Thursday, December 31, 2015

It's Year End -- Why Are You Here?

We are wrapping up the year 2015 today.  Even with a month's hiatus to focus on a work assignment, this site now has accumulated well over 300 pieces written, back to last September (2014).

The variety of topics has spanned politics, sports (baseball and football), the arts and entertainment, freedom and faith, our presence on the Internet and personal responsibility.  Well over 10,000 readings later (thank you!) and now over a thousand per month, our world continues to give me things to comment on.

Tonight, my Best Girl and I will celebrate the end of a not-so-wonderful year with some king crab legs and bubbly, maybe a movie (at home), and by 10pm we will be asleep.  If you're over 50, you'll know what I mean when I say that when Guy Lombardo died, he took New Year's Eve with him.  Sitting up until midnight to hear whiny pop tarts "sing" while seeing a million people in New York get drunk and cheer for ... I don't know what ... well, sleep seems a lot better.

Over the 300 columns, I have received a large number of comments from a host of readers, many privately by email, regarding the topic du jour and with so much to say.  I am blessed to have even one person read and actually be interested in what I might have to say, you know.

So today, let's turn it back to you.  The new year 2016 is about to start.  Please slide down to the Comments section and let me know why you're here.  What do you want to hear about in 2016 from this column, more of this, less of that.  What have you liked or disliked?

As Dr. Frasier Crane said, I'm listening.  And while listening, I do wish you a simply marvelous 2016.  May it end with the imminent inauguration of a president committed to freedom, to the defense of the American people over the defense of the rest of the world, to a balanced budget and a flatter income tax ... one who can readily communicate that to the American citizen plainly and persuasively.

And may it end with Hillary Clinton retreating to private life in Chappaqua, if she is not in prison by that time.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Infidelity Wars

I've been contemplating the latest dust-up between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for a few days.  I'm sure you've not been out of town and have not missed it, but just as a reminder, it's sort of like this.

Hillary cast Trump as a sexist misogynist and general in the "war on women", and simultaneously decreed that her husband Bill, the former president, was going to mount his horse and get on the campaign trail in support of his wife.  Trump responded by tweeting out that she had opened Pandora's box in letting her sexist, misogynist husband out on the trail, and that he was "fair game if she wants to play that card."

In any other campaign, this might have been different, but this is most definitely not "any other campaign."  The leaders of the two races as 2015 draws to an end are a billionaire real estate developer and the wife of a former president.  You don't get that every day.

So when I say that I've been contemplating the latest dust-up, I've been mentally looking ahead to the topic coming up in an actual debate between Trump and Hillary, at least if she isn't in prison by then.

These two are not your normal debating types.  Trump may have a few notes in front of him to remind him of points he wants to make sure he remembers, but he is an off-the-cuff speaker.  He doesn't read a speech and doesn't use a teleprompter.  Accordingly, he says a lot of things others might not choose to say.  And he makes jokes -- not ha-ha funny jokes, but what are teases to his fellow candidates that sometimes he doesn't mean as anything but a tease (e.g., the Cuban evangelical reference).

Hillary Clinton does nothing unplanned.  Every hair is in place; her choice of attire is, as I wrote, clearly intended to focus the viewer elsewhere.  Her words, which are actually the point of her being there, are plastic and not compelling.  Aside from her possession of a uterus, there is nothing whatsoever that she brings to the table -- certainly not her track record -- that would distinguish her from countless other Democrats.  Her debating reflects that -- pap comments with an occasional scripted attempt at humor.

So let's put the two together on stage.  As I contemplate it, there is a point where, devoid of actual plans to accomplish anything, Hillary will refer to Trump personally as a sexist misogynist (or words to that effect).  Trump, unscripted to the bitter end, will find some words to note that Hillary was still married to, served in the administration of, and sent out to campaign for her, Bill Clinton.  He is of course, a man whose track record on women was quite abominable (Gennifer Flowers), likely forceful (Paula Jones) and thus illegal and, in the case of Monica Lewinsky, the then-young White House intern, contemptible in every way imaginable.

Hillary, scripted to the bitter end, will have to have a comeback, and it is likely to involve the escapades for the thrice-married Trump, and that's where the mind boggles.  Trump's rejoinders for such assaults are sometimes well-done ("I'm at 42, you're at 3, Jeb") and sometimes fall flat.  How will he respond to the inevitability of that attack?  And how can Hillary avoid attacking back when her vulnerability regarding Bill's bimbo eruptions arises?

I expect Trump already to have been contemplating that attack on his fidelity.  Perhaps he is deciding whether to unleash planned fusillades now, or hold them for the debate down the line.  But we will all be spellbound as a country when two candidates for president of the United States hold an argument as to which side's infidelities are more or less relevant, more or less legal, more or less corrupting and more or less cared about by the voting public.

Infidelity Wars: The Movie.  At a TV near you, coming soon, perhaps.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Day I Was Four People

Perhaps you are as tired of reading about political turmoil as, occasionally, I am of writing about it, and reading the same solutions offered for problems that those with the power to fix choose not to.

At such times, even at the New Year's week, my thoughts may turn to the single American element that brings unalloyed joy, completely divorced from the horrors of ISIS, the presidential campaign and the Kardashians.

Yes, I refer indeed to baseball.

And so today I want to relate a story that is absolutely true.  Perhaps it is not entirely about baseball, but it takes place at a ballpark and is funny as heck, even if I am the one who looked pretty silly at the end of it.

Way back in 1977, I was an anthem singer for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.  I dressed up in the attire of the time (the leisure suit) and strolled out before "Play Ball" to sing in front of the assembled multitudes.  I say "sing" because I actually did move my mouth and have notes and words come out, but not very loudly.  That's because Fenway Park, like all the other ballparks of the time, had acoustics completely unsuitable for live performance.

I "sang" before a microphone on a stand in the on-deck circle, with a cord running into the Red Sox dugout ... and ending there, not plugged into anything.  It didn't need to be, because I had previously recorded the anthem with the organist, John Kiley, and the tape was played into the stadium sound system so that there would not be echoes throughout.  If a singer were performing live, he would hear his own voice three seconds later and the song would drag to a crawl.

That had been the model for all stadiums, including Memorial Stadium, where the Baltimore Orioles were playing in 1991 before moving to Camden Yards the next year.  My family had been back in Virginia for years at that point, and my sons were 17 and 10.  Having never heard me sing the anthem in person, they encouraged me to contact the Orioles, our nearest team, to do a performance.

Never wanting to disappoint the boys, I contacted the PR department, who were perfectly happy to have me come up do a game that year, and asked me to send a cassette to use for the game performance.  We talked for a while and I mentioned that I was singing in a barbershop quartet, Main Street, with a couple of rabid Orioles fans, so they asked me if I would send them a cassette of the quartet doing the anthem as well; that perhaps they'd invite the quartet some time to perform as well.

Cut to game day.  It was a Saturday, and the game was being broadcast as a Game of the Week on NBC.  Because of the network, and the need to start the game precisely at 2:00, all of the pregame ceremonies were much earlier than usual.

There was a scheduled induction into the Baltimore Sports Hall of Fame, and this was being done on the field at about 1:30 and still was in progress at 1:45.  The microphone was in front of the Orioles dugout on the third-base side, and a group of people were dryly going through the ceremony.  I was expecting to sing at abut 1:55, so I went down to the field early and was hanging out behind home plate while my sons were up in their seats.

At 1:45, without warning, everything stopped.  The people in the induction ceremony backed away from the mic but didn't move very much, so it wasn't clear what was going on, except that the induction ceremony had stopped a bit abruptly.  Must be an NBC network break, I assumed.

Then the PA announcer began to intone ... "Ladies and gentlemen, will you please rise ..." and I started to panic.  It was ten minutes before my call.  I was on the field but far behind home plate, not near the mic at the third-base dugout, which was pointed toward the dugout and not the flag in center, where I'd been told to move it before starting the anthem.

"... for the singing of our National Anthem, which will be done by Mr. Robert Sutton of the Boston Light Opera ..." and I started walking very quickly toward the one mic on the field.  I was hoping to get there and start mouthing the words before the tape started, the solo a capella version I had sent them.

I was about ten feet short of the mic when I heard the announcer finish and the recording start.  I started mouthing "Oh, say ..." five feet before getting to the mic in the hope that only a quarter of the 30,000 people there would see, and also knowing I could not move the mic toward the flag.  By the time I got to "... the dawn's early light" I was where I needed to be, and hoping no one would notice anything wrong.

Except for one little thing.  As I was trying to synchronize my lips to the playing tape (i.e., stay a little ahead of it), something was clearly not right.  Right around when the twilight was doing its "last gleaming", it became clear to me -- they were playing the wrong tape.  Yep, there I was on the field, just me, ten feet from the packed Orioles dugout and facing right toward it, one little guy apparently making the voices of four people.

They were playing the quartet cassette.

This fact was not lost on the Orioles in the dugout, who were in their normal anthem pose facing past me toward the flag, holding their caps reverently.  As they fairly quickly realized what was going on, several of the caps mysteriously -- I'm remembering you, Gregg Olson -- rose to their faces to keep their owners from laughing out loud.

I'm still out there lip-syncing to four times my capacity and trying to act like nothing is wrong.  That got a bit difficult when my lead voice sang "land of the free" and from the speakers came a magical echo of "land of the free" while I was clearly holding a long note on the field.  I don't know what color I had turned by the "home of the brave", but I was pretty embarrassed by that point.

Of course, the Orioles organization was immensely apologetic afterward about what had happened, and invited me back to sing at my choice of games the following year in their new stadium -- live, as it turned out, which the new sound system at Camden Yards allowed.  It would be a pleasure, I told them, and signed up for the date I wanted, which in a strange turn ended up the only rainout in Camden Yards' inaugural season.

There is one other odd twist.  Bob Wilson, the tenor in the quartet and a big baseball fan, was planning to attend the game and was driving around looking for parking, with the radio on.  He didn't know I was supposed to sing that day.  When he turned on the radio, he heard the anthem, heard his own voice on the tenor part, and got very panicked thinking he had missed a gig.  Not knowing I was there, and in those days before cell phones, it was days before he actually found out what had happened.

By the way, I didn't feel offended, I didn't think I was the victim of a "microaggression" and I didn't sue.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Monday, December 28, 2015

And The Fear of the New Year Is:

Yesterday my Best Girl and I were talking a bit about the election campaign when she expressed a fear about 2016.  In so many words it was this -- in 2016, irrespective of what damage it may do to the Democrats' campaign to hold onto the White House, Barack Obama will do whatever he wants to, and what he thinks is in the best interest of Barack Obama and his "legacy."

She went on.  We can't understand now why he is so anxious to bring Muslims to this country under the guise of "refugee" status, nor why he wants completely open borders, nor why he is consciously avoiding effective engagement against ISIS, nor why he insists on releasing prisoners from Guantanamo, even as they reengage in war against us.  But he is doing it anyway, and he is not making a case to the public.

Therefore, we must assume that he has a reason; that he refuses to share it with the public lest they actually debate it. Nothing, she said, was going to change in 2016.  With no one effectively opposing him in 2016, ISIS was likely to make huge strides in attacking the West all year, far more so than in 2015 and possibly a lot more so than that.  And she was scared.

I think she has a right to be, and the other 300 million of us that the president has taken an oath to protect should be scared as well.  Imagine how ISIS is looking at it.  The best friend they have, Barack Obama, is going to do nothing to stop them for a year.  Anyone could get elected next November, and whoever it is is going to be at least 1% less friendly to ISIS (e.g., Hillary Clinton, if she is not in prison by then), and possibly completely dedicated to their eradication (any Republican you can name).

So we go into 2016 not with the usual excitement about the promise of a new year, with the thoughts of what can improve (e.g., the Red Sox) but what we should fear.  And we should fear it because, somehow, we have put ourselves into a position where we do not trust the president of the United States to do his principal job, which is to protect the citizenry against foreign attack

We do not trust the current lapdog Congress to do anything else to try to stop him.  We can't even calm ourselves with the comforting thought that in a year we will very possibly have a Republican president, who will be more dedicated to the security of the citizens of the USA than he or she will be to his or her own personal aggrandizement.  We can't be calmed with that thought because a year is a long time, and Barack Obama, unrestrained for an entire year, is a severe threat to the security of our nation. 

The press will not stop him.  Congress will not restrain him.  The people can no longer understand him.  Can you imagine the pardons he'll be giving out after the election?  Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, assorted leftist terrorists?  What about the Islamic terrorists?  Can he pardon Gitmo detainees?  The mind boggles, and not in the good way.

It will indeed be a difficult year.  Fearing our president is now a contributing factor.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Getting Away with Verbal Offenses

The pieces of the past couple days have centered on some odd thinking on the part of an office at Harvard.  Each of the episodes, and each odd thought about how an office thinks it can foist its own opinions on students, leads me to yet further contemplation.

Today is Christmas, a time for festivity and reflection, for appreciation of blessings and assemblage of family and friends.

And time to ponder.

The word "conservative" has multiple meanings, but one in particular is relevant for the day.  I refer to the meaning that relates to circumspection, to forethought and to humility.  It is the kind of attribute that keeps people from pushing forward when propriety would tell them not to.

I thought this while wondering about the contemptible Harvard Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion thinking that they were so morally superior that they could actually, without anyone thinking it a stupid idea, distribute placemats that told students exactly how to answer reasonable questions in the furthest-left way.

I think there is an interesting fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives.  It would seem unthinkable for conservatives to do something like that.  By "like that", I mean to take a public stance in a public institution and bully forward with an action that avoids the possibility of discussion, or the admission that there is even another side.  We certainly give our opinions, but we recognize the existence of people of contrary views.

Where it is particularly strange is manifested in the current pandering to Muslims by this administration -- actually not the pandering itself, but the incredible lemming-like capacity for the left to follow Barack Obama regardless of their self-interest.

There is no -- count them -- no argument whatsoever for bringing 10,000 "Syrian refugee" Muslims into this country without the capability of determining their individual threat level.  Yet all three of the Democrat candidates for president are lined up to support the idea as if it were not the gargantuan threat to American security that it, in fact, is.  Why?  Because Barack Obama said it was a good idea.  The same can be said of releasing the prisoners from Guantanamo, and trading five Taliban generals for the deserting traitor Bowe Bergdahl.

What happened, say, to the USA's support for Israel?  Did strengthening Iran (oh, yeah, add that to the list) at the expense of our actual ally in the region somehow make more sense?  Barack Obama is simply pushing a pro-Islam agenda, even pro-radical Islam, that none of us can understand, including Democrats, but the Democrat leaders are constitutionally incapable of standing up and saying that the president is deluded -- or corrupt.

No, they just plow on forward, teaching students at Harvard how to answer reasonably challenging questions in the way that their slavish devotion to Obama tells them they should, despite the fact that following those answers means acting against their own safety, security and self-interest.  Obama's view is king, and no one dare do anything but follow it.

I cannot imagine a conservative taking such action.  We are far from the cult of personality -- we hold Reagan's policies as correct, not because they were his, but because they were ours and he fought for them.  We think for ourselves -- cool, cool, considerate people who believe we are right but would rather convince someone of our high ground than simply deny the opposition's existence.

Much will be fought out in the debates and primaries to follow.  I do hope that we use the Harvard incident as a way to understand the strategy of our opposition -- "just do it; no one will call us out and we'll just keep going."  It's why Hillary "not my abuela" Clinton won't get prosecuted by the FBI any time soon, why Lois Lerner is still getting a pension; why John Koskinen has a job.  They just do it; no one with strength will complain.

And a merry Christmas to you too.
  
Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Even at Harvard ... or ESPECIALLY at Harvard

Yesterday, I did a piece which included a lengthy reference to the Harvard placemat scandal, wherein its "Office of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion" had to retract placemats it had created to tell students how to answer questions.  The answers, of course, were the oh, so politically correct ones, meaning that the University believed that its students were incapable either of answering the questions lucidly without help, or just incapable of giving the answer Harvard wanted them to.

The university, of course, had to apologize and withdraw the placemats, but not before I got a very widely-read post written about it.  So, thanks.

But then I got a bug up my you-know-what about what an "Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion" actually did, and whether the old-money donors to the university hanging out at various Harvard Clubs were all that happy about what it might be, you know, doing.  There's no better way than to look at its Twitter account, right?

So that's what I did.  And boy, is that interesting.  Harvard's T. H. Chan School of Public Health has an Office of Diversity and Inclusion with a Twitter account.  Yes, they do.  I sincerely hope that, even named as that, it is indeed the same office that was named in the news story; I would be aghast if there were multiple offices at Harvard paying people to do whatever such offices do.  But they had a Twitter account, so for the purposes of this piece -- good enough.

That account has posted 15 tweets since Sunday, the 20th.  Fifteen is a lot of tweets for an office that one would think would be more focused on dealing with student issues, rather than broadcasting them ... at least until you read what those tweets actually are.  So let's take a look.

First, here is a list of the hashtags from just those 15 tweets and one from a few days earlier:
#Islamaophobia
#NoThisIsn'tTheOnion
#VAWA
#genderINequality
#EndYouthHomelessness
#dropthecharges
#lgbt
#LegalDiscrimination
#Harvard
#TitleIX
#immigration
#norway
#genderviolence
#leadingtheway
#translivesmatter
#2015inReview
#whiteprivilege

Many of the tweets referenced online articles.  These included one asserting that 23 "transwomen" [sic] were killed in the USA; one on Norway teaching Muslim immigrants why it is OK for men and women to hug and kiss in public; one pointing to a finding that a woman in jail had killed herself; one how colleges are getting waivers from the Title IX regulations; one about punishment for a disruptive teenager in a high school in another state on a different coast; one citing that the USA is one of only three countries not mandating paid maternity leave; one about "toxic masculinity"; one about the Virginia school system closed because a teacher gave a "calligraphy lesson in Arabic" (making the students write a Muslim declaration); and one about fixing the prison system and the immigration system.

I am really trying to understand how some of these articles -- and some of the hashtags, particularly the #whiteprivilege one -- are associated with the mission of the university, and even associated with the office itself.  Title IX?  I suppose.  Norway trying to teach unwilling Muslims to kiss in public?  Not so much.  But I suppose that is for the university and those who donate to its rather gargantuan endowment to decide.

What I don't get is what the rationale is that would have the school let any office, with people it pays salaries to, put out a tweet with a hashtag "#whiteprivilege."  That article link, by the way, was to a piece touching on affirmative action in a case before the Supreme Court.  White privilege is a term that is offensive on its surface -- offensive, for example, to descendants of immigrants who came from Ireland and Italy 100 years ago and hat to scrap for a living; people from eastern Europe, hated there and hated here when they arrived, who had to work hard to make lives.

It is seemingly not offensive to the privileged dweebs populating the Office of Equity and Whatever at Harvard, who apparently have plenty of time to search for and tweet out any link to a far leftist-slanted article they can find.  I suppose I would be happy with a job like that, except that I'd also occasionally have to deal with the over-privileged dweebs complaining about stuff, just like the ones at Oberlin complaining about their undercooked sushi.

I could handle that, though.  Think that Harvard would hire me to staff an Office of Conservative Value Promotion?

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

And the Stupid Shall Inherit the Earth

I don't know if I hope you have or if you have not seen this.  The link I give you here is to a story too sad to be hysterically funny.

Yes, although you didn't know it, that terrible Christmas song, whose rendition by Bing Crosby is the top performance of a single song of all time, is actually racist.  I kid you not.  And it is racist because it dreams of, yes, a Christmas that is the color of the snow which, being white, happens to resemble more the hue of Cauacasians.

That postulate was put in person before a series of passer-by students at George Mason University, a public (state) university in Fairfax, Virginia, amazingly close to where I live.  And, perhaps, frighteningly so.  What is, of course, more frightening is that plenty of students -- 18 in an hour -- were perfectly willing to sign a petition to support taking "White Christmas" completely off the radio waves as an expression of racial protest.

I can grit my teeth only mildly at the fact that some of the students had never heard the song, and some had never heard of Harry Lillis Crosby himself.  I mean, there seems to be no real use for songs with actual melodies in them, so I get that.

What I would grit my teeth into powder thinking about, is that anyone, let alone someone who graduated an American high school and is now attending a real-life college, is stupid enough to miss the message of "White Christmas."  Combine that with the capacity to be duped into thinking that it is somehow about racial something-or-other, and we are in pretty sad shape.

Lest you think that George Mason University is simply not a sophisticated enough school and its students are just Southern hicks, I can happily point you 500 or so miles north to Harvard, the "Harvard of Eastern Massachusetts" (colleges are always calling themselves the Harvard of this or that, so we MIT grads are always willing to poke our Cambridge neighbor).  At the "real" Harvard, we recently had a parallel exercise in stupidity.

In this case, it was by the "Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion".  I suppose that if I were paying full tuition and fees to Harvard, I would wonder why part of my hard-earned money was paying for people to be employed in an office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, but I am not, so I digress.

No, as the story points out, that office put out a bunch of -- get this -- placemats, as in things you put under your dinner plate to keep crumbs off hallowed Harvard tables.  The placemats instruct poor, unfortunate students unable to think for themselves, as to how to answer when thy are posed simple questions.  The questions were ones like why we shouldn't be taking in 10,000 undocumented people claiming to be Syrian refugees, even though their demographics are skewed toward military-age males and the FBI director states that we can't prove anything about any of them.

Apparently, even though the intended users of the placemats are Harvard students, they aren't bright enough to figure out the right answer themselves, and so need to be instructed with the proper, liberal answer by the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.  They may all know who Bing Crosby was, but they may not have the proper education in offering leftist Hillary-speak, and need their university to tell them.

Needless to say, there was some outrage, and the esteemed institution was forced to back down and -- get this -- apologize.  Since liberals never, ever apologize, except for the USA and for being Americans, it was pretty remarkable when the school issued this statement:

"We write to acknowledge that the placemat distributed in some of your dining halls this week failed to account for the many viewpoints that exist on our campus on some of the most complex issues we confront as a community and society today. Our goal was to provide a framework for you to engage in conversations with peers and family members as you return home for the winter break, however, it was not effectively presented and it ultimately caused confusion in our community… Academic freedom is central to all that Harvard College stands for. To suggest that there is only one point of view on each of these issues runs counter to our educational goals ..."

Oh, golly.  First, the punctuation after "winter break" should have been a semicolon, not a comma.  This is Harvard; even we from MIT know that.  Then there's this -- if "academic freedom is central to all that Harvard College stands for", then how did the placemat thing even get started?  Is anyone from Equity, Diversity and Inclusion being fired because of this?  Reprimanded?  Suspended?  Given "Diversity of Ideas is Actually OK" training?

At the end of the day, what is significant is that there are now thousands of college students out there who, owing to their lack of a civilized discussion forum and the liberal pressure from their campuses, are incapable of distinguishing a pretty, old Christmas song from a racist chant.  And that they apparently need to be trained to lecture their racist parents.

These people are able to vote.  If that doesn't frighten you that 18 people so dumb as to think "White Christmas" is a racist song have the vote, or that Harvard students are so dumb that they need an Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to tell them ho to answer questions, then perhaps you should be sentenced to an hour in a "safe zone" pondering how Barack Obama is now president.

Hint: it wasn't my fault.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Brown, Brown, Brown ... Really, Hillary?

You may not know this, but the Democrats had a debate this past weekend among their presidential contenders.  Saturday night, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley mounted the stage in New Hampshire in relative obscurity.  I haven't seen the ratings, but even the network didn't advertise it, so you know that the DNC was holding the debate reluctantly and doing everything it could to avoid anyone actually, you know, seeing it.

I actually watched it, at least the first two-thirds before the mutual self-congratulations and lack of any real contention among the participants sent me to the football game ... any football game.  But I get points for trying.  That's more than I can say for 99% of the USA.

I do want to mention that I am absolutely sure that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are not stupid people.  Deluded, yes; corrupt, possibly (OK, in Hillary's case, certainly); but not stupid.  So I was pretty nonplussed to hear Sanders describe his plan to have all college educations be, in his words, "free" (in the words of the rest of the USA and reality, "paid for by the taxpayer and borrowing from China").  I believe I explained the stupidity of the idea before here; ahhh, look at it. It's a fun and quick read.

"Free" -- he really said that, and Hillary was right there with him, almost.  She was certainly right there in terms of the method of paying for it -- Sanders and Mrs. Clinton were both assuming that all manner of things could be paid for by "taxing hedge-fund managers" so they would "pay their fair share", whatever that is.

I took a moment and determined that the superfluous Department of Education believes there are slightly over 20 million college students this year.  At $12,600 or so per student in costs (same source), that comes to about $250 billion to pay for college for just the students we have; if free college brings in -- what -- 50% more students? -- it becomes that much more.

We have zero dollars now to pay for it, since we're already borrowing from China to pay our Federal bills.  So we make the leap of faith that we're fine with that borrowing and we're going to pay for this by raising taxes on hedge-fund managers.  Um, how many hedge-fund managers are there?  Does anyone actually know one?  I don't, and I know a lot of people.

So Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are telling us that they truly believe that they can raise $250 billion per year that way, and that they believe the difference between what hedge-fund managers are paying already, and what they "should be paying" is $250 billion.  You could confiscate 100% of their income and then go seize all their property and bank accounts, and if you got a billion or two out of it, you'd be doing well.

And they think we're going to vote for them.

But I digress.  What struck me fairly early on, and struck my best girl (she made about 45 minutes of the debate and then fell asleep) immediately, was this -- Hillary Clinton was wearing brown clothing.
OK, it wasn't the first thing I noticed, but once it was pointed out, it really struck me.  Who wears brown?  I mean, not even making a foul joke relating to her, ah, late return to the stage after one commercial break, that was an odd color for the occasion.

Nothing with the Clintons is an accident; we all know that.  So what were her handlers actually thinking?  I did myself a little research into one's choice of colors for attire, relative to the occasion.  And while sure, there are impressions left with brown clothing relating to "stability" and "trust" -- impressions she desperately needs to influence because she is thought of as grossly political and completely untrustworthy -- there is one other interesting factoid about wearing brown as a choice:

It moves the focus to other surrounding elements with actual colors.

That's right, and given that it was an intentional, strategic choice, we can only imagine why Hillary Clinton would like to have some of the focus taken off her and over to the other candidates who wore, well, blue ties, and on the colors of the auditorium there.

The DNC, of course, denies that the absurd schedule of debates is intended to keep the focus off Hillary Clinton, hoping that the less people see her, the better it is for her image.  But the facts are what they are -- so few debates that even an extreme leftist commentator like Alan Colmes was complaining the next morning about not having the debates in prime time.

I see the bland, brown outfit as a perfect metaphoric complement to the debate schedule -- no one believes that Sanders or O'Malley are good enough debaters to challenge Hillary's nomination, if she isn't in prison by then.  Certainly the DNC doesn't, and apparently Hillary doesn't either.

Take the focus off the Democrats, and minimize their visibility.  When they have to expose things in the few debates, hidden as they are, go ahead and take the focus off Hillary to put her in the best light, lest we be reminded of how corrupt and untrustworthy she is.

Brown, brown, brown.  It's a strategy, and it doesn't say good things.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Monday, December 21, 2015

#300: Suffer Your Sushi in Silence

I have long since stopped wondering how the idiocy of some things on Earth have given me enough fodder; this is piece #300 and there is plenty to keep writing about.

Today we find that the idiocy can extend to ... you guessed it: sushi.  Yes, that's right; according to this article, numerous ethnic groups at Oberlin College, a liberal-dominated college (but I repeat myself) in Ohio, have been kicking and moaning because their meal plan offers food that offends their ethnicities.  No, I'm not kidding.

One Japanese student, for example, told someone who claimed to care that "... the sushi rice was undercooked in a way that was ... disrespectful of her culture."  That's right, she said that in those words.  The article goes on: "Tomoyo Joshi, a junior from Japan, was highly offended by this flagrant violation of her rice. 'If people not from that heritage take food, modify it and serve it as authentic, it is appropriative' ”, according to the New York Post.

Well, whether or not the Oberlin College cafeteria actually called their sushi "authentic" and not just "sushi" was unclear; likely they called it "sushi" and left it at that.  The same is likely true of the fried chicken that was complained about by black students as inauthentic; the Indian students complained about beef in the tandoori the cafeteria serves, and, oh, horror; there was cole slaw in the banh mi sandwiches instead of the pickled vegetables, which offended Vietnamese students.

OK, I really don't care whether or not they liked the food.  What I actually do care about is that somewhere in the bowels of Oberlin College, these students were somehow imbued with an odd idea.  They would not do what normal people would do, i.e., to joke among themselves about how cafeteria workers in Ohio couldn't figure out how to make sushi right, or maybe thank the College for actually trying to make it in the first place.

They would rather preen their ethnicities, and kick and moan about how offended they were that these people who were ostensibly trying to provide some variety in the cafeteria by, well, trying to make this stuff, somehow insulted them by undercooking the rice, or having too much cream in the fried chicken.

Who in Heaven's name taught them that that was the appropriate response?

I don't have much in the way of ethnic concern, being of a variety of ethnicities myself.  I am, however, an American, a gentleman, a Christian, and generally a nice guy who appreciates when someone makes an effort that they didn't have to make in the first place.  So if I were to project myself and my own sensibilities into the excessively-self-important mind of Tomoyo Joshi, here's what I would have done.

I would have gone to the representative of the food service and said something like this: "I really appreciate that you tried to recognize that my culture has some very interesting food, and applaud your effort to bring it to the students here at Oberlin.  Having tried it now, I would like to help you going forward, by recommending how it can be improved to make it more authentically Japanese and perhaps even more flavorful."

Admit it -- not only would you have done the same (or just laughed at those incompetent cooks, the way we did when we were in college and kept choking on the food), but you are smart enough to know that if the pampered Oberlin kickers and moaners had actually done what I would do and offered to help, the food service people would have accepted the help and been willing to work with you.

At the very least, they might have been told that the changes that were made were to hew to the tastes of the majority of students, lest food be thrown away.  Or they indeed might have learned how to cook the rice properly.  It's the old "catching more flies with honey than with vinegar" thing.  And it works.

So what are they teaching at Oberlin?  And why would the college not be reacting the way I did and taking these kids aside to teach them how to get things done?  Are they actually teaching them to act like entitled, spoiled whiny brats even when they come from overseas?

The complaining kids should be embarrassed.  But Oberlin should be more ashamed.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

And What the Debate DID Tell Us

As the dust settles from what we saw Tuesday night in the debate, I suppose it is pointful (?) to reflect on what we were expecting, what happened, and how we react to it.  By "we", I mean "I", since I published a reaction written before the debate was actually held.

As I wrote, I expected a lot of questions of the "Trump said XYZ.  Why was he wrong?" variety.  We got that, for sure -- maybe even more than I was expecting.  The undercard debate was full of them.  In the main event, though, with The Donald physically present, it was remarkable to see which candidates chose to address the question as posed, and which ones took the logical path and refocused their answer toward the topic itself, or the Obama/Clinton menace, rather than taking on Trump as CNN wanted.

The winners of the "I'm not letting you try to make Donald Trump our biggest enemy" award were Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and, to some extent, Ben Carson.  The big loser in that?  Jeb Bush, who decided in advance that he would have to take on Trump to get anywhere, and got into a dispute he is not constitutionally capable of winning.  He looked bad, and his strategic advisers should be canned.  Jeb Bush is a good man, and was an excellent governor.  What he is not is a good presidential candidate.

Remarkably, Ted Cruz confined his animus to where animus was needed -- ISIS, Putin and the Democrats as led by Obama and Clinton, the latter two of whom are making insipidity a characteristic of whatever they think "leadership" is.  Cruz left Donald Trump alone.  Compare the performance of Cruz and Bush ... which one would be deemed as having managed their debate performance better?

The dust-up that didn't matter, by the way, was the one between Cruz and Rubio that centered primarily on government data-gathering and its impact on terrorism-fighting vs. citizen freedoms.  It didn't matter (and, by the way, did not enhance the image of either) because it was a disagreement about tactics.  Was the disagreement important?  Sure.  But it's the kind of policy squabble that wasted time -- the two men have so much more in common than either does with the Democrats; why risk looking bad by getting that testy with each other.  Respect the other's view and move on.

Winner overall?  A lot of the candidates had good moments, and I would vote for literally any one of them in a race against Hillary Clinton, if she is not in prison by then.  But I would actually say that the best performance was that of Chris Christie.  (Aside to Gov. Christie first -- we now know you were a federal prosecutor.  The phrase "I was a federal prosecutor" is now allowed you only once per debate.)  The governor combines experience with fighting terrorists with executive leadership and. most importantly, presents his points extremely well.  Impressively prepared, articulate, clear in his points, he has had excellent debates but this one was particularly good.

Donald Trump -- we have to give him his own paragraph -- did what Donald Trump does.  He said a lot of things, got into specifics very infrequently, and tossed out statements.  It is, as I said, what he does, and it needs to be understood that his style of leadership is to gather the experts and lead them, not to be the autocrat.  He has been so successful in business that you have to concede that his style works for him.  And remember, Ronald Reagan did that as well, although he got a lot of experience from eight years governing California -- working with a legislature is not the same as working with subcontractors.  We, the voters, have to decide if Trump could do the same.

From the moderators' perspective, it was not CNN's best moment, but I particularly object to a rule that wouldn't have seemed so bothersome if it didn't fail in practice.  Here's the thing -- when a candidate answers a question by invoking the name of another candidate, generally in conflict, the other person gets 30 seconds or so to speak, even if he or she initiated the topic.

So if CNN asks one of those "Mr. Trump said XYZ ..." questions, then 90% of the time they have to go back to The Donald for his rebuttal.  Get the problem?  By asking the question that way, it fattens the stage time for Trump at the expense of the stage time for other candidates screaming for a fair shake.  At this stage, with many candidates, that is a terrible outcome.

I'm going to end this by wondering why CNN did not want Carly Fiorina to have enough air time to speak.  It was as if their moderators mostly forgot that she was on stage, a point she made early in the main debate but which went off into space; she got few questions and had to make do with what was asked.  Earth to CNN: feel free to invite her to participate next time.  You might learn something.

More debates will follow.  I can't wait.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What the Candidates SHOULDN'T Have Done

This is an interesting situation; I am writing this on Tuesday afternoon in advance of the Republican candidates' debate tonight, that will already have happened when this is posted on Wednesday.

Now that's a trap and a half; I''m not predicting anything specific, so it isn't as though the facts of the evening will somehow prove me wrong in a prediction I make, but we'll already know if anyone took the advice that they won't have received until after the fact.  Got it?

I would have tweeted this to a few of the candidates if I thought for a moment that they listened to or read this site.  They should, of course, given the provocative nature of the opinions here, but as they didn't, I thought I'd save this piece for the morning after.  There's got to be a morning after, s we all know.

So here's the thing.  The media want the debate to be Tyson-Klitschko, or maybe Louis-Schmeling or Frazier-Foreman.  They want that fight to be between pretty much anyone on stage, as long as one of the combatants is The Donald, Mr. Trump himself. That kind of fight pretty much satisfies all the media's goals, which are three: self-aggrandizement, selling stories regardless of fact content, and defeating conservatives.  A big dust-up between Trump and anyone else there checks all their boxes.

I've no doubt that the questions will be specially crafted to promote their agenda, as opposed to that of the candidates (getting a message out) or, say, the American people (learning about the candidates, staying safe from overseas threats, keeping a reasonable percentage of what we make).  Which means that you can expect lots of "Mr. Trump said XYZ.  How do you differ with that?"

That brings me to my debate-prep-too-late-to-use.  If I'm, say, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, who have shown themselves strong enough to rise some in the polls recently, the last thing I want is to have my presidential appearance threatened by a dust-up I didn't ask for.  I do want to appear in command of the issues, smart, well-prepared and speaking intelligently.

And here is the thing that should be drilled into their mindset before going on stage:

Not one person in the whole USA is going to vote next November based on how well I argued with Donald Trump.

Understand the point?  The people on that stage have immensely more in common with each other than they do with Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democrat nominee if she is not then in prison.  Distinguishing oneself from Donald Trump is a fool's errand.  The candidates should look at the debate as a bully pulpit on which to make their individual case for them as president, not against each other but against the failures of the Obama administration which Hillary Clinton would simply extend.

So if, again, I'm Ted Cruz and I get a question like "Donald Trump says that we should apply a religious test for immigration and ban Muslims from coming here.  Do you agree with him?", I would answer like this:

"First, he did not say he would ban Muslims from coming here per se, forever; he said their immigration should be suspended until -- and I'll paraphrase -- DHS gets its act together and can reassure the USA that ISIS members won't slip through.  Whatever words he used, he is right in that when we apply a more stringent ban on looking at Facebook posts from ISIS members trying to sneak into the USA, than the IRS has on our own citizens, and 14 people are dead as a result, there's a problem.

"Second, we should understand by now that he often makes comments to stimulate discussion, to air a concern rather than expecting a specific solution, and the fact that his polling goes up when he does says that the American people take him more seriously than they do this administration or the media -- as they should.

"Finally, next November the voters are going to be far more concerned with the difference between whichever of us is the nominee, and Hillary Clinton, if she is not already in prison.  So I'm going to tell you that Mr. Trump is concerned about the same thing that everyone on this stage -- and in the audience -- is concerned about: the threat to our communities by Islamic terrorism.  We on this stage may differ in the ultimate solution, but at least all nine of us are willing to call it that.

"Next question?"

Gee, I hope that will have happened last night.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

That Phone Call May BE the IRS After All

As if you didn't think that the government could exceed its heights of stupidity -- or depths, depending on how you ... nahhh, "depths" makes more sense.

So now there is a little provision tucked into the budget law just signed that allows for Federal agencies to do robocalling in the course of collecting debts to the government.  That includes, specifically, back taxes -- which means that by law, the IRS can have a sweet voice dialing your number and telling you that you owe them six or eight billion dollars and if you don't pay, they're coming to get you ... "... and you know we do that, sir or madam!"

I encourage you to do a search, using your favorite browser, on "IRS phone scam" or words to that effect.  You will find dozens upon dozens of articles citing the nice people at the Internal Revenue Service themselves, warning the public that the IRS does not call you to collect taxes, and that people who call you are scamming the public and are not really the IRS.

Now this.

I have no sympathy for the IRS, none whatsoever.  They are led by a political hack named John Koskinen, an embarrassment to Finnish-Americans everywhere, who has lied to a congressional committee and who is the target of an impeachment investigation as we speak.  They are already auditing my failed business, on which my family lost our life savings even before the audit started.  The audit started right about the time the beautiful and talented Barack Obama told the American people that the IRS was hamstrung, without the funds to go after the "bad guys" in corporate America (but apparently with more than enough incompetent auditors to bleed my wife and me).

When even a Democrat senator (Menendez - NJ) protested the provision that he voted for anyway, the IRS had to make a statement:  "The IRS is currently reviewing the legislation," agency spokesman Anthony Burke said in a statement. "We are taking steps to begin implementation of the program as soon as feasible and will do our best to implement the new requirements as effectively as possible. To that end, we will do everything we can do to help taxpayers avoid confusion and ensure they understand their rights and tax responsibilities, particularly in light of continuing scams where callers impersonate IRS agents and request immediate payment."

Note the irony -- "We are taking steps to implement the new requirements ...".  Not "We are immediately asking Congress to amend the law to remove references to collecting taxes -- or delete the provision in its entirety."  No, your friends and mine at the IRS are seeking ways to comply.  That's perfectly in keeping with their general regard for the American citizen.

Seriously, what are you supposed to do when you get robocalled by someone claiming to be with the IRS, which formerly never called but only used the mail, and for years has been telling us that if someone does call, claiming to be IRS, they're a scam?  I don't know, and neither does the IRS.

Let's take this to a logical extreme.  I get robocalled to tell me they want money.  In keeping with all the dozens of warnings from the IRS, I take them at their word that it's a scam, and hang up.  Next thing I know, the tax police come in, take our furniture, cars and jewelry and seize what's left of our bank account.  The court case takes 14 months to come to trial, while in the meantime our lack of bank account means our house is foreclosed on.

"But, Your Honor", we protest to the Tax Court judge.  "We took the IRS at its word that calls claiming to be from the IRS were scams and so we hung up.  Next thing you know, the Tax-Till-You-Drop Storm Troopers showed up."  What does the judge do?  Do you think he's going to help us get our house back?  I don't either.

I would like to find out who in Congress did the president's bidding -- you don't think it was Congress's idea, do you? -- and snuck that provision in the budget bill when no one was looking.  We all should be told, especially the citizens of that dumb cluck's district.

Anyone have an idea who done it?

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Carrying Crap with You

Are there times when you walk around wondering why people don't like you, or wondering whether they like you or don't?  Are these perhaps the times when you feel the least favorable about the way things are going for you personally?  Hmmmm.  Let's think on that ...

I have friends from a variety of different spaces and eras of my life, the kind of thing that happens when you change careers periodically and have an odd assortment of interests, hobbies and pastimes.  So I value all friendships, but particularly the enduring ones.

One such fellow is a gentleman I've known for 30 years.  Although I know him directly through my barbershop singing hobby -- we were actually in four world-championship singing groups together -- our discussions and interactions over recent years have long transcended music and entertainment.

By profession, he is a private consultant in the field of communication.  He works with companies and their employees to help them communicate, internally and externally, to speak in public, to organize their message, that sort of thing.  That he is very good at it is evident by both his level of being busy and the amount of repeat business he enjoys -- clients bring him back repeatedly.

Of course, "companies" don't actually communicate; people do.  As a result, he is regularly dealing with individuals in these firms, and occasionally they approach him separately, to ask for help in their personal lives.

My friend related one such incident, when he visited my wife and me here a couple months back.  A young fellow, whom we'll call "Joe", had asked him to help work through some life issues -- as sort of a "life coach", so the term goes.  Young Joe had serious issues with various parts of his life, and seemed to have no one to help him.  He felt without friends and alone in his life.

So my friend told him this (grossness alert):  "OK, Joe, you will do this.  Every time you go to the bathroom, I want you to have a big, clear plastic bag, and collect your poop in the bag, no matter how much.  Then you will carry that bag with you through the day, wherever you go.  You meet people, you carry the bag.  You go to work or to class, you carry the bag.  Everywhere."

Naturally, "Joe" protested, thinking he was serious.  "But that will smell terrible!  No one will want to be around me!"

My friend got a very stern look on his face.  "Joe", he said, "You are already carrying a bag of poop around with you.  You just didn't realize it.  Every troubling aspect of your life, everything wrong, every failure -- you are carrying those with you when you interact with people, no different from if you had a real bag of poop.  Why do you think people don't want to be around you?"

Needless to say, "Joe" was taken aback, as he realized that people were reacting to him not as the person he was, but as the carrier of so much smelly life baggage that they simply did not want to be near him.  "I've got a lot to fix", he replied, realizing that he had a lot of crap to deal with on his own and not let it poison his interactions.

I can assure you neither my wife nor I had ever heard that story before, nor even considered such an analogy for our own lives -- or those of our friends and family.  But we have been amazed, beyond imagination, at how that simple anecdote has recurred in our lives since it was told to us.  People we know, apparently, do carry around metaphorical poop bags with them, more often than we could imagine.  The bigger the bag, the less we wanted to help them, the less we wanted to listen to them, and the less we wanted to be around them.  And the lesson was on us as well, to take care of our issues and not lead with them.

How simple is the lesson, right?  How you deal with the struggles in your life dictates whether people want to be around you, and if they're not around you, they can't help you.  We have surely had some struggles in recent years; business failure, deaths in the family, IRS audits -- but if we define our outward presence by what has happened to us, we will cease to be people anyone wants to interact with.

We are attracted to the company of people who have a positive attitude no matter what their situation my actually be -- those who set their struggles aside and deal with them on their own, who share their hopes and aspirations, and conceal the barriers and frustrations.  You know you prefer to be around such people; as the saying goes, the world doesn't want to hear about labor pains -- it just wants to see the baby.

Check your poop bags at the door.  You'll be amazed at the friends you find.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Right, Wrong, Tax, Tax, Tax

Interesting little bit of news today, as Congress kicks around its next budget.  One of the items on the floor is to extend the current law regarding how taxpayers in states without income taxes treat their sales tax payments.

Apparently (I didn't know this, as I live in a state ... OK, commonwealth -- that taxes income), if you live in Texas, Florida or one of those states without income taxes, the Feds allow you to deduct sales taxes that you pay, in some form and with some kind of guidelines or restrictions.  That one struck me as a bit odd, and I got to thinking.  I'm intentionally not looking at the law itself; I want to concentrate on the principle of deductibility as it applies in this case.

Remember -- I am a devoted flat-taxer, so in my view, the topic should be moot.  But we have to deal with the world as we live in it, not the ideal that makes, you know, actual sense.

As I see it, the principle involved in deducting state income taxes is this.  You earn wages, you pay Federal tax on them.  State income taxes are looked at as a cost of earning your living, and are as a result classed in with job-hunting, transportation, work expenses and the like as being deductible.  At least I have to assume that's the logic.  Logic and tax code are often on different planets.

Whoever decided to allow state sales taxes to be deductible had a different reasoning.  Since states can decide how to raise their revenue -- there are many available taxable activities (income, sales, property, inheritance, business, etc.) across which to raise the cost of state government, the taxpayer shouldn't be punished by the state's decision to raise revenue through a sales tax rather than income taxes.  Or so the thought goes.

OK, I get the sympathy -- but the logic fails.  Either state sales taxes are philosophically deductible or they're not.  And that is based on principle.  Expenses that are deductible, are deductible because of tax policy (e.g., the "cost of earning" policy I noted earlier), i.e., either they should be deductible or they should not -- regardless of what state you live in.

That's why I would oppose letting state sales taxes be deductible only in states without income taxes.  Deductibility is not about fairness, because tax policy should not be about fairness in the first place (yes, you read that right).  Tax policy should be about generating the revenue needed to run government with the least intrusive methods available to raise the most money.  Fairness is an impediment to that goal.

I'm sure that if I lived in a state with no income tax I would feel the same way.  It's not about me and my tax bill; it's about right and wrong.  There's enough in the tax code already that makes no rational sense; adding more to it -- or, in this case, continuing with a provision that makes no rational sense -- just exacerbates the spaghetti-code that is the income tax law in the USA.

And, of course, reason #455,213 to dump the code and start all over.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thinking about Trump's Numbers

Donald Trump, depending on what you may be reading, has had two distinct and possibly related news items dominate this week.

First, he has been aggressively pressing for limitation on the issuance of visas to, and the allowance to immigrate here by, Muslims in general and people claiming to be Syrian refugees in particular.  For that, he has been vilified in the press and among Democrats as a racist bigot and a bad, bad guy.

Second, his poll numbers have risen as he has gained numbers against the other dozen or so active candidates for the Republican nomination.  Seriously.

Now, while the former is a predictable action on Trump's part, and an even more predictable response on the part of the left, which certainly must fear Trump's ascent and his popularity, the latter is way more complicated than it sounds.  And here's why.

A month ... OK, three months back, I wrote a piece castigating the press for trying to minimize Trump's impact by saying that his support was only among the quarter of Republicans selecting him in polls, and that number itself was only a quarter of Americans; leaving Trump as being only liked by maybe 6% of the USA.  They weren't saying that explicitly, but the implication was that no one really supported him.

My point -- and please do read the piece -- was that there were more than a dozen candidates on the Republican side, many with barely-conscionable differences in their approaches and philosophies.  Liking Marco Rubio slightly more than Trump certainly didn't mean the polled voter didn't like Trump or wouldn't vote for him.  It only meant that he or she slightly preferred Rubio and would have no problem in voting for Trump were he the eventual nominee.

In other words, if Trump were the current preference of 28% of Republicans polled, there are two other constituencies of interest: the 72% of Republicans polled who selected a different candidate as their top choice, and the 55% of those who could have been polled who are Democrats or independents but weren't included in the poll.

Although those two constituencies are quite different, there is a similarity for the sake of this argument and this piece.  They are all people who may vote.  And when they have to push a lever in November, Donald Trump may be the Republican candidate and they can decide that they'd rather vote for him than Hillary Clinton, if she is not in prison then.

So the interesting question, not asked, becomes not whom their top preference is, but whether they are reasonably certain to vote for Trump if he is the Republican candidate.  Or another way, how soft is Trump's support among those Republicans for whom he is not the top candidate

Is that not a very interesting question?  I mean, Trump is not my lead guy but I would certainly vote for him in November if he is the candidate.  But that's me.  How many people like me are out there who are far more troubled than I by the portrayal of him as somehow racist -- or, more likely, are sufficiently deterred by his bluntness or other prominent attribute that they wouldn't vote for him?

Here's the thing, and I hope you'll think about it.  I'm guessing, but I'm sure that 98% of people now supporting Chris Christie would vote for Marco Rubio if he became the candidate.  Maybe more.  That number is probably the same for most pairs of Republican candidates cast the same way.  Perhaps that number is lower for Jeb Bush or Rand Paul, were one the candidate in the end, but probably not that much.  Don't you think it is even lower now for Trump, given the bashing by the press, and the way that Trump often seems to find ways to say things in ways that come across as more offensive than others might?

Here is where I can't imagine why the polling companies are not going to the people in the Republican polls with a "level of depth of support", particularly needed on the Republican side.  Something like, "Here are the thirteen active candidates, and you have already indicated that you plan to vote for one of them in the primary in your state. For all the other twelve, please indicate whether, if the election were held today, you would vote for each one, or vote for Hillary Clinton, or not vote at all."

If I'm Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, I want that data.  I want it now, because if one or two of the candidates might show substantial weakness in the "secondary market", I'm going to have a big problem if their support strengthens only amongst those for whom that is the leading candidate.  But if anyone is collecting that data, we're sure not hearing about it.

Donald Trump's primary support -- those for whom he is the most-preferred candidate -- is the highest of any of the candidates.  When he says something controversial, that seems to rise rather than fall, presumably because his tendency toward controversy is what attracts them in the first place.  However, that is potentially deceptive; if his primary support rises but an even larger number of Republicans and independents find themselves less able to vote for him, that is a problem.

And if it is, we need to know it.  And surely we need to know that now.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

It's the Laws, It's the Principle; It's Not the People

I have a grand-niece named Carrie.  Young Carrie is a graduate student at a large public university, in a doctoral program in neurosciences.  She is only 21, a pretty bright young lady and, when she is not halfway across the country engaged in her research, writing and studies, and she visits family here in Virginia, I enjoy her company.  I particularly enjoy talking politics with her, because she does feel passionately about it and because she is intelligent enough to have a reasonable approach to discussing it.

Of course, that "reasonable approach" is pretty much to avoid discussing it with relatives, almost all of whom are somewhere between "more conservative than she" and "far more conservative than she".  In other words, she is squarely in the age susceptible to the "Clemen├žeau's son syndrome" as related in this piece.

On the rare occasion that she does discuss it in my presence, she is careful to say little, as if equally trying not to offend us, and trying not to allow the discussion to progress before switching the topic.

It is that tendency that made me think a little about political discussions.  There's no question that I think that Barack Obama is an ideological extreme socialist, and Hillary Clinton is a pathological liar with a large helping of megalomania.  However, I would never try to argue a political point by saying what a despicable being Obama is, or what a compulsive, power-mad liar Hillary Clinton is.  That kind of stuff wouldn't work on me in reverse; why would I try to use it?

By that I mean that I really don't want to hear from someone that we shouldn't pass laws or write regulations to control the importing of Syrian refugees because "well, Trump is a bigot."  The implication is that no idea of his is worth auditing because, a priori, it came from him.  

If something is a good idea -- or a bad one -- then the proper approach to debate is to defend one's position or postulate by saying that the principle is correct; that it is morally sound, that the means of implementation is likely to work, and that the means have been successful elsewhere in a comparable situation -- or at least have not failed everywhere they've been tried.

In other words, ideas need to stand on their merit, not on the mendacity or profligacy or infidelity -- or even the ideological bent -- of the person speaking on their behalf.

If you think that bringing 10,000 unvetted Syrians claiming to be refugees over here and dumping them in the USA on the taxpayer's dime is a good idea, then make the case.  What problem are we trying to solve; how would we protect American citizens; how would we ensure no ISIS jihadists are in the mix; what will we do if they are found; where has this ever worked and been a good idea; where might it have failed miserably?  Answer all that, please, without using the name of Donald Trump, and we'll have a good conversation.

It's the same with gun control, right?  Mass shooting happens ... and from the White House comes the usual blather about "common sense gun control laws" being needed because of the big bad NRA that everyone hates.  Well, I don't oppose the White House in all that just because I can't get behind anything Obama says, and I don't oppose gun control laws just because the NRA opposes them.

In fact, if you can demonstrate to me that there are laws that would make a tangible impact on murder rates, and have done so successfully in a suitable sample population without hamstringing ordinary citizens' capacity to defend ourselves, I'll be happy to listen to you.  I'm actually willing.  The fact that there are no such proposed laws is because they simply don't work, and there's no way around that.  The two ISIS people who carried out the San Bernardino murders had someone else buy the weapons for them.  Where there's a jihadist will, there's a way.

I bring my grand-niece into it because not only does she avoid political discussions as much as possible, when she does engage, she conspicuously avoids arguing principle by vilifying the proponent or opponent.  That's quite a mature attitude for a person who is still allowed to be a communist for nine more years (easy, folks; she is not one).

She teaches me, too.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Teaching the IRS Their Job

More than two years ago, my wife and I closed our family business.  We had found ourselves unable to raise the necessary capital to grow it, principally because no bank would lend to small businesses -- I personally approached 13 different banks, large and small alike.  I concentrated on banks that advertised how much they supported small businesses.

As a result of their unwillingness to lend a penny to help us grow -- and just ask any small business owner; their experience will be exactly the same if they've sought capital from a bank -- we closed a business that had done $975,000 in business the previous year, in an industry where most stores do $300-400,000.  We were the nation's largest (principally) plus-size bridal salon.  There is now a state liquor store and an empty space where the store was.

There is also an empty space where our life savings was.  Our entire combined 401(k) was lost in the closing, so naturally we're really thrilled with the banking industry -- and the fellow in the White House whose contempt for business is so large that industry would rather hoard than hire, and banks would do almost anything rather than lend.  And I am still working, though I'm 64 years old and would have liked to retire.  Oh, by the way, neither of us was ever paid one red cent in salary.

Don't worry about us; we'll make things work as we wait for an actual president to get elected.  We're resilient.

But I give all the background above so you can appreciate what it was like for us to get a letter a few months back from the Internal Revenue Service, the same people who brought you Lois "I decline to testify on the advice of counsel and my Fifth Amendment rights" Lerner, who should be in jail, and John "I've never had my honesty challenged before" Koskinen, who should be unemployed.  The letter said that our deceased business, now in the grave for two years, was being audited.

Needless to say, we needed that like a third nostril.  As it turns out, they were challenging how much revenue we had actually taken in in 2012, our last full year.  The reason they didn't get it was because we claimed income at time of sale, not when we were paid (most of our sales were half-down to order, the rest on delivery 4-6 months later).  We actually, by doing that, claimed revenue earlier than we had to, so all that 2012 revenue the IRS couldn't find had already been taxed in 2011, since it was the down payments on gowns that arrived in 2012 but were ordered the previous calendar year.  That model was actually better for the IRS.

Of course, once the IRS auditor discovered that the tax on the disputed amount had already been paid, she seemingly felt obliged to go probing for something in this deceased business that she could claim was the basis for us owing money to the IRS.  So she did -- except in all the cases she was wrong either in the reading of our papers or in the reading of the law.

Now in all of this, we were defended by our accounting firm and, as you might guess, there is no recourse -- we have to pay the CPA to tell the IRS why we don't owe them anything and had done everything properly in the first place.  To date, that has cost a couple -- who lost our savings when the business folded -- over $3,000 in accountant's fees.

Finally our accountant, a good and decent man, had had enough.  Exactly what he had had enough of, was that the auditor did not seem to understand tax law well enough and that he, the CPA, kept having to explain the law and why there was no liability.  You guessed it -- my wife and I, having lost all our retirement savings, were now forced to pay someone to give the IRS lessons in tax law.

Let me quote from the accountant's instruction to me to go to my Congressman: "Bob, it’s very frustrating.  From my perspective, I feel as though I am providing the training to this person on behalf of the IRS, but at your cost, neither of which is fair.  At the same time, I know that their tools are a bit antiquated and the process she has to go through has no real clear guidance.  It’s all money and politics, unfortunately ... My friend, we cannot afford their incompetence as individuals or as a society.  But that’s what we’ve got.  If anything, I would send a bill with a letter of your expenses to your congressman when this is all done.  Yes, the IRS can (and should) have the right to audit.  However, with the level of errors, there should be some recompense."

I couldn't have said it better.  Congress passes income-tax law that now covers 74,000 pages of various situations that all could be cured with a simplified flat tax (thank you, Mrs. Fiorina).  Then the citizen has to pay to have his own accountant explain to the IRS auditor what the applicable part of that absurd 74,000 pages applies.  And there is little, if any, recourse.

My Congressman is Barbara Comstock of the district in Virginia where I live.  I will be happy to share with you all how this exercise ends up.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Willingness to Fight

On my ride in to a client's office, I had the Breitbart News radio show going on satellite.  One of the callers in had apparently spent some amount of time in the Middle East on a defense-related set of assignments, and wanted to share a curious conversation he had.

While out there, he was discussing things in general with a Muslim who was working with him, when as a slight non sequitur, the associate said "You will never win, you know."  Pressed to clarify, he added, "Christians will never win.  You can't win.  You don't fight."

Sometimes it takes a comment from the outside to remind us of truths we should easily have seen, much as the little child in "The Emperor's New Clothes" sees the truth no one wanted to admit.  In this case, I was startled at how readily I understood what this person from across the planet saw in my religion and my culture.

We don't fight.

Sure, we have an outstanding military capability here in the USA, doubtlessly the superior of any other on the planet.  We can fight.  Our people are courageous and know, as the song goes, more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery.  A lot more.  Our people can fight.

It is our leadership, such as it is right now and, frankly, has been for a few decades, that has disassociated the strength of our principles and values, from our willingness to use our military might to defend them.  We are so fearful of being regarded as colonialists, imperialists and crusaders; so fearful of appearing to be foisting our values on an unwilling world, that we have exposed ourselves to that world as too soft even to defend ourselves in our own homeland.

The radical jihadists, on the other hand, have no such compunction, and they have the value of time on their side.  They see themselves as tools in the establishment of a worldwide caliphate that will take hundreds of years to create, far past their own life span.  If they die in its creation, well, so be it -- they weren't going to be around for its completion anyway, and there are always those 72 virgins (although one of yesterday's shooters in California was female, again making us wonder what her reward would be).

I do not have any particular desire to have Islam go away and convert them all to Christianity.  Religious Muslims who want to live in peace with their fellow man of any faith neither threaten me nor prompt me to want to convert them.  Just getting that out on the table.

But the fellow above was right in that we are so paralyzed by our fear of what the world will think, that we pull our punches and, as he said, "don't fight."  And the time has come for that to stop.

First -- we as a country declare a set of principles based on right and wrong.  Murder of innocents is wrong.  Terrorism is wrong.  Radical religious philosophies that inspire their advocates in the 21st Century to murder and practice terror are wrong, and we will define them as evil.  Our leader needs to say that.

I have no problem whatsoever declaring that we have the right to declare when something is wrong and go to the ends of the earth to protect our fellow man from evil.  It is our duty as the leading light of the free world to do so.  And we will fight, proactively, to rid the world of evil.

But under the current administration, we will not fight.  And when the evil enemy, with time, money and weaponry and a goal of taking us back to the 7th Century, is indeed willing to fight but sees us as cowed into passivity, it's no wonder we're losing ground.

In our next president, I want to see someone willing to act, not out of imperialism or hegemony, or religious fervor, but out of defense of the free exercise of faith worldwide.

If you want to be that president, let us know.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

When You Know You've Lost the Battle

Most of you have some familiarity with the famous "Hitler Argument Principle", the one that essentially goes something like "If you bring Adolf Hitler into an argument first, you have lost."

That's not so silly a proposition as it sounds, and it is fundamentally accurate.  We regard Hitler as the total extreme of evil, with zero redeeming qualities.  In that context, when you say something like "Sure, but if it were Hitler would you do the same thing" or "If Hitler had done that ...", you are engaging in the odd flavor of reductio ad absurdum argument that people use when they can't defend their postulate on its merits.

While I admit that I probably have not adequately explained the Principle to any of you who have not previously heard it, please bear with me, and it least temporarily stipulate that it is true for the moment.

Today, I opened the op-ed section of the Washington Post only to find a fairly loud headline at the top of the column by the leftist columnist Dana Milbank.  The headline read "Donald Trump is a Bigot and a Racist."  The column itself was surprisingly absent of any real evidence of that; Milbank laid out a pattern of actions on Trump's part -- and, to be accurate, action on other people's part that he was blamed for not opposing or commenting on -- that supposedly amounted to a pattern of bigotry and racism.

Of course, if you look at each of the incidents with any depth at all, you see that the action of the original perpetrator was pretty much irrelevant to their race -- criminal violence in some cases, for example.  Milbank brought up Trump's previous support of the "birther" movement, people challenging whether Barack Obama was born in the USA, and lumped that in as if opposing Obama for anything at all was, by definition, racist because Obama is half-black.

I bring up the Hitler Argument Principle not just because Milbank got close enough to it (he mentioned a quote from a concentration-camp survivor, as if it were relevant), but because the relative absence of actual fact in his piece relevant to bigotry -- especially with such an accusatory headline -- shows the Principle in all its glory.

Dana Milbank put out an op-ed that was under the kind of headline that can get you sued.  He then provided no real justification for his accusation, and he brought the Nazis into it.  It would appear that the left, particularly the Trump-hating part of the left (i.e., the press), has become so frustrated with the rise of Donald Trump that they are going to the far side of Debate 101 to try to make their case, like a bunch of petulant children going "Well, you're wrong .... and you're fat and you're ugly too!"  So there.

I do not know Donald Trump, and I don't know his attitude toward other races (except for being suspicious of Muslims, but willing to accept each on a personal level, which puts him in the majority of American voters).  However, Milbank's column, by being so completely over the top, has utterly convinced me of two things:
(A) Donald Trump is not a racist
(B) The left is frightened to death of him.

I still have not decided for whom I will vote in the primary on Super Tuesday next year.  If it were today, it would not likely be Donald Trump; there are some in the field I also support whom I would prefer even more.  But after today's column, there's no question that I needn't be worried about whether or not Donald Trump is a racist and a bigot.  He is clearly not.

If Dana Milbank has to play the Hitler card, he has already lost the argument.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Paying for the Piping, Obama Style

There is a wonderful story about a black preacher in the South, who punctuated his sermon one Sunday with the proud and loud declaration that "Salvation is free -- free as the water we drink!"  Later in the service, the preacher made note of the rather paltry collection, and was challenged by a fellow in the third row of the pews.  "Didn't you say salvation was free, Reverend, free as the water we drink"?

The pastor looked down at him and declared, "Oh, yes, brother, salvation is INDEEEEEEEED as free as the water we drink.  But when we pipe it to you, you got to pay for the piping!"

I was reminded of that story this week when your president and mine (gasp), Barack Obama, hustled off to Paris to attend a summit of world leaders on global warming -- not how to have more of it, as the Russians and Canadians would probably like, but less of it.  He proposed that the USA, meaning the American wage-earning taxpayer, cough up $2 billion to send to African rulers to help with their efforts to reduce global warming.  No, seriously.

So here's the thing.  We now, as a government, owe some $19 trillion to a host of people whom we have borrowed from, because the government spends more than it takes in.  That "host of people" is mostly foreign governments, with China, our sworn enemy who is constantly hacking our personal and government systems, way up at the top.  We recall the one memorable line of Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential debate, that he would evaluate every spending line in the Federal budget as to whether it was worth "borrowing money from China to pay for it."

So here's my point: we do not have one red cent of the $2 billion of your money that Barack Obama wants to send to a set of otherwise not-terribly-trustworthy African strongmen, trusting that they will use it to help forestall global warming.  I guarantee you that if Congress were stupid enough to allow that to happen, there would be zero oversight of where that money went.  Guarantee it.

And yet, Obama thinks it is a good idea.  Follow the money here ... we would borrow $2 billion from China to send to African dictators, and never follow up to see how it is actually used.  China is a gold-medal producer of the pollutants that are supposed to cause global warming.  But no, we'll borrow from them, pay interest to China on the loan, and give the money away to people running countries that are nowhere near the level of global warming causers that the Chinese are.

Got it?

So here is the Grand UberThoughtsUSA solution, much better for all concerned (save the African dictators) and for the planet.  Let Barack Obama use his eloquence to convince the Chinese to use the $2 billion they would have lent to the USA to give away to African dictators, on taking care of their own infrastructure and converting $2 billion worth of energy production to green, green sources.  Voila!

Don't you love it?  The planet benefits because the least green country out there gets greener.  The USA taxpayer is not footing the bill for any foreign effort that doesn't help us.  The Chinese economy gets a Keynesian infusion of $2 billion to help its own businesses.  Corrupt African dictators are deprived of money they don't deserve and don't plan to use productively.  And Obama can take credit for MY idea.

And we don't have to "pay for the piping."

Comment away.  I love it.


Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.