Friday, May 29, 2015

There's No Socialist Like An Old Socialist

This absolute gem of a leftist view comes from the old defender of unions and organized labor who writes for the Washington Post, your friend and mine, Harold Meyerson, who writes on Thursday about the mythical wonders of the left:

"The polarization so evident in Congress is but a pale reflection of the growing chasm separating red states from blue, particularly on issues of workers’ incomes and rights. While states under Republican rule are weakening workers’ ability to bargain with employers and reducing the pay of construction workers, states and cities where Democrats dominate are hiking the minimum wage, requiring employers to grant paid sick days and even considering penalizing large employers who don’t pay their workers enough."

The laughable part is that Meyerson sees this as the Democrats actually doing a good thing by raising minimum wages, forcing mandatory sick days and fining employers of low-wage positions.  Now, Harold Meyerson turned 65 years old in March, and one would have thought that, in keeping with the Cubbyhole Theory of Maturity, he would have discovered rationality.

Because he certainly hasn't discovered economics.  Else, how would you explain his thought that, say, requiring employers to grant paid sick days is a good thing?  I know I've already disposed of this issue, back in January, but I guess old Harold doesn't read me (or remember me, or maybe believe me).

Those same cities and states where Democrats "dominate" are laden with huge unfunded pension liabilities they can't dream of addressing and are forced into bankruptcy (Detroit); they have criminals running the streets after hamstringing their police forces (Baltimore), and their legislatures, like Maryland, are failing to make the payments on their union-driven pension liabilities because they've already soaked the taxpaying wage-earners as much as they can (Maryland).

Now they want to force their abysmal concepts of government economics onto the private sector.  Just listen to the typical discussion when the Meyersons of the world are challenged with pesky facts, like the one where adding mandatory paid sick leave as a legally-enforced benefit adds a cost to the business without adding any benefit.  The Meyerson character will respond with what a necessary thing sick leave is, people need to heal, be with their families, blah, blah.  Nothing ever about who pays for it, just the sob story.

If they actually do say anything at all about paying for the leave, it will be that business is awash in cash and should be giving it to the "workers" (what is this, the Soviet Union?) anyway rather than making profit commensurate with the risk taken.

Never mind that eventually no one will open a new business if they can't make money.

Never mind that the costs of every one of those proposals get passed immediately to the customer in higher prices -- so in the same way you and I pay for government profligacy like "bridges to nowhere", you and I as customers will pay for the sick leave -- or not buy the product.

Of course, if you want to be accurate, there are indeed businesses awash in cash, because the regulatory state has made it ever more challenging to hire and fire, to invest in capital improvements and to build new facilities.  It's wiser for businesses to protect their shareholders (which include all those pension funds from the unions Meyerson loves) by hoarding cash until a president comes along with an actual economic plan.

But when you legislate against those businesses that actually have cash, by shoving stupid, counter-productive rules at them, you punish all businesses, including the ones barely breaking even, who are not in a competitive position to raise prices because of those same cash-flush larger businesses.

I know this first-hand, as a former small-business owner who lost everything trying to create a business which had employed eight people.  When you mandate that Home Depot offer sick leave, you're also telling Annie's Hardware down the street that she has to, too.  Guess whose price increases will choke off their business (hint: the answer is not "Home Depot").

Harold Meyerson doesn't think that far.

Democrat-dominated governments are "hiking the minimum wage" and that, too is a "good thing" to him, although there is practically no difference between that and sick leave, in the impact to business of an increased cost without attendant value.  Has Meyerson never done a P&L, or has he just been a leftist writer all his life?  Does he even know how to read an income statement?  Did Marx?

Missing from his article also was the impact of Obama's open-borders policy.  Good ol' Econ 101 tells you that a huge increase in the available supply of labor in any sector of the economy will drive down its price (wages).  So now we add millions of under-skilled laborers to the economy without jobs to put them in, competing with domestic under-skilled laborers for that finite number of jobs.  Bang -- down goes the wage, according to the laws of supply and demand.

But Meyerson wants to allow this influx (where are his sainted union bosses' voices in this?) to grow the labor force.  At the same time, he wants to mandate higher wages and benefits even though business doesn't need to offer them to compete for the saturated pool of candidates that Obama is letting in (so they will grow up and vote Democrat).

How will the displaced workers -- many of them black -- vote, when they find their jobs gone to illegal immigrants?  Does Obama and, by extension, Meyerson, think that they are so ignorant that they will vote against their own self-interest forever, as they have since the Great Society?  Do they think that the mostly-Hispanic immigrants coming in and competing for jobs are so ignorant that they won't see through the politics of their immigration?

But, as usual, I digress.

The bottom line is that the proposals Meyerson celebrates are being pushed by the leaders of the very Democratic cities and states that are financial disasters on their way to -- or already into -- bankruptcy.  That this is the natural outcome of policies that run counter to basic economics seems not to matter.

So I must ask ... do they laugh in the Editorial Office of the Post when they read his stuff?

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Looking at the Candidates

I don't suppose too many of the Republicans who have announced their candidacy for the presidency, or who are planning to run, will take this too seriously if they even get to see it.  But eventually there will be a primary in Virginia next March, and I'm going to have to cast a vote in support of one of those candidates.  Who?

With 260-something days left, lots of things are going to happen.  Candidates will announce, candidates will run out of money and curtail their campaigns.  Others will surge for a while and be beaten back by the press.  We will find out things that are practically irrelevant but will be turned into scandals ("Senator Umpdesquat's grandfather paid less than minimum wage to a gardener!  Oh, the horror -- he is absolutely unqualified to be president!")

All that and there may still be a dozen names on the ballot in Virginia.  Our primary is on "Super Tuesday", meaning that only thereafter will there be the biggest winnowing of candidates.  So I do expect a large number on the ballot, and I have to decide whose name I'm going to put a check by.

Now, let's be candid -- no matter who wins the primary and, ultimately, the nomination, come November I'm going to be voting for that person.  It ain't going to be Hillary Clinton, I can tell you that.  If she were a Republican and pulled that email-server stunt, I couldn't trust her as a person, let alone a president.  Remember, I decided not to vote for Bob Dole in 1996 because he sold out to tobacco companies and compared cigarettes to milk.

But in the primary I can't exactly cast a "Sure, whoever wins" vote.  They don't have one of those as an option.  I do have to make my own decision.

So to the candidates, let us start off with what it will take to win my vote, my one little-bitty scrap of input into who gets to take on Clinton, Inc. in the November election next year.  And here's what that is.

You need, first and foremost, to be able to win the election.  There's no point agreeing with every little sub-component of my belief system, if you can't get enough states to give you their electoral votes.  So before you even start selling your platform to me, you have to convince me that you can win.  And that requires a few things, plus policy agreement -- specifically:

(1) The ability to speak in public -- glibly, cleverly and articulately -- about the issues facing America.  If you stammer and waffle, we won't like you, we won't believe in you and we won't vote for you.  I am the first guy to say that I hate debates, because they place undue value on extemporaneous speaking ability rather than leadership.  But we vote for extemporaneous speaking ability -- only Romney in recent years has clearly "won" debates and not won the election.

(2) Real conviction -- real, Reaganesque belief in what needs to be done at a high level.  If you backed Ronald Reagan into a corner and made him answer a question, he'd answer the same way every time because that's what he believed.  Then he hired people to carry out his broad goals.  That's "leadership" and the USA recognized it.

(3) An organized sense of the role of the States as presented in the Constitution and as articulated by the Framers in their writings.  Why is this important?  Because this election needs to be about at least three main issues, and two of them are about money -- (A) the financial health of the Federal government needing to be rescued with a balanced budget; (B) the state of the American economy and the need to inspire hiring and job creation; and (C) the threat of Islamic extremism and terror.  It is not about gay marriage, abortion or contraception.  If it becomes about gay marriage, abortion or contraception, we will lose.  Those are moral issues, and moral issues are the province of the States, not the Federal government.

(4) A deep-rooted belief in the wisdom of balancing the budget of the Federal government, and a commitment to push Congress hard to move toward one.  We owe $18 trillion to China and other nations and borrowers.  During the 2012 debates, Mitt Romney cleverly noted that he would evaluate every Federal program by the standard of whether it was worth borrowing from China to pay for it, and I wish to God that he had pounded that same line for the rest of the campaign.  We need to spend no more than we take in.  If we can't pay for it, we don't do it, and before you know it, China is no longer a creditor.

(5) An appreciation of the Laffer curve as it applies to the income tax.  The proper implementation of an income tax is to exempt the first $X of income, and tax all the remainder at a single rate, as I wrote last Fall.  No exemptions, no subsidies, no joint returns, so the tax code doesn't incentivize reproduction, home ownership, marriage or anything else.  That will maximize the revenue from the tax while minimizing the discouragement of labor, and CPAs can go back to doing accounting and not keep dealing with 60,000 pages of ever-shifting tax code.  All we have to do is legislatively slide the single rate up or down to find the point where the most revenue comes in, and then resolve not to spend more than that.  Do the same with corporate taxes.

(6) A clear ability to define good and evil and see it for what it is.  Sending aid to Haiti after an earthquake is "good."  Lining up Christians and shooting them for their beliefs is "bad", and bad people need to be defeated.  We can call these "Judeo-Christian moral values", or we can call them "American values derived from Judeo-Christian morality", or we can just call them "American values."  My candidate will know what they are, and will be proud to espouse them.  There is good, there is evil.  Oh, yeah -- robbing a convenience store and then trying to grab a policeman's gun to shoot him is "evil."

(7) A recognition of the distinct place in the world that the United States of America occupies, at least when Barack Obama is not in the White House.  We are the single prominent defender of the right of all human beings to live in freedom.  Our example shines for the rest of the world to see, the success of the idea of a republic of laws and the freedom of opportunity codified in its Constitution.  That is our role, our destiny, our reason for existence.  My candidate will not waffle on that.  The phrase "American exceptionalism" will be heard from that candidate as appropriate.

You'll notice I consistently used terms like "deep-rooted" and "clear" to describe all these things.  The views above have to be fundamental and innate to the candidate, because as a voter I need to know that if this person is elected president, and any of these topics come up, he or she will stand up proudly and state the facts. "We can discuss the implementation and logistics", my candidate will say, "but the principle is firm."

You'll also note that nowhere in all the above is a position on gay marriage, abortion, contraception or any other  so-called "social issue."  Social issues are for the States.  Morality does not derive from the central Federal government.  My candidate will note succinctly that where there is fundamental difference on moral issues, the Federal government should neither subsidize nor proscribe the activity in question.  "Next question?", he or she will ask.  Take that, George Stephanopoulos.

As I send this column out to the various candidates, I do hope it resonates with some.  Perhaps one may decide to think deeply about what he or she stands for and whether it makes sense.  Perhaps none wants my vote all that badly.

But today, the 28th of May 2015, I at least was able to give value to my vote next March.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Politics of Picking Letters to the Editor

I hope that, like me, you read the Letters to the Editor of your daily paper and, occasionally, wonder how one or the other happened to have gotten selected for publication.  After all, my "local" paper, the Washington Post, gets many such letters in a day to sift through.

So every once in a while -- shoot, pretty much every day -- one gets published that gets your attention, and not in the good way.  Rather, it reminds you why the letters to the editor are positioned in the Post on the editorial page and not the op-ed page.  They are controlled so as to portray a set of opinions consistent with the Post's left-wing views.  Else, how do you explain this?

On Sunday, a letter appeared from someone named Kathie Sowell of Vienna, Virginia, positioned squarely at the top of the letters column where all could start their reading by seeing it.  The letter was in response to an editorial by the op-ed columnist Kathleen Parker that dismantled the idea of "safe zones" in colleges and universities where students' precious ears could be protected from disagreeable (i.e., conservative) opinions.

Miss Sowell wrote, after acknowledging the idiocy of "trigger warnings" and "safe rooms", that "... in blaming only liberals, [Miss Parker] is using tunnel vision.  The ironically-named Liberty University is a bastion of right-wing though and speech police.  Trigger warnings are moot where no contrary thoughts are encountered.  [Miss Parker] also seemed upset that liberal universities don't invite commencement speakers whose philosophies and values differ from those "common at the university" [quotation marks mine].  Neither do conservative universities, and that is their right ... As far as I know, Liberty University has never invited Barney Frank as a commencement speaker, and [UCLA] has probably never invited Rush Limbaugh.  Free speech will survive." 

Oh, there is so, so much wrong with that, and even more wrong with it being published.

Let us start with the trivial.  One example is given of what she calls a "conservative university" and, while there are surely others, the number pale in comparison to those overwhelmed by liberal dogma.  Not only is the percentage of college professors who are leftists much larger than conservative professors across the USA, it is actually getting more so and quickly.

In 2009, a survey cited in the link showed that 55.8% of university professors in the USA identified as "liberal" or "far left", while only 15.9% claimed to be "conservative" or "far right."  By 2013, a year before the country voted in  Republican Senate to go along with a Republican House of Representatives, the number to the "left" or "far left" had risen to 62.7% of all professors, and the conservative side had shrunk to only 11.9%.

But no, her letter cited only one such school in the face of a preponderance of intolerant leftists (but I repeat myself) in tenured spots, and a much larger number of institutions leaning to the port side.

But even that's not the biggest issue.

No, the problem is who the schools are, that avoid or cancel conservative speakers.  Liberty University is a private institution whose mission (here it is if you'd like) is to train up students in a Christian belief system, to go on to "... follow their chosen vocations as callings to glorify God, and fulfill the Great Commission."  That is why Liberty University exists.

There is nothing leftist in the stated missions of the Ivy League schools and no compelling reason to omit conservative speakers -- or to avoid hiring conservative professors.  And far, far more than that, is Miss Sowell's own example, UCLA.  UCLA is a branch of the University of California system, a state-funded and state-run institution which, by its existence as a branch of government, has no business whatsoever preventing speakers with conservative views from expressing them on campus!  Certainly they don't have to invite Rush Limbaugh or any other particular person, but their commencement speakers, over any few years, should be reflecting both sides evenly.

How about Condoleezza Rice forced to pull out of a commencement speech at Rutgers for political pressure, as if she was planning to make a political speech?  That's not a private school either -- we're talking about Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, to use the full title.  We're not talking about a private university with a mission derived from faith; Rutgers is a government institution, and like UCLA, Cal-Berkeley, Florida State and the University of Missouri at St. Louis, should be presenting a balanced education, left and right-side opinions, and decide who its commencement speakers are so as to present both sides.

But no, the example that the Post decided was a good letter, was one that attempted to provide moral equivalence between a rare conservative institution which is a private Christian university, and the preponderance of universities, liberal almost all, including private liberal-arts schools which by heritage should expose all views and, most importantly, public institutions which have no business slanting all their speakers to the left.

I've always seen through the way the balance of the opinion pages in the Post has been managed, even which days one can expect to find which views in letters.  But really, they at least need to insist that their letter-writers make an essay-worthy point grounded in facts.  No "hands up, don't shoot", and no moral equivalencies where one equals 1,000.

I think I'll write a letter.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Warming the Rhetoric at the Coast Guard

Those of us who are dedicated watchers of the reality show "Deadliest Catch" often marvel at the dedication of members of the rescue teams of the U.S. Coast Guard called to provide emergency services to the crab boats and crab fisherman of the Bering Sea.  The Coast Guard teams are dedicated, sober, selfless men and women who do their duty promptly and amazingly in the most of intense conditions.

Their mission, their devotion to it and competence at it, astound us.  So it is with a mix of curiosity and depression that we watched last week as Barack Obama spoke at the graduation of the newly-minted Coast Guard officers from their Academy.

He actually said this to them: "... I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security. And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country. So we need to act and we need to act now.  After all, isn't that the true hallmark of leadership? When you're on deck, standing your watch, you stay vigilant, you plan for every contingency. If you see storm clouds gathering or dangerous shoals ahead you don't just sit back and do nothing. You take action to protect your ship, to keep your crew safe. Anything less is negligence. It is a dereliction of duty. So to with climate change. Denying it or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces."

Yeah, sure, we get it.  But as I wrote back in October, there are more than two sides to the whole global warming story, and at least one of them never gets stated except, I guess, by me.  That would be the side that neither confirms nor denies global warming, and it neither asserts nor denies any possible human cause to it.  It is the side, or the argument, that states this: If all global warming is is simply the rise in global temperatures over a period of time, then why are only bad effects ever cited by the fear-mongering leftists?

Obama's speech clearly helps answer this.  It is not about global warming, because it never was.  It was not about "global cooling", feared in the 1970s by the same leftists.  It is about control; it is about power.  It is about using fear to push more power to a central Federal government and away from the states -- a central government that can control its citizens no less than Stalin did to the Soviet empire, and no less than those Kims do in North Korea.

How do we know this?  Look at the words.  "Risk to national security" -- fear.  "... act and act now" -- Oh, my God, we have to do something!.  "Anything else is negligence.  It is a dereliction of duty" -- Your job is not to rescue people in peril at sea; no, your role is to further our world view, the one we decide must be above all.

And "their" world view is one where the USA is a country much like Paraguay or Lichtenstein.  No more, no less.  How do the Obamas of the world make that happen?  By devaluing the strongest institutions in our free society, whether the Coast Guard or the local police, diverting them to pointless exercises like fighting global warming, and deterring them from their job making America great.

In a year and a half, Obama will be removed from power by the grace of the Constitution and, God willing, replaced with someone of true love for the USA, its Constitution and what both truly represent.  Someone, we pray, will take over with a sense of the mission of the armed services, and the common sense and understanding to know how to deploy them properly, to trust flag officers by simply giving them the requirement and letting them create the strategy and tactics.

Global warming.  Really, that's actually the thing that Barack Obama felt the need to focus on in speaking to Coast Guard Academy graduates.  Not their mission; not on the greater good that the USA provides to our fellow nations.  Nope, global warming.

Dear God, January 2017 cannot come fast enough.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, May 25, 2015

A Sobering Memorial Day

Way back in 2008, as her husband was looking like he would be the Democratic candidate for president, Michelle Obama actually said "Let me tell you something. For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is making a comeback."

I'm thinking of that quote in a very different way this Memorial Day 2015.

Today, as much as I ever have in my life, I have slid my attitude over toward the "embarrassed" side of the scale of pride in being American.  Oh, I'm proud, and proud of a lot of things about my country.  I'm proud that when there is a disaster in the world, whether a volcano in the Philippines, or an earthquake in Haiti, or a tsunami in Indonesia, it is not ISIS sending aid.  It is not Russia or China or Iran sending aid.  It is not the people who line up "infidels" and kill them who help out the victims.

It is always America (and, often, our allies).

I'm proud that the armed forces we send over into harm's way, to save innocents from their own dictators, turn control back to the people and leave when they're done, not as conquerors but as heroes.  I'm proud that generations of our youth still line up to become soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, or to become servants of their community by being policemen or firemen, all putting themselves in danger or the line of fire for their fellow citizen -- or some other country's citizens.

But I am, at the same time, immensely sobered by the image put forth to the world by the disaster that is the Obama presidency.

We -- meaning "our president" -- do not support our allies, and we turn on them routinely.  They cannot depend on us, whether Israel or Egypt, whether Japan or South Korea.  We do not listen to them and we coddle their enemies.

We -- meaning "our president" -- have consciously withdrawn from our commitments to countries such as Iraq.  That would be the Iraq, where the hard-fought victory won by our troops and our allies in giving the Saddam version of the country back to a freely elected populace was abandoned by Obama and dominance of the country ceded to the Iranian mullahs.

We -- meaning "our president" -- have decided that the Obama Legacy is the shining star on which all foreign policy must be centered.  That Legacy (it must always be capitalized) is so important that its prize "achievement", a pending nuclear agreement with Iran, trumps all else in the Middle East, including our sensitive relationship not just with Israel, but with the Sunni former state allies of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and others.

We -- meaning "our president" -- do exactly what we call bad parenting -- we draw so-called "red lines" in places like Syria and then fail to do anything when the red lines are crossed.  Our allies notice and no longer trust us, and our enemies notice and, well, feel free to behead more infidels.

We -- meaning "our president" -- abandon our own unemployed by flooding the nation with lower-paid, unskilled illegal immigrants to compete with citizens for the few jobs out there -- for no other reason than their ultimate expectation of voting Democrat.

We -- meaning "American voters" -- elect the guy who did all that, not once but twice, and still there are huge numbers of Democrats who defend him despite his demonstrable incompetence at his job.

How they must be laughing almost everywhere else.  Laughing at what was once a proud country intentionally and willfully walking away from its place in the world.

I cry for the USA, for what we truly are is a beacon of freedom for the rest of the world to emulate.  We are a bastion of what is good in the world, coming to the aid of those assaulted by nature or by their own dictatorial misfortune; the single largest triumph of the concept of a republic -- of laws, not of men -- in the history of mankind.

That's what we truly are; but we elected Barack Obama apparently unaware of his deep-rooted desire to take us off the pedestal on which our heritage has placed us, and make us but another in a world of countries, no better, no worse than any, and with no special role in it.

Today, all those who fought for the good in the USA and for what we represented prior to this administration, all those who died in its service and whose memory we honor today, are looking down from Heaven in tears.  They cry for the dissipation of what we have been, and the innocuousness of what we have become.

I write this day in my own tears, looking up to you who have served and died in our nation's service, crying with you.  I look up to those like my Dad, who served 38 years in the Army during three wars and passed away "still serving" at 95, crying a bit with you, Dad.  I look up to those like my late father-in-law, who fought as a soldier, who crawled with his rifle through the Italian landings in WWII and never complained.

I look up to them.  And I promise them, though my weapon be a pen and not a sword, I will help America return.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, May 22, 2015

Where Did the Vermont That We Once Knew Find THIS Guy?

There is a wonderful, probably apocryphal story about a fellow who comes to a little town in Vermont.  After a few days there, he notices that when a particular guy walks down the street, people quickly move to the other side; mothers shield their little children and window shades are drawn.  "Who is this person", the fellow thinks.  A murderer or traitor; something terrible for sure.

So, curious, he eventually comes to ask a new friend he has met in the town, "Who is this person everyone is hiding from?  What did he do?"  The friend looks shocked, and says quietly, "That's Eustace Barron.  We don't talk about him 'round these parts."  More curious, the fellow persists -- "But what did he do?", he asks.  The friend looks up and down the street and then surreptitiously brings him into his house.  He quickly locks the door, walks to the window, pulls down the shade and closes the blinds.  He then takes the fellow into an interior room and tells him what this evildoer has done to prompt village outrage.

"Eustace Barron", he whispers, "dipped into his capital!"
                                                           _ _ _
Now that, friends, is the Vermont those of us of a certain age remember; a state of abundant maple syrup and pure, rock-ribbed fiscal conservatism, of people who can squeeze a nickel until the buffalo howls and would sooner pour Karo syrup on their flapjacks than touch their savings.

So what do we make of Bernie Sanders?  That would be Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and the "I" which he fondly claims to stand for "Independent" would seem to stand more for "Incoherent", or perhaps "Idiotic", or if the topic is economics, apparently "Ignorant."  Else how does one explain this professed socialist's proposal, presented this week, for free college educations at public universities?

Yes, the good senator, said this: "We live in a highly competitive global economy and, if our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated workforce in the world ... That will not happen if, every year, hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and if millions more leave school deeply in debt.”

Now, I'm as big a fan of avoiding debt as the next guy.  In fact, if the "next guy" is Bernie Sanders, I'm a lot bigger fan of avoiding debt.  But how did he actually say that, and propose that, without explaining who is supposed to pay the over $40 billion annually he proposes for it?  And worse, how did the citizens of the once-great state of Vermont turn from the apocryphal shunners of Eustace Barron, to people who could actually put Bernie Sanders in the Senate?

Really, let's start with the most absurd part of the proposal.  I don't argue that we need the best-educated workforce in the world.  But right now, fewer people are employed in the USA than were gainfully employed when Barack H. Obama became president.  As a country, we are hemorrhaging jobs and growing nothing but the number of people unemployed or underemployed (the so-called "U-6" figure) exceeds 11% of the work force.

So you would think that the very, very first thing that the Government should be worried about is providing gainful employment to those 11%, taking them off unemployment insurance, the welfare rolls, or out of their part-time status and into actual full-time employment, paying income taxes.  Nope, there's none of that.

Since we're already borrowing trillions from China to cover our profligate spending as a government, we certainly can't have those new jobs come from government.  No; they have to come from the private sector economy.

Labor is an economic balance all its own. The more expensive it becomes, the fewer jobs are created and the higher the unemployment as job-creating businesses follow the money.  They use fewer people, people who can do more -- three employees doing the work of four, value in flexibility and breadth of skills, as it were. 

Labor becomes more expensive when any of several things happen, one of which being the raising of the education of the workforce.  So it naturally follows that if we spend taxpayer dollars to provide free college education, several things will happen in an economy large enough to show the effects -- like, of course, ours.

1. We have to borrow more money from China to pay for it, or cut other spending (yeah, right)
2. We flood an already-saturated labor market with more educated, and therefore higher-priced folks
3. We, in short, increase the competition for an unchanged number of jobs, lowering wages
4. We shove a few hundred thousand more students through the leftist indoctrination camps we laughingly call "colleges and universities" -- which is, of course, the primary but unstated goal of the proposal.

That's pretty much it.  Instead of the peak of available unemployed workers being on the less-educated side of the curve, the peak will move to the more-educated side.  We haven't created any actual jobs by doing this; no, all we've done is to make a better-educated class of unemployed, and borrowed billions more from China to do that.

What an insane waste of money this proposal is -- shortsighted, misdirected, and absolutely useless for solving the problem of the unemployed, by increasing the wrong side of the labor balance.  But the citizens of Vermont, a state well-known for the frugality and economic conservatism of its households and citizens, continues to elect a senator who fritters our tax dollars away without a thought as to how it might actually help the citizens he purports to represent.

Something has clearly changed in the mindset of the citizens of Vermont to have put a guy like that in one of their Senate seats, and it boggles the mind to think that what we used to think of the citizenry of Vermont could ever have approved of this.  Talk about "dipping into your capital" -- Bernie Sanders is dipping into ours -- and trying to tell us it's a good idea.

Somewhere, Eustace Barron is thinking "And they shunned me?"

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mrs. Clinton's Hypotheticals

Last week, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who is not coincidentally the brother of the man who was president after 9-11, got himself into a bit of a situation.  Now, to try to put a timeline on it is to imply that Gov. Bush's answer -- what he meant as well as what he said -- changed to respond to the grave crisis his answer was supposed to represent.  However ...

As you're aware, the governor was asked something like "Knowing what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq back in 2001-02?"  Not to put too fine a line on this, but I think he first answered before he really contemplated the question.  He likely heard something like an inquiry as to what a President Jeb Bush would have done in 2001, and would it be the same as his brother actually had.

Clearly, in review, the questioner had asked the "knowing what we know now" line of inquiry, meaning that "If you in 2001 knew there were no weapons of mass destruction (or at least they were adequately hidden), would you have invaded Iraq?  Bush didn't wait to process that implication; he answered the question he thought he was going to get.

In several subsequent statements during the week, Bush clarified to say that, had he had the intelligence in 2001 that we believe we have now, i.e., no knowledge of WMD, he would not have invaded.  OK, fine.  For me, I'm not even very convinced that there were not WMD in Iraq.  We know there had been at one point, because Saddam Hussein was known to have used poison gas on his own people -- conveniently forgotten today.  We also forget that Saddam was strongly resistant to WMD inspections, and spoke as if he had the weapons, while stonewalling the inspectors. When we invaded Iraq, I remember thinking that it really didn't matter if they were there or not; Saddam wanted us to think they were.  That was good enough.

So .... in all fairness, the press should be heading straight over to the presumptive Democratic nominee, one Hillary Rodham Clinton, and asking her the appropriate version of the same question.  Like this one: "Mrs. Clinton, you were the wife of the president of the United States when he received consistent intelligence that Osama bin Laden was planning more attacks on the United States like the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and TanzaniaWe know that the USA was close to getting him during your husband's administration.   Knowing what we know now, would you have tried harder to capture or kill bin Laden?"

Now, that question will likely never be asked. First off, the press is so overwhelmingly left-leaning and committed to Mrs. Clinton's election that it's hard to imagine who, outside of someone from Fox, would risk alienating her by asking it.  Really, George Stephanopoulos is going to ask Hillary Clinton a provocative question?  Yeah, right.  She might turn around and tell the Clinton Foundation not to fund that AIDS research that George inexplicably waves around to defend his donations.

Second, well, when could it be asked?  Mrs. Clinton refuses to take questions -- at this writing she has answered exactly thirteen, up from eight with the five pabulum answers she deigned to give this week. Heck, Jeb Bush has answered more variations of the Iraq question than Hillary Clinton has answered about all topics combined.  If someone doesn't ever show up to take questions, you can bet the baby-shoe money you won't get any answers from them.

Finally, here is perhaps the biggest reason.  Mrs. Clinton would have to take one of two tacks in her reply, and neither one is really good for her.  She can waffle and say "I was an integral part of the decision-making on that, and we did everything we could to take down bin Laden when my husband was president, and anyone who says otherwise is part of that vast right-wing conspiracy" -- you know, the one we're all still waiting for some names from.  She can say that, but the record is pretty good that there were times the White House knew where he was back then, which would point to incompetence in military decisions and actions.

[Digression ... my second question would be "If that right-wing conspiracy is so vast, please name ten names of members of it, off the top of your head."]

Worse, she could take the line that the inability to get bin Laden was on her husband's watch, not hers, and she did not have a role in national security, was not read in on all that and can't speak to it.  That would be interesting -- not only would that be tantamount to throwing her husband and his team under the bus, but it wipes out eight years of her claimed rèsumè.  She would have to run completely on her undistinguished years in the Senate and her failed, email-free and accomplishment-free tenure as Secretary of State.  And that, friends, is not a recipe for success.

So no, while even the leftist New York Times is frustrated with Mrs. Clinton's failure to meet the press and answer, well, anything, there is no sign her silence is going to end anytime soon.  But eventually it will have to.  And I pray, I really pray, that in at least one of the debates there will be a sufficiently free-form structure to the questioning, such that someone can sneak in that question. Or sooner than that, yeah ... I'd like someone to ask her that one sooner.

It ain't gonna happen.  But as the song goes, I can dream, can't I?

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Railroads, Accidents and Term Limits

This morning as I write this, we are still discussing the Amtrak derailment last week that killed a number of passengers and injured 200.  Naturally, the discussion immediately became political, since we are in a presidential campaign season (identifiable by our being in a month that has letters of the alphabet in it).

The Democrat left seized on the accident -- caused not by issues with the railway infrastructure but by an engineer driving the train at twice the posted speed -- to complain about the crumbling infrastructure (that didn't cause the accident) and the decaying bridges (which didn't cause the accident).  "More money", they beg, at least before it was discovered that projectiles were directed at the engineer's window, which money probably would not help.

Well, here's the thing.  Amtrak gets about half a billion a year from the American taxpayer for its $1.4 billion budget, even though few of us ride the rails in a given year.  Amtrak would need no money from the American taxpayer, except it is unprofitable as an enterprise.  There's probably a rational argument for saying that if Amtrak can't make money as a Federal dolee, it should either fold up its tracks and stop operating or privatize and let people who run railroads for a living try to make money.

But let's stipulate that there is some kind of compelling national interest in passenger railways, to the point that it is worth a half billion in taxpayers' money to make up the difference.  And we'll further stipulate that there is some kind of compelling national interest in the Federal government actually running Amtrak (as opposed to just regulating it).  I disagree, but we'll stipulate it anyway.

What is the single most avoidable reason that Amtrak is operating at a gargantuan loss each year?  Is it spending too much on repairs?  No.  Are the fares not at the optimal point that they would balance ridership with revenues?  No -- well, I can only guess not; since the Democrats don't understand supply, demand and the Laffer curve, it probably hasn't been looked at.

No; Amtrak loses a lot of money because pretty much only in the Northeast corridor does Amtrak make money.  While the Washington-to-New York route on which the engineer decided to play A.J. Foyt profited over $280 million last year, the rest of the rail routes combined lost over $600 million in taxpayer-subsidized dollars.

We who are unencumbered by politics would look at that and ask why there are routes out there that are still being run, even if unprofitable.  And we don't have to look up the answer; it's in the previous sentence -- politics.

Yes, there are routes that Amtrak runs because Senator X or Representative Y needed to tell their voters that they had done something tangible for their state, and "tangible" can be attached to having an Amtrak route go through their otherwise unvisitable cities.

But how, pray tell, can one Senator's request be so powerful that 99 others would go along with wasting taxpayer dollars so he or she can get reelected innumerable times?  It's called "seniority", and the cure for seniority and its ills is called "term limits."

Way back in October I wrote a piece here about the fact that the real evil in not having term limits is in the inevitable abuse of seniority by those able to be repeatedly reelected.  It is evil because it results in unequal representation (between safe left or right-leaning states and toss-up ones); it is pernicious because it is self-exacerbating -- the longer that congressman are in office, the better chairmanships they get, the more pork they can bring home, and the more likely their reelection.

It has gotten to where every time that Congress does something that disproportionately benefits the residents of one state at the expense of the taxpayers elsewhere, you can jolly well look and find that the principal architect of the deceit is either a sitting congressman, who has sat way too long and accumulated way too much power, or one who made a quid pro quo deal with one in another state who has.

Now, we hear the whining of Democrat congressmen and presidential candidates inevitably complaining that, if only we had spend a couple more billion (borrowed from China, as the taxpayers' money is used up), that accident wouldn't have happened.

Here's a thought.  How about we pass a term-limit amendment to the Constitution -- two terms for Senators, four for House members -- that will eliminate the seniority system.  We'll stop doing things like building Amtrak lines to East Uppersquash that lose money from day one.  We can actually close unprofitable Amtrak lines and concentrate on lines that get used profitably, not because they're where a seven-term Senator is in office, but because they're where actual people live and use trains.

There you go -- a tangible benefit of term limits.  Pretty sure there will be more.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

When Sports Heroes Earn Their Designations

I use the word "hero" a bit carelessly, as do most people these days.  Perhaps it is best said that we have two separate meanings to it.  The "real" meaning is for those who put their safety or even their lives at risk to make something better for someone else, or to protect their lives.  The feeling of gratitude and respect that I get when I see someone in uniform, a service member, a cop, a fireman -- that tells me one meaning of the word.

I don't really object, per se, to the other common usage -- for sports figures and the like who succeed in their efforts on behalf of the local nine, or eleven, or whatever.  We get very emotionally invested in their efforts and do respect their --well, if not "heroism", then at least their personal training and long hours to help our team succeed.

So forgive me if I tell a story and occasionally toss out the word "hero."  Just know that I'm thinking of the second meaning and am not conflating a baseball player with any Bronze Star types.
                                                         _ _ _

Back in 1993, I was invited to participate in the presentation of the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award.  For those less aware of it, the award has been given for 60 years by the Phi Delta Theta fraternity in honor of Gehrig (Columbia '25), who was a member of Phi Delta Theta, almost fifty years before I joined the MIT chapter.  The award recognizes a major-league baseball player for exemplary contributions in philanthropic and community activities.

I was selected to be part of the team because I was, of course, a Fraternity member and lived at the time in Marshall, Virginia, not terribly far from Baltimore, and a semi-annual anthem-singer for the Orioles.  As it turned out, the recipient of the 1992 award, to be presented at Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1993, was the shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr.

Ripken, by the end of the 1992 season, had played in about 1,800 consecutive games, on his way to surpassing Gehrig's own consecutive-games streak of 2,130.  His ultimate streak, ending voluntarily at 2,632 games, was so remarkable that the 502 games he played in a row after passing Gehrig would itself have been the 31st longest streak in baseball history.

But I digress.

The ten or so Phi Delts invited to the ceremony were allowed to bring a few guests or family members to the event, which was to be held on the field at Camden Yards prior to an early-season evening game scheduled for 7:00 PM.  There was to be a brief speech by the president of the Baltimore Alumni Club, and then Ripken might say something.  All this was to be at about 6:00 PM.

Those of us who arrived were promptly told of the first change in plans.  Ripken had been slumping some of late.  He had requested that the ceremony not be on the field, but in the auxiliary locker room below the stands, rather than that he receive an award in public while he wasn't doing well.  That was fine; the stadium was brand-new, and the locker room was spacious and very new, clean and well-appointed.

The next instruction from the attendants was less well-received.  Many of us -- and there were about 20 including guests -- had brought items to autograph.  I had invited my wife and two sons, and her brother, to join me there.  All (save me) had brought baseballs to have signed.  But the attendant explained that Ripken had had some issue with people fraudulently getting autographs and selling them, so he generally declined to sign, as policy, in those environments (as I recall, the explanation was something like that).  My kids were pretty dejected about that, but at least they figured they might meet him.

So it gets to be 6:00, and we're all ready -- but no Cal.  His father, Cal Ripken Sr., a coach then, came in and out a few times in uniform, but no "Jr".  The attendants came in and out ... 6:15 ... 6:30 ... no Cal.  At 6:45 we were assured that he was "on his way", but with ten minutes to game time, we had all pretty much prepared for disappointment.

But -- finally, at at least 6:55, in walks Cal Ripken Jr., big as life and very apologetic for being late, and with a very anxious "handler", a young lady constantly trying to speed him up ("Cal, the game is about to start ...").  We never knew what happened, but I remember thinking that regular game times, still usually 7:35 that year, were starting to be moved up to 7:00, and perhaps Ripken's daily routine was supposing a 7:35 start.  Who knows.

We figured we had next to no time with him, so we scrambled into our seats as the Club's president made a very brief statement of honor and presented the plaque.  Cal was very humbled, and paused to face the group and made a little speech himself -- I particularly remember him saying that "... this is the type of honor that is really valued by everyday players -- and I guess I'm an everyday player."  That got a big laugh, as the handler started to push him along, at least verbally.

Then he finished, and we hoped against hope that we might get to shake his hand, at least some of us might.  I was going to make sure my boys got that chance.

I didn't have to worry.  Cal concluded his remarks by saying "And if any of you have items you'd like autographed, please just line up and I'll sign for you."  First, I thought the handler's head was going to explode, and I imagine she thought she was going to get fired.  But sure enough, the whole 20 folks there lined up, and one by one Cal Ripken looked them in the eye, thanked them for coming with a smile, shook hands and signed items without a hint of a rush.

OK, so we all know it's not like they were going to start the game without him.  But he was supposed to be out on the field, and his demeanor didn't reflect that.  What it reflected was "You all have come out here to honor me, and I'm not going to be a jerk even though I made some kind of mistake and got here late.  I'm going to act as if nothing were wrong, I'm going to sign autographs, and I'm going to show myself worthy of the award and worthy of your efforts to come out to present it."

When Cal Ripken, Jr. walked out of the room (with his handler yapping at him and him paying no attention to her at all), the assembled Phi Delts and family members looked at each other not knowing what to say.  I expect we all have low expectations of the interactions we might have with celebrities, given that they can't possibly care all that much about us.  I have met more than my share of major-league players in years of singing the anthem before games, and I'll say politely that those guys truly span the niceness-to-miserableness spectrum.

Yet here had a major celebrity come in and treated us as if we were the ones deserving honor -- I can't stress that enough.

I do know that I will never let an unkind word about Cal Ripken Jr. pass in my earshot without finding a way to correct the statement and defend him.  I'd not met him before, and I have not spoken with him in the 22 years since, and I hope that the person underneath is still the same fellow who had the decency to act the way he did that night.

Granted, it's a bit discomfiting to use the word "hero" simply to describe the actions of someone doing what he should do but what we normally would not expect of his peers.  But I do remember what he did, and I do remember how I felt about the way he treated my children and others that night, and I do remember that they couldn't talk about much else for days.  I would truly love to hear his recollections of that evening, whatever they might be.

So yes, Cal Ripken Jr. can be a hero to me.  And I'm perfectly happy to say so.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, May 18, 2015

Education, Riots and the Baltimore Schools

I don't have a guest columnist today, but I do have a guest "influencer."  In what I thought was a pretty decent article about the all-too-casual use of the term "income inequality", one comment from an anonymous reader got my attention.  He or she wrote:

"It is a mistake to apply a middle class value, education = work = financial success, to an inner city environment. Liberal thinkers are posing education as the answer to the inner city's problems. Look at the realities. You can't convince a 10-year-old in the inner city that study, school and hard work pay off when the reality is they can made substantially more running drugs and money between the client on the street corner and his drug boss. Either really fight the war on drugs or take the profit out of it by legalizing it. Unfortunately, we can [no] longer afford half measures.

Well said.  If the stereotype holds true, we have this sort of thing going on in Baltimore and, of course, elsewhere:

(1) Over 60% of children born illegitimately and into single-parent households without the influence of (usually) a present father
(2) An active drug-sales culture wherein most, if not all, children by age 12 are fully aware of its existence and the opportunities available to make money participating in it
(3) A prevailing attitude that educational success is to be frowned on as being of a different culture
(4) A school system with money provided, on a per-pupil basis, at a higher rate than most other places
(5) A deeply-rooted teachers union rock-solidly opposed to any steps that could be taken to remove poorly-performing teachers or to implement accountability for student performance
(6) Solidly Democratic leftists in virtually all elected leadership positions in the jurisdiction, including the city leadership and school board, who negotiate contracts with the same union that contributes to their elections.

This will not change on its own.  Why?  It's FTM, folks, the system keeps people in power, and power keeps them employed.  The voters are so ingrained to vote for Democrats, that no ideas that could result in improvement to the system are even able to be aired.

So let's take the commenter's suggestion to discuss legalizing drugs -- and by "drugs", we'll assume crack, cocaine and heroin as a start.  Either way, let's assume that the government, in legalizing them, provides for some manner of distribution, dose-regulated, so that they can be bought and taxed in a way that renders the street market nonexistent.

Forget for the nonce that it can't happen politically, and the FDA would have fun deciding how prescriptions get done, or all the other things that might cause a black market to rise up anyway -- it's actually not relevant.  Let's just stipulate that the illegal drug market, and the opportunities for young people to make money at it, go away.

Hmmmmm.  What then do the youth do?  We would want to hope that the only remaining option is to work through their schools, get high school educations to make themselves marketable, and get actual jobs.  Sure, that requires a cultural overhaul, but let's stipulate that too.

It still boils down to education, particularly K-12 education.  Absent the influence of two-parent households (I'm not stipulating any moral change), there are still two major barriers to fixing the fundamental social decay in that neighborhood through education -- a social, community resistance to educational success, and an institutional (i.e., union-driven) constraint on the accountability of teachers to do a good job.

Right now, a Baltimore-based neurosurgeon is running for president.  I can't imagine much more of a role model for those kids in that neighborhood than someone who lifted himself out of a crappy neighborhood in Detroit, worked hard to get through high school, college and med school, saved a ton of lives on the way, and spoke his way to national prominence.

But how many parents of first-graders in Baltimore are pointing to Ben Carson and telling their kids that they can aspire to be successful in the same way that he did, because they're starting out as poor as he did?  Do we think any parents there are pointing out Dr. Carson as a role model?  At least, are more parents pointing him out than they're pointing out Michael Brown, or Freddie Gray, or Al Sharpton?

And if the parents did -- and if they got their kids to work hard in school, what quality of education might they get?  After all, Baltimore already spends more per pupil than 98 of the 100 largest school systems in the country, aside only from New York and Boston.  Yet over 60% of the age 18+ residents in Freddie Gray's neighborhood do not even have a high-school education.  Were they not inspired by their teachers?  Is none of that huge per-pupil expenditure used to make classroom education interesting?

Do we think that the next teachers union contract might recognize that and provide incentives for high performance and disincentives for material not being communicated well?  (Answer: no)  How about administrators being made accountable for graduation rates?  Do you think the taxpayers of Baltimore who subsidize that school system might like it to be, well, functional?

We can take the drug-selling incentive out of the equation, but the alternative has to be made better.  The left will swear that all we need is to throw more money at the Baltimore schools to make them "better."  Hogwash.  You know what those schools need?  Competition.  They need to be accountable for their fundamental job, which is to deliver a quality education from kindergarten all the way through senior year of high school to prepare each and every student for a profession and/or college.  If 60% of them aren't even finishing, then it's time to blow up the paradigm by which education is delivered.

Dr. Carson, perhaps you should talk to them all.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, May 15, 2015

Hillary Clinton, Serial Self-Disqualifier

It's a bit hard to know what to make of Hillary Clinton's recent speech in regard to "women's rights" which, in this case, was the "right" to terminate pregnancies.

This is a woman who has declared herself to be a candidate for the presidency of the USA, who eventually, if we are the cursed nation some think, would have to lead an entire country. Yet, in the course of speaking to something called the "Women in the World Summit", she made the statement that "[D]eep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed”, for the sake of giving women access to “reproductive health care and safe childbirth.”

I have stated my opinion multiple times in the 175 preceding essays in this site, as far as abortion.  In short, it is miles and miles below my interest level.  I do not pay a shred of attention to candidates' positions on it.  There are far more important topics that the President of the United States should be worrying about.

As a moral issue (roughly half the country thinks it to be murder, and the other half think it a "woman's right"), it rightly devolves to the most local level of government to address it.  The Federal government should neither prevent it nor subsidize it, and the states should address its legality as their citizens see fit.

But I digress.  This is not about abortion.

Former medical student that I am, I'd like to dissect her statement itself.  "Cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed", she says.

How appalling is that?

This is America, the land of the free, where the First Amendment ensures citizens the right to practice their religious beliefs free of Government establishing its own religion or obstructing yours.  So what is she actually saying?

First, let's go to that miserable use of the passive voice, the one I spend hours every day removing from other people's writing for a living.  "Religious beliefs ... have to be changed", Her Majesty declares.  By whom, Mrs. Clinton?  There's no subject to the sentence, so we don't know either to whom you are entrusting this awe-inspiring task, or how you propose that it be done.  Lining people up and shooting them until the rest come around, like ISIS?  Hillary doesn't say.

She doesn't say, either, whose religious beliefs we're talking about, except for the logical inference that she means those whose faiths' published doctrines deem abortion to be murder, like, say, Roman Catholicism. Mormonism, Hinduism, Islam (after four months) and my own denomination, the Southern Baptists (although that is a policy more than a spiritual affirmation).

So in a reasonable interpretation of her comments (we have to interpret, because Her Majesty does not deign to answer reporters' questions), as president, Hillary Clinton would somehow produce a process by which American Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, Muslims and Hindus would be forced to change their religious beliefs and cultural codes.  Am I missing something?

Here's another thing I'm not missing: Hillary Clinton believes that those faiths are wrong.  If they weren't wrong, they wouldn't need to be "changed."  How, then, does she propose to go about doing that?  There's this pesky little amendment to the Constitution that gets in the way of the Government doing anything that smacks of religious interference, and even the Lockstep Left on the Supreme Court would have a challenge upholding anything she did to try to make that happen.

Aside ... again, I feel a pesky need to reinforce the fact that I have almost zero feeling regarding abortion, other than seeing it consuming far, far too much of our political campaigns.  This piece is not about abortion.  It is about the unchecked hubris of a woman who believes herself entitled to step in and correct the religious beliefs of several of the most widely-followed faiths on earth.

I am trying to imagine myself running for president, and making a speech -- a prepared set of comments, not a reactive answer to a question.  Hillary Clinton prepared to say exactly what she said, so she had to mean exactly what she declared.  I'm trying to imagine having the gall to stand up in front of anybody and tell them that I needed to help change people's religious beliefs.  Maybe it takes her level of self-importance and entitlement to be able to do that.

Whatever.  I just know that after six and a half years of one "Chosen One" willing to do anything to press his own agenda and create a legacy, the USA certainly has learned the lesson -- that a self-aggrandizing person with a grand sense of entitlement to the position is an abject threat to our nation.

Hillary Clinton continues to disqualify herself with every word she speaks.  I pray we get it right this time.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sleeping Conservatism in Hollywood

John Wayne ... Clint Eastwood ... Bruce Willis ... Arnold Schwarzenegger ... We're pretty sure that we know a few prominent Hollywood actors and actresses who are politically conservative, right?  A few, perhaps, whose careers have been sufficiently noteworthy, or became noteworthy before their political bent was public so they could not be shunned because of it.  But not many.

There are literally hundreds of performers in movies and TV whose names we would readily identify for their profession.  Yet we speak of Hollywood, when it is in a political context, as a bastion of left-wing politics, the home of an array of limousine liberals with a practically monolithic leftward attitude.

I certainly don't challenge that.  In my years of performing on stage and in music in organized associations and societies, I would call myself a closeted conservative.  While I'm sure those around me knew my leanings (if they even cared) because I never took an open liberal stand on anything, I didn't proselytize for the right.  I was there to entertain audiences, not to espouse beliefs unrelated to my reason for being there.

While my performing peers could have guessed my rightward tilt, I could guess theirs, and it was generally to the left.  OK, fine -- I get that.  Political bent is acquired through environment and upbringing more than anything else, and there is probably something in that that correlates leftwardness with whatever makes people want to entertain if God gives them the talent to do so.

But ... can it be so strong that it dominates an entire industry to the extend that we view Hollywood actors and actresses?  Is the community so incredibly close to political unanimity just on the happenstance of correlation to the performing talents there?

Of course not.

It is OK to be a prominent liberal in Hollywood; it is poisonous to be even unprominently thought to be a conservative.  So if being outed as conservative is career-destroying, then what is a person to do whose talents have driven him or her to the stage or screen, and whose diligent work developing those talents has pushed them to regard the conservative (formerly called "Protestant") work ethic as worth being embraced and celebrating?  What is a person to do who has worked hard for their success and resents those who have intentionally eschewed the same level of hard work but want the same benefits and scream "income inequality" as a rationale for taking from you?

What the person is to do, at least in Hollywood, is "shut up."  You avoid political discussions, you pay as little homage to leftist causes as possible -- even act agnostic about it -- "Ahhhh, I'm an actor (or singer, musician, songwrriter ...), I try not to get involved with that stuff."

You know that there are far more conservatives out there in La-La-Land than we know about, because there are a lot of people out there who sacrificed for their craft.  They can't possibly believe they have not earned the right to success, and who challenge the argument that the untalented, the uninspired and the unintelligent are entitled to take from them at will.

Where are they?

Beats me, but I know it ain't just Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis.  And I sure wish that people like, say, Jon Cryer, Patricia Heaton, and Kelsey Grammer from TV, and Tom Selleck from film (hard to find film names, eh?), whose success should insulate them against being blacklisted, would take an active role in the upcoming campaign.

Because the numbers can't be what we infer from the stories about Hollywood leftism.  There have to be dozens and dozens of very prominent performers in film and TV who actually are conservative in their politics.  The more that idiots like Michael Moore make idiotic comments and tweets, and the more that people like Ben Affleck say stupid things that trap them between two leftist constituencies, the more it should be OK to stand up and be conservative in Hollywood -- and not be ostracized.

I triple-dog dare you.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Due Process Takes a Back Seat in the NFL -- FAR Back

So Tom Brady, the esteemed quarterback of the New England Patriots, has been suspended for four games into the 2015 NFL season.  The team has been fined and stripped of a draft pick.  And the NFL, in my never-humble opinion, has a lot of 'splainin' to do.

There is this "thing" we celebrate here in the USA, called "due process."  In so many words -- ok, these words, from the Fifth Amendment:  "No person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." -- the Framers put forth the concept that your Government and mine may not just take things from you, or imprison you, or otherwise do bad things to you, without having had a series of defined steps to justify their actions done in accordance with the law.

Well, you and I both know that the Fifth Amendment deals with actions by the government, but it is perfectly reasonable to make the logical extension that there is basic entitlement to due process.  It should be a default state even in matters of commercial and employment activity.  One should be able to argue that any "taking of one's property" -- such as a suspension from employment -- should be subject to some level of defense.

Perhaps the standard needs to be really low to do so as an employer; clearly a lot of latitude needs to be granted to the employer.  But there should be a "there" there, and the Brady case is really problematic, which is why this is now the second piece I've been compelled to do.

And here is why it is problematic:

The letting of air out a of a game football, or the adding of additional air to a game football, is actually allowed by the NFL, it is, in fact, written into the league rules.  By the league's mandate that the game ball must be between 12.5 and 13.5 PSI of air pressure, it has expressly given permission to the teams to adjust pressure up or down to suit the preferences of their quarterbacks.  Tom Brady prefers lower pressure in the football; Aaron Rodgers of the Packers prefers a harder game ball to work with.  The league has specifically allowed for that.

In all however-many pages there were of the investigative report by the NFL's minions, there was not a single reference to Tom Brady asking, or even hinting to the equipment people, that the ball should be deflated past 12.5 PSI.  Brady prefers the ball to be softer.  We all know that.  We know that the equipment guy called himself "the deflater."  But we also know that:

(1) Preferring the footballs softer is not an NFL crime
(2) Asking the equipment people to make the ball softer (or harder) is not an NFL crime
(3) The quarterback is not required to arm himself with a pressure gauge

The NFL, in suspending Brady, was completely unable to point to evidence that he had even once asked, suggested or implied to the equipment staff that they deflate the balls to an illegally soft pressure.  Not once.  No request, no hint.

That being the case, then how in the name of God does the NFL justify even a one-game suspension, let alone four?  They do that because they have totally abandoned due process.  They claim -- and this is a large part of their public statement -- that Brady failed to cooperate with investigators, meaning that he would not turn over his cell phone for them to look at his text messages.  Well, the NFL is not the FBI, and Tom Brady is a rather prominent public figure with, let us be candid, a rather prominent public figure as his wife.

If I were he, and thought that the NFL was that intent on punishing me with or without due process, I would have said "Fine.  You tell me the names of the people whose text messages you want to see, and give me a list of those numbers.  I will hold the phone and you can look over my shoulder as I show you the texts to and from those numbers and those numbers only.  You are not the FBI, and you're not getting access to personal communications."  The NFL said they offered "extraordinary" security for his phone.  Yeah, right.

The end result is that the NFL, which has had a series of punishments reversed in court this past year, made an extraordinary lapse, by acting as if they had evidence when they had none.  They have decided that they would suspend Tom Brady for four games for ... well, it is still not clear what; when they suspended Ray Rice (originally) only two games for attacking his fiancee in an elevator.  Go figure.

Obviously Brady is going to appeal the suspension and will likely get this case into a real court a lot sooner than later.  Courts, which have a basic sympathy for due process and the rule of evidence, are not very likely to sympathize with an NFL that issues a suspension (and loss of some major paychecks) without any evidence of punishable action and without a hearing or anything like an internal opportunity for the player to present a case.

I readily expect that the NFL is going to get slapped down for this one.  In fact, I'd be very happy for Brady to sue immediately for additional punitive compensation for the NFL's sloppy work and avoidance of due process in this case.  The Patriots, short an upcoming draft pick and a cool million if this played out, will be right there as well.  And I hope they win and win huge.

I admire the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as much as the next guy.  But I especially respect the due-process clause and what it represents -- the right of the individual to be safe from the tyranny of the powerful.  Tom Brady is a pretty powerful guy himself, but he's just had his legacy, his career and a whole pile of Benjamins threatened by an unchecked league flexing its power.

The courts, I suspect, will "take the 5th" -- in a whole different way.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Et tu, Prudential?

If you blink, the world can go right by you.  That maxim can apply in a lot of areas of our life, particularly when someone is actually hoping you will blink.

The other morning my best girl and I were watching an innocuous program on TV, when a commercial for Prudential Insurance happened to appear on the screen.  I did what I usually did when commercials come on, which was to think about almost anything possible save what was being advertised -- I'm a tough sell.  The little lady, on the other hand, said "Did you see that?" as the commercial went by.  Of course, I had not.

The ad was ... well, I'll quote from's description:

"Prudential asked people to stick words on a wall that talked about their pasts and their futures. Good things were on yellow magnets, and the bad were on blue. In the long-run, people are thinking optimistically. Let Prudential help you build a long-term investment plan."

Good things, bad things.  But how subjective was that?

What alerted my wife to the ad was when one of the items was "Moving in with my boyfriend."  Want to guess what color that was?  Well, I'll give you a hint.   

It pretty much summarizes something rather wrong with our society.

Yes, indeed, "Moving in with my boyfriend" was regarded somehow as a "good" thing.  I can't speak for you, but if I had a daughter, and that was her past or future, I certainly would have looked at that as a solid blue (i.e., "bad") thing.  Any wonder I had my X chromosomes removed before having kids?

Prudential is a big, sprawling insurance corporation that one would think was sufficiently conservative, enough so that its Board and its executives would collectively feel that a magnet with "Moving in with my boyfriend" would rest squarely in the "bad" column.  After all, uncommitted cohabitation is not only frowned upon by the major faiths of the world, it is fated to end in one of two ways, and one of them is traumatic.  "Playing house" is devaluing relationships -- and devalues marriage.

So what is Prudential thinking?  After all, the "Moving in ..." line was so prominently displayed on that wall in bright yellow that you would have had to have been, well, me not to see it.  There was no doubt at all that it was intended to be seen.

Remember my FTM rule when you need to ask "why" about something that has happened.  Well, let's just follow the money.  Prudential has prostituted the presumed beliefs of its leadership in a frail attempt to pander to young people who will be their next rank of customers.  Do you think they (Prudential) believe that unwed cohabitation is a good thing?  I don't either (and I don't believe that Prudential's management is a bunch of millennials who move in and out with unmarried significant others).

But was that really the best "good thing" they could come up with?  Starting a 401(k) maybe?  Planning job training?  Getting a Master's degree?  Taking a year off to travel Europe?  Those, in context, can all be good things.  In an environment where Judeo-Christian ethics are being metaphorically assaulted, as surely as their practitioners are being physically assaulted in the Middle East, playing house is not my choice of good things that I would want my company to be represented with.

Bad on you, Prudential.  You tried to slip one past us, but you can't sneak sunrise past a rooster -- and you can't sneak promotion of compromised moral values past people of Christian ethical beliefs.  I would have a lot of trouble ever dealing with your company if that's your moral compass.

Gibraltar is crumbling a little, I guess.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, May 11, 2015

Balancing Taxes in Tennessee and Elsewhere

"When I get older losing my hair, many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I'd been out till quarter to three, would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me -- When I'm sixty-four?"

The above [copyright held by Sony/ATV Tunes] is particularly sensitive and applicable today.  I'm not really losing my hair as you can see, and the last time I was even awake at quarter to three was probably a barbershop quartet convention sometime back in the 1990s.

But today is May 11, 2015, and today I turn 64.  So naturally, today my thoughts turn to taxes.

Saturday I was driving to meet my brother for a rare round of golf, and I was listening to the speeches by (mostly) presumptive presidential candidates and declared ones, from a conference in South Carolina to which they were invited.  I'll dispense with the ones I heard from the candidates, because this isn't about that.

One from a non-candidate was given by Marsha Blackburn, a Republican House member from the great state of Tennessee.  Mrs. Blackburn gave a very good speech, with a lot of fine content.  But there was one point she did make that's worth discussion.

Mrs. Blackburn referred at one point to a fight in Tennessee to ensure there was not a state income tax passed, and that there was an amendment successfully passed to the state Constitution forbidding an income tax.  Now, I realize that part of the speech was as much, or more, about mobilizing the populace to keep intrusive government from doing things, but I had a moment to think about the specific topic.

I live in a state (actually, a commonwealth) with an income tax, and if my best girl and I can ever actually retire, we plan to move to another one that also has an income tax.  I sort of envy those who live in states that don't.  But should the people of Tennessee have hamstrung their legislatures so that is would never be possible?

I'm not sure.

Here's the point.  In any jurisdiction -- let's use "states" as examples -- there are legitimate functions of government as mandated by their constitutions and the U.S. Constitution.  We can all stipulate that.  We can stipulate that those functions have a cost, and that cost is paid for with taxes.

The states being incubators of ideas, it is no surprise that different states have developed or adapted many different sources of tax revenue.  Most have a state income tax, most a state sales tax, of course, and there is a variety of others -- property taxes, car taxes, corporate taxes ... which ones are used is less the point than the available variety.  Moreover, in each category there is the variability of the rate, which affects the impact of that tax on its payers, and of its revenues on the treasury.

So while I hate paying the income tax, I respect the fact that one way or the other, the taxes to pay for the obligatory functioning of state governments have to be raised.  If in one state, say, 40% of the revenues come from the income tax, 35% from sales taxes, 20% from property taxes and 5% from highway tolls, tobacco and alcohol taxes or something else, that is different from one whose rates, higher here, lower there, nonexistent way over there, produce a pattern that goes 45%-40%-10%-5%.

Because taxes depress the activity being taxed, we understand that a higher income tax rate -- or an income tax at all when compared to a state without it -- depresses productivity.  High sales taxes suppress retail activity.  Personal property taxes suppress capital sales of cars and other capital-intensive items.

So every state has to decide what the priorities are, and they're granted that right by the Constitution.  If a state like Tennessee (or Florida, Texas, or the others) decides that it will not have an income tax, that's great for them who earn income, but the revenue has to come from somewhere.  This is not a discussion of spending at all.  I'm just making the point that even in a balanced-budget state, revenue is a zero-sum game, and if you ban the income tax, then sales tax, property tax and others have to be higher to produce the revenue.

By not having the income tax, you are simply forcing up the rates on other taxable sources, and accordingly suppressing the activities those taxes hit us for.  By constitutionally banning the income tax, Tennessee has taken a tool out of its future legislators' toolbox to fund their government.

The State of Tennessee and its people have the right to amend their constitution and ban the income tax.  As a conservative, I support their right to do that.  And income taxes give me the creeps.

However, I also believe that the unintended consequence of all types of taxation -- the suppression of the activity being taxed -- is a pain that needs to be balanced through differentiation of the tax structures that fund government.  And to remove one of those tools is to concentrate the pain of the other forms of taxation, and the suppression of those activities, into a smaller base.

I applaud Rep. Blackburn for defending her state's turf, and I applaud the citizens of the State of Tennessee for taking the running of their government into their own hands.

At the same time, though, there are two sides even to the conservative view here.  And I have to question the long-term wisdom of narrowing the options of the state's legislature to develop a balanced revenue-raising program for the government that serves its citizens.

Mrs. Blackburn's speech, I hope, can spur a little discussion on this point.  Now that I'm 64, I'm happy to start.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, May 8, 2015

Taking the Bait on Deflate-Gate

The amusing tale of "Deflate-Gate", the accusation that the New England Patriots let air out of a dozen footballs at a playoff game this past season against Indianapolis, takes a new turn this week.  In a long, long, report from the National Football League's investigator, we find that the Patriots were found by the report to have intentionally let air out of footballs below the legal limit of air pressure.

I read the article and others, and the implications from what the investigator found.  Apparently a Jim McNally and a John Jastremski, a lead equipment manager type and an assistant, were assumed to have intentionally let air out of a dozen balls by sticking an inflating needle in the access hole on the balls, in a men's room as they brought the balls to the field for the game.

Without getting into the physics, it's enough to know that there is a range of pressures allowed in game balls, and the 12 balls managed by the Patriots tested at halftime of the game tested somewhat below the lower limit of acceptability.  The NFL allows each team to inflate the balls used by their offenses, giving passers who like a different grip some measure of control over the firmness of the ball.

Now ... if you read the words above, and look at the headlines that purport to implicate the quarterback Tom Brady of the reigning Super Bowl champions, you would start with an assumption that Brady had told the equipment staff to let the air out, possibly with a "Nya-ha-ha!" or some other evil interjection.  We know from various reports that Brady liked a much softer (i.e., less-inflated) ball.  Anything done to the ball would affect Brady and pretty much no one else.

Reading all that, you would think that Brady was the lead in a conspiracy to be able to deliver under-inflated footballs for his own offense's use.  Bad, Brady, bad quarterback!

I, however, try to keep an open mind on matters that are this trivial, so I actually read up on what happened and what the investigator's report appeared to say.  And this, friends, is what I gleaned.

- Tom Brady likes a softer, less-inflated football to throw.

- Tom Brady is in control of everything he can be with respect to his game, and explained to the equipment staff, possibly in strong, salty language, that the Patriots' footballs on game days needed to be soft, darn it!

- Jim McNally and John Jastremski are relative lackeys in the grand scheme of things, and figured out how to get the footballs down to what they believe to be a Brady-approved pressure, and very likely had done this sort of thing regularly and repeatedly.

- The equipment people did what they thought what they were supposed to do, dragged the ball bag into a men's room on the way to the field, and let some air out of each.

Those are the facts, ma'am.  Now, the Patriots-hating part of football fandom may look at all that and call the Patriots cheaters, and I get it.  But I, on the other hand, went into the reading with an open mind.  I read all that differently.

We're all, I hope, familiar with the concept of "Occam's Razor", the simple assumption that when you are trying to deduce why or how something happened, start with the least complex reason; it's more likely to account for all the circumstances.

Unfortunately, Occam's Razor is often put in a drawer when something juicy like a conspiracy theory pops up.  It's that conniving Coach Belichick that pushed the rules every which way he could!  It's that too-clever, too-handsome Tom Brady that arranged for all that cheating so the footballs would fit his hand better.

Here's what I read, because I had an open mind going in, and because I believe in Occam's Razor:  Brady consistently told his equipment people to keep the footballs softer, and the equipment people did what they were told.  Nobody said "cheat"; the equipment people likely had a vague sense of the bottom end of the allowable pressure scale, did their deflating thing each week and that was fine.

Somewhere along the line, they stopped actually measuring the pressure (if they ever did), and went by feel.  "Yep, this ought to work for Tom."  No one worried about pressure checks with a gauge.  At the Indianapolis game, probably no one got around to deflating the footballs, and they got deflated in a hurry, in a men's room, without checking with a gauge.  Jim McNally and John Jastremski did what they thought they were supposed to do, likely without any thought about "the rules."

Occam's Razor would say that, while not innocent, the actions of the participants did not comprise some conspiracy to defraud the NFL or even cheat the Colts.  A couple guys on staff were setting the pressure of the Patriots' footballs where they thought their quarterback wanted it, and they were sloppy about checking against the allowable range.

You may think what you want.  I prefer simply to fit the likeliest scenario into the facts as known.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."