Friday, January 29, 2016

Disruptive Trumping

Almost a year ago I did a piece on an example of what the "forward thinkers" in the high-tech world refer to as "disruptive technology".  Disruptive technology is something which changes the way we go about doing some normal part of our lives, in a fairly decisive way.

The piece was actually about single-cup coffee brewers, but the principle is usually used for  technologies such as the smart phone, wireless-in-the-home, that sort of thing.  I would say that the more sudden and abrupt the impact and the pervasive nature of the change, the better is the characterization of the innovation as "disruptive."

I love the term, because it has real meaning.  We all do something differently from the way we used to, and we trace it to a specific innovation.

This brings us, as you probably would not have assumed, to the Republican campaign for the presidency that is now occupying our consciousness in a very big way.  A huuuge way, if you get my drift, and that is a hint to today's topic.

I have observed many, many presidential races in my lifetime, going back to the 1956 race between President Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson (at five, I probably didn't have an opinion, but I darn sure watched it).  Over the years I have witnessed the advent of the debate as an evolutionary component of the campaign.  I have also witnessed "reverse schedule creep", in the sense that while 50 years ago at this stage there might not even have been any formally-announced candidates, here in the 2016 campaign we've already had a year of speeches, a passel of debates, and candidates already have dropped out.

However, through 2012 the basic campaign had a fairly common and predictable pathway.  Candidates announced, they made speeches, held interviews and kissed babies.  They participate in debates, touted their records, and some dropped out.  Almost invariably, by the time of the conventions in the summer, one candidate had garnered enough delegates to ensure his nomination.

Rarely was there anything at the convention to write home about.  In fact, my favorite -- and nearly only recollection of an actual convention, save for Ronald Reagan's incredible acceptance speech in 1980, was in 1968 during the vice-presidential roll call at the Democrats' convention.  I recall it well.

The delegation from New Mexico had given some of its votes to the state's lieutenant governor, Roberto Mondragon.  When the roll call got to New Mexico, the state delegation chairman finished reading the state's tally "... and three votes for Mondragon!", followed by raucous cheering.  Then the lady at the podium read off her acknowledgement of what she thought she had heard, solemnly announcing "... and three votes for Mao Tse-Tung", as if it were perfectly reasonable that Democrats would have voted for the head of the Chinese Communist Party.  Seriously, she did not seem surprised at all.  Forty-eight years since, neither am I.

But I digress, a lot.

While all those campaigns since have had common and predictable pathways indeed, never has there been a campaign like that of Donald Trump.  Now, I've probably written here that if he were the nominee I would vote for him, although he is not my first choice.  Let's just leave it at that.  I really did not agree with the whole not-showing-up-for-the-debate thing last night; he came off as petulant and, more importantly, made a decision knowing it would not impress anyone, and help his opponents.

But the debate no-show flap is simply the latest in a series of things that makes Trump's campaign what can only be characterized as disruptive.  For example --

- His is an entirely self-funded campaign; when he says he is beholden to no one, it is completely credible in the political context.

- The debates, save last night's in his absence, are dominated by questions about things Trump has said, often only remotely connected to actual issues voters care about.

- He has had business relationships with people in government leadership positions on both sides of the aisle over the years, and given lots of money to candidates of both parties, so he would come at governance relationships totally differently.

- He rarely is specific about how he would do anything, and his ratio of platitude-to-solution is unbelievably high.

- He has zero government experience; he builds buildings for a living (very successfully, it is worth adding).  His government experience is limited to donating to campaigns -- both sides, as noted.

- He does not ever apologize for anything he says in the campaign.  This is in stark contrast with the media's normal expectation that when they "Aha!" a Republican for saying something, he or she will immediately cower, apologize and back down.  Trump does none of that, and the media have no idea how to react.

- When he does make a statement that the media would normally "Aha!", his poll numbers rise.  That's "rise", as in "go up."  The media don't know how to deal with that, either, except to vilify him reflexively as a bigot (the best they've got) and discard his candidacy.

- He is not a lawyer, nor is he a practiced debater.  You can readily see that in the debates he does attend, but he is confident, not nervous, there, because he believes he has answers to whatever someone will ask him.

So when I say that his candidacy is "disruptive", I think that is a completely accurate description of what Trump 2016 has done to campaigns everywhere.  It is so completely different from what anyone else -- including the closest analog, Ross Perot -- has done, that we do not know exactly how to take it.  The fact that Barack Obama has been such a colossal failure as president that anyone with a spine and a clue would be a relief, well, that probably explains why his disruptive campaign has been so effective so far.

Of course, disruptive technologies cause permanent change, to whatever the status quo is for doing whatever they are intended to do.  Perhaps "disruptive" is not exactly the right word for the campaign of Mr. Trump in 2016.  We probably won't see this effect again.

Because there is only one Donald J. Trump.

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.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

How Do You Cook without Taste Buds?

Among the several vices to which I am sadly subject is, of all things, cooking shows.  I say "of all things" because I am one of those incompetents in the kitchen of whom it is often said "He could burn water."  Accurately.

The assumption would be that I watch those shows because I am trying to learn to be better in the kitchen than I am, and you might say there is a grain of truth therein.  But it is definitely not the reason.  That would be supported by the fact that essentially all the cooking shows that we do watch are of the competition variety, and there are at least half a dozen of which we are fans.  Competition is, of course, fun.

One such show stars the very widely-known and successful UK chef named Gordon Ramsay.  Ramsay, as you probably know, has several shows running during the year, sometimes simultaneously.  He has a foul mouth; not in the sense that he is a creative user of profanity, but in that he uses it all the time -- except when the competing chefs are children (as on his "Master Chef Junior" show).  I mean "all the time", certainly by television standards.  There's a whole lot of bleeping going on when Ramsay is going strong.

One of his shows is called "H--l's Kitchen" (forgive me), and has been on the air for many seasons now.  The show takes place in an actual operating restaurant with the same name as the show.  It features, initially, some 16 contestants, all of whom are cooks or chefs of some kind, working professionally in the USA preparing food.  Most are either chefs, sous chefs, line cooks, cooking instructors or something of that nature, so they live in kitchens for the most part.

The premise of the show is simple.  Initially the contestants are put in two teams, men and women.  Each week there is a team cooking challenge of some kind, usually preparing some dish or other, or doing a blind ingredient taste test, something like that.  The winning team gets a reward like a dinner at some four-star restaurant, or helicopter ride to a winery, or something else really nice.  The losing team spends the day in the kitchen of the operating restaurant, peeling eight billion potatoes or carrying sacks of rice all day -- something awful.

Then at night the two teams each man their own kitchen while the restaurant opens and Ramsay screams and yells at them as they invariably screw up.  Whichever team has the worse dinner service nominates two of its team members for elimination, and one is picked by Ramsay to get sent home.  That's pretty much it.  Presumably between dinner services there is also a lot of training going on; at least I hope there is.

All of that, of course, is predicate.  The point of this piece is about none of the activities above, and all about the scenes where the contestants are resting in their dorms upstairs between dinner services, or are up there picking whom to nominate for elimination.  That's because in those scenes, each and every season, at least half of the contestants are smoking.

Now, I have no idea what California law covers as far as smoking in a residential dorm is concerned, and to be honest, I don't really care very much.  What does bother me, more than you can imagine, is that each and every season, most of the people selected to be on this show -- about food, mind you -- are smokers.

I do not for a minute believe that their tobacco addiction in any way influences their selection.  Rather, I take it as logical that among the pool of candidate cooks, the people selected for the show are a representative sample of the food-preparation profession in the USA.  I say that for two reasons.  First, the outcome, in terms of percentage of smokers in every season's contestants, is the same, over and over.  Second, if someone is trying to promote smoking as a good thing to do, well, showing the assemblage of morons that 80% of the contestants are would turn anyone away from tobacco.  Good Lord, are they idiots.

So here's the real point.  When I go to a restaurant, I should expect food served from a clean kitchen, with recipes designed by actual executive chefs with actual, you know, taste buds.  If I am to extrapolate, from the herd of losers competing on this show, who is designing dishes at the average American restaurant, I don't know what to think.  Do you know what smoking does to the senses?  Who the heck wants to eat food conceived and then rendered by people whose sense of taste is warped by tobacco consumption?

What is also interesting is that I cannot recall in the many seasons of this show, Ramsay, who never smoked, ever castigating any of the contestants for their habit.  And yet back in 2011, when asked why so many contestants failed to master the small number of dishes consistently served in the show's kitchen, he answered, "I think a majority of them smoke, which I think is disgusting.  It's like, would you go to a doctor who smoked six cigarettes a day?"

I don't get smoking, and never have.  I don't want to be around people who do smoke, and I immediately lower my opinion some when I hear that someone does smoke.  I also have contempt for fellow conservatives when they try to defend tobacco companies and smoking, as I have written here.  So it's pretty sad to come to the realization that when you go out to eat, you can expect it more than likely that the food will be prepared by a tobacco addict.  Yuk.

Fortunately, my Best Girl is a remarkable, creative person when cooking, and bans me from helping in the kitchen (for good reason).  And she, needless to say, does not smoke.  Bless her.

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.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

When All Else Fails, Move the Goal Posts

This week the very diminutive actor Danny DeVito made an idiot of himself, again, by complaining about the Oscar nominations and the lack of black nominees this year.  Now, I think I went as far as I wanted to this week with this piece on the subject, but that's not the point.

Danny DeVito is five feet tall.  You pretty much can't look at him without taking note of his stature, unless, I suppose, you are a good friend and have long since discounted his height.  I don't think the less of him, however, because of his height, nor even in spite of it; I simply think he has absurd views on some things -- the Oscars being one -- and that is even more striking than his being five feet tall.

He was in the news this week with his pronouncement on how racist the USA supposedly is.  Once in the news, he made my mind wander to the fact that he is someone who, by comparison, would make me feel almost "tall" if I were standing next to him.  That's "tall", as in a guy five and a half feet tall (me) standing next to a guy five feet tall.

In other words, it's all relative.  I've been the butt of good-natured jokes all my life about being short.  I've heard "Stand up, Bob!" so many times in just one group of friends, I can no longer count.  But by Danny DeVito standards, I'm a regular Shaq.  In other words, if I wanted to feel as if I were actually tall, I just need to surround myself with people shorter than I am.

Another way to put it -- if I want to achieve success without actually succeeding, I should simply find a less-successful environment against which to compare myself.  Got it?

So that's where we come all the way back to -- you guessed it -- Obamacare.

I have seen a few passing references in the Washington Post, and by its letter writers and op-ed columnists, suggesting that it had been somehow "successful".  Each time I have silently gone "Huh?" and moved on.  I say "passing" because the context is invariably about something else.  That is, the writer is making some other statement, about the administration, or kittens, or football, and slips in a phrase like "the success of Obamacare" or something -- as if they were paid there, at the Post, on how many times they could slip that in.

But that's the point.  The only way you can call Obamacare a success is either to use unsupportable qualitative terminology instead of numbers, or to ignore the premise on which it was foisted upon the nation in the first place.

Remember this -- Obamacare was passed with no Republican votes, when the Democrats ruled both houses of Congress with filibuster-proof majorities and even then had to pull a parliamentary trick called "budget reconciliation" to get it through.  But get it through they did.

Given they had no Republican support, we have to assume that the law was written precisely the way its authors wanted it.  After all, they clearly didn't have to compromise on anything to get Republican votes -- there weren't any.  And if it was what they wanted, then it should have accomplished their goals, right?

So what were those goals?  Let's go to the videotape, or at least the speeches.  Here are a few of the real whoppers that Obamacare was supposed to deliver.  Remember these?  They're all out there and Googleable.

- If you like your health care plan, you can keep it (I lost mine completely, BTW.  Gone.  Under Obamacare, it became illegal, like many high-deductible, low-premium plans for healthy people)

- If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor (I kept mine, but only because he happened to be on one of the three plans I was forced to choose from, when mine was made illegal)

- Insurance premiums will go down an average of $2500 per family per year (I hope that someone's premium went down to keep that "average", since ours went up $6,480 per year)

- Obama would not sign a plan that would add one dime to the deficit (there's a hilarious op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that makes the case for why Obamacare is supposed to be so wonderful because it only cost the government -- i.e., the taxpayer -- $506 billion instead of the $710 billion it was thought to cost.  That $506 billion it will cost is a lot of "dimes".)

- Every American would have health insurance (the CBO now projects that after ten years of the law, 31 million Americans will still be uninsured, which was the original purpose of the law).

I hope you get the idea.  The original purpose of the law was to ensure that all Americans had health insurance.  Obamacare doesn't even achieve that!  So you have silly statements in defense of Obamacare like the above one -- "See, it doesn't cost the taxpayer $710 billion, it only costs $506 billion", and that's supposed to be a good thing.  "See, 20 million Americans now have coverage -- the law is a huge success" except for those pesky 31 million who, um, you know, don't.

Get what I'm after here?  Obamacare by its own original standards is a gargantuan, bloated, expensive failure.  Obama and his congressional lackeys could ignore the opposition and pass it without challenge -- they got what they wanted and it is still a failure, by its own standards.

Well, they have to say that it succeeded, or there would be no reason not to repeal the whole gargantuan, bloated, expensive law.  So they have taken a page from the old playbook and moved the goal posts to where their kick was already sailing.  They have created a whole new set of standards against which it looks just fine -- by comparison.  If it weren't for that pesky Internet, they might get us to forget all those original goals.

Against the standards of its creation, it is simply awful, and has achieved little, if anything, worthy of its $506 billion cost to the Government and insane premium hikes for people like us.  But if you spin it as somehow not "good", per se, but "not as bad as some critics said it would be", well, then, you have a bloody success on your hands.  Except for one thing -- by normal standards, not leftist spinner standards, it is not a success.

And by normal standards, not Danny DeVito standards, I'm still a short guy.

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.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Night I Knocked Old Lucy Down

I don't mean to confine this week to stories about show business.  However, a few columns ago -- OK, last April -- I mentioned an interesting story from my own abortive career in show business, and didn't want to go a year without telling it.  So here goes.

I actually left the "career" part of show business ten years prior to this story.  I had been singing with opera and operetta companies in the mid-1970s, and eventually panicked at the thought of having to work with actors for the rest of my professional life.  So I switched to the most closely related profession, information technology, and started getting paid enough to eat and stay warm.

But I still enjoyed performing.  In 1985, with a professional life sufficiently established to support my family, I joined a group in Virginia called the Alexandria Harmonizers.  The Harmonizers were a competitive group of men who sang music in the barbershop style and competed with other such groups across North America.

Think of it (the contests) somewhat like the network TV show "The Sing-Off", at least in the sense that was always a capella music, and the visual aspect was critical.  Delete the beat-box effects and the hand microphones, and add in a lot of rules about what you can and cannot sing (e.g., no religious or patriotic material) and how the music had to be arranged.  That's enough to know for now.

Eight months after I joined the group, and almost certainly with no correlation whatsoever with my presence, the Harmonizers won the world championship in Salt Lake City, Utah.  It was July 1986, and probably a bit of an upset, over rival groups from Chicago, Phoenix, Toronto, Raleigh and elsewhere who were also extremely good.  But we had the gold medals, and over the next 12 years we would actually win three more times.

Cut to November 1987.  The Kennedy Center Honors was to be staged Sunday, December 6.  This annual event celebrates the careers of five great stars of the entertainment world, in a gala performance at the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, DC.  The honorees sit in the center of the first balcony with the president and first lady, and watch 20-minute segments on stage all about each of them.  The performers on stage often include true performing greats and major celebrities.

In 1987, the honorees included Bette Davis, Sammy Davis, Jr., Nathan Milstein, Alwin Nikolais ... and the great American popular singer and variety host Perry Como.  Typically the segments are put together at the last minute; in the case of the segment for Como, it was about three weeks before the show.

The production of that segment was coordinated by Como's long-time musical director, Ray Charles (of the Ray Charles Singers, also called the "white Ray Charles"), who was living in California.  Since Perry Como started out as a barber in Pennsylvania, Ray decided to have a barbershop group as part of the segment, to do a medley of his songs.  Not knowing any such groups, he asked around and was immediately told that the world champions were right there, a few miles from Washington.  So they contacted us (the Harmonizers) and asked if we would perform.

"Sure", we said.

Of course, we were 100 amateurs with actual jobs.  And we didn't have a medley of Perry Como songs, which meant the songs had to be cleared, arranged, and then the arrangement given to us to learn.  Oh yeah, plus the staging, we had to learn that, too.  The good news is that the guys put in the effort, and the result can be seen here.  If you like, you can pause at the 5:16 mark -- the handsome fellow in the front row with the dark hair and mustache is yours truly.

I'll get to Lucy, I promise.

I do, first, have to mention that what you don't see in that clip is that at 3:00 pm on the day of the show, Sunday afternoon, the producer of the overall Honors show decided that our staging and choreography didn't work.  So the entire staging was dumped, redone in a back hall, and put on stage five hours later with almost no rehearsal on the Honors stage at all.  One hundred amateurs.  Ahhhh, show business.

Now ... at the end of the Honors show, there is a finale that brings together all the performers to celebrate the honorees collectively.  In this case, it was an Irving Berlin tribute that included performance of "God Bless America" by all those who had been in one of the five segments, and that included 100 Harmonizers.

Due to the short available time, we were told to form a semicircle on stage, left to right, of 50 guys (the shorter ones) with a second semicircle immediately behind (the taller guys).  The instructions were simple -- four groups of 25, one coming from the wings offstage left, one from offstage right, and one each coming down the two aisles of the audience, with the guys in ascending order by height.  I would lead the right audience-aisle group.

I was told personally to lead my group down the aisle, ascend the stairs to the stage, and walk in an arc to the dead-center stage point to meet the lead of the left audience-aisle group, forming the semicircle.  The groups from the wings were to do something similar, to form the semicircle behind us.  We were to hit the stage from the stairs and immediately turn our heads to the audience with a smile as we crossed the stage to our positions.  We vaguely knew there would also be a straight line of performing celebrities downstage of us, but the stars were never there the time or two we rehearsed this.

The lack of rehearsing with all of the participants meant that we -- meaning I, and the leader of the other aisle group -- didn't know that at the point where we hit the top of the stairs, mounted the stage, turned our smiling faces toward the audience and walked quickly to our assigned positions, the ten stars were also walking from the wings to their positions, downstage (in front) of us in our path!  This picture shows the end result.

Kennedy Center Honors Finale, December 1987, "God Bless America".  Stars in the front row who had performed earlier (l-to-r): actor Ken Howard, singer Rosemary Clooney, acting couple Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, singing couple Diahann Carroll and Vic Damone (my face is between them), actor Jimmy Stewart, tap dancer Fayard Nicholas, actress and comedienne Lucille Ball, and violinist Pinchas Zuckerman.  In the center of the orchestra behind the singers, at the piano is the singer Ray Charles, not to be confused with the "other" Ray Charles, who produced the Perry Como segment.  They met for the very first time after the show ("Ray Charles, meet Ray Charles") and I was, very coincidentally, standing right there.
Suffice it to say, as Murphy would have it, the 76-year-old Lucille Ball walked, or was led, to her position in such a way as to walk directly in my path four steps after I got to the stage.  Smiling to the audience all the way, I was aware of very little but my instructions, and had to be told afterward that when the great Miss Ball crossed my path I had knocked her over on her backside.  Fayard Nicholas, of the famous tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers, was fortunately right there to pick her up and get her to her position.

Lucille Ball passed away less than two years after, and 99 Harmonizers immediately and touchingly took pains to blame me for her demise.  Next December (2017) it will be thirty years since that night.  Others are able to tell their children and grandchildren interesting and fun stories about things they've done, people they've met.  Wonderful, wonderful stories.

I knocked Lucille Ball on her butt.  I'm just lucky that didn't make it to the TV version.

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.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Fly on the Wall at Chateau Smith

Oh, to be a fly on the wall once in a while.  A well-positioned housefly would be a phenomenal reporter in, say, the Clinton household, at least if Bill and Hillary are ever there at the same time (why do we so readily assume they're not?).  Certainly Mr. Snooping Fly might have had some interesting tales in the White House in the 1990s, hoo-ha.

Well, my friends, there's another household I'd definitely like to have had an opportunity to drop in on quietly last week.  That would be the one occupied by the veteran TV and movie actor Will Smith, and his wife, the former Jada Pinkett, also an actress in TV and film.

Last week, you will recall that there was a major-league flap when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the folks who award the Oscars, announced their nominations for the 2016 version of the awards.  The flap was directed at the fact that there did not appear to be a black actor in sight when you looked at the list of nominees.  The good Mrs. Smith reacted fairly promptly by announcing that she would not attend the award ceremony and would stay home instead.  A few days thereafter, Mr. Smith announced that he, too, would occupy himself elsewhere.

Now, the issue itself surely has leftist Hollywood buzzing.  The film industry is horrendously liberal and, beyond that, intolerably preachy at every chance it gets.  We can only imagine how it wants to rend itself asunder trying to purge itself of its obvious racism, if only it could, like, figure out who the racists actually are

Note that nowhere in the discussion is the possibility even allowed for that there were no Oscar-worthy performances in 2015 by a black actor or actress (check the link; see, I knew I wrote about that before).  Well, a little discussion, but even that devolved into self-immolating Hollywood commentary about how those miserable (and, of course, unnamed) racists are simply not writing good parts for black actors of either sex.  Yeah, that must be it.

Does anyone have an obligation to make sure the movie he or she is making has Oscar-worthy parts for black actors?  How, given the long schedule required to make a movie, could anyone declare "Not enough Oscar-worthy parts for black actors this year so far -- you need to write one into that film you're halfway through making."  Film A has nothing to do with Film B, if you get my drift.

Now, before you decry this as a long-standing issue of entrenched institutional racism, let me mention an arcane but wonderfully germane point, at least for this story.  Black actors have, of course, been nominated for Oscars many, many, many times before; we know that, and won a bunch -- of course, the people voting are different from, and far more numerous than, the people who select the nominees.

Jada Pinkett Smith's husband, the aforementioned actor Will Smith, has himself been nominated twice for Oscars.  He can't exactly say that the Academy has ignored him; considering all, plenty of actors of all colors would have been honored to retire having been nominated even once.  And here's the irony -- Will Smith was nominated twice, and although he lost both times (2002 and 2007 if memory serves), in both cases he lost, the better performance was by a very distinguished performer -- Denzel Washington in 2002 and Forest Whitaker in 2007.

I did not have to look this up -- both Oscar-winning actors were black.

So you have the fascinating situation where at least in those two years -- life's too short to do that kind of research -- 40% of the Best Actor nominations were given to black actors, despite the fact that black Americans are far less than 20% of the overall population.  I do not recall a protest by Asian actors at the time.

But in 2016, well, if there is not even one nomination, there is a hue and cry and Jada Pinkett Smith decides not to attend the Oscars night in a huff.  She did not, let us point out, say "I won't attend because that racist nominator Person X will be there."  That would take an actual accusation, which would require evidence.  Far easier just to "pre-leave", in a huff.

Which finally brings me back around to the fly on the wall.  Will Smith did not immediately say he was supporting what his wife said and was staying home.  Took a while, it did.  And that's where I'd like to know what went on in their pillow talk.

You see, here is Will Smith, black actor, twice himself a recipient of an Oscar nomination as Best Actor, both times losing to another black actor.  How the heck is Will Smith, of all people, supposed to claim that the Oscar nominations are bigoted?  If he ever gets another nomination, how will he know it's for his work quality and not just his skin color?

So there's his wife, knee-jerk reacting to the nominations by declaring she will not attend.  What a pile of steaming elk dung she left for Will!  He cannot possibly defend her position, given his own background.  Of course if she is staying home, he has a perfect Hobson's choice -- attend, given that the nomination process has been wonderfully fair to him, but embarrass his wife in doing so; or stay home despite having zero ground to stand on, and be a fantastic hypocrite.

Will Smith took the only possible route -- he supported his wife.  No one else but me is going to point out that by doing so, he paints himself as a fantastic hypocrite (or as a livid but teeth-gritting, obligated husband -- neither a great thing).  But he did.  And in leftist Hollywood, no one, not a single person, will make note of it in public.

But I will bet you my entire 2015 W-2 amount that there was a ton of speculation in Hollywood, on the discussion in the Smith household that took place between the time Jada Pinkett Smith made her public remarks, and when Will Smith came out and said that he would not show up either.  What did they say to each other; what did they say ...

Only the fly on the wall knows, and he is not talking.

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.

Friday, January 22, 2016

What REALLY Helps Small Businesses?

I like to think that I can explain complex things in a fairly simple, easy-to-grasp way.  We're sure going to test that concept today, because this one is about as arcane as you can get.  But it is really, really important that you do read this and do understand, because it is something our next president ought to have someone look into -- and fix.

As you know, my actual profession is writing proposals for Federal contractors, mostly for the defense industry.  That is because the government (and for me, mostly, we're talking the Defense Department) regularly needs people for a period of time to work on a problem, or staff a requirement, that does not require government (translated: permanent, with all the expensive civil service benefits) employees.  They put out a request for those people, and contractors bid on the requirement.

The winning bidder (contractor) then does the work, for whatever period they won for.  If the work requirement is still extant thereafter, another request goes out.  That is called a "recompete."  Happens all the time.  So -- if you're not in the business, just think about it as if the government needs 80 people to do some kind of support, they do a bid request, engage a winning contractor, and they do the work.  Five years later, there will generally be a recompete, and either the finishing contractor (the "incumbent") or a different one will take over the work.

In a host of cases, if the incumbent doesn't win, the employees on the contract have such vital knowledge of the requirement they've been doing for five years, that the new contractor just up and hires them.  That's called "rebadging", because the employee goes home Friday night with the incumbent's badge, and comes back in Monday morning and gets a new badge for the new contractor, and starts doing the same work.

Keep that thought.

Let us slide over to a different concept, that of "small business."  As I explained in these pages over a year ago, the government in its infinite wisdom often tries to support small businesses by "setting aside" certain contracts to be bid on only by small businesses.  That is, as I note in the article, a double-edged sword, because it can cause some issues when work that should not be given to a small business (e.g., when a $5 million-per-year business gets a $40 million-per-year contract) is "set aside."  That's the Boy Scout rocket launcher example I used in the linked piece.

It is even another problem, as I describe in this piece, when the government then takes years to award the darned contract to a winning small business, by which time the company may have lost all the key staff, or moved, or has been acquired and is no longer "small."

Where the two topics collide is in the too-frequent situation where a contract performed by large businesses for many years is put in the small business set-aside category for a recompete.  You might ask why government would do that, and the answer is simple: government is stupid.  It is stupid because it incentivizes the contracting officers who award the contracts to meet certain goals for small business awards.  You get too close to the end of a year without having met your goals, and you start setting aside work that has no business being set aside.  Really -- read that Boy Scout article again if you didn't; you'll get it.  Plus it's funny, at least at the end.

At any rate, when you have, say, that 80-person contract for some specific skill set newly recompeted as a small business set-aside, here is what happens.  The small business either takes on the incumbent as a subcontractor to keep the people, or it hires all the people away.  If the incumbent is a sub, well, the law says that over half of the employees have to be employed directly by the prime.  So over half the employees have to change companies, or all of them do.

How do you win a contract?  By showing you can credibly manage the staff at a competitive price.  By "competitive price", generally that means "lower than the incumbent", which means costs have to be squeezed down.  The government is very sensitive to how those costs are accounted for, so you really can't play many accounting games -- you have to cut the cost you pay for resources, which means "people."  And with health insurance costs unavoidably soaring, that means those employees end up with lower salaries, which is not a good thing at all, especially if they decide it is better and more stable to sell used cars than negotiate treaties or write software as a contractor.

OK.  So, knowing all that, here is the question you weren't expecting.  If the government's goal is to help small business -- and I think that is pretty much the reason -- then should we not be thinking more about helping small businesses grow by doing more things?  What good does it do simply to take existing work, being done already by large business, and give it to small businesses?

The pie, metaphorically, is what needs to grow.  Taking a slice of that pie and moving it from large to small business is a zero-sum approach that makes no sense whatsoever.  Making small business bigger by making large businesses smaller is a redistributionist approach that doesn't make small business better.

In actuality, we have plenty of instances where such contracts switched to small business have failed and been terminated early, and recompeted yet again as large-business competitions.  I'm working on one of those as we speak.  The small business winner was too small to run the work, priced it too cheaply to retain the professional staff (I don't know if any are selling used cars, but they're doing something else), and could not perform.  The government was damaged by its own decision and has to build up, all over again, a good cadre of new people -- time, money, risk.  For what?

The next commander-in-chief will have to consider what really is and is not good for small business, but he or she also needs to put the needs of government and the taxpayer, as well as the citizenry, ahead of numeric goals.  And that has to be communicated to the American people.

I could write that speech.  Perhaps I just did.

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.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

When Is It Terrorism?

On Monday, a bunch of the "Black Lives Matter" people shut down all of the lanes of the Bay Bridge in lovely San Francisco for an hour and a half.  Protesters chained themselves to cars that ran parallel on the lanes heading into San Francisco and were stopped, blocking all traffic.

The protest was claimed to have been organized by the "Black Seed" and "Black Queer Liberation Collective" as a statement against recent police shootings.  That would be because, you know, nothing will get sympathy for your movement and objectives like shutting down a major highway and leaving innocent people with filling bladders not knowing when they are going anywhere.

According to a published report from the CBS San Francisco affiliate, the protesters were demanding divestment of city funds in policing, investment in affordable housing, the resignation of the Oakland mayor, the firing of the San Francisco and Oakland police chiefs and the termination of police officers involved in several recent shootings.

Claiming to be trying to "reclaim Dr. Martin Luther King's radical legacy and take a stand against anti-black racism and terrorism", the group said it was showing "resistance to a system that continues to oppress black, queer, brown, indigenous and other marginalized people throughout the Bay Area."

I read that and wondered a few things.  First, where were the Asians on the list?  If they are not one of the "marginalized people", then are they part of the system oppressing them, or are they maybe just bystanders or something?  They distinguished "black" and "brown."  Is "brown" a code name for Hispanics, like the horribly oppressed one that murdered the young woman on the pier despite having been repeatedly deported and returning, or does "brown" include Indians and Middle Easterners?

Second, the California Highway Patrol was aware of the plans for the protest and even had crews at the toll plazas, but failed to be able to stop it.  I might have tried closing a couple lanes proactively so they could be reopened after the protest started, but what do I know about traffic management.  They ultimately arrested 25 of them but for just misdemeanors (false imprisonment, public nuisance, obstructing free passage) and no felonies.  Why didn't the police make "a statement" by coming up with a felony charge or two to try to stop this sort of thing?

Finally, let's ask this -- at what point do more serious actions by global terrorists and those by groups like this collide?  In other words, when does obstructing a vital city access like a bridge and imprisoning innocent people become tantamount to a terrorist act?  What is a terrorist act, after all?  It is an outrageous action taken to frighten a citizenry into changing their daily lives in fear that it might be repeated with them as victim.  It is intended to make some kind of point, like "convert to our version of Islam or else", you know.  Or "we want police chief X to resign."  Get it?

My Best Girl and I saw this story on the news, and she immediately turned to me and asked "How is that not terrorism?"  I have to admit, in a split second I thought "Column" even before I could answer her.  Yes, I told her.  Terrorism can vary by degree, and this doesn't come close to Paris or Boston or San Bernardino, or 9-11.  But it's awfully hard to look at it as being of a different stripe, if not a much different level.  Had a pregnant woman in one of those imprisoned cars -- your daughter or sister or niece -- gone into labor without medical attention, or a driver or passenger panicked into a heart attack, surely asking for a police chief to resign would seem like a pretty darn lame excuse.

I would close by asking yet another question.  It's about that "system that continues to oppress black, queer, brown, indigenous and other marginalized people throughout the Bay Area."  You know, the Bay Area that is by a long margin the, if not one of the, most liberal parts of the country.  Who the heck is doing the oppressing?  Do these people think that the mayors elected by all these liberals -- these people send Nancy Pelosi to Congress, after all -- readily supervise police chiefs they don't support?

The president of the United States is a flaming leftist and, by the way, black.  The head of the Justice Department is a liberal black woman who replaced an outrageously liberal black man.  The head of the Department of Homeland Security is also, just saying, black, as is, ironically, the Secretary of Transportation.  The lady who whispers in Obama's ear, Valerie Jarrett, is ... OK, you get it.  Opportunities are there for those who choose not to rob convenience stores, sell drugs and then get shot by police while resisting arrest.

I can't quite recall any of the organized protests of Martin Luther King that might be construed as terrorism.  It's been 50 years, after all.  But this kind of thing is, and invoking his name is a pretty slippery slope.

Let's think about 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.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

By the Way, Ben Carson is Black

I was looking at a news clip of last week's Republican candidates' debate, when I happened to notice something about one of the candidates on the main (later) event.  It was astonishing that I hadn't noticed it before, possibly because of that particular gentleman's soft disposition, the one that has you waiting for the next word.

Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon-turned-presidential-candidate is actually black.  Yes, I had to look twice to see that, but there was no question about it.  The good doctor's ancestry was very clearly from African roots, no doubt about it.

Did you know that and not tell me or anyone else?  I can't believe I didn't notice it, even when Dr. Carson was running higher in the polling and in second place for a while.  Amazing.

- - -

OK, I actually did know it.  My vision is pretty bad, but not that bad.  However, I am now, months into a campaign still only halfway through, looking quietly back at the long time since he announced for the presidency and wondering something.  Where, I ask myself, is the discussion about Dr. Carson actually being black?

You know what I mean, the big deal that was made about Barack Obama running eight years ago, and all the vitriol about how people might not vote for him because of his race, and others declaring that black voters would vote for him only because of his race (the latter of which seemed from the exit polling to have been borne out, but I digress).  Remember all that?  I do.

And that's kind of why I'm sitting here wondering why it was so, so important when Obama was running against Hillary Clinton and then John McCain, but is utterly unimportant in this campaign.  I can only chalk it up to some real hypocrisy on someone's part, but whose?  You know what I mean, if it was a big deal when Obama ran -- and he wasn't even the first major candidate for the nomination who was black, there's always Jesse Jackson -- why is it not an issue with Dr. Carson?

What I'm really getting at is that for practically the entire 2008 campaign, everyone had to tiptoe around criticizing Obama lest their critique be mistranslated as racially driven.  He had essentially no track record to point to, so the commentary on his candidacy simply devolved to what color he was, and therefore how "transformational" his candidacy was, whatever that meant.  If you said something nice, it could only be about his race or his speaking speech-reading ability; if you criticized him it was therefore ... well, how could you criticize him?  He was black; he was transformational.  Chris Matthews got thigh twinges thinking about it.

I remember how utterly befuddling it got for Hillary Clinton.  What could she say?  Even without saying much negative about him, she was the person standing in the way of The First Black President, by wanting to be the first female president.  Race, race, race, that was soooooo important.

All that brings us back to Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson, Sr., the seeker of the Republican nomination for the presidency.  After some number of debates in prime time, there have been at least a few criticisms of the good doctor, though not that many, and they're fairly mild.

Does anyone -- raise your hand in Comments if you disagree -- believe that the reticence about criticizing Dr. Carson has anything to do with his race?  Do you not agree that if a Caucasian pediatric neurosurgeon who had been a political commentator for the previous few years, with a very calm demeanor and no government experience, took his place, that the critiques would be no greater?

I didn't think so either.  Ben Carson's race is such a non-factor in the campaign that we have to remind ourselves what race he is.  Or, better, simply ignore it, since it doesn't matter.  And here's the thing -- it's so much better that it doesn't.

Barack Obama was elected the first black president, and has spent, so far, over seven years doing nothing for his fellow black Americans.  More are unemployed; more will continue to be, as he brings waves of immigrants in to compete for their jobs and he trashes the businesses that could hire them.  Cities are torn apart with racial animosity stoked by the knee-jerk reaction of  the president to make non-racial conflicts be about race.  Everything is about race with this president, and every criticism of his incompetent leadership is challenged by Democrats as being racially motivated.  Hillary Clinton is moaning "I know, I know!"

Seems to me that the Republicans have it figured out.  Race only matters when race matters, which is not very often.  In the case of Ben Carson, it's almost never.  If you ask him what he will do for black Americans, you can be sure that his answer will center around approaches that will create economic opportunities rather than growth-stifling giveaways and handouts, and that they will be based far more on need -- and not at all on race.  As they should be.

To have gotten to the point that a black candidate can run and have his race be almost invisible is a good thing.

Barack Obama would have been a bit more palatable as president had he been invisible, know what I mean?

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.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Obama, Lincoln and One of the Roosevelts

Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address last week, made a number of interesting comments -- presumably to burnish that "legacy" that appears to be the only thing he cares about anymore aside from golf.  I'll quote it for you so that you can appreciate the nuance:

“It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency, that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better”, he said.  "A president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide.”

Oh, dear.

Let us first get this out of the way -- Mr. Obama, there were a couple presidents named Roosevelt, first Teddy the Bull Moose and then his nephew-in-law and fifth cousin Franklin (you see, Eleanor Roosevelt was Teddy's niece, so when FDR married her not only was she already named Roosevelt, but FDR became much closer-related to Theodore than he had been).

But I really digress.

It really doesn't matter which Roosevelt Obama was invoking, since he never heard any of them actually speak, including Eleanor, who died when little Barack Jr. was a year old.  He's no idea what "gifts" they had, except by story.  What matters is that somehow he feels that it wasn't his policies, or his intransigence, or his fecklessness that caused the "divide" or at least kept him from "bridging" it.  No, it was his oratorical gift, or lack of one.

So let's dissect that statement more fully.

 It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency ... gee, what does it say about a guy on whose watch far more people are unemployed, health care costs are far higher after his having promised the opposite, where our enemies laugh at us, our friends mistrust us and terrorists are now operating openly in our own country, well, what does it say that he thinks he should have "few regrets"?  I would be, well, hiding out on the golf course if I'd been president and that were the actual state of the union.  Oh, yeah, got it.

How bizarre that he feels his terms were so successful that he has little to regret, save a failure to improve civility between the opposing sides in Congress.  After all, the USA thought so much of his accomplishments that in the two off-year elections during his presidency it handed first the House (2010) and then the Senate (2014) to his opponents; and he was only elected to a second term because his opponent failed to hold him accountable for the disaster in Benghazi when he had the opportunity.

The rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better ... well, I suppose that it has, not that it was any great shakes to begin with.  Let's face it; the only time in our memory that the two parties have shown any semblance of cooperation was in our response to the 9-11 terrorist attacks.  Even then it wasn't to get any meaningful legislative work done, except to create the Department of Homeland Security.  And the jury's still out on that one.

You see, the parties have rancor and suspicion for a few reasons.  First of all, because they fundamentally disagree on the issues.  Well, duh.  I have lots of friends who are liberals, but they're still friends because I don't talk politics with them.  When it's your job to talk politics all day with people who are diametrically opposite in their views, like, say, in Congress, you're going to have rancor and suspicion.  You were elected to press one agenda; those pressing the opposite are -- say it with me -- your enemy.  If you don't believe me, there are plenty of YouTube clips all over the place showing fights in legislatures around the world.

Secondly, the system is not what it was 50 years ago.  A series of judicial decisions and orders have forced many congressional district maps to change, on the notion that black citizens should be represented in Congress by someone of the same skin color.  Accordingly, many districts were redrawn to ensure enough black voters were within their borders to guarantee their ability to vote in a black representative if, of course, they chose to.

Under the Law of Unintended Consequences, which applies universally and unequivocally, the unintended consequences indeed prevailed.  Sure, we got a lot more black congressmen.  But by concentrating a very liberal-voting bloc inside District A, the rulings concentrated the remainder into District B.  So not only did you get two districts that were pretty safe for each party, but the fact that they were safe pushed the representatives further to the left and right.  The parties realized they could run candidates a bit more liberal and conservative than previously, and still keep the district.  This had the effect of polarizing the congressmen who were seated.

A Congress thus more polarized is a Congress even more rancorous and suspicious than previously.  It stands to reason, and it is certainly borne out to date.  Trust me, if we had a nationwide redistricting approach that created districts based on some kind of model that only took population density into account, we would push a lot of districts, if not to the middle (there's no such thing, but bear with me), at least to a point where their congressmen would be obliged to meet and talk with the opposition and get things done.

A president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide ... well, yes, at least a better president might have.  And to be candid, I actually believe he said that to fish for compliments.  Obama wanted us to hear that and go "Oh NO, sir, you are a wonderful speaker and it's just those bad people in Congress who don't appreciate it."  Of course the truth is he is not a great speaker.  He is a fine, eloquent reader of prepared text from a TelePrompTer.  So am I.  But as the first 2012 debate showed, his ability to defend his positions without a script is mediocre -- and almost cost him reelection.

If he even wanted to bring the sides together, which he has never given any indication in seven years of wanting to, it's hard to believe that, with his limited skills, he ever could have.  Certainly his negotiation ability is atrocious, as the Iran deal, the Bergdahl deal, the Syrian "red line", the Guantanamo giveaway and his dealings with pretty much everyone overseas show.  Perhaps he knows he is bad at it with his enemies overseas and so he just ignores -- and vilifies -- his opponents in the legislature?

So no, it's not your oratory skills, Mr. Obama.  Abe, Teddy or Franklin (or Eleanor) might have been able to overcome the judicial-forced polarization of Congress, but if they could, it would be based on a willingness to compromise in the best interest of the USA.  Ronald Reagan, the greatest president of the last two generations, knew when to have a bourbon with the opposition Speaker.  He got things done, even when it took a drink with Tip O'Neill to do so.  Has Obama ever met with Paul Ryan as peers pursuing common good?  With John Boehner more than twice?  With Mitch McConnell ever?

Barack Obama blames his "gifts" far too much for the rancor and suspicion in Washington.  But he blames his political disposition far too little, because it would be much harder to defend simple intransigence and unwillingness to deal than to say "if only I were more gifted."

Thank the Lord someone else will have the bully pulpit in 367 days.  That will be bully for us.

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.

Monday, January 18, 2016

New York Values ... Indeed

We are all now familiar with the little dust-up in the Republican debate last week regarding the topic of "New York values."  Apparently Ted Cruz had made a comment out on the stump contrasting the values of New Yorkers with those of the rest of the country, and it trickled over to the debate stage.

I'm not familiar with the original comment and its context.  What we did see was the moderator asking Cruz to explain the comment and define what he thought "New York values" actually were.  And there Cruz, had he been in a one-on-one interview, would have done fine.  He pointed out that New Yorkers were quite liberal, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, etc., and valued money and the media.  Which, when you are talking about New York City and its environs as opposed to the whole state, is perfectly reasonable.  And he left out the attitude thing, you know, the part that makes you cringe a bit when you hear a New York accent.

Of course, Cruz was not in a one-on-one interview, he was in a presidential debate.  And standing right next to him was the uber-New Yorker, a fellow name of Donald Trump.  You may have heard of him.  Mr. Trump, of course, took the good senator to task, with a nice riposte citing the brave response of the city to the 9-11 attacks.  Well done there, Donald.

Now, the fact that the city showed remarkable resilience in the face of having two jets fly into its buildings is admirable.  But I can't say there's anything unique in the way the city responded -- had it been Seattle, say, the response would have looked different -- let's face it, Rudy Giuliani, the mayor at the time, is a one-of-a-kind fellow and certainly did a great job leading the city back.  But ultimately Seattle would have gritted its teeth and rebuilt.  So would Chicago, or Dallas, or Des Moines.  We saw how Boston responded to an attack.

But let's ask ourselves this: The same city that elected the dynamic and quintessential-New Yorker Giuliani also elected the bumbling leftist Bill De Blasio, the current mayor.  Does anyone think the response of the city would have been the same had De Blasio been mayor?  We can be pretty sure that he first would have apologized for the bad people Americans were, and that the attacks had nothing to do with Islam, blah, blah, blah.

Let's face it, New York's pride in it response to 9-11 is in large part because it had an actual leader in charge to provide what the city needed -- but would have done eventually anyway.  So one could argue that while the response to the attack -- particularly its subsequent celebration of first responders -- can be a source of pride for the city, the fact that it would then turn around and install a guy who is virulently anti-police is definitely not a source of pride.

When Ted Cruz talked about "New York values", we did indeed know what he meant.  Assuming he was talking about the city -- one could have inferred he meant the whole state, but hopefully we (and the good citizens of Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester) know better.  He meant NYC.  And he was quite right.

What it means to be from New York is probably admired by New Yorkers -- the "in your face, I'm better than you are" attitude, all the things that make people like Ted Cruz (and me) dislike the city and its "values" and distrust people we meet from there. 

I'm sure he was surprised a bit by the question; it was curious in the debate context.  But he gave the accurate answer.  In New York, everything is about today, style, status, media savviness and money.  It makes Donald Trump the person he is, and we actually take that as simply a part of his personality.  It does not mean that we'd like to be friends with someone like that, at least if he weren't rich as Croesus.

New York will tell Ted Cruz to "drop dead" before this is all over, but that's probably fine with the senator.  New Yorkers will never watch that debate exchange and ask themselves if maybe, just maybe, being as nice as people in the rest of the country are, is worth considering.

Just a thought for the day.

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.

Friday, January 15, 2016

It Wasn't I ... But If It Were

By this time you know that Wednesday's lottery drawing for the $1.5 billion PowerBall jackpot has been completed.  There were three winning tickets sold, in California, Tennessee and Florida.  Having not been in California, Tennessee or Florida this week, you may rest assured that I did not buy tickets at any of those places and was, therefore, not one of the lucky winners.

That did not prevent my Best Girl and I from having had the same conversation that went on in households throughout the USA in the past couple weeks, as the jackpot went crazy and a fever of lottery ticket buying swept the nation.  That conversation was the one about what you would do if indeed you won.

I believe we discovered some things about ourselves, actually.  Because once you get past the giving money to the kids and our two surviving brothers and close family, it ultimately gets back to us.  How would our life change?

It was astonishing to me how hard some of the answers were.  When you are relatively simple people, you are that way partly because of values that you hold.  Others would go out and buy five Mercedes, perhaps.  I drive a Nissan Rogue and rather like it.  Surely I would upgrade that, but why would I need another car?  Ruth would find a Nissan Cross-Cabriolet convertible, her favorite car.

The hardest answer -- one we have not yet even come close to addressing -- where would we live?  We are already preparing to relocate anyway, so we're in the mindset of picking a place and have talked about being in an area near enough to the ocean, further south, cheaper, gated community with golf around.  We want to go there anyway because it's where we want to be.

So now suppose that we were a billion dollars richer.  Where would we live?  Golf, ocean, all that stuff we wanted because we wanted it.  How would having nine figures worth of wealth change that or somehow make us not like that life.  Warren Buffett is richer than Croesus and he lives in Omaha, Nebraska.  Bill Gates is richer than Buffett and he is in Seattle.  If we want to go to southeastern North Carolina, why would having money change that?

At night, my Best Girl and I sit on the couch and watch TV shows we have DVRed in the previous few days.  We do that because we like to do that.  We don't need a butler to bring us our coffee; I'm perfectly capable of getting up and getting my own coffee.  To be honest, I believe that very little in our daily life would change terribly much.  I like to watch sports and I'm pretty comfortable with the setup I have to watch it now.  How would a 20-room mansion make that any better when I live alone with my wife?

I will tell you that each of the two of us had a "cause", or something that we would allow ourselves to use a large amount of the money to do.  My wife is a wonderful person, and she would like to create a foundation to assist middle-aged and older people who care at home for an elderly parent.  The situation, as I have written, is very much something close to home, and I know she would like to find a way to be able to help home care-givers create at least a little life.  She doesn't know where the money would actually go, and it's moot now having not won, but it was a subject dear to her heart and she would have worked to make it better, for those who had walked in the same shoes she did for two years as a 24/7 home care giver with no relief.

I would have made an offer for a piece of the Boston Red Sox.  Just a minority interest, and with no real desire to interfere.  I have been a Red Sox fan since I was two, even though I never saw New England until college (no one understands it).  Because I would still watch the games, every night. I enjoy watching the games.  If I had $2 billion I would still watch the games.  But I'd like to be a part of it, too.  Thirty-nine years ago I was an anthem singer at Fenway Park, a fun gig if there ever was one.

That's me in the picture, dressed in typical 1977 anthem-singer garb and posing before a game in the Red Sox dugout with Fred Lynn, the MVP outfielder of the team back then, lest you doubt my story.  No one would voluntarily let anyone see them with that mustache and that attire if it were not true.

But I digress mightily.  Ruth and I never did figure out where we would live, or if we would simply go on with the plans we are working on for this year to relocate to where we will ultimately retire.  We couldn't figure it out, because money or no, we like what we like.  If we can be happy picking up shells on the beach and not being rich, well, we'd be just as happy picking up shells with a fat bank account.

It just wouldn't change us, nowhere near as much as we might have thought.

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.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

How Does "Fairness" Even Matter?

Hillary Clinton has been on a roll this week, if only as far as taxation is concerned.  Never content just to get close to the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democrats, at least during primary season, she is trying to be louder in demonizing successful Americans.

Monday, for example, she called for a 4% surcharge on the income of Americans who earned $5 million in the previous year, which she called -- I'm not making this up -- a "fair share surcharge."  As if to stress the point, she reiterated a January 2 statement in which she insisted that she would do what it takes to ensure that the "super-wealthy are truly paying their fair share" in taxes.

Now, I have only envy for those who are successful enough to earn $5 million in a year.  Bully for them.  They have plenty of accountants good enough to beat their tax bill down to as little as the law allows.

But I certainly will take their side in this one, and so should you.  There are several reasons, and here are a few.

First, they are already paying their fair share.  Their "fair share" is, by definition, what the law says they should be paying.  Follow?  If they do not pay what the law says they should, they end up fined or jailed.  If you think that amount is not enough, as clearly Mrs. Clinton thinks, then you could say that the law needs to be changed, but you cannot say they're not paying their fair share.

Second, one could readily say, as I do, that they are paying more than they should be, and that would seem rather obvious.  The marginal federal rate long before you get to a $5 million income for a year is close to 40%.   I defy you to explain to me how, in a free country, the Federal government can possibly justify seizing as much as 40% of any transaction, whether income, savings, business or export.

Third, I submit as evidence the utter unwillingness of Mrs. Clinton, or the current White House team, or any other Democrat to make a case for what the highest tax rate should be and at what point they will shut up and say that we've hit the top rate.  I believe I made this case reasonably well in the past, but I hold firm that neither Hillary nor anyone else will ever say precisely what "fair" is, in the context of a specific rate.  Ask her the question, "What is the highest rate that any government should ask someone to pay out of his or her income?"  Just try.  Valerie Jarrett wouldn't give a straight answer in the link I just gave you, and neither will Hillary; that would impose a cap on their rapacity.

Fourth is semantics.  The "wealthy" do not pay tax on wealth (for the most part).  People pay tax on income, and having a high income does not, a priori, make you "wealthy".  High income tax rates actually prevent people from becoming wealthy.  I guarantee you, if I could be allowed to save most of my income for the next three years, I would not be wealthy, but at least I could retire.  Calling people "wealthy" when what is meant is "having a high income in the previous year" is not only innately false but intentionally deceptive -- Hillary doing what liars do.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, fairness has nothing at all to do with the tax code and never should.  Income tax rates are not installed to produce fairness; they are to raise money from which to operate the Federal government.  The only reason to use the term "fairness" is if you believe in redistributing money from those who earned it to those who did not.  The tax structure that is best for the USA is not the one that is thought most fair by the Democrats.  No, it is the one that produces the most revenue in the least intrusive manner possible.

Whether that is a completely flat tax, a form of which I have long advocated, or something akin to the plan put forth by candidate Dr. Ben Carson, the point is that tax law should be solely focused on producing the most revenue with the least intrusion.  If that is a flat rate after a fixed income exemption -- or almost anything that can be codified in three pages, as candidate Carly Fiorina has suggested -- the tax law should be far, far less about perception or fairness.

Liberals are completely about form and completely not about substance.  They have to be; liberalism doesn't work, so liberals have to try for "show" to win elections, since they can't tout achievement.  Here we have Hillary Clinton, tiredly demonizing the successful as not paying their "fair share" and trying to out-Bernie her competition for the nomination, at least if she is not in prison by then.

I get that -- what else can she do?  Don't we all hate the "rich"?  Find a convenient target and try to use it to outflank her opposition for the nomination she believes she is entitled to.

But please, Hillary, can the "fair share" crap.  Nobody takes you seriously on that.

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.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Pied Piper of Washington

I don't watch every news network.  For one, life is too short; for another, you tend to watch one network over time for your news because you get used to its take on things.  Then you can factor the relative accuracy or slant on an issue when you hear a piece.

So I can't tell you how most networks presented the shooting of a police officer in Philadelphia over the past weekend.  I hope, though, at the very least, that the presentation of the story on all the networks included three items:

(1) The video of the shooter, running to the police car and firing while in Islamic garb
(2) The Philly police chief stating unequivocally that the gunman said he did it "because he wanted to attack police officers, because they support and defend laws that are not compatible with the Koran and Islamic law"
(3) The mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, immediately thereafter contradicting his police chief, saying that the shooting had nothing to do with Islam or its teachings (note: the mayor is not a Muslim).

I'll spare a lot of time describing my own initial response to all that, because Fox News's contributing judge, Jeanine Pirro, outdid anything I could write when she said this: 

"[Mayor Kenney's remark was] one of the most astounding, asinine statements that I’ve heard since the last time I listened to a White House press conference.  How dare you, [Mr. Mayor], take the sympathy away from the victim -- Officer Hartnett -- and the men and women in blue under siege every day by the haters, and turn it into sympathy and understanding for a different group?  I don't need you to tell me or lecture me what I should be thinking because you want to suck up to the commander-in-chief.  So how about you drop your liberal ideological nonsense and stop apologizing, and start focusing on the threats to kill those in your department?"

There you go.

So here is my question for this column.  Common sense tells us that when you have the fomenting, armed hatred of the USA in Syria and Iraq that created ISIS; that when their stated aim is to create a worldwide Islamic caliphate; and that when they are already killing innocents in the USA including the attempt on the officer in Philadelphia; you don't, you know, encourage them.

You certainly don't apologize for them or defend them.  And you don't bring 10,000 people to resettle in the USA with no way to know what percentage of them are not refugees, but Islamic terrorists.  We know you don't do that.

But there is Barack Hussein Obama, speechifying that we should do just that, in defiance of logic and love of our country.  Logic, in fact, would tell you that everyone from the citizenry to the political class, to the White House staff, to Obama's wife and kids should be looking at him as if he had three heads.  They would have to; the idea of supporting Muslim radicals rather than eradicating them is that bizarre.

And yet ... and yet ... here are leading Democrats -- Mayor Kenney is just the latest -- mouthing the same "defend-Islam-at-all-costs" garbage that Obama keeps trying to peddle.  Do they really believe it?  They can't; they just can't.  But they seem to.

Look at it this way: let's say the exact same thing had happened in 2006 -- a cop attacked by a Muslim in full garb, who tells his captors that he tried to kill the cop because he defended laws at odds with Islamic law.  Let's say that happened in Philly and Jim Kenney were the mayor.  It's 2006 and no one has heard of Barack Obama.  What are the odds that Kenney, in the face of his police chief seconds earlier quoting the shooter's Muslim motivation, then turning around and saying it had nothing to do with Islam?

You and I know that Kenney would have called out the dogs, and decried the act and sworn to do better at rooting out these terrorists.

The difference?  Barack Obama is president now, and Democrat orthodoxy apparently states that he is to be slavishly followed by all, no matter how bizarre the teaching, no matter how counterproductive for the USA the policy is, no matter how foolish it looks to go along with Obama's teachings.  There is no countenancing of any opposition.

Barack Obama has become the Pied Piper of Washington in the eyes of the Democrats.  The brain's reason switch is to be turned off, in favor of following his teachings as the all-knowing savant.  He simply pipes, and the Democrat follows.  It is simple duty.  Self-interest is no longer primary; the good of the country is subordinate to the good of whatever Barack Obama says is right.

How can these people follow so mindlessly?  How does Jim Kenney, a leftist, sure, but at least astute enough to get elected mayor, stand there a few seconds after his police chief states what the shooter himself said and then simply deny it?  Are the pipes of Barack Obama that strong that he thought he could do that and not get laughed off the stage or, since the situation was dramatic and not comical, not get shouted into silence by Officer Hartnett's fellow police?

They are strong pipes, apparently.  But I do not hear them.  I pity the fools who do.

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.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Apology We're STILL Waiting For

Another story that simply won't go away -- and shouldn't -- is the contemptible assault on journalistic standards known as the University of Virginia Made-Up Rape Story.  As you will recall, over a year ago, a story in the magazine "Rolling Stone" purported to give an account of a female student going to a fraternity party at the Phi Kappa Psi chapter house and being repeatedly raped.

Only one problem.  As the Charlottesville, VA police determined, the whole thing was made up, never happened, there was no party at the Phi Psi house that night, and the accuser turned out to be a serial liar.

Of course, before that turned out to be the case, as determined with just a little bit of due process, the Phi Psi house was picketed, vandalized and its members condemned, and the "ready, fire, aim" university president, Teresa Sullivan, shuttered all of the fraternities and sororities(!) on campus for a while.  I suppose in the spirit of total self-interest, I should point you toward some really, really good writing on the subject here, here and here.  Do take a moment and read them, please.

Now, of course, the aftermath remains.  People were injured, in the eye of the law, and while I'm usually quite frightened of torts, they can be interesting to write about.  As written in the Washington Post, one such tort is being claimed by Nicole Eramo, an administrator at the university.  She was portrayed in the Rolling Stone article as being less than supportive of "Jackie", the person claiming to have been the victim in this attack that never happened.

Mrs. Eramo is suing Rolling Stone for $7.5 million for the magazine's depiction of her as being "callous and indifferent" to the suffering of the, as it turned out, lying non-victim.  Of course, in the grand scheme of things, Mrs. Eramo's suffering is a bit down the line from the true victims, starting with the UVa chapter of Phi Kappa Psi and the fraternity system in general, at UVa and through North America.

That she is, however, not the most aggrieved party in this does not in any way mitigate my sympathy for her and support of her suit.  In fact, while the associate dean is suing Rolling Stone, I would encourage her to add this "Jackie" to the defendants' list, if she has not already.  And I hope that as soon as the justice system issues rulings that essentially gut Rolling Stone and give the proceeds to Phi Kappa Psi, there is a little left over for those such as Mrs. Eramo who were libeled by the magazine in their article.

Here is my point.  You now have an associate dean at the university suing the magazine for publishing a defaming characterization of her, her own defense corroborated by the police findings that no rape or assault ever occurred.

Where is the university president?  Where is her apology to Phi Kappa Psi for failing to defend them while the investigation was ongoing?  Where is her apology to the UVa fraternity system for throwing them under the bus while this was going on?  Where is her apology for aggressively coming down on one side of a case that turned out to be the wrong side, and shutting the system down -- including the sororities, if she can ever explain that -- without justification or rationale.

Liberals don't apologize; it would force them to admit to a crack in their orthodoxy.  I don't expect Teresa Sullivan to apologize for her own actions that facilitated more of the venom toward Phi Kappa Psi.  I don't expect that ever.

But I'd like to see it.  If I can hope to win the Powerball jackpot, I can at least hope for something else equally unlikely.

[Note: for the record, I am a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and not associated with any of the organizations at UVa which have been defamed, other than that my fraternity does have a chapter there that was closed with the others on campus.]

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.

Monday, January 11, 2016

OK, Now It's What Bubba Should Have Said

Last week I took a trip down imaginary lane to write about the sub-brouhaha-level issue of "why no one will explain the difference between a Democrat and a socialist".  This came up when Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee, fell all over herself trying not to answer the question, and then last week Hillary Clinton, the anointed presidential candidate from the Incompetence Party (if she is not in prison by then), fell all over herself avoiding the question.

Nice guy that I am, I gave Mrs. Clinton three great paragraphs worth of the answer that she should have given, or could have given.  It's one that would have pulverized the topic in a puff of dust, and allowed her to go on talking about her candidacy and plans for the future running for president in November, if she is not in prison ... OK, you get it.  Seriously, she didn't need to be chicken and waffle on the topic.

So now another member of the Clinton family is walking around not answering a question that has now been posed to him at least twice. Now in fairness, at least Bill Clinton took the question from a reporter in a setting other than a scripted interview with only pre-submitted questions for canned answers and a few off-the-cuff ones.  Hillary might want to try that, at least as practice for the debate where four of five of the possible Republican candidates have the debating chops to rip her candidacy into little pieces.

The question, in its multiple forms, is essentially whether Bill Clinton's repeated extramarital affairs and, particularly, the multiple accusations of forcible sexual advances to women not his wife, are "fair game" for the campaign reporting of his wife.  I would have even gone a bit further in the question myself.  That's because there is a fair amount of chatter at the extent to which Hillary, out of one side of her mouth, screamed bloody murder at her husband, while out of the other side of her mouth, she coordinated character assassination of his victims.

As a pathological liar, she has two or three more "other sides of her mouth", but we'll let those go for the moment.  Besides, this is about Bill.

Now, the actual answer to the question is, of course, that it is fair as all heck to bring up the issue of his abuse of women and possible criminal assaults of women.  It is fair, for a few reasons:
(1) He is not just a presidential candidate's spouse expected to do the Mamie Eisenhower thing; he is a former president expected to have a huge impact on the conduct of a Hillary Clinton presidency (if she is not ...).  It would not have been about Melania Trump, say, but it sure as heck would be about Bill Clinton.
(2) Hillary Clinton's candidacy is predicated on her possession of a uterus.  When you say that women claiming rape or sexual assault are to be believed (except at the University of Virginia, but I digress), but remain steadfastly, or at least legally, married to a presumed serial sex abuser, someone needs to answer for the dichotomy -- and it won't be Hillary.

However, since not answering the question means it will keep getting asked, and Donald Trump will keep running blistering, withering ads pointing out that dichotomy, Bill needs an answer.  So here goes.

"As you are aware, and as I have publicly admitted while I was president, I have been a less than faithful husband.  I am a flawed human being.  But I am also a forgiven one, and I owe my wife the respect that a flawed and fallen man should give.

"I realize that in the contention of a presidential campaign, people running against my wife may choose to make an issue of actions that I have taken and I understand that.  It is politics.  Politics is an arena in which a lot of attacks are thought to be fair, that we would never countenance in the rest of life.  I have been shamed by my actions, and if others wish to try to attack my wife by trying to speak about what I have done to her, well, I can only say that I understand."


Simple as that.  Why do I give these people words they ought to come up with themselves, eh?

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.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Hopes for the New Year

It is now the eighth day of 2016, and one could readily argue that it is starting off to be no better than 2015 so far.  Between the Chinese economy crashing, the Dow Jones diving precipitously, Muslims walking around Paris with suicide-bomber jackets and knives, and the Saudis and Iranians ready to bomb each others' embassies, it's been a fun week.

But it's Friday, and the first full week of 2016 will soon be over and things can only go up from here, isn't that right?

I'd like to believe that.  I certainly hope it will improve, and since hope may be an abysmal strategy but it's all I've got, here are my hopes for the remaining 358 days we have left this cycle around the  sun.

My hope for Barack Obama: Golf, lots of golf. Actually, that's my hope for myself, at least some.  I hope that for me because, well, I like golf.  I hope that for Barack Obama because, much as a criminal can do little harm to society while in prison, Barack Obama can do less harm to the USA when he's swinging his mashie niblick rather than abusing his pen, his phone and the Constitution.

My hope for domestic terrorism: As I wrote many months ago, I hope that the most influential Muslim in the USA, Muhammad Ali, will rise from his home and start making a series of speeches throughout the country.  He will begin by reaffirming his faith, and then loudly and repeatedly condemning ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Iranian government, and every single person who uses Islam as an excuse to torture, kill or otherwise wreak havoc on believers and non-believers alike.  I hope that he shames every Muslim in the USA into becoming an advocate for peaceful coexistence with his neighbors of other faiths.

My hope for the economy: Hold out; please hold out.  The cavalry is coming, in the form of the exit of the most contemptible socialist to hold an executive position in the American Government (see Hope #1) from the White House, and the ascent to the presidency of someone who has an actual understanding of macroeconomics.  No sooner will that person be elected, than a flood of capital will begin to flow around the USA economy, as banks begin to lend -- actually -- to small businesses, companies flush with cash crank up their capacity, and the real unemployment figures start improving in the form of a higher -- much higher -- labor participation rate.  Buoyed by a heating economy, the stock market will revive from whatever is done to it in 2016 and our 401(k)s will provide actual retirement support.

My hope for the election: I hope for a president, a leader, an actual president and actual commander-in-chief.  I hope for someone who will inspire our people, show friendship to our friends abroad, and inspire respect and fear in our enemies overseas.  I hope for someone with the strength of their convictions and the public presence to be able to do two things necessary of a president -- communicate their aims to the American people, and get Congress to act to pass the legislation needed to address what needs to improve in the lives of the people.

My hope for the Middle East:  I hope for a leader to rise somewhere out there, someone who presents a view of the future of the region in which peace is an actual factor.  I hope for someone who can point out that Sunnis and Shiites should model their relationship after the way Baptists and Catholics coexist in the USA -- i.e., without taking up arms against each other except on the football field.  Someone, I hope, will rise up to say that murdering people in cold blood for the perceived sin of believing in the same God but in a different way makes no sense, but going to the other's house of worship to show brotherhood makes a lot of sense.

My hope for the world's climate:  Warm up.  Even a little.  When palm trees can grow on Cape Cod, you have to know that it will be a better world.  I'm sitting here freezing here in January while Barack Obama is trying to turn on the air conditioning full blast.  He will fail, and that is so, so a good thing.  In fact, everywhere he fails is so, so a good thing.

My hope for Hillary Clinton:  I hope that her prison cell is comfortable.

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.