Friday, December 30, 2016

Scott City is a Nice Place for the U.N.

I have never been to Scott City, Kansas; let's get that out of the way first.  I have seen it on a map, and even know someone who lives there, and I'll assume that you likely do not.

If you were to look at Scott City on one of those map programs that shows you satellite views of what it looks like, you would assume that it is a typical western Kansas town, maybe 4,000 residents, whose residents' primary purpose is to support agriculture on the plains that surround it; that the town itself probably has its share of feed stores and tractor supply places, and you'd be right.

If you look at that satellite view, you will see all those neat circles that are the artifact of the watering machines that travel in circles in order to water crops efficiently.

And it has an airport too, out on the eastern side of the town.  That's plot material.

Last week, the United Nations, of which we pay a healthy share of the budget, decided to issue a resolution condemning Israel for constructing settlements in areas it has occupied for 50 years or so.  The scandals are many, but let's confine ourselves to two -- first, that this was simply the latest of 20 resolutions condemning Israel this year alone, more than five times as many as the U.N.'s resolutions condemning all other nations combined, including Iran, North Korea and Syria; and second that the USA, for only a few weeks more represented by Barack Obama, chose not to veto this resolution.

Notwithstanding the venom of Obama choosing his "way out the door time" to decide to screw our friend and ally in the Middle East, we do indeed need to look at the other scandal, the preponderance of anti-Israel Security Council resolutions.  Because if that is the apparent purpose of the Security Council -- really, can we point to anything that it has done productively since maybe the Kosovo wars? -- then why is the USA even wasting its time?

And that's where Scott City comes into play.

You see, right now, the UN Headquarters are located on otherwise valuable land in Manhattan, by the good graces of the United States of America.  If we are going to start caring about how our taxpayers' money is being spent, then I can think of no better place than our hosting of the U.N.  Why is it necessary to put them on expensive land in New York?

Scott City is a perfect place to relocate the U.N.  There is plenty of land; so someone could not only build a building to serve as Headquarters, but also a big hotel for the ambassadors and their staffs during the active sessions of the U.N.  While the airport is being expanded to support the uptick in travel there, you can fly into nearby Garden City, reachable from, say, Washington-Dulles with only a connection in Dallas, or just a quick Dulles-Charlotte-Dallas-Garden City loop.  There is bus and taxi service up to Scott City.  Viola!

There are so many benefits that I can barely fit them into one column.  For example, people would actually see a part of America they never do, especially the press who would have to go to a new part of the country to cover the U.N.  In fact, precisely because there is little do in Scott City other than buying cattle feed and fertilizer, it is possible that the U.N. might move to a few brief sessions each quarter and have everyone go back home most of the year, where they can do things other than pass resolutions condemning Israel.

Of course if some of the pompous jackals in the U.N. decide that the middle of western Kansas is not splendid enough for them, well, they are free to move U.N. Headquarters to their own countries, like, you know, Kazakhstan or Burkina Faso or Yemen.  Yeah, maybe Yemen.

President-elect Donald Trump is just the kind of person, and just the kind of president, who would consider this sort of thing, so I will be sure to tweet him a link to this article.  I guarantee that if it gets to his attention, he will chuckle and then maybe give it some thought.

Wouldn't you?

 Copyright 2016 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 29, 2016

Obama's Third Term?

Yesterday I started talking about the odd statement from the outgoing-but-not-soon-enough president, Barack H. Obama, to the effect that he thought he would have won had he been able to go for a third term.  That pesky Constitution, of course got in the way, but some other things might have as well.

There is no denying that Obama's personal popularity has finally gotten to a decent level, at least as far as the polls go.  Now, exactly what is asked in those polls is probably suspect, although I usually don't challenge the methodology of experienced professionals in the business.

They may be wanting (or claiming to be wanting) to know if the respondent is approving of the job performance of the guy, and may actually ask that.  But that isn't exactly ensuring that the respondent is answering that.  There are, after all, polls asking about -- or allowing the respondent to answer about -- personal popularity.

Either way, I don't want to get into a debate about the way people answer those things.  After all, if I get a poll on the phone and someone I don't know asks me if I approve of Barack Obama's job performance or, worse, if I approve of him personally, I'd probably hang up.  I consider the fact that everything negative about Obama that's said in the press is turned by the left into a racial statement.

Ask Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, who declared in Obama's first term that he would try to make him a "one-term president" and was immediately castigated for some kind of racial statement.  Ask the "birthers" who, even this year, were categorized as trying to de-legitimize the "first black president", even though Obama's birthplace had nothing to do with his race.

So I'm not about to comment to a stranger, polling me on the phone, about Barack Obama, no matter how they phrase the question.  Not happening.  There's racism, murder and rape in descending order of animus among the left, and murder is slipping a bit.

That's me.  I'm a big boy who can take it; besides, with nearly 600 essays online and many of them not exactly flattering to the outgoing president, I'm out there as a non-admirer of his enough already for all to see.  Bottom line is that I doubt the accuracy of the polls, not because they're worded oddly, but because we're likely only to have a few weeks more of them, and surely a lot of respondents are saying "Yeah, sure, he was fine, loved him, blah, blah, glad he'll be gone but I'm going to lie to you because it's easier than getting called a racist and by the way, he'll be gone soon, did I mention that?"

Because I really don't believe for a minute that 55% of the USA thinks he did a good job.  After all, 46% just voted for Donald Trump and actually elected him president, and not even 1% could possibly think Obama was worth the time to talk about -- and yet still vote for Trump.  And that's before you throw in the 5% or so that voted for the other extra-party candidates.  Surely a lot of them weren't too happy with Obama either.

But more than anything, Obama, as much as anyone, lost the election himself.  Donald Trump was quite consistent in tying Hillary Clinton to Obama's legacy and calling her a potential "third term of Obama."  Barack Obama himself said the same thing -- that when campaigning for her, he said he would consider it "a personal affront to his "legacy" if she were not elected.  And he certainly campaigned, right out there with Beyonce and Jay-Z and all those other statesmen.

Guess what, Barry -- she was not elected.  And it was your presidency and your legacy -- not your race -- that was on the ballot, and the voters rejected it (outside of California).  They rejected a continuation of your feckless, weak foreign policy.  They rejected abysmal economic growth.  They rejected the steady decay in the percentage of Americans in the labor force.  They rejected your sending Guantanamo detainees back to the battlefield, your inane Iran nuclear deal, your inability to call Islamist terrorism what it is and wondered why it was a stand you would make.

Shall I go on?  Black Lives Matter and the taking the side of the convenience store robber and assailant Michael Brown instead of the cop who kept any other victim from being possibly killed by him?  The apology tour?  Contemptible treatment of our ally in Israel, ending with the vicious action by Obama in the U.N. this past week?

Nope, I don't think Obama was that likely to have won against Trump, as I think about it, unless somehow he got the lemmings to the polls.  Which could have happened.

But if it came to that, I think it would have been tough for Barack Obama the man to have overcome Barack Obama, the president.

Especially with Donald Trump making the case.

Copyright 2016 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 28, 2016

Obama Thinks He'd Get Reelected, Eh?

In what might otherwise be a slow news week with all the jackals on vacation, Barack Obama is out there trying to set the stage for his "shadow government" by trying to claim that he is relevant enough.  His protestation this week was that he would have won had he been eligible to run again, which thankfully the Constitution now prevents.  Quoth Obama:

"In my travels around the country, talking to people .... Even people who disagreed with me thought that our vision was the right one."

Now, we don't know whether or not Obama would have indeed won a third term.  He ran twice against Republicans who would not actually take him on -- McCain never made the case that no one knew squat about the guy, while Romney declined, even with the last word in the last debate, to rip Obama apart over Benghazi, at a time when well-rehearsed words would have really helped.

Donald Trump would not have held back in 2016 no matter what color Obama's father was -- and you know that Obama doesn't even get nominated in 2008 if he wasn't half-black, certainly not against Hillary's machine.  Trump spent half his criticism time on the stump ripping everything Obama did, when he wasn't ripping everything Hillary did.

But we'll never know what would have been the case had a third term been legal, of course.

What I do think is that Obama's answer is a bit bizarre.  I mean, how many of those ordinary Americans do you think ever talked to Barack Obama in his "travels around the country"?  When exactly was that, that he talked to Americans, by the way?  On the golf course?

Who were the people who "disagreed with him" that he actually talked to about the direction of the country?  Caddies?  Oops, no, he used a cart.  No, Obama wouldn't even allow people who disagreed with him within a mile of the White House, and their opinions were clearly not welcome, which is why there was a flood of generals and admirals retiring during his administration, rather than work for an autocrat who "knew better" than they.

You have to take statements like Obama's apart before they get any traction.  Barack Obama never talked to anyone who "disagreed with him, but thought he was going in the right direction", because there aren't any, and it doesn't make sense that there are.  Obama is a dogmatic ideologue, so that opposition to him is not on methodology but on ideology.  You disagree with him because he's aiming in the wrong direction.

The existence of such people who do not exist, is the premise for Obama claiming that he would have been re-reelected.  The claim that he would have been the election winner is, in his plan, the premise for his shadow government -- "The people wanted me still to be president, so I should set up a parallel government to represent them."

Look, I don't know if Obama would have won the election.  Trump won, electorally, because he carried states he had to, plus some states like Michigan and Pennsylvania where black voters didn't show up at the polls for Hillary.  They might have shown up for Obama, and they might have not done so.  The ones in New York and California wouldn't have mattered. 

Had Trump been facing Obama, he might very well have pressed the fact that Obama was absolutely horrible for black Americans, even harder than he appealed to them against Hillary with pretty much that message.

Just know this -- Obama is trying to stay relevant.  He is an ideologue, and cannot just go away to some professorship, in some leftist university environment, to teach and be adored.  He has to poke his nose in, and there will always be those who, because of his race, will try to press his relevance.

America knows better, we can certainly hope.

Copyright 2016 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 27, 2016

Yes, the "Emperor's New Clothes" Returns Yet Again

Donald Trump is a very, very different fellow.  More importantly, he is going to be a very, very different president.  How that becomes an "Emperor's New Clothes" story without anyone assuming that Trump is playing the character of the Emperor is fascinating -- in fact, it turns out that the rest of government is, but that's plot material.

If you hadn't noticed, Trump has been doing some "president things" lately, beginning with intervening in the move of a thousand-or-so employees at Carrier Air Conditioning in Indiana and, more recently, negotiating rather publicly with Boeing to cuts costs on the two planned presidential and vice-presidential aircraft and now with Lockheed Martin to cut costs on a fighter jet.

My best girl, often unintentionally the source of these essays, commented Friday on the Lockheed story as it was on TV.  "Trump just looks at these things differently", she said.  "He looks at them the way we would look at them, or any businessman would.  It's about time."

She was, of course, right.  [Note for "full disclosure" ... I receive a $30.33-per-month pension from Lockheed Martin, although I never worked for them; it's the artifact of Lockheed's acquisition of the pension fund of the former Singer Company 25 years ago.  I'm pretty sure that $30.33 is not going to affect my ability to write about Lockheed.]

"The way a businessman would look at these things."

Of course.  Why didn't we think of that?  And that's the whole point of the piece.  The USA has been suckered into believing that there was something essentially and innately different between the way a government operates and the way that an ordinary business operates, and it has turned us into lemmings who think government has to operate that way.

Hint: It doesn't have to.

Let us dispense with the fundamentals.  Government is financially no different from a non-profit organization in that its fiscal goal is not to accumulate profit (surplus) for the purpose of distribution to "shareholders" as would a for-profit firm; any surplus is assigned to funds to be used in a subsequent period for the operation of the organization or execution of its services.  Of course, our Federal government wouldn't know a surplus if it bit them.

While a non-profit has an obligation to its donors to maximize its services, Government has an obligation to its "donors" -- taxpayers -- to exercise fiscal restraint, precisely because they are not donors; the money provided is mandated by law to be seized from the citizen as taxes.  A proper government respects that its funding was taken by law and not donated of the citizens' free will.

The law addresses this, beginning with the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, by allowing government to do only what it is granted the rights to do.  That means that for the Federal government to go into debt to pay for services that it is Constitutionally not supposed to perform is fiscally and morally bankrupt.

And that, of course, is the point.  Donald Trump sees government as those of us outside government should see it, but doesn't.  For years, we saw government's right to do whatever it felt like as unfixable.  That was until 2016 when a New York businessman with a lot of hair got us thinking that maybe government should respect a basic fact -- that its funding was not provided under free will, but through the confiscatory nature of tax law.

Government itself was the Emperor.  The encrusted Executive Branch agencies, and the encrusted Congresses of years past, were their own tailor, spinning a tale that it was OK to borrow and spend beyond the taxpayers' means.  We were the people, the lemmings who went along, afraid or unwilling to "say the concept nay" -- or in the case of the left, happy to use the fable to spend, spend, spend to gain and hold control of power.

Donald Trump will not allow himself to see government improperly.  To Trump, the protection of the taxpayer's seized dollar is vital; we should not, as government always has, ignore price when you've confiscated the money to pay for it.  He is showing that in his pre-presidential actions, demanding that fiscal sense becomes a first-tier rationale for spending decisions.

I am optimistic that Washington will not ruin Donald Trump but, rather, Trump will change Washington.  If we are not pretty bloody close to a balanced budget by the end of his (first) term, I'll be disappointed, but also very surprised.

Copyright 2016 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 26, 2016

Transporting Audiences

This will be a very intriguing topic; I can only hope the piece lives up to it.

I believe that I've mentioned previously that I am a member of a worldwide email group of aficionados of the comic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan.  That should be no secret to regular readers of this column, of course, who are aware that I used to perform those works through most of my, er ... "remote" youth.

There has been a long-running thread on that list about the issue of casting people who are not necessarily racially expected in their roles, not just in the Savoy operettas but in entertainment in general.  I wrote about this in regard to a production of The Mikado that was turned into an Italian setting after protests from "professional victims" in the local community.

I am not a fan of racially distracting casting.  If a character is supposed to be black, particularly historically, then don't be using a white actor to play the character.  The piece I did on that topic is one of the most widely-read on this site, and is cited here, primarily because I need to be consistent and not self-contradictory.

At any rate, one recent thread in a topic on the mail discussion list wasn't even about Gilbert and Sullivan, and not so much theatrical stage performances, as it was about the performance of a particular song from a particular musical, in a particular setting.  The song was "Ol' Man River" from the Kern and Hammerstein musical "Show Boat", when done in a concert setting or other non-theatrical show by a singer (i.e., not as a part of "Show Boat").

Now, in context (i.e., in the musical), it is sung by a black character who works at the boat as a stevedore, and the song is meant to provide the dramatic contrast between the suffering of the people and the lack of concern on the part of the Mississippi River (that "just keeps rolling along").  In the context of the musical, it would be difficult for the character to be anything but black, so in that context it makes little sense to think of someone non-black singing the song, unless it is set in some kind of mixed-race, impoverished place.

But that wasn't the context of the discussion.  Aside from the subtopic of purging the most offensive lyrics from any contemporary performance (which is a separate issue completely), the discussion focused on whether it would ever be acceptable for a white performer to sing the song (in a non-theatrical, concert setting).

Obviously, there are a number of members of the discussion group in the U.K., as well as in Australia and the USA.  And one of them made the point, which is the topic of this piece, that it would be perfectly reasonable for a white performer in the U.K. to do the song, as long as it were done well, in that there was not really a cultural barrier to such a performance -- over there.

So I found myself thinking about that concept.  In a sufficiently professional production of "Show Boat", I would not want to see a white actor in a black leading role.  It makes no sense to do so, as you will have reintroduced disbelief and lost the audience.  There is, after all, dialogue to deliver and no amount of good acting will overcome the loss of the audience.

Why, then, do I believe that a concert performance of the one song, in isolation, could be OK?  Why is it the case that we would be open, at least in the U.K. if not in San Francisco, to a white singer presenting "Ol' Man River" in context?

Because it is a challenge, that's why.  When you take that particular piece of music on as a white performer in concert, it is pretty darned hard to transport your audience to where they have a white singer in front of them, convincingly taking on a lyric designed for a black stevedore on a boat on the Mississippi.  And I, if not people in some parts of the USA, am absolutely open to allowing someone to take on that challenge in a concert setting, even though I would not be open to seeing them do it as an actor in the show.

Assumedly the English are open to that as well, and it is to their credit, in my humble opinion, that they do so without some kind of politically-correct mind torture of the kind that the left in the USA wants to jam down our throat.

Either way, I will give a great performer the right to try to transport me, if only in the period of a single song.  Have at it.

Copyright 2016 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 23, 2016

An Especially Merry Christmas

So this past week, Barack Obama was quoted as saying that his definition of "political correctness" and that of Donald Trump, the president-elect, are probably different.

He gave a bunch of examples, and I don't think you could walk away from his words assembling those examples into a coherent definition of what he believed in as being proper behavior.  For example, he said that it should be possible to feel that affirmative action was not the best way to achieve racial opportunity in such things as college applications and workplace hiring, without being labeled "racist."

That was a pretty reasonable statement.

Of course, then he got into the whole "who might be offended" thing, and that's where he slid into the morass that political correctness is and has always been.  Because the problem, of course, is that "offense" is a spectrum.  I do not want to think about whether something I say may offend Paraguayans or Lutherans by exclusion.  At the same time, I would not want to feel it's OK if I were to make a comment ridiculing, say, Catholics, without being acutely aware that a Catholic in earshot would be offended.

By "spectrum", I mean that we truly shouldn't care if we joke about Kazakhstanis or albinos in a passing way, knowing that no one present will be offended.  So when should we be careful?  When does it get absurd to go looking for offended people before we utter a sentence?

I think that was the point of Trump's whole campaign-long tirade against PC behavior -- that if it is allowed to go on unchecked, eventually you will be able to say nothing for fear of offending.  And the corollaries are equally bad -- that people will go looking to be offended, to put themselves into an offendable group so they can play the victim for profit as could be done in this hypothetical case; that we will dumb down our communications; that we will actually become unwilling to do things like ...

Say "Merry Christmas."

It is certainly not a rare thing these days and this season, to hear people far more likely to say "Merry Christmas" in what is a normal Christmas scenario, than the bland, inoffensive "Happy Holidays."  More than once I've heard people actually say that they "feel it's OK to say 'Merry Christmas' now."

And it seemed utterly bizarre when a Kohl's store commercial just appeared on TV as I was writing this, with reindeer and Santa Claus, and the message was "Happy Holidays", as if reindeer and the jolly bearded guy were somehow not explicitly Christmas-specific characters.

I was recently in contact with an acquaintance in another part of the country, looking for a recording of a barbershop version of a Christmas song he had arranged.  Now this fellow, whom I've known for 25 years but only met a few times, and never known well (hence "acquaintance") is extraordinarily successful at our art form, having been both a member of a world championship quartet, and having directed a world championship chorus (not the one that I was in).

In the course of his reply, he casually used the phrase about it being "OK to say 'Merry Christmas' now", and that startled me.  For one, our organization actually has a founding principle that we do not let politics or religion intrude upon our dealings.  My best friends for decades are in the Society, and many of them have political leanings I'm totally unaware of.  So even hinting at something that could be thought to be political is unusual.

What struck me more is that because ours is essentially an arts organization, it is quite unexpected for a member to have such a feeling about Christmas and PC, let alone to hint at it in a passing sentence to someone who is not a close friend.  After all, that would seem to be a conservative leaning in an arts environment.

I was certainly not afraid to reply back with a comparable passing statement, if only to take the bait and let him know I agreed with the notion.  Multiply that interaction by a few million, and perhaps we get to take off the PC blinders, and say "Merry Christmas" to our Christian, or presumed-Christian friends, and say "Happy Hanukkah" to our Jewish or presumed-Jewish friends.  (Apparently the invented "Kwanzaa", whose guiding principles are rather explicitly communistic, by the way, no longer seems to exist in the public forum).

I think that celebrating what our friends celebrate brings us together, a lot better than having others play victim does, to make a better USA.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Copyright 2016 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 21, 2016

Why Rehash the "Emperor's New Clothes", NBC?


The other night, we were treated to a Christmas show on NBC, featuring some of the talent that competed in the final round of the America's Got Talent competition for 2016 that ended in September.  These acts were supplemented by some of the winners from recent seasons as well, including its Season 2 winner, the amazing ventriloquist Terry Fator, now on a long-term gig in Las Vegas, the teenage singer Jackie Evancho (a finalist), who has several top-rated recordings out, and the magician Mat Franco, who is also a Vegas regular.

These latter were among the successes of the show, winners who actually had talent, the kind that you would pay to see, sometimes a lot.  And the singing acts from this past (2016) season who were in the show's opening musical number, well, they were really good singers and polished performers as well.

Which made the absence of this season's winner from the opener all the more telling.

I would like to let the 2016 season of "AGT" go as a distant memory.  I thought I wrote all I needed to about the season in this piece, where I pointed out the utter lack of singing ability of the winner, the 12-year-old "singer" Grace Vanderwaal.  But I also thought that by now either (A) it would all go away, or (B) someone at NBC Universal would get busted for "fixing" the result.  I mean, the girl can't sing!

And I mean "can't sing" like her voice is a 12-year-old's whisper, she is very nervous on stage, and in a "talent" show, other than in her middle school, there was simply nothing to see that said "talent."  You certainly wouldn't pay to see her perform, although she seems like a very sweet, polite little girl I'd be happy to have as a daughter. 

Of course, if she were my daughter I'd have kept her from embarrassing herself on national television.  But that's for another day, and she is getting $25,000 a year for 40 years, if NBC lasts that long.

So when the opening number appeared, and one by one the singers from this season joined the festivities, it was pretty clear that no Grace would be part of that number.  Note -- Laura Bretan, the last singer from this season, an amazing 14-year-old operatic star-to-be, did not or could not appear on this show.  I, for one, missed her, on a show she could have really moved us on.

It was, of course, pretty obvious why Grace was not in that number.  The strong voices of the real singers from the season meant that the opener would need to be at a strong level, one that Grace's weak, whispery voice could not possibly have kept up with. Considering that in every round of the competition, she sort of bent over her ukulele and whisper-sang into a mike with nothing else going on, I don't know what she could have done with anyone else, in an ensemble.


Unfortunately, toward the end of the show, we heard.  To great applause, Grace got her own time on stage, singing, yes, "Frosty, the Snowman" with two lines of singers, presumably from the union, behind her.  Grace was Grace, meaning no projection, whispered words, nervous voice; and she did fine only in terms of her playing skill on the accompanying ukulele.  She played Frosty, and Frosty lost.

Because I'm always willing to let the reader judge, here is that performance.  You tell me; there's a big old comments section below.

Of course, the judges, paid to the end for their services, groveled about how wonderful she was, and NBC tweeted out how "magic" her performance was.  It won't help; I'm dying to see if anyone showed up at the single Las Vegas performance she won as part of her "victory", and what the sales are if she ever records.  Seriously?  A show? People are going to pay to hear a 12-year-old whisper near the right pitch with a ukulele for two hours?

The Emperor's New Clothes were on display for all to see, and a theater audience not realizing -- or intentionally ignoring -- that there was no "there" there.  I just don't understand how NBC thought it was a good idea to trot out their dramatic mistake (or, sadly, their corrupt selection process) once again, as if to rub in our faces the fact that they can do whatever they want.  But they did it.

And we'll see if it affects their ratings next season, for which they are already auditioning.

Copyright 2016 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.

Negating Obama's 2017 "Shadow Government"

Having failed after eight years as president to have accomplished anything whatsoever to the betterment of the USA, Barack Obama is apparently not done trying to continue his incessant damage to the nation.

Yes, while Obama wants people to think he is going to continue to live in Washington so his kids can stay in the same schools, that's not exactly in the same area code as the truth.  No, he is apparently setting up the equivalent of an alternative government, to try to provide continual opposition to the Trump Administration, although exactly how they plan to operate, and what they will do on a daily basis is a bit of a TBD.

What isn't at issue is how it is going to be paid for, since leftist moneybags like Tom Steyer have committed nine figures worth to pay for it (Steyer has pledged $100 million himself just for commercials).  So Obama will still have plenty of income to support both his golf habit and this subversive activity, in whatever form it might take.

So ... if we assume this to be true, and we assume that he is doing this "shadow government" thing, then what is the best course for the actual, real government, the one voted in by the people?

I have that answer, thanks.

Donald Trump did not run a wonky campaign.  I know that may be the single most superfluous sentence in the history of the written English language, but it is actually the point.  During Trump's campaign, he said he wanted, or would do, the following things and little else:

- An "America First" foreign policy
- Securing the border with Mexico to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking across it
- Deporting criminal aliens
- Repealing and replacing Obamacare
- Returning jobs, particularly in manufacturing, to the USA and deterring their leaving
- Lowering corporate and personal tax rates
- Beginning to clean up destroyed inner cities.

That was the core of it, plus another item or two here or there.  As I said, this was not a wonky platform, it was a set of goals for which either legislature or executive action (or, in the case of deportation, simple enforcement of the law) would implement the goal.

And that's the point.  Barack Obama can set up a whole alternative government complete with his own putting-green on the bizarro White House he is going to inhabit.  But it will all be for naught if Donald Trump does the things that he said he was going to do, and doing them has the effects he said they would.

And that was the point of the simplicity of Trump's campaign platform.  The economic metrics are pretty easy to predict; in about a year, the unemployment rate will sneak up (it is a fairly useless figure as currently computed) but the labor force and job count will rise, as people who had left the job market and stopped being counted, flood back into the market faster than the economy can produce jobs for them.

Economic growth, let loose by huge reversals of regulations, will be a hiring engine.  Tax revenues will drop at first, but within 24 months revenues will flood into the government, as the economic upsurge from lower tax rates generates more in taxes than ever before, despite lower rates.  Specific companies will start hiring here in the USA, and others will cancel outsourcing and remain here.

Obamacare will be replaced, slashing big chunks from the Federal budget and, before long, cutting individual insurance costs.  There will be a wall on our southern border.

And finally, but not least, something -- I don't know what -- will be done to try to address inner-city crime and high murder rates.  It may or may not work, but it will be more than Barack Obama did in eight years if Trump even lifts a finger.

That is my point here.  If Donald Trump does what he said he wanted to do, which in concept is fairly straightforward, and gets most or all of the above done, the result will be so dramatic -- a roaring economy, lower crime rates, something improving in the cities -- then eventually we will forget Barack Obama and his shadow government entirely.

There is nothing more effective at defusing your enemy than making him completely unnecessary.  And it will be impossible to try to hide a dramatically successful economy and way-higher employment counts from the people.  If he does all that -- and Ronald Reagan did it in a comparable amount of time -- there will be no need for Obama, and he will wither into a pathetic little troll, loved by Hollywood but shown by Trump's successes to be the failure we all know he was.

And I will end this by saying that even a revived economy will be an incomplete result if he can't make at least a little headway in the inner cities.  He very much needs to be visible early on in that specific area.  It will show him to care about the cities more than Obama ever was.

Trust me, all of that will be seen by the voters -- of all colors.

Copyright 2016 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 20, 2016

He Didn't Ask Russia to Hack Hillary!

Josh Earnest is the press secretary for Barack Obama, which means he has to say things that he may not mean, to try to explain away Obama's views on things that Obama may not actually hold and, in fact, that Obama himself may not actually believe to be true.  Got it?

We need to keep that in mind, after Earnest decided to take on the accusations of the Russians hacking into the 2016 campaign.  He said on Wednesday, which is not the first time he has said it, that Trump had "asked Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton's server" to find the 30,000 missing emails that Hillary still has not provided and, obviously, never will.  I don't recall precisely what Earnest said, but he was explicit that Trump had asked the Russians to hack in.

Now, let's start with one inconvenient truth.  At that point, when Trump made that obviously joking reference in the press conference in Florida, the server couldn't be hacked, as it was unplugged and on a shelf in the FBI's evidence locker.  Earnest knew that, Trump knew that and you and I did.  You can't hack an unplugged server, let alone an unplugged one that had gotten BleachBitted into submission.

With that as background, let's look at what Trump said in his exact words (and remembering that this was an answer to a press-conference question, add in with your mind's ear the usual Trumpian sarcastic tone):

"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Hey, you know what gives me more pause? That a person in our government - Crooked Hillary Clinton - that a person in our government would delete or get rid of 30,000 emails. Now, if Russia or China or any other country has [my emphasis] those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I'd love to see them."

I heard the press conference live earlier in the year.  There is no question whatsoever that he was making that joke on the assumption that the emails, which could no longer be retrieved from their originating server, were already "out there" in cyberspace, because hacking had already occurred.

The joke was based on this -- Russia and China hack the heck out of the Internet now, and everyone knew it.  If anyone already had those emails, it was going to be Russia (and China).  So Trump's statement, or joke, or whatever, was at least a joke based on the notion that the Russians hack so much that they already had them.  Already.  Got it?  That was the punch line.  "Already had them."

He wasn't telling the Russians to try to hack our servers to get them; he was joking that they probably already had them in their own hacking files, and just needed to find them.  I know that's true because that is exactly what I was laughing at when I watched the press conference live -- that the FBI couldn't find the emails; that Hillary wouldn't turn them over, but the Russians probably already had them in their massive stores of hacked data and would get lots of credit from the U.S. press corps if they'd just find them.

It is contemptible on so many levels for Earnest to say what he did; and it is foolish for the press corps today to try to make an affirmative "Russia, please hack her server" interpretation, out of a joke based on the assumption that Russia already had the emails.

As I was writing that line, Bret Baier of Fox was on the air this second, actually saying that Trump had asked the Russians to hack our systems.  Et tu, Bret?  

If even Fox is casually misquoting that line, the Obamists have won.

Copyright 2016 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 19, 2016

News for Your Election-Denying Friends

Standard line of "Democrat strategists: "Oh, but the Electoral College doesn't matter.  Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes and she ought to be president."

You've probably heard that before, one or two million times in the last few weeks.  And I am here to give you an article that you can simply send them in reply that should quiet their poor, snowflakey, jangled nerves.  Hint: you're reading the article now.  Please do forward them this piece.

So first, let's start with the numbers, so they're not an issue of contention.

Across the entire country, fifty states and the District of Columbia, Donald Trump received 62,979,616 votes, which got him 306 electoral votes.  Hillary Clinton received 65,844,594 votes, which earned her 232 electoral votes and meant that she had to crawl back to Chappaqua, NY, moaning about the Russians.

That means that Hillary had a higher popular vote, by 2,864,978 votes, totaling the fifty states and DC. 

Here, for reference, is the vote total for one state, the state of California.  Hillary Clinton received 8,753,788 votes in California.  Donald Trump received 4,483,810 votes.  That's plot material.  Hillary won California by 4,269,978 votes.  In fact, according to the state's own board of elections, five counties in California account for Hillary Clinton's entire national margin.

Why is California relevant?  Simple.  The system in which we have operated since 1789 for electing the president is as a representative democracy.  Each state has a voice, including California.  When states are, as they say, "not in play", meaning that the people who live there are assumed to vote in a certain way, for decades the candidates have left them to themselves, and don't campaign there.

Not-in-play states are ignored in the campaign; they are not visited by the candidates and there is no advertising there.  Idaho is not going to vote for a Democrat for president any time soon, and neither is South Dakota or Texas or Alabama or South Carolina.  And California is not going to vote for a Republican for president; nor is New York or Massachusetts.

Why is this important?  Because if you are going to try to claim that "the people" voted for Hillary, and especially if you're going to claim that the campaign swayed anyone's vote, it is relevant that in one state, California, the campaign never happened.  So many of those Hillary voters lived there that in the other 49 states combined (and even including the District of Columbia), Donald Trump out-polled Hillary by almost 1.4 million votes.

California was written off by both campaigns.  It is entirely logical that, had both Trump and Clinton had only California to win, they would have campaigned there, and the results would have been markedly different.  Hillary would have won, sure, but the numbers would have changed quite a bit (if you don't think they would have, then why is there even a campaign?).

Under the rules in play, California was deemed by both candidates to be irrelevant.  Its electoral votes would be a huge block on which Hillary built her electoral base, but they weren't contested.  So it is not as if California's voters aren't relevant; they are, and their fat electoral bloc shows it -- but the margin -- and its impact on the national popular vote -- is not relevant.

In other words, if there were only a popular vote, the campaign would have been played out less in Ohio, Florida and North Carolina, and a lot more in all the urban centers.  It is the fact that the Electoral College system, which is effectively the "vote by state" system, the forces the campaign into the contested states.

So you can't look at the popular vote nationwide, because it includes millions of votes in states where the campaign never existed.  Had popular vote mattered, we would have seen a different campaign; therefore, the nationwide popular vote is an interesting sidelight but not a reflection of anything.

Bill Clinton himself, for example, said this past week that he thought that Hillary should have gone into Wisconsin in the last week to campaign.  What does that mean?  It means that campaigns are indeed relevant, and that the impact of the electoral system on the way that campaigns are run renders the nationwide popular vote an irrelevant curiosity.


So there.

Copyright 2016 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 16, 2016

The Birth of Snowflakes

So a day or two back, Donald Trump, the president-elect, was speaking on his "Thank You Tour" in Wisconsin, amusing the audience with a reprise of some of the basics -- he always spoke in basics -- that he had used in his campaign.

My best girl was watching a news show where a clip of the speech was being shown, and her immediate comment was not about the speech, or any part of it, or even about Mr. Trump himself.

No, it was about the podium.  And that's where we start this morning.

The podium and stage, as you may have readily seen, were festooned with Christmas-season things, trees in the background, and the words "Merry Christmas USA" unmistakably writ large across the front of the podium.  You couldn't have missed it.

And my best girl did not miss it, which got her to thinking, and often that is a good thing as it was in this case.  Now, it did not fall on blind eyes that, to have a president making a speech from a podium with the words "Merry Christmas USA", was a reversal of at least eight years of contemptible secularism from our current administration and from society in general.

Certainly the news programs at least momentarily pointed out that it was not a white-bread, generic "Happy Holidays" message.

So the Missus observed this, and mentioned that she thought the dynamic was going to be interesting.  Donald Trump was elected in a specifically politically-incorrect, or at least a specifically not dogmatically politically correct campaign.  So this means that a peck of politically correct actions from years recent was going to be eliminated in a very short time.

What she noticed was the dynamic.  These little chip-aways had taken place over a long period of time, the result of one person here and there claiming being offended at this or that thing, and then another person a few months later.  Over the years, an accumulated pattern of claimed offense by this or that offended person led to a pattern of utter neutrality.

That neutrality is hammered home in the college campus, where the left breeds, sort of like bacteria in the kitchens of one of those taverns that Jon Taffer fixes on on Bar Rescue.

But her point was that the catering to the offended had been a pick, pick, pick thing over many years, while the expected reversal under Mr. Trump is going to be a fairly all-encompassing effect in a fairly short time -- a year maybe.  The left works that way, she pointed out.  Push the extremes one by one until what we thought was stupid -- not saying "Merry Christmas" -- becomes mainstream.

But all that politically correct stuff over the years had stiffened the opposition, and was absolutely a big factor in the election of Mr. Trump, a very plain talker who made it clear what he thought was right and wrong.

It finally occurred to both of us that it was the children of the pick, pick left who started growing up thinking that they had a right not to be offended by anything, who had become the snowflakes of today.  Nurtured first in the homes of parents who felt that they had to be good little Democrats and go along, and then radicalized on campuses, to the point where the Ft. Hood murders were "workplace violence" and the Ohio State terrorist attack was a "misunderstanding", they became the entitled generation.

When we no longer nurture a "right not to be offended", and the cessation of that acceptance at the Government level happens fairly abruptly, it will be as if a flood of rationality refreshes the USA.  The "pick, pick, pick" that had happened over years had, in fact, been irritating reasonable adults for years at the same time.  The genie is out of the bottle, and the left may never be able to put it back.

Barren of actual productive ideas for governing that have ever worked, the left will first retrench into screaming matches (e.g., the attempt to nullify the election whose results, they fear, would crush them into oblivion for years).  What they do next is anyone's guess.  The colleges, after all, are still there, you know.

Mr. Trump will need to be suitably advised as to who his enemy is and how they may come after him during his administration.  Once the election stuff dies down, the left will have to figure out how to reinstate the political correctness that cost them the 2016 election in the first place.  After all, that's what they want; a compliant population that will mutely allow them to be the ruling class without argument.

But the genie is out of the bottle.

Copyright 2016 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 15, 2016

The IRS Regulation I'd Like Trump to Issue

I'm not a fan of the Internal Revenue Service.  No one is, except possibly John Koskinen, the current IRS Administrator, a political hack for whom an impeachment bill is pending, and an embarrassment to Finnish-Americans everywhere.

I contend that I have more argument than most, having been through the torture of an audit. As recounted here, it resulted in a determination of zero obligation to the government in taxes, but many thousands in accountant's fees to show that I did not owe many thousands -- or even a red cent, for that matter -- to the IRS.

So in a column whose title is about an income tax regulation I'd like to see, you might assume that it might somehow relate to the audit that we had, and be one that would have prevented something so stupid from happening.

Obviously there are a few things that could have helped, but I'm not sure that anything could be put into law.  When your IRS auditor flat-out doesn't understand the law, and it takes my accountant explaining to her supervisor that she had been misapplying the law, to get the audit to be stopped without owing anything, well, the law won't help.  What would help is to make sure that you don't get a letter informing you of an audit until at least two levels of IRS agent agree to its necessity.

Maybe they needed to try to pay for this insult to the taxpayer.

And another thing that would help would be to forbid the IRS from mailing any notices to taxpayers except on Mondays or Tuesdays.  Somehow letters from the IRS which, except for when they contain checks, and are almost never legible and comprehensible, always seem to be mailed on a Wednesday, so they arrive when you get home after work on a Friday.  That means that you can get no clarification or sleep until the following Monday if you're lucky, and your weekend is full of panic and royally hosed.

That could easily stop with an executive order that would be appreciated.

I'd be thrilled if the IRS would be treated like any other law enforcement agency, meaning that the burden of proof for any claim of debt to them, or contention regarding a filing, is handled with a presumption of innocence on the part of the taxpayer, and the burden of proof shifted to the IRS themselves.  Maybe with an impartial arbiter hearing the case.

Man, I'd be thrilled to be a judge in one of those cases.

But my proposal is not related to audits at all.  Now, I have written tons about how the tax code should be written to flatten the heck out of it, particularly (and first) in this piece from 2014 that still represents my opinion.

That may not happen, certainly not before Congress is somehow incentivized to stop social engineering with the tax code.  I have taken advantage of the mortgage interest deduction for years, but I'd trade that in a heartbeat for a flat tax system with a 17% rate on personal and business income and get rid of the tiered structure.

But if it doesn't, let's try this.  "No individual shall have, as a result of his or her filing, any obligation exceeding 25% of adjusted gross income in the year in which the return is filed."  Now, that 25% can be achieved through ordinary deductions that reduce taxable income, or by taxable expenses or whatever.  But when push comes to shove, and the return has to come up with a number to pay, it would have to be the lesser of the computed tax on taxable income, or 25% of the adjusted gross income (meaning everything that came in to the taxpayer less basic adjustments).

Why?  It's very simple.  The United States of America needs to make an affirmative statement that it is immoral for any country to confiscate more than one dollar out of every four that a person makes, for the running of the country.

I think that 25% is a bit high, but reasonable enough and certainly as high as it should be.  But more importantly, it is vital that the Government state affirmatively that there is -- and always will be -- a moral ceiling on what it should ever be paid in Federal taxes by any one individual, relative to his income.  If you recall, that was something that I made a case of when the Obama Administration, as represented by Valerie Jarrett, refused ever to answer the question about how much tax was "too much."

I hope that you understand the difference.  It's not about whether it is 25%, or 20.665% or whatever.  It is about the moral principle that there is indeed a rate that is too high in the eyes of the American people, and that the Government's right to seize our earnings is limited by percentage.

What do you think?

Copyright 2016 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 14, 2016

Five, Ten and Forgotten

As my biography notes, I spent a somewhat brief part of my life performing the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, if not for a living, at least for a few bucks here and there.  So at least for a good number of years I was very familiar with those pieces, both the libretti of Gilbert, and the music of his teammate Mr. Sullivan.

Gilbert's words and Sullivan's notes, so well-paired in actuality, were always a point of contention between the two of them.  Although they certainly respected each other's talents, it had previously been the historic reality in opera that the libretto was simply a canvas upon which the "true" artist, the composer, was able to set his music.

Gilbert and Sullivan's works were certainly the groundbreaking exception.  W. S. Gilbert was a brilliant man, of great talent and skill in the use of the English language.  Arthur Sullivan forever felt that his music was simply regarded as less important and did not take to that so kindly.  Eventually they quarreled enough so that some of their latest works were simply not of the quality -- and popularity -- of their earlier material.

But I suppose I digress, a lot.

I only brought them up because the words in Gilbert's dialogue and song lyrics were written in the era from the 1870s through the 1890s, and they're a reference point.  I have, for example, performed in 75 productions of the various operettas, and there are still, or were until looking them up, words and phrases that would give me pause, to where I had to look up what they actually meant.

Gilbert did some of that intentionally, sometimes to force a rhyme, and sometimes to reflect what a character in that area might have actually said.  The Yeomen of the Guard, for example, takes place a in a setting a few hundred years earlier than its initial performance in 1888.  Gilbert was, of course, a lawyer and a very well-read Victorian man, and knew his English quite well, at a time when it was an admired trait to use it.

There are, in fact, books on their operettas, which print the libretto replete with notes in the margins describing the actual meaning of unfamiliar words and phrases, and most pages are truly full of the marginal notes.

All the above flashed by as I was listening to a Christmas music satellite-radio station in my car, and the song "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" went by in one of its 4,344 recorded iterations.  Mel Torme, I think, was velvetly fogging the line, "Take a look in the five-and-ten, glistening once again ..."

It occurred to me that I had certainly been in a small town five-and-ten many times in my youth (that's a "five and ten-cent store" for the Russians enjoying this piece, by the way, who may have gotten this far).  Many, many times.  God knows that I didn't need to have explained to me what a "five-and-ten" is.

But my imaginary great-grandchildren would likely have no better idea of what a "five and ten" is than they would a phone book or a typewriter or a VHS videotape.  And I got thinking that in, say 50 years, while people will certainly be singing that song (It is, after all, a classic, a catchy tune and a classically-harmonized melody), a great percentage of those listening will have to look up on the 2066 version of Al Gore's Amazing Internet what the reference to a "five and ten" means.

I thought of Gilbert, of course, because I was performing his words 60 years after his death, and still kept looking his words up as long as I was singing them.  We still hear "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" in all sorts of settings, and if you can get through it without having to ask what "mamelon" or "ravelin" may be, or a Chassepôt rifle (no fair saying, oh, yeah, that's a rifle"), or a "commissariat", then you're probably 114 years old.

The language evolves over time, well, duh.  I don't think that we'll need to remember telephone books, since it will always be a joke for short people and kids to have to sit on one, probably long after the last of them has been printed and thrown away, or in the Smithsonian.  And I don't have any romanticized notion that there should always be a town square five-and-ten (and certainly not that there should always be its current successor, the "dollar store").

But has been interesting to listen, this season, to Christmas songs the past few days.  Christmas songs, after all, are brought back for a few weeks each year and therefore survive far longer than whatever is being "sung" these days by the usual assortment of pop tarts, to be quickly forgotten.

As each Christmas comes around, a few more of those little phrases will jog the minds of people like me, wondering if fifty years hence, we will hear "as the shoppers run home with their treasures" and ask what that meant, given that Christmas presents will have only been ordered online for decades.

Back to work.

Copyright 2016 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 13, 2016

What's "Too Close for Comfort"?

Rex Tillerson is the CEO of Exxon Mobil, and is, as of this morning, Donald Trump's choice to be the next Secretary of State.  Tillerson would succeed John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, meaning that the bar for success is incredibly low, given where the USA sits in terms of being unfeared by our enemies and untrusted by our friends after the last eight years.  And, oh, yeah, the incomprehensibly bad Iran deal.

Mr. Tillerson is receiving unusually high scrutiny from the left and the press (but I repeat myself), as well as by some Republicans, like Sen. McCain of Arizona.  This, surprisingly, has nothing to do with his tenure and track record at Exxon Mobil and lots to do with, as if we hadn't talked enough about them already, Russia.

You know as well as I.  Mr. Tillerson has raised the eyebrows of his possible opposition because of the fact that he has done business with Russia, as might be expected when the largest energy company in the world deals with one of, if not the, leading energy-producing nations.

In the course of that business, Mr. Tillerson has developed a relationship with Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, that led to his having gotten some kind of award of friendship (the Russian "Order of Friendship") from Putin not long ago, in 2013.  That, of course, gives raw meat to the left as they seek to de-legitimize Mr. Trump's position and fight him at every turn.

With "opposition" as their goal, and not the leadership of the country that they blew by nominating Hillary, this relationship has been characterized as fairly chummy.  However, it is not presented -- and I've been listening -- as to how a preexisting, positive relationship between the Secretary of State and the leader of Russia is, a priori, a bad thing.

I confess to being willing to give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt, in that this appointment is a "part of the whole" in the sense of his construction of a government.  So I find myself asking why it might not be a good thing, long before I ask why it might be bad.  But the left is already doing the latter.

And again, I cannot see how it might be bad.

Look, friends, we are not about to change Putin the man; he is still a murderer and an autocrat, and we can only seek to constrain his tendency to do things like invading his neighbors.  In other words, Putin is a reality, and we need to accept that we must face him.  We're not going to replace him; we simply need to get him to keep his troops at home and stop his cyber warfare campaign.

What people do not seem to get is that Donald Trump does not think like a politician.  Politicians are concerned with how things look so they can get reelected; a businessman is concerned with getting things done.  That means that if our goal is to get Putin to keep his troops at home and turn off the cyber warfare, and trust me, we're not going to be doing it by bombing Volgograd, then we need to do it through negotiation, which is the Trump version of what we used to call "diplomacy."

Diplomacy as practiced by the Obamists obviously doesn't work, since Russia is blithely invading its neighbors, practicing cyber warfare on us and meddling in the Middle East.  And, by the way, they're also reading this column.  Trump clearly believes that if we need to get this to stop, there has to be something in it for Putin.

If that's what he believes, then at least to the extent that dealing with Russia is a necessary part of our foreign policy, he needs to have the ability to deal directly with Putin.  It would seem that to do that, a good start would be to have a Secretary of State that has a relationship with him and has worked with him on some kind of negotiating, positive level.  To have that person be one with extensive negotiating experience throughout the world, including some of the ugliest places on earth, seems like a logical thing to me.

It is not logical to the left and the press (but I ...), but they're apparently unable to explain why it doesn't make perfect sense.  Perhaps it does, but they're intent on simply opposing Trump by reflex.  I, however, am willing to listen.  The next time someone provides a good reason why a positive relationship with Putin is a bad thing, I'm listening.  Happy to listen if you can explain it.

Absent that, I will come down on the side of friendship and negotiation as our diplomacy.  Perhaps after eight years of abject failure on the world stage, trying something different is worth the effort.

All for it.

Copyright 2016 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 12, 2016

What ARE the Russians Doing?

Amazingly, this piece is not about the election that was finished last month (or Saturday, depending on whether you include the Senate).  It is not about the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, or the leaks of the emails of John Podesta, all of which certainly contributed to the nation's contempt for the way Democrats run their shop, if not to the election result.

After all, Hillary Clinton was simply such a bad candidate that she sank her own ship by being so completely out of touch with the pulse of the nation, and still, based on recent comments, appears to be.

No, it's about the Russians, all right, but I don't have an explanation and I don't have an answer to the question that has been bugging me for a month or so.

Why are the Russians so fascinated with me?

I am, after all. a veritable cipher in the history of our nation.  In my long career, I have done a lot of things, but not accomplished anything lasting that would make me worth a medal, or a holiday, or an MVP award.  No Pulitzer, nor a Nobel Prize for literature is headed my way, although I can say with authority that I have posed for a picture with a Nobel Prize (and its actual winner).

That's me, sans beard, posing third from left with my fraternity brother Dr. Adam Riess, who is holding the prize for Physics he won a few years back for his discoveries regarding universe expansion.  This has nothing to do with Russians, of course, but it is, after all, my column, and if I've got a cool picture, I'm going  to find an excuse to show it.

And I don't think I'm worth reaching out across half the world to read.  OK, I get that the Internet doesn't require much in the way of a "reach", but you get the idea, if not what the heck I'm even talking about.  So let me explain.

The Russians are reading me, and they are reading me regularly and, if I may spin it a bit, they are reading me loyally.

It should not surprise you that the platform on which this site is hosted provides its authors with a reasonable array of statistics on readership.  This is how I know things like what operating systems are used to read the column, and what Internet browsers, and what articles are being read, all on an instantaneous basis, as well as last day, week, month, year and since September 2014, when the first piece was posted on this site.

Now, 544 pieces later, those statistics are telling me that an inordinate percentage of the readers of this column are in, of all places, Russia.  Yes, those good old boys and girls behind what used to be the Iron Curtain, with names ending in "sky" and "ov" and "ev" and"adze" and "in" and the like, are apparently quite interested in what I have to say.

How interested?  Well, I get read in this country, the good old USA, quite a bit, and have some pretty good stats on readership to share if anyone were interested in advertising here.  But over the last week, there were more column-reads (one reading of one column) by Russians than anywhere else on earth, including here.

Other than my opinions, I am not providing any information in this column that is not universally known, unless sharing the fact that "Ted Williams was the greatest Latino baseball player ever" counts.  All you find here other than well-known facts are opinions and, like intestinal tracts, almost everyone has one.  My opinion is every bit as valuable (unfortunately also meaning "every bit as worthless") as anyone else's.

So what, pray tell, do the Russians expect to find here?  That I'm not a fan of Hillary Clinton?  Shoot, if you ask her, she thinks they're the reason she isn't the president-elect now, and that it has nothing to do with her being an out-of-touch leftist with no track record of accomplishment.  Nobody is much of a fan of Hillary any more.  And Bill is probably pretty happy.

But I did want to point out, for the record and for my American readership, that not only are you not alone, but it is imperative that you start going back to earlier columns and enjoying them, because the Russians have zoomed past you in readership.

And darn it, that's a race we need to win.

Copyright 2016 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 9, 2016

More about Generals

It is now a well-publicized fact that Donald Trump has populated his proposed Cabinet with a healthy number of retired three-star and four-star flag officers, with one or two more considered, not just the Secretary of Defense candidate I wrote of yesterday.

This large number of retired generals and admirals is discomfiting much of the left and the other canned opposition, who will simply take any reason possible to de-legitimize Mr. Trump by claiming whatever they think will sell well in, and be carried by, their advocates in the equally leftist press.

Now, we know that the left tosses around words like "concerning" and "troubled", because they make a living off being concerned and troubled whenever they are out of power as they're about to be.  Of course, after this past presidential campaign their attempt to "concern and trouble" the electorate by their character assassination of Mr. Trump seemed only to stiffen the resolve of that same electorate to turn the left out of office.  Which they did, mercifully.

I confess that if the Cabinet were made up of thirteen generals, I might look a bit askance, if only because there would be a dearth of functional experience in certain of the departments, like say, Treasury or HUD.  But the three or four who have been nominated to date are in places like Defense and National Security, places where their expertise and experience will doubtlessly be helpful.

And here's the thing as we sail off into the weekend.  You do not slide your way to becoming a flag officer, and certainly not to getting three or four stars.  You get there by a thirty-year career in the service in which you have shown remarkable capability for leadership, and have had years to exercise that leadership and succeed at it.  Failures don't get stars, if you know what I mean.

But a lot of outstanding senior officers don't become generals and admirals either, and I know a good number of retired colonels and Navy captains who were incredibly successful and great leaders who did not become generals and admirals either.

When you reach the flag level, you have shown a lot.  The sheer responsibility handed to military and naval leaders is incredible -- they are responsible for the defense of our nation and for the very lives of the people entrusted to their leadership.  It is an awesome burden to have as the background of the decisions you make.

At times, I have to have thought that what we needed as Cabinet secretaries was more of those leaders, not less.  If it takes Donald Trump to see, from his own background, what leadership is, in the face of responsibility, enough to take retired military leaders more seriously as leaders of the civilian side of government, then so be it.

Mr. Trump had already pointed out during his campaign that he planned to tap the capabilities of some very successful businessmen and women, the leaders whose skills would be needed in government to replace the lobbyists and political cronies and hacks (such as the fellow running the IRS now), the people who had always been picked for jobs they had no innate ability to do.

It would be a frightening waste of excellence not to take advantage of great leaders.  In fact, the fundamental criticism by the left, that we might become a more militaristic nation with so many military leaders in government, is in fact the opposite of the truth -- when you have been tormented for years with the responsibility for the lives of your troops, you are going to be very conservative in making the decisions to deploy them.

As with many situations in which Trump is the re-inventor rather than the one doing things the same way as his predecessor had, history will be the judge as to the level of success that this influx of general officer talent has.  It is for Trump now to put forth his metrics for success so that history can have the right benchmark to judge their performance against.

History, as is often noted, is written by the victors.  Let's win with our best and brightest.

Copyright 2016 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 8, 2016

A General over the Pentagon

At this point we know that retired Marine General "Mad Dog" Mattis is going to be Donald Trump's nominee to be the Secretary of Defense.  That's a pretty interesting selection, one that has gotten a lot of attention and a lot of praise from military folks, active and retired.

It is also one that will take a two-stage approval process, in that Gen. Mattis has not been retired, and thus separated from the military, for long enough to qualify for the seven-year gap required under the applicable 1947 law as later amended.  So Congress will first have to grant a waiver for Mattis to be considered, and thereafter they will need, at least the Senate will need, to approve the selection and confirm him.

The most significant thing about the appointment of Mattis is precisely that, the fact that his was a career spent in uniform.  That is a significant departure from the norm; a civilian, or at least someone whose uniformed service was a relatively brief part of his career, has been the Secretary of Defense for most of my lifetime.

So we have to take a look at this nomination on two different levels; aside from simply evaluating the candidacy of James Mattis the human being, we also have to look at the very notion of a military man -- and Lord knows Mattis is a "military man" -- to oversee the Pentagon.

Donald Trump, our president-elect, has been a rule-breaker and a trendsetter throughout his campaign and now into his appointments to the Cabinet.  That makes it a bit ironic that selecting a retired general to run the Pentagon is not so much an unusual option, as a logical option that has been avoided as a matter of custom.

So I think that the appointment of Gen. Mattis, stirring as it is among the uniformed services, is going to have to be one that capitalizes on his deep and thorough knowledge of the military he is going to have to fix.

You see, the Pentagon -- and by that I mean all the services and the civilian and contractor forces that support the military -- is in serious need of reform from two directions.

First, of course, is that our military has deteriorated, both in equipment and in morale, after eight years of Barack Obama's incompetent oversight of our foreign policy.  Mattis, it should be noted, is not the only flag officer to have retired out of frustration with not being allowed to do his job and not being listened to.  The military needs to be rebuilt, which costs money.

Second is the opposite side, which is to say that the military has shown a propensity to waste a lot of taxpayer dollars.  I can certainly speak from experience when I say that the military's capability in acquisition is often atrocious, and frequently incompetent.  That it can take years to get a simple request for proposal out the door to be bid on, is the clearest evidence possible.

Mattis has the curious obligation, assuming his confirmation, to have to figure out how to spend a lot less in acquisition costs and mistakes, and a lot more in restoration of warfighting capabilities.  Any Secretary of Defense appointee would face the same twin, opposing dictates.  This is why I believe that it is appropriate to have the person who needs to oversee that being someone intimately familiar with the problems and, at the same time, possessed of both the stature and respect of his peers, and the recognition of the problems to be solved.

James Mattis appears to have those skills and attributes in spades.  I do believe that in the subsequent administrations, appointments as Secretary of Defense will be greatly affected by Gen. Mattis -- excuse me, Secretary Mattis -- and what he is able to accomplish.  We have had previous secretaries be lifelong bureaucrats, congressmen and senators, businessmen and the like.  It will be quite something to see what a retired general does in his term, and how he actually performs when working for a president who was a businessman first and always.

I will tell you that I find the military's acquisition problems to be almost as troublesome as its equipment aging, and I will be fascinated to see if the fact of the background of the president influences the focus of his Secretary of Defense more than might otherwise be expected.

I defer, in part, to the number of rave reviews the appointment has gotten from those who have served with the general and those who are sufficiently familiar with his track record.

OK, I'll say what I mean.  I can't wait until Mad Dog hits the Pentagon.

Copyright 2016 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 7, 2016

Thinking Trump and China Through

Earlier this week I heard a very rational person speaking on a panel on one of the news programs.  She was talking about the dust-up regarding President-elect Trump taking a congratulatory call from the new president of Taiwan, and how the stuffy folks over at the State Department were horrified and, more to what she was saying, how the Chinese might retaliate.

Now, let's get a few things on the table.

First, given the performance of those entrenched types over at State the past forty years in positioning the USA, and the fact that at this moment our friends don't trust us and our enemies don't fear us, I'd say they don't have a lot of standing to determine what works and what doesn't.

Second, I would add that the Trump approach is to speak first, as a negotiating tactic, and then go back and forth and achieve an agreement.  That's how he has always operated, and why his Twitter feed is an extension of himself and his approach.  That, however, is a bit fragile as he becomes president, where the words of the president of the United States are policy, or at least are taken as policy by the rest of the world.  He will not like that, and we need to remember that.

Still, neither is the point of this piece.

The commentator made the point that the Red Chinese are puffing out their cheeks at the fact that our president-elect would ever take a call from the president of Taiwan, whom they think is a province of Red China, same as they regard big chunks of the navigable South China Sea as a province of Red China, and the way they must see this column as a province of Red China (since, for reasons that escape me, this column is actually read often by readers with Chinese IP addresses.  Yes, I am quite aware of that; they must like me.  So are the Russians, who read this column regularly, also for reasons that elude me).

This is the point.  The commentator stated that the Red Chinese (I have to call them that since this column is also about the "free" Chinese on Taiwan) had a few ways that they could get back at "us" for taking a phone call from the Taiwanese president.

One of those ways would be for them to sell of lots of the U.S. Treasury bonds that they hold.  And that, friends, triggered a whole lot of collateral thinking, at least in this office.

You see, here are all the State Department types getting all twitchy about Trump's phone call, when none of them is asking how we got there in the first place, i.e., how we got to a point that we have so much debt to China that they could threaten to sell it.  And that's what I'm concerned about.  We borrow a lot of money from China, and the only reason that a staggering 7.2% of the $20 trillion we owe is held by them (and anyone else) is because we're borrowing too frigging much.

We are borrowing that "too frigging much" because the U.S. Government does not live within its means, meaning that we spend more every year, by far, than we take in.  We are not paying down the principal on that debt.  Congresses past and present have simply created budgets that require us to borrow rather than determining how much tax revenue we can take in without crashing the economy, and spending only that.

I don't have to tell you why we got into that tar pit, but we're in it and we need to get out of it.  And the idea that Red China can actually attack us with T-bonds rather than bombs is so appalling, that instead of worrying if we're ticking them off by taking phone calls from Taiwan, we ought to be worrying about how we can get out from under debt that allows Red China to threaten us simply by their potential to sell our bonds.

Debt is a weapon.  It's a weapon that is loaded and pointed straight at us.  And we sold them the weapon.

Please, Mr. Trump.  Get us to a balanced budget and get us out of debt.  We can only produce about $3.5 trillion in tax revenue, about $500 billion less than the current budget.  We desperately need to cut spending, to create a Federal budget that is under $3.5 trillion so we can start to pay it down.

The risk is too great, and the threat of economic warfare too high.

Copyright 2016 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 6, 2016

The Truth v. the Democrats

So now, it appears, the same people who cried that Donald Trump was trying (re the "birther" movement) to "de-legitimize our first black president", are doing the same thing back to Mr. Trump.

We had the first salvos of "that" this past week, courtesy of some program at Harvard University, which is, of course, the school that fancies itself  to be "the M.I.T. of the back end of Cambridge."  In that program, which generally follows election season, there is a post-mortem of the campaign, and in this one we were treated to some interesting interactions.

The chief episode was between Jennifer Palmieri, a mouthpiece for the failed Hillary Clinton campaign, and Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager for the Trump campaign.  It went like this:

CONWAY: Excuse me, she said "white supremacist" ... Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform? Are you going to look me in the face and tell me that?
PALMIERI: It did. Kellyanne, it did.
CONWAY: Oh, that's how you lost?
PALMIERI: It did!
CONWAY: Do you think you could have just had a decent message for the white working class voters? Do you think this woman who has nothing in common with anybody --
PALMIERI: I'm not saying that's how you won but that's the campaign that was run, yes.
CONWAY: We flipped over 200 counties that President Obama won, and Donald Trump just won. You think that's because of what you said, or that people aren't ready for a woman president? Really? How [about] it's just Hillary Clinton? She doesn't connect with people. How about they have nothing in common with her? How about you had no economic message?

The point of all this is that the Democrats are now trying to de-legitimize the election of Donald Trump by claiming that he has the support of "white supremacists", who "had a platform."  In other words, candidates should be judged on, and their legitimacy derived from, not what they said or did but on who voted for them.  In this case, worse, it's who might have voted for them.

OK, that's what the Democrats are trying to do, but it's not the point.  The point is that the Democrats are completely removed from the reason that Hillary lost to Trump, and that there are simple mathematical facts that refute the Democrats before they even open their mouths.

Follow this: For the argument that "white supremacists had a platform in the Trump campaign", and that's why he won, the Clintonistas suggest that the election was turned on who did vote for him.  But the numbers, ah, the numbers, well, they tell a different story.  In fact, the whole election turned on who didn't vote, and that's our story.

Numbers don't lie.  Donald Trump ran a campaign that was actually a bit unsuccessful at attracting voters to the polls.  Believe me?  Trump tallied only about a million and a half more votes than Mitt Romney had in 2012.  In most cycles, that would be thought of as unsuccessful, especially given that Romney lost.

The story is actually that, as I write this, 65,240,114 people voted for Hillary Clinton.  That sounds like a lot, and the Democrats are screaming about how she got two million more votes than Trump did (Trump out-polled her total in the 49 states other than California, where neither candidate campaigned and where she won by 4,180,000).

Only one problem there -- Hillary's vote count was about 700,000 votes fewer than Obama pulled in 2012, meaning that she essentially failed in making the case to the American voter that she should be president.  It wasn't who voted for Trump; it was who did not vote for Hillary.  That has nothing to do with the Trump voter; it had everything to do with Hillary and the Hillary campaign.

Jen Palmieri and Joy Behar and other Democrat apologists can holler about the "basket of deplorables" all they want, but it really was not about Trump at all -- if Hillary couldn't even draw as many voters as Obama had four years earlier, well, she has only herself and her team to blame.

"How [about] it's just Hillary Clinton? She doesn't connect with people. How about they have nothing in common with her? How about you had no economic message?"

Those are the words of Donald Trump's campaign manager to a senior member of the Hillary campaign last week.  The Clintonistas and the rest of the Democrats -- and the press, if they intend to be the same shills next election that they were this one -- would be wise to figure out that it wasn't any bogus "white supremacists" that cost them the 2016 election -- it was their campaign and their entitled, corrupt candidate.

But they'll never learn.  Thank God.

Copyright 2016 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 5, 2016

Talking Past Each Other #3: Unemployment

By now you either have or have not seen the latest figures on employment in the USA as released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  BLS is a part of the Department of Labor, meaning that it is subject to political manipulation.

That manipulation, which is a bit more visible during election campaigns, is of the kind that may have you see numbers which are beneficial to the party of the president in a given month and, dependent on how "cooked" they are, are ultimately corrected retroactively in a subsequent report a month or two later.  No one sees those, of course, since they're like the little corrections of fact that you occasionally see in newsprint, hidden on page Q21 of the Saturday edition.

To give the BLS credit, they put out a lot of numbers each month, and the metrics are pretty much the same every month, which is why if they're subsequently "fixed" to offset the cooking, at least you can look back and see trends after the cooking is corrected.

The fact that there are a lot of numbers makes it fairly easy for one party to argue by using one set of figures, while the other party can cherry-pick equally and argue their side.  This, to me, constitutes the whole "talking past each other" situation, and is the third time, I believe, that I've had to write about it.

So here are the facts.  BLS put out a number that said that the "unemployment rate" had dropped from 4.9% in October to 4.6% in November.  That meant that, of those who were actual participants in the labor force, only 4.6% were looking for work.  Conversely, in the sense of the opposition, the "labor participation rate" sank to 62.7%, meaning that we're around a 40-year low as far as the number of potential workers in the workforce who were actually employed.

The "talking past each other" here is mainly a debate over which number more fairly represents the actual labor situation in the USA.

Let's look at those numbers as actual numbers and not percentages, and then you tell me what you think.  The economy created 178,000 jobs in November.  Is that a good number?  Well, it is a relative number.  By comparison, the number of people who left the work force, either by giving up looking for work and settling for welfare, or by retirement, was well over double that number, as 446,000 Americans left the work force.  That's why the "unemployment rate", which is now so irrelevant, dropped and let the Obamists claim that something good had happened.

It is not hard to make somewhat qualitative inferences from this quantitative data.  The number of new jobs being created does not come close to the number of people giving up on the labor force in some form.  The total labor force declined by a net 334,000, meaning that 112,000 people were added to the work force (446,000 minus 112,000), against the net increase in jobs of 178,000.

None of that suggests that the employment rate of 4.6% has any relevant meaning whatsoever.  If the number of new jobs, and the number of people added to the labor market, are dwarfed by the number of people leaving the work force, then it is quite clear that the net of new jobs is a minor factor in the unemployment rate; its drop is far more reflective of people leaving the job market.

Now, we can talk past each other all day about whether this is a good or a terrible economy for jobs, but I would suggest that those apparent low percentages are a smokescreen to mask what are referred to as "discouraged workers", those who would like to work but have given up.  Even BLS admits in its FAQ that such people are not counted in the unemployment rate, which accounts for seemingly opposite results between the labor-participation and unemployment percentage changes.

I believe the answer will start to be seen about a year from now, when the Trump Administration has had a year to pass legislation that encourages business to grow and hire.  If I am (and the labor-participation rate is) right, and the economy is indeed in a horrible state, then we will see some interesting numbers.

The labor participation rate after a year or so of Donald Trump should be rising toward 65% or a bit higher, because new jobs will be added but the number of those potentially in the labor force will stay steady.

However, the unemployment rate could actually rise, because some number of those who are discouraged will reappear in the labor force, encouraged to not be "discouraged."  So the unemployment rate might actually rise, even though more people are finding work, if enough people who had voluntarily dropped out of the work force -- even once-retired -- are attracted back.

So it is here that I encourage the Trump camp to explain now why we should expect a rise in the unemployment rate we're used to, even as the economy is recovering.  Use the bully pulpit and teach about the labor stats that have meaning.

How ironic that would be if the economy improves obviously but the unemployment rate actually rises as more people are attracted into it.  Well, there are lies, darn lies and statistics.  And the unemployment rate is simply lipstick on a pig under Barack Obama.

Let us see what Trump does.  And perhaps then we might use the same terminology to discuss what is good.

Copyright 2016 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.