It's an interesting question, because the answer will not be known for at least 3-4 years.  According to the likeliest scenario, given Lester's age and the length of the contract, the Cubs will get perhaps three years of worthwhile productivity out of Lester, and three years of regret.

While Lester has been remarkably durable to date (save his dealings with lymphoma and recovery in 2006), so were many of the other players given extended contracts in their age 30 or 31 seasons.  So the fact that almost none of those players has produced at the level the contract would have demanded has to be balanced against the track record of the player himself.

It's a bizarre dynamic, for sure, that in baseball these players keep getting big, long free-agent contracts that turn out to be rewards not for what they do under the contract itself, but what they did for their previous employer.  In the case of a pitcher, it's even more harmful to the contracting team, because the pitcher is contributing for only 20% of the team's games even when healthy.

But I digress; back to the Cubs and the Red Sox.  Boston's GM, Ben Cherington, actually did make two such signings of free-agent position players this off-season, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.  Those were shorter, Sandoval for five years and Ramirez four, and Sandoval is only 28, so the risks are lower, though the money is large.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox wanted Lester back.  You don't offer to spend 130 times what I could comfortably retire on for someone you're indifferent to.  But there is a valuation that the team ultimately came to, as far as how much a 30-year-old free agent starting pitcher, who can influence only 33 games a year, is worth as a part of a finite salary budget -- especially when the likelihood of him doing so for even half of the six seasons is very low.

And as much as I'd like to have seen Lester return to the team he originally signed with, I applaud fiscal sanity, or at least a fiscal plan.  The Boston fans will not be happy, since they tend to think of team revenues as unlimited, and also ignorantly conflate the wealth of their owners with the revenues of the team.   But let it be noted that they just committed for 2015 a combined amount comparable to the average annual value of Lester's Cubs contract to three just-acquired pitchers -- Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson.  None is quite as good as Lester, but each has had good success in the majors.  And if one gets hurt, two others are still there.  If Lester gets hurt, the Cubs have ...

As a fan, I'm OK with Boston's red line on Lester.  Jon Lester has always seemed like a good guy, and if he can lead the Cubs to success in the first few years of his contract when he is expected to perform well, more power to him.  But a part of me hopes that he is unable to complete the contract, so as to add yet one more example of the futility of throwing cash after pennants by buying players past their primes.  I'd prefer to see the economics of the game scale down to affordability, sure, but more importantly I'd like to see intelligence and data dominate the front offices of major-league baseball.

Like the unicorn and the Tooth Fairy, the end of stupid contracts is not to be with us soon.  But perhaps one by one, the 30 teams will gradually impose common sense in their economics.

Ahhhh, there will always be the Yankees, so no.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who's Offended Again?

Perhaps the whole "change the Washington Redskins name" thing is going to play itself out soon, or perhaps it never will.  I believe that the current Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, has no intention of changing the team name, and has taken some proactive steps with the American Indian community that suggest he'd rather do some good with them, than be pressured into changing the name.

Of course, this being such an outwardly trivial matter, one may wonder why it came up.  So here's why it came up.  Many of you will recall the show "Quantum Leap", which ran for five years about 25 years ago.  It starred Scott Bakula as Sam Beckett, a doctor who kept being transported in time repeatedly to alter history and help people who needed it.  As soon as he arrived, he would have to figure out who he had become and why he was there, so he could do whatever good he was supposed to.

Quantum Leap appears in reruns a little bit.  I happen to have seen an episode this week, in which the Dr. Beckett character is transported into the body of a young Shoshone Indian, whose grandfather is trying to escape his nursing home and a sheriff to make it back to the reservation to die on his own lands.  The episode, if you're interested, is called "Freedom -- November 22, 1970."  In fact, it is called that even if you're not interested.

The grandfather (played by a Hispanic actor, but if a black actress can play Maid Marian on "Once Upon a Time", then what the heck) is a very stereotypical Indian character, old, gray hair tied in back of his head, speaking sage wisdom most of the time.

Quantum Leap is not a comedy, but I had to laugh several times.  As the grandfather and grandson (whose body Dr. Beckett leaped into) are on the run toward the reservation, having escaped jail, the grandfather on several occasions asks his grandson, "Who's the best team?", and answers his own question -- "The Redskins!"  Several times this exchange is repeated, and each time the old fellow smiles, clearly identifying with his "team" proudly, and just as clearly showing not a shred of offense at the term.

So here's the thing.  This is a show that has a number of episodes taking what would be thought of as PC positions -- protecting a gay man from abuse in one case; several defending women -- just read the five years worth of plots on IMDB if you want.  But although the depiction is of an event supposedly happening in 1970, it was produced around 1990, and it is quite evident that no one had any compunction about having an old Shoshone identify proudly with the Redskins.

To me, that puts the lie to the whole notion of the name being offensive.  There's the obvious in 2014, such as the existence of high schools on reservation calling themselves Redskins, and the polls of Indian populations putting the lie to the notion that very many even care, let alone are offended.

But seeing this episode persuaded me that 70-80 years of the (originally) Boston and then the Washington Redskins were perfectly fine, until there was a PC cause to drum up where none existed.  There is no argument about the offense value of the team's name that can overcome the fact that at least through 1990, no one thought it offensive enough to get very upset about it.

If Hollywood, of all institutions, wasn't bothered in 1990, I can't imagine why I should believe anyone sincerely is today.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Monday, December 15, 2014

NOW, NARAL and Whether Black Lives Matter

Your friends and mine at the National Organization for Women posted their own version of the "Black Lives Matter" story, "mourning the loss" of Michael Brown (the convenience store robber and assailant), Trayvon Martin (the apparent gay-basher) and others.  As they are explicitly standing up for "peaceful protesters in Ferguson", if anyone saw any of those among the looters, we may safely assume their agreement with the Black Lives Matter meme.

So which shall we believe?  I ask that because the number of killings of black lives annually is in excess of 600,000.  Of course those are just black children, specifically those who hadn't been born yet.

Now I've already shared my opinion on abortion, which is to say that, like most people, it is far down the list of important issues, at least in terms of passion.  I can't get too worked up about it, because it is such a divided moral issue that the USA can't even decide if it is right or wrong.  Half the country thinks it's murder, and the rest of it feels it is perfectly OK.  You can't legislate that.

But this isn't about abortion -- it's about hypocrisy, which I do have an opinion about (Hint: I'm against it).

If NOW and NARAL and that ilk actually feel a sense of solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson (at least the peaceful ones, of which I think there were seven at last count), then how do they really feel about black lives mattering?  Seriously -- how do you walk amongst the protesters with a "Black Lives Matter" sign on Monday, and then on Tuesday march in a pro-abortion rally?  How do you reconcile protesting the death of one not-very-innocent young black man with promoting the death of 600,000 extremely innocent black babies each year?

I have to confess; I don't get it at all, and I certainly encourage the next liberally inclined, very pro-abortion type to try, please, to explain how it is not blatant hypocrisy to hold those two quite contradictory values.

I won't apologize for my lack of enthusiasm for the abortion issue in general.  But I will at least claim to have morally consistent opinions on the value of life.  It matters, whether the living is black, white, Asian, Martian or whatever.

If it goes for color, it goes for age as well, NOW and forever.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton 

Friday, December 12, 2014

The NFL, Congress and Due Process

The National Football League, in its infinite wisdom, has set up a system to investigate the off-the-field activities of its players.  After the USA's initial yawn, we should start thinking through this action with a farm more critical eye.

I have held a security clearance for my work for many years, which requires a periodic reinvestigation (PR) of my background at a pretty detailed level, to ensure that I could not be blackmailed based on "adverse information", i.e., dirty secrets whose discovery would cause me harm.  I submit to these PRs readily, because I understand their need in defense of my country, and because the investigation is being done by a legitimate government authority.

I'm a reasonable active football fan, but I have to say that I have a lot of issue with the NFL's actions.  As with any employer, there is a limit to what can be acceptable behavior, but I'm really troubled when the employer becomes the Nanny State that we laughingly expect our government to be.

There is a continuum.  In the highest national security positions, the risk of compromise by blackmail is huge, because the consequences of leaked information to the wrong party can cause immense problems.  On the other hand, not to pick on garbage collectors, but I seriously doubt that either their customers or their employers care a great deal what they do in their off-time, as long as they show up on time and collect the trash completely and do their job.

Congress, our legislative branch, has not a shred of business interfering in the relationship between the trash company and its collectors, in terms of what they do in their off-hours.  For once, they indeed haven't messed with it.  Conversely, the Government has heavily regulated the allowed investigative reach of employees of the Government and contractors who are engaged in classified work -- as it should, absolutely.

So where on this scale, we ask, should the NFL lay, or other sports leagues or, for that matter, every private employer?  It is indeed a scale; employees who have access to personal information (e.g., bankers) are comparably subject to blackmail and one could argue that their outside lives are allowably subject to at least a little scrutiny by their employer, or at least a past record should be allowed to disqualify or limit their work.  Bankers are like the Government in that way, at least.

That said, the erring should be on the side of the employee, and there's no earthly reason why the NFL or any sports league has any business pursuing investigations of potential illegal activities of its contract employees.  There is an entity for that, and it's called "law enforcement."

Ray Rice hit his fiancee, settled his action legally with the local government, and was suspended a couple games based on the severity of the legal outcome.  The NFL had no business investigating originally, and it had no business extending the suspension when added video became available, for two reasons:
(1) The NFL is not a law enforcement entity or an investigative unit; if the settlement with local law enforcement equated in the NFL's eyes to a two-game suspension, so be it
(2) The actions of Rice had no effect on his capacity to do his job.

In the other "cause célèbre", Adrian Peterson was suspended for switching his child.  The NFL had one legitimate response -- to allow the legal system to take its action and, only then, take whatever action made sense based on the outcome of the legal process.  In other words, were he to be acquitted, there would be no grounds for any action by the NFL.

This is what happens when due process breaks down.  We are guaranteed it in the Constitution, and it is a logical follow-on that the actions of employers, in cases where the offense does not affect performance of their work, must be commensurate with the outcome of the legal process.

The NFL, and all sports leagues, need to get the heck out of the investigation business.  It is not up to them to determine the legal process, and it is incumbent upon them to take action no sooner than, and only in proportion to, the result of that process.  Congress should act now to prohibit sports leagues from investigating the off-field activities of their players.  If they think a player has done something wrong, call the cops.  That's what they're there for.

It's called "due process."

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Reason for Op-Eds

Amazing juxtaposition of pieces in the Washington Post yesterday (10 December 2014).  After the release of the Senate Democrats' $40 million study into the use of enhanced interrogation tactics by the CIA following the 9/11 attacks, and the mournful ("Oh, how could we do this?") cries of Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Harry Reid and others, there was the following to be found in the Post:

(1) A banner headline announcing the release of the report
(2) Two carefully-selected letters to the editor supporting the report and castigating the CIA
(3) A lead editorial supporting the report
(4) A carefully written op-ed by John McLaughlin, former deputy director and interim director of the CIA, ripping the report into confetti and stuffing it up elegantly up the noses of the Senate staffers who wrote it.

Let us start with the fact that, while the report includes lots of interviews with the lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees, there were no interviews with any of the CIA directors or deputies from that era.  None.  As a result, the staffers, all to Democratic senators, were able to conclude what the lawyers for the detainees and others who were interviewed told them was true -- no one from "our" side (the ones, er, defending you and me) was interviewed to sat them nay.

Now we have the media out there crying how bad America is, and that we must never do this again, wah, wah, wah.  Well, there is a legitimate debate to be had as to what tactics an American intelligence-gathering effort should be allowed to use.  I grant that.  I personally think that when people fly passenger jets into our buildings and kill innocent Americans, their right not to have water dripped on them goes away, but we can discuss that.

What we can't debate is its effectiveness.  Sen. Feinstein made a tortured (sorry) attempt to parse her words to make it sound like all that nasty treatment of terrorist murderers didn't even accomplish anything.  That, my friends, is what Mr. McLaughlin took issue with.

In his op-ed, he went point by point down several major highlights of where our interrogation of terrorists had prevented attacks on this country and our citizens, from averting air attacks on the west coast to the capture and execution of Osama bin Laden.  Since he was in the middle of it, McLaughlin has a tad more credibility than the Senate staffers who couldn't be bothered to talk to him themselves.  Nothing I write here will be as compelling as Mr. McLaughlin's piece, even though he was constrained for security reasons from getting too detailed in spots.

Facts are facts, despite Sen. Feinstein; and the USA's gradual understanding of the Democrats' unwillingness to accept them is one reason she will no longer be a committee chairman come 1 January.  For all its posturing and attempts to support the Democrats' point of view with banners and lead editorials, the Post's acceptance of the "it wasn't even effective" narrative is a mistake.

Our interrogation worked.  If you don't believe that terrorists and murderers should be physically prompted for information that saves innocent Americans, sure, let's have that debate.  But keep the facts in front of you.  Terrorists, like the bully, convenience store robber and police-officer assailant Michael Brown in Ferguson, are accountable for the natural consequences of their actions.

That's why we have op-eds.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Not That There's Anything Wrong with That

Anyone happen to have seen the "Peter Pan Live" performance this past week?  Someone decided that a stage-set performance of the classic children's story would be a great thing to put on TV, live as an audience-free stage performance.  Of course, even though it was a children's story, it was put on by NBC as a 3.5-hour marathon ending far past bedtime for the age group for which the story was written.

That said, and given that it was probably more DVRed (as we did) than watched live, one has to wonder for whom this performance was actually intended.  I mean, I can get past the too-obvious wires and the production glitches -- it is a children's story for, well, children, right?

Maybe not.  This production had all the overt stage gayness (not that there's anything wrong with that) of The Producers, which would be fine otherwise -- in The Producers, it is meant to be satirical and is funny as heck -- but this wasn't billed that way, and one has to ask what NBC was thinking.

This starts with the odd performance of Christopher Walken as Captain Hook.  As a former stage performer, I'm looking at a televised, network live stage-set production and trying to see how the actors respond to that unusual milieu.  Walken, an otherwise outstanding actor, looked like he was mailing the performance in, or worse, directed to be a stereotypical old gay guy.  If you didn't see it, just imagine that it was dress rehearsal without a director, and Walken was simply running his dialogue and marking his spots.  That's what you got, the least energy imaginable.

What came across from the "why am I here" performance of Walken was to, at best, make a fop out of Hook and, at worst, feminize him.  To what end, we ask?  The protagonist is a boy (played always by a female) leading a group of boys; how is he supposed to be antagonized by a tired, wimpy Hook who dances oddly with his band of "men" and mails in his gestures?  Those of a certain age recall the performances of Cyril Ritchard in that role, which he created, a completely different take.

But has Broadway become that self-mockingly gay (not that there's anything wrong with that) that it can't even produce a children's story without bringing what, in The Producers is pure satire, into it?  Or have we, the audience, come so much to expect the foppish behavior of male stage characters, men dancing a bit to close together, too much male dancer body visibility, that even in a classic children's story, it has to be thus?

Based on the hideous reviews, perhaps not.

Not, of course, that there's anything wrong with that.
Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Teresa Sullivan and Mikhail Gorbachev

In this morning's news, we learn that Teresa Sullivan, the president of the University of Virginia, has again disgraced Thomas Jefferson's university.  She has refused to lift the suspension of the school's fraternities and sororities, despite the Rolling Stone rape story that led to the suspension being exposed as a hoax.

I've already written to the lack of due process afforded the Greek system in this case.  I noted the stupidity of suspending sororities, of all groups, in a clear indication that Dr. Sullivan is a confirmed elitist who opposes the institution of the Greek system and supports any effort to get rid of it, piece by piece if necessary.

In failing to lift the suspension, she has opened the door to future callous disregard for the rules of evidence, those that should apply to any government-owned institution, most certainly Mr. Jefferson's University.  There is, at this point, no longer any credible evidence of any violation of university rules, or the laws of the town of Charlottesville nor the Commonwealth of Virginia on the date in question.

Teresa Sullivan has built a wall between the University and the rule of law, the rules of evidence, and the constitutional protection of due process.

She has built -- and re-mortared -- a wall between reality and the reputation of the individuals who are members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, where the "rape that didn't happen" apparently, well, didn't happen.  Their reputation will not be restored any time soon, and Dr. Sullivan appears uninterested in restoring it.

She has built a wall between the University and the sororities on campus that were suspended for no possibly justifiable reason.  They will forever hold the suspicion that their very existence is eternally in jeopardy, and the slightest slip by one individual not even a member -- perhaps not even female -- will cost them their charters.

Walls, as Mikhail Gorbachev eventually saw, are treacherous things that don't always do what you build them to do.

President Sullivan, tear down that wall.  Tear down that ban, and show yourself to be someone who respects due process.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Monday, December 8, 2014

All Kinds of Welfare

The national debt that has now surpassed $18 trillion includes spending on an inordinate number of things in a gargantuan array of Federal programs.  We support a dozen or so Cabinet departments, including vital ones like Defense and Commerce, and then ones with which the USA did splendidly without for 200 years (and could again), such as Education and Energy.

Along the way, we have funded, at lease for the past fifty years, a couple diverse paths to spend taxpayer dollars, and I wonder if we can take them in isolation and ask ourselves what it says about our nation that we spend a lot on them, and their relative contribution.

I'm thinking of the space program, which along with the intangibles such as national pride (which is a pretty good thing, and was even better when national pride was thought to be a virtue), has produced immense technological advancement for here on earth, from solar-cell technology to advanced communications, but let's say I'm a fan.  It is a major government-driven R&D effort of over fifty years duration that, until recently, could not much be passed over to industry to fund productively, in part, on its own.

Then there is the welfare state, wherein we provide taxpayer transfers to non-income and low-income Americans (and apparently illegals, depending on whose articles you read).  A civilized society takes care of those unable to provide for themselves; an intelligent civilized society sets up such a program so as not to encourage sloth, self-victimization and abuse of the system.  We appear to be the former, but that's not the point.

The "point", such as it is, is that we do have to look at the return on investment of everything we spend.  In the case of federal spending, this is a bit amplified in that two of the major sources of those dollars being spent are:
(1) The taxes taken from the income of hard-working Americans
(2) Money borrowed from close friends like China, because our profligate Federal government still spends a lot more than it takes in.

Neither of those sources is a good place to get money from; the former because excessive taxation drags the economy, and the latter because, well, borrowing from anyone is a bad idea, and borrowing from countries who are hacking our systems, are committed to opposing us, enslave their people and, for the global warming crowd, belch lots of nasty carbon into the atmosphere unchecked, is a terrible idea.

So I think that we do indeed need to look carefully at the different forms of Federal spending, which is to say specifically those not for constitutional mandates like defense, mail, interstate commerce, etc., that are some form of welfare, with a careful eye.  That "welfare" can be to sponsor large research and development programs (e.g., NASA), in which we can engage the best and the brightest minds to work, where the fallout is the advancement of technology and a better life for us all.  It can be in a reasonable program to provide essential needs for those incapable of doing so themselves.

It is certainly the former that makes the country as productive as it can be, to allow us to afford to support the latter objective.  We are the country we are, because both are respected ends of Government.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Friday, December 5, 2014

Resisting is a Crime

I want to quote from the Friday lead editorial in the Washington Post:

"[The Grand Jury declined] to lodge any charges against the police officer responsible for the brutal, quite possibly racially tinged and most certainly unnecessary death of a 43-year-old father of six. The victim’s supposed crime was selling untaxed cigarettes."  The underlines are mine.

What part of "no", dear Post, do you not get?  The specific crime for which he was wrestled down and held was not at all the selling of untaxed cigarettes.  That's the crime he was being arrested for.  The crime he was certainly guilty of, as anyone can see from the video, and was wrestled to the ground, leading to his death, is resisting arrest.  And it's about $%^$% time the Washington Post and the rest of the leftist media figured that out.

Eric Garner, the single-cigarette salesman who died after being wrestled down in a form of chokehold, would quite likely be alive today with his six kids, had he not committed the violation of New York Penal Law 205.30, i.e., Resisting Arrest.  When the cops -- led by a black female sergeant there on the scene, by the way -- were pushed away by Garner, he stepped into a different violation that had nothing to do with cigarette sales.  [Aside -- the Post failed to mention the black female sergeant's presence, no doubt to allow them to use phrases like "quite possibly racially tinged" without having to defend their having made that up.]

This bothers me on a number of levels, the first being that despite the declining sales of their newspaper, there are actually people who do read the Post, some who read the editorials and maybe a handful who actually take them seriously.

That, and a modicum of journalistic integrity, should drive the Post in a perfect world to ensure that, especially in its lead editorial, the facts that it uses to ground its opinions are, at their core, facts.  The editorial writer knows quite well that he told a big old four-Pinocchio whopper, and I'm darn sure going to call him on it.  Garner was not taken down because he sold cigarettes illegally, period.

From what the Post editorialist wrote, had you been completely unaware of the case and depended on the editorial for the fact, you would have inferred that Garner was caught selling cigarettes illegally and was killed because of it.  In fact, had he been caught selling cigarettes illegally (he was), and arrested for it (he was), and put his hands behind his back without physical resistance (that part he didn't), he would be alive today.

Horrible journalism, WaPo.  We used to expect better of you.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Big Al for President!

Hey, it's presidential campaign season!  That would be the period starting with midterms, and especially rampant (and rancid) when the incumbent is in his second term and ineligible, meaning that both parties have to come up with someone.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post had a front-page article "warning" the presumptive candidate Hillary Clinton about assaults on her inevitability from the "little-known challengers".  That's sort of what 2008 (and 2006 and 2007) was like, when a little-known part-time U.S. senator from Illinois named Obama campaigned and stole the nomination away from the peeved Mrs. Clinton.

At any rate, with the mid-terms in the rear-view mirror, we're clearly allowed to start talking about candidacies for the Presidency.  And I can't think of anyone who better characterizes the state of the 2014 Democratic Party than one man, whose style (lots of it), substance (absolutely none of it) and core following, best position him to be the 2016 standard-bearer for the Democrats.

I refer, if you haven't already guessed, to the one, the only, Al Sharpton hisself.

Born in Brooklyn, NY in 1954, Big Al, who is now Much Littler Al, fits the whole "natural born citizen over 35" thing, which makes him immensely qualified, even if the current president chooses to amend the Constitution single-handedly to broaden the criteria to include Martian-born and those under eighteen months of age.  At 62 when the election comes around, Sharpton will be even younger than I am now, which makes him relatively childlike by comparison.

I don't know if Al is campaigning or not, but his actions are certainly consistent with candidacy.  He is making himself visible whenever there is controversy of any kind, taking the posture, right or (mostly) wrong, that gets him the biggest play in the press.  He has somehow managed to avoid, with the help of his good buddy in the White House, a felony conviction in regard to his massive ($400,000) tax evasion; a felony would probably keep him from candidacy.

But let's get serious here.  The biggest argument for Sharpton is that he IS the Democratic Party of this era.  He has no positions on any actual issue (jobs, ISIS, the national debt, Iran, Keystone/energy independence, Quemoy and Matsu, etc.), which will put him right in the mainstream of the Democrats, who have no working solutions to anything at all.  He has plenty of style, he's a great dresser, he's glib, and he can call himself "reverend" since he was ordained by the time he was ten years old, although that might cause him some issues with the atheistic wing of the party of FDR.

On the other hand, the Democrats would love his equality of opportunity.  He has made documented slurs toward gays, lesbians, Jews, Mormons ... absolutely covers the floor as far as tastelessness, so clearly he can offend anyone, which effectively means no group is more offended than any other.

I'm beating the drum right now for Big Al to run.  I can't wait for him to debate Hillary; I'd buy a ticket for that one and let's face it, so would you.

In 2016 we're going to need a heavy dose of entertainment, and I can't imagine a better source than having Al Sharpton run for president.

Run, Al, run!

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sammy and Me

It has been a tough month for the police.  Apparently protecting the public from criminals is only appropriate when the criminals are of the proper race these days, and I don't think the training includes "Do this if this perp is white, this if Asian, this if black ...", although maybe it should.

All of the drama has made me think of the one police officer that I did know well.  Sam was a couple years older than I, but was a good friend of mine in high school, played football, dreamed his dreams, all that.  By the time he became family (I married his sister), he was already a sergeant on the force with which he would spend his whole career.

I know you're always worried when there's a cop in the family, but somehow we didn't all have the same kind of fears that others do.  I mean, I'm sure that his wife was as fearful and worried as most officers' wives are, but I think part of our relative peace with his job was the way it was for him.  Sam took police work as his life's profession; committed to being good at it and to rising within the force, sure, but he was at peace outside the force.

The inner strength he showed, I believe, served to let his family know that he had command of the professional risks of his chosen life.  If it only calmed his family a little, I certainly knew that my friend and brother-in-law had things in order and would have a long career.

And he did.  He spent some forty years on the job, eventually rising to run the force as the town's Director of Public Safety (they didn't have a "chief", per se, but he was it) for many years, a jurisdiction of over 100 square miles.  What never changed from patrolman to top cop was the immense seriousness with which he took his job, and the ability to set it aside when outside of it.

Sam was, let's say, not a fan of criminals and amoral behavior.  As time went on, and he came to know the "type" really well, his determination to protect the law-abiding public from the contemptible criminal element -- the Michael Browns and other thieves and assailants -- hardened.  This only made him a better cop, committed to protection and service.

So over the last month, I have thought a lot about Sam, and how he would say that there is no moral equivalence at all between the criminal and the police, and he would be right -- in the Ferguson case and beyond.  He would say it himself, except that only a few years after hanging up his badge, after a long and distinguished career, cancer robbed him of the well-deserved retirement he deserved to spend with his wife and the rest of our family.

When I think about the cops, I think about professionalism, self-sacrifice and commitment to the public.  I think those things because of the example shown in my family and a friend I miss today.

I will not take the trashing of our nation's police lightly.  Thanks for your service, Sam.  In coelo quies est.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Who's Protecting Whom?

The narrative in the ongoing Ferguson show appears to be solely coming from the "black lives matter" story, hence the based-on-a-lie "hands up, don't shoot" gesture that is, of course, something that never happened in the actual incident.  Well, black lives matter, as do white, Hispanic, Asian, Polynesian and all humanity.  Equally.

So if, indeed, someone is worried about protecting the next Michael Brown from being shot by a policeman in the performance of his duty, we should talk about the relative equality of humanity, and what actually tips the scales of that equality in terms of the protection of life.

To me, one's right to protection is basic, essential -- and fragile.  You lose the sanctity of that protection when you violate the law and, yourself, pose the threat to society that is what requires the institution of a police force in the first place.

Michael Brown committed at least five crimes that day in Ferguson, according to the evidence -- he committed assault on a citizen (the convenience store owner); he robbed the store; he possessed marijuana which was found in his system; he committed assault and battery on the police officer; he resisted arrest.

As a result of the actions of that day, the not-innocent Michael Brown is dead, which is unfortunate but self-driven -- essentially, by charging a policeman who had already shot him, he committed suicide-by-cop.  The other actions are not pleasant, but in a way, even more unfortunate because of the impact on the innocent.  The owner of the store, who did nothing at all, no longer has a business.  Over a dozen businesses owned by black residents of Ferguson are now destroyed.  Their owners did nothing.  The policeman is out of a job in which he followed his training to the letter, and did what any officer of any race would have been forced to do.

There is a simple question to ask from this, and it isn't whether or not black lives matter (hint -- they do).  In the aftermath, with businesses destroyed, innocent lives ruined, Al Sharpton no doubt richer (somebody has to be paying him to stir up the troops), it is not at all appropriate to ask who should be protecting the Michael Browns of the world.

Let us ask the correct question: Who will protect us from the next Michael Brown?

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mr. President Victim

In case you had any doubts about how President Obama will play out the remainder of his term, surrounded by a Republican Congress, I'll be happy to tell you.

Yesterday, Mr. Obama set aside all of his busy schedule worrying about ISIS, creating jobs, invading immigrants, Putin and all the other things he probably should be worrying about.  Instead, he invited his Cabinet (with whom he apparently never meets together), a set of "civil rights leaders" (this most transparent Administration ever didn't explain what Al Sharpton was doing there or how the others were appointed to a position meriting meeting with the president), and "law enforcement" representatives to the White House to talk about -- you guessed it -- Ferguson.

Now, I'll happily admit that rioting in the streets of a St. Louis suburb and elsewhere probably ought to get the attention of the president of the USA, but this just seems so staged.  And as you think about it, you probably won't be too surprised.  Given that all the recommendations that came out were about "fixing" the police, we shouldn't be surprised either.

Barack Obama will achieve no more legislative victories as president.  The voters have rejected his agenda by electing a Republican House and Senate, which makes Obama the very lamest of lame ducks.  So how, then, can he try to achieve that good ol' historic legacy he so pines for?

If he does nothing much the next two years, with an anemic economy, horrendous employment figures and atrocious black unemployment, no jobs program, Putin, Syria, the IRS, Benghazi, Obamacare and its roll-out and a series of lies to the USA as his legacies, he risks going down as leading a bottom-three most execrable presidency ever.

So what does a surrounded radical leftie do?  He does the one thing that at least will preserve the drone population of his remaining following -- he becomes the victim.  Once we get past the first of the year and a new Congress, we can look forward to a blitz of legislation being passed and sent to the president's desk to sign, which he will generally veto.

"Waaah, they wouldn't pass a bill I could sign"

His appointments requiring Senate approval will be intentionally sufficiently far-left that they won't pass muster and will be voted down.

"Waaah, they wouldn't give me my appointments so I can run the government"

His Executive Orders may be taken to court and deemed unconstitutional abuses of power.

"Waaah, they wouldn't let me do what I wanted"

Just keep watching.  He absolutely needs to be seen as the victim, else his "legacy" will be as a failure on his own actions.  So he needs to establish that president-as-victim narrative now, and the best way to do it is to mobilize the drones and give the press the usual pap so they will take his narrative and run with it.  Hence the big Ferguson show today -- "I'm one of them ... If I had a son he would look like Michael Brown ... There is legitimate unrest ... we need to fix the police ..."

The country sure won't see him as a victim, but the press will obediently try to make him one.  The press "made him" in the first place (they could have done a little lifting of the veil in 2008 and chose not to); their journalistic integrity depends on their own not being embarrassed either.  But you mark my words, by the end of this March, you will hear Obama speak and think "Oh, my God, he IS trying to be the victim-in-chief."

Of course, he will sink the 2016 Democratic candidate if he does that.  But I don't think he cares.  He's got a legacy to invent so he can try to protect it.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Monday, December 1, 2014

Where's the Beef?

As I watch the scenario play out in Ferguson, Missouri and around the nation, I have stopped to look at what is going on.  One thing that strikes me is that the demonstrations that are ongoing after the grand jury's declining to indict the officer seem to carry themes that are no longer valid, given the outcome.

"Hands up!  Don't shoot!" cry the protesters.  But now we know that the "unarmed teenager", who should be properly characterized as the "pot-smoking thief, who attacked a convenience store owner, resisted arrest and attacked a police officer", never had his hands up, and never told the officer not to shoot.  In fact, when he stopped charging at the officer, the officer stopped firing.  Only when he resumed charging the officer was he again fired on and killed.

So if indeed Michael Brown was a criminal  who effectively committed suicide-by-police-officer, what is the rationale for protesting, let alone burning the businesses of innocent store-owners, and costing the employment of dozens of Ferguson's residents?

The Ferguson protests appear to be a microcosm of contemporary liberalism and the problem with the Democratic Party today: there is only style and not a shred of substance.

Conservatism has had more than its share of internal disagreements about the means to the end, but the end itself has always seemed to be reasonably consistent -- limited government under the Constitution, the freedom of the individual to achieve his or her full capability, low tax rates to encourage the economy, capitalism as an optimal economic framework, that sort of thing.  The bottom line, of course, is that it is a workable system.

What, then, is the Democrats' answer?  Well, they got a president elected and reelected on "hope and change", lacking experience at administering ... well, anything at all.  And doesn't that seem to reflect today's liberalism?  Full of platitudes, with no solutions that actually work -- not for the economy, not for health care, ISIS, Syria, Iran.  Doesn't it reflect this administration?  No solution that works for anything -- our allies hate us because we don't do anything; can't keep a Defense secretary, because they aren't allowed actually to make policy; Obamacare is an unmitigated disaster from the doubling of premiums to the incompetent Web roll-out; fewer employed today than in 2009.  Nothing that actually works

It will always matter to me that when you advocate for something, it is based on principles and methodologies that actually work.  There needs to be a "there" there.  We have protesters out on the street tonight shouting about something that is contrary to the truth.

Empty shouting.  No beef, as Clara Peller said in the commercial so many years ago.  Because absent a clue, or solutions that work, that's what liberals do.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Friday, November 28, 2014

Unintended, Intended, or Just Plain Stupid?

Oh, those wacky Gruberites who foisted Obamacare on us.  They have made it almost impossible to determine whether some of its outcomes are intended, unintended, or that its authors were just plain stupid -- or crazy like a fox.

We now learn from the Washington Times and elsewhere that illegal immigrants were ineligible for the Obamacare subsidy, and more importantly, businesses which hire them are not penalized if they don't offer them health insurance.  That was merely a quirk when illegal immigrants were, well, illegal.  Now, thanks to the EOFH (Executive Order From Heck), they're still illegal, but they won't be prosecuted for it -- or deported.

So whether this was the intent of the law's authors or not, here is the outcome: businesses are now incentivized to lay off citizen employees and hire illegal immigrants to take their jobs.  The article places the value at $3,000 each, the now-avoided fine for not providing medical coverage to each employee.

If I am the citizen at risk -- and thankfully, I am not -- with what I thought was a somewhat secure job, I am aghast.  Sure, my job wasn't necessarily complex (which is why an illegal could replace me at all), but I was showing up on time, doing what was needed the best I could, and providing value for my paycheck and food and shelter for my family.

Well, not so fast.  Some percentage of those in that boat are going to find themselves out of a job, replaced by someone who shouldn't have been in the USA in the first place.  It will happen; the only question is whether the number of American citizens who will be put out of jobs because of it (many of them minorities who blindly voted for Obama based on his skin color) is a handful, or in the hundreds of thousands.  They voted for "hope"; they got "change", and not in the good way.

Of course, that's not the only question.  Was the White House that collectively ignorant that no one behind its unlocked doors realized this was an outcome, as the EOFH was being contemplated?  Where is the staff of the Department of Unintended Consequences Avoidance when you need them?  In fact, where is the entire union movement, which is supposed to be protecting the unionized jobs of those that will be lost?

You add all this up -- a terrible black unemployment rate, with no end in sight, vs. a flood of immigrants, many willing to work their tails off to stay in the USA, no matter what the job, and it only makes sense from a political standpoint.  Obama, it seems here, is willing to let the black unemployment rate stay high because they're going to vote for Democrats anyway, while he opens the doors to a flood of illegals assuming they, too, are going to vote for Democrats.

That being the case, this whole "creating-incentive-for-illegals-to-steal-citizens'-jobs" thing is simply part of an intended whole, and it's all political.  Help the illegal at all costs, to get his eventual vote, since the citizen who loses his job is going to vote for "our" guys anyway.

It's not "unintended."  It's corrupt.  And it's time to call it what it is.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Oh, Just Sit Back and Relax

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I am a fan of the Portland, Oregon-based Internet baseball writer Rob Neyer and a long-standing reader of his work online.  Rob wrote for ESPN and other outlets, and now is associated with Fox Sports, for which he does frequent baseball pieces.

In his most recent piece, Rob covers some changes done in the Arizona Fall League as experiments to try to speed up the pace of the game.  The AFL is a post-season league to which teams send some of their best prospects to get some seasoning.  It is also a laboratory where Baseball tries out some rule changes before possibly implementing them at the big-league level.

I'm really ambivalent here.  I know some of the suggestions, like cutting time between pitches with no one on, would probably be a boon to the game but, as Rob noted, the average game time in the AFL experiment was only shrunk by about ten minutes.  Meh.

Of course, whether we even should be trying to shrink game times is in question.  The NFL, for example, has stretched its start times of Sunday later games to 4:30pm Eastern instead of 4:00pm, apparently because they can't get the 1:00pm games done in time.  Three hours to play a game that has precisely one hour of timed action seems a bit much, but no one complains.

And ... I believe they're not complaining for the same reason that Baseball shouldn't get too worked up about its own game length -- people who are fans enjoy sitting in front of the TV watching the spectacle.  Granted that the elapsed time of baseball games has gradually expanded; but some of that is the unavoidable consequence of gargantuan TV rights contracts, which require a lot of advertising spots to pay the piper.

I don't know if I'm alone in this, but I truly appreciate the leisurely, contemplative and cerebral pace of the major-league baseball game.  I can sit back and relax, consider the options and use the commercial breaks for the beer runs and bathroom trips that God intended when He inspired Abner Doubleday to create the game.  If the alternative is rushing pitches, freezing hitters in the batters box and otherwise affecting the game, I'm not likely to be a big fan of such changes.

Life has enough to rush through.  Baseball is a different game.  Relax.  Have a beer.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Call a Bigot a Bigot

Marion Barry passed away this week.  The former mayor of Washington, DC, Mr. Barry had a career that can only be called "colorful."  Like all of us, he had his merits and his warts.  When such an individual leaves us, you can tell if the warts were significant, because the obituaries mention them.  Obviously, most don't, because, well, no one wants to dump on the deceased.

In Mr. Barry's case, the "warts" in the obituaries seem to be confined to his well-documented (and videotaped) escapade, smoking crack in a hotel room with a woman who was not his wife.  Obviously he was very familiar with the process (I personally wouldn't have known which end of a crack pipe is "up"), which made it pretty evident this was a frequent habit of his.

That, though, is not the topic of this piece.  The obituaries have that pretty much down.

No, here's the thing with Mr. Barry.  Either racism is the worst sin an American can commit, as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and the like repeatedly assure us, or it isn't.  If it is, then we need to pause before canonizing the man, and remember that he was an unabashed bigot, and that is a sin that knows no race or color.

Mr. Barry, after his arrest and scandalous behavior surrounding the crack incident, was somehow returned to the D.C. City Council in what can only be regarded as a curious reflection on the moral standards of the voters of the part of the city that elected him.  Councilman Barry, unfortunately, must have gotten so secure that he felt able to say things in public like this one, in regard to the awarding of a maintenance contract  by the District to a campaign contributor and the pulling of that contract from a properly-awarded contractor.  

The quote is from an editorial in the Washington Post in October 2011: "Not only was Joseph Lorenz, owner of the Baltimore-based firm whose contract renewal was denied by [the mayor], subjected to the third degree about his contacts with the media, but council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) made the contemptible observation that 'a white company in Maryland' shouldn’t expect to do business with the District".

This was not a young Marion Barry, frustrated at the difficulties of the civil rights movement of the '60s.  This was City Councilman Barry, in 2011, corruptly trying to reward a campaign donor, and then compounding the sin by an amazing, bigoted remark toward a company that had provided contractor service for years, primarily because of the color of the skin of its owners.

Apart from the blatant racism of Barry's comment, two things make it even worse:
(1) It obviously stemmed from feelings that he had inside of him about white people and the companies that they own, contemptible, bigoted feelings that had to have been there all along
(2) He felt not a smidgen of concern about airing them at a City Council meeting, knowing all along, or feeling, that no matter what he said he would be immune from criticism or retribution.

I can tell you that the Post, where the comments were noted in the editorial, never mentioned them again.  That, in itself, is amazing -- if we were talking about a Republican member of Congress saying anything like that in regard to an award of a Federal contract, that congressman would be forced out of office in a heartbeat.

But no, we will be subjected to a whitewashing of the record of Mr. Barry -- I expect schools to be named after him and statues built -- oblivious to the fact that the very racial animus we should be trying to remove from our society was an innate part of the fabric of the man.  

Thanks to Al Gore's Amazing Internet, his bigotry will go remembered forever.  We can only hope that before the first statue is designed, we'll think for a little bit.  We can hope that no school where children are taught life lessons will bear the name of an example of a lesson he never learned.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Baby, Bathwater, Ah, Who Cares?

This past week the University of Virginia, founded in old Charlottesville by none other than Thomas Jefferson, took the interesting step of suspending all of its fraternities and sororities for a seven-week period ending in early January.  The action was taken as a result of allegations of sexual assault at the house of the local chapter of Phi Kappa Psi.

So here is the mandatory disclaimer: Sexual assault is a criminal act, both morally and legally.  The perpetrators, if afforded due process and convicted, should be punished to the appropriate extent of the law.

Having said that, there is no excuse whatsoever for punishing anyone other than the person or persons responsible for the act.  As reported in the Washington Post this past Sunday, the university not only suspended Phi Kappa Psi, but also all the 30 other fraternities, all 16 sororities and something called "minority-oriented Greek-letter organizations", although except for the predominant race of the members, I wasn't aware that historically black fraternities like Omega Psi Phi, Kappa Alpha Psi and Alpha Phi Alpha were anything other than "fraternities."

I don't quite get the "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" logic.  Perhaps you do.  The Post did not explain what purpose was supposed to be served by the suspension of the 16 sororities, and I'm at a loss to understand why that was done.

But more to the point, the university is a Commonwealth institution, not a private one, and accordingly should be even more sensitive to the concept of "due process."  Sexual assault is not an organizational activity, it is personal -- here, disgustingly, by more than one "person".  In this case, although there was evidence or strong suggestion of cooperation and group assistance in the assault allegation by several perpetrators, it is pretty easy to argue that the suspension should have been of the accused and of any possible accomplices, not the Phi Kappa Psi chapter itself.

And even if you're not on board with that line of thinking -- which I believe correct -- there is no rationale for punishing any person or institution outside the individual accused, certainly not other fraternities not party to the assault, and for Heaven's sake, not the sororities.  I dare say that if the university president were asked to defend the decision to suspend all the other Greek organizations, including the sororities, she would say something clever like "Well, we have a problem and we had to do something."

Well, Madam President, here's the thing.  If you have a problem on campus with sexual assaults, and according to the article you do and have for a long time, how about following due process and confining your punishment to those meriting punishment?  If you believe that there is an institutional problem, then put in place a plan for addressing the institutional problem, which a seven-week suspension is not a rational part of.

My own fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, went alcohol-free at all its chapters some 15 years ago.  The Post even took the time this past spring to write up - positively - all the efforts it made to remove this kind of issue from its chapter houses.  Why did our chapter at U.Va. have to get suspended with the rest?  And why, again, were chapter houses only housing women included among those who have to go through this process?

Sexual assault is an atrocious offense and should be punished appropriately after due process.  That doesn't excuse the fact that overcompensation is inappropriate, and contrary to the principles of our Constitution.  And suspending 16 sororities that almost certainly have no complicity in the offense is throwing the baby out with the bathwater in its worst illustration.

Copyright 2014 by Robert Sutton