Monday, October 31, 2016

The Stench of Early Voting

I'm going to be voting this week, not next week.  My State allows that sort of thing for a couple weeks or so prior to the actual Election Day.  That, of course, does not change the fact that I am quite opposed to the concept, and while I'm fine with the absentee ballot concept, properly regulated, I am of a mind that Election Day is Election Day, not Election Month or (apparently in California, since half their votes have already been submitted) Election Year.

I wrote about something like this a couple years back, here.  My contention was, and is, that there is a problem with a misaligned system that allows returns from one state to be announced while other states are still voting.  So that was the point of the earlier piece.  This one is about the start of voting.

My point then was that, allowing for true absentee ballots (disabled, military, etc.) there was no reason we could not confine voting to a full, astronomical 24-hour window in all states and in DC, starting and ending at the same moment.  No matter where you worked, you could find a spot in the window to get off your butt and go cast your ballot (as had been done for centuries).  To be honest, only the media would be hurt, as they wouldn't have your rapt attention for hours as new states got to the end of their polling times and they could "call" states for this or that candidate.

And it is "news" that is the reason for putting a halt to this absurd early voting.  I mean, if people only needed to be counted based on party affiliation, we wouldn't need to vote.  The same country, though, that elected Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama and two George Bushes obviously is reactive to external information and changes its mind.

Believe it or not, that can happen within two weeks of an election, as illustrated by the potential impact of the reopening of the Hillary Clinton criminal investigation by the FBI.  In fact, I promise you as sure as I'm sitting here that the Clinton mafia will be tripping all over themselves to dump some new incriminating stuff on Donald Trump this week to try to take the edge off her possible indictment.  You heard it here first, if it hasn't already happened.

I'm sorry, but if you can have releases of potentially game-changing news a week before an election, there's a real problem with people out there having already voted and potentially wishing they could change their ballot.  Now, I have no sympathy for them.  Their convenience cost them the opportunity to cast an informed ballot.

We need to rip apart this whole scattershot approach to the franchise of the ballot.  Legitimate absentee requirements aside -- and that's a tiny percentage -- I think we can all make plans within a nationwide 24-hour window to get our butts to the polling place and take advantage of the gift given us by our Founders, and that should be treasured by us as much as it was by the post-Saddam Iraqis walking around with proudly empurpled thumbs.

Let's all elevate the value of our vote and get the national election times shrunk to the one day it should be.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, October 28, 2016

Was THIS What They Intended?

I can point you to any number of articles, but they would be superfluous; Obamacare prices and health insurance prices, are going nuts for 2017.  You will be paying and paying and paying, and getting not a blessed thing more for the additional cost.

On average, if you were paying $1,000 a month this year, you will be paying $1,250 a month in 2017, except you will get nothing more than you did in 2016.  Oh, and your deductible, the part you have to pay out of your pocket before the insurance kicks in, will be higher.

Of course, the deductible was supposed to be lower with Obamacare, which was of course one of the number of lies about the program that were tossed out there by the president with one hand, while ramming it through a lapdog Democrat-controlled Congress.  Just in case you had forgotten what those lies were, well, here is a lovely and beautifully-written piece with a bunch of them.  OK, yeah, I wrote it, but it's still true.

Yesterday there was a TV interview with good old Jonathan Gruber, the fellow who is amazingly still a professor at my alma mater, M.I.T., and who is the reason that I no longer donate a penny when the Alumni Fund people come after me each year.  Gruber was the architect of this mess, and astonishingly is still willing to take "credit" for it.

His message to us was that the big spike in cost that Obamacare delivered this year (and last year, and will next year if Hillary is, God forbid, elected), was simply a natural market force and we shouldn't be so concerned about it.  Of course, Gruber and his dependents are covered by the health plan of his employer, M.I.T., so like those Democrats in the 2009-10 Congress that stupidly voted for this, the rate hikes and deductible increases don't affect him at all.

I think there is a simple question here.  It is one that could have occupied about a third of one of the debates, if the Obama administration had allowed the rate hikes to be made public before the last of the debates (they couldn't help the fact that they had to be announced before the election, but they would have tried that to delay that, too, if it were possible).

Is this what they intended?

Hillary Clinton wants to keep Obamacare and work around the edges.  Well, that's what she says in public; her lips were moving so it can be assumed that she was lying -- she also told the Canadians in private (for money) that she wanted a total government-run system.  But she says, for us, she wants to fix it a bit.

But ... but ... but ... if this is what they intended when the law was rammed through, it's pretty clear that we can make two conclusions that don't smell very good for Hillary and the Democrats.

(1) If this (massive rate hikes, out of control) was not predicted when the law was rammed through, then the people who created the law, sponsored it, shoot, voted for it, all have proven themselves totally incompetent or, at a minimum, corrupted.  It has led to this; if they didn't see it coming they should be out of a job tomorrow and certainly not allowed ever again to be in a position to make a decision affecting the USA.

(2) If this was predicted, and Gruber, Obama and the Democrats in Congress and, for that matter, Hillary Clinton knew it was a likely outcome, then they are indeed liars and utterly corrupt.  They not only should be removed from office, but should be subject to criminal liability in some form.  Jonathan Gruber should be in jail, not in rosy academia (OK, M.I.T. is not the rosiest campus on earth, and it's bloody cold up there nine months of the year).

I don't have to pay Obamacare increases, truth be told.  I'm 65, so I'm on Medicare, for which I pay now but in truth had been paying, by withholding taxes, for during my entire working life before age 65.  And the government is not exactly "running" my insurance; I have a Medicare Advantage plan so the insurance company itself actually runs it for the government.

But I have a lot of sympathy for those who do.  They didn't deserve to have been scrod by Obama and Congress, even if they voted for those people.  And now we have to ask ourselves if the disaster we have now was what they intended when they passed the law, or not.

If it was intended, they're corrupt and criminal and should be jailed today.  If it wasn't, they're incompetent and should be fired today.

And Hillary is going to use all those people either way.  Think about it if you were even remotely considering voting for her.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Germany's Immigrant Lesson to US

I was reading a day or two back that a Syrian "refugee" (we do not know; if the USA cannot vet these people to determine if they're actually refugees, I"m pretty sure the Germans can't do much better) had immigrated to Germany.

The Syrian man, who is 49, he says (can't verify that either), is now living in a city in Germany, happily out of the line of fire in his home (we assume) country and possibly learning German, the language of the place he lives in, although we tend to doubt that.

More important, at least for the Germans, are three numbers.

Four.  Twenty-three.  Three hundred ninety-two thousand.  And you aren't going to guess what those refer to, although you could try and maybe get lucky and nail one of them.

The Syrian man came with his wives.  Not "wife", but wives.  All four of them.  The German taxpayers are now not only on the hook for the man, but four wives, in a country that does not allow polygamy.  The man was kind enough to recognize only one of them "officially."  But he is Muslim, and Muslim law, which he would, we assume, like to apply to Germany and the rest of earth, allows four, as long as you can provide for them.

His four wives, it can be added, were nothing if not fertile.  I have no problem whatsoever with people having as many children as they can afford, so fertility is a perfectly fine thing.  Certainly, fertility was a fine thing in this man's family, since across the four wives they produced 23 children (the second number, if you're following the theme), all of whom are now living in one of the four homes paid for by the German taxpayer.

And that, friends, gets us to the last number and perhaps the most relevant for the USA as they go to the polls in a couple weeks.  This multiple family which, whatever their motivation, is now living in Germany, is providing a net draw on the German government -- not just the overall economy but the taxpayers' contributions.

That "draw" is the cost of the government providing housing and living expenses for 28 people who simply showed up on their border and were welcomed in because it's what liberals do, without any thought about where the money is coming from.  And that cost, the amount the German taxpayer will pay because Germany doesn't want to have borders, is $392,000 per year for this man, his wives and all his children. 

That, dear readers, is one family.  One of the daughters has married and moved to Saudi Arabia, so it is down to 27 people draining the German taxpayer wallet, but you get the idea.

So ... Hillary Clinton wants us to take in, sight unseen and without the capacity to identify them, more than five times as many people claiming to be Syrian "refugees" as we are now.  She talks not about the actual reason for wanting that, which is the assumption that they'll vote for Democrats, but how we're supposed to be this welcoming-to-everyone society.

At the same time, we are $20 trillion in debt, we owe it to creditors who hate us, like China, and we're not coming close to paying the principal as we scramble to pay just the interest.  You can do the math.  Given the numbers she's talking about, we're supposed to be adding close to $1 billion in additional taxpayer funding to bring people over whom we then have to feed, clothe and house with money we need to borrow from China to get.

So I ask a simple question: If we have to borrow money from China to pay for these people's well-being, why aren't the people simply sent to China to live?

Makes sense to me.  Voting for Hillary certainly does not.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

PTSD and Lies about Rape

As we speak, there is a civil suit going on in Virginia, where the person who was a Dean at the University of Virginia made out to be a victim in the faked rape case I wrote about here, here and here, is suing Rolling Stone magazine, who printed the story.

Nicole Eramo, the Dean in question, also sued the fake accuser, who for some reason is still referred to only as "Jackie" in the press, although she has a name, there was never a rape, and the actual damages were entirely suffered by other people.  There is no reason on God's green earth why she is being protected, but that's our press for you (note -- I'm fine with the protection of the names of actual rape victims).

So now, at the trial, this "Jackie" person is claiming some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the reason she ran to Rolling Stone with a made-up story about being gang-raped at a Phi Kappa Psi chapter during a party.  Rolling Stone ran with the story in a big way, forgetting to check some basic facts (such as the fact that there was no party at the Phi Psi house that day, and the person she is supposed to have attacked her, and whom she identified by having known that he worked at a certain place, never actually worked there).

Dean Eramo is still employed by the University; however, she is not a Dean any longer and has a different job.  The court limited her protection within this lawsuit, and the extent of her case, by virtue of her being a "partial celebrity", a ruling that defies rationality a bit since no one outside the Charlottesville campus had any idea who Nicole Eramo was before her reputation was trashed in Rolling Stone.

This "Jackie" is, we think, still at UVa, or maybe she isn't.  I don't really care.  I do care that she is reported to have an ego problem and a relationship desperation problem, as reported during the more fact-oriented and research-oriented parts of the later (i.e., post-Rolling Stone) reporting on the case.  And I care that now, having destroyed the reputation of Nicole Eramo, the Phi Kappa Psi chapter, and the entire UVa fraternity and sorority system, she's claiming PTSD.

PTSD is supposed to have blacked out her memory of the event enough to have had her make up the story in the first place, although if there wasn't an event in the first place, it is not clear what the "trauma" was for her to have had stress after.  Get it?

Now, you or I, if we were to have had PTSD after some traumatic event, well, we would go to our physician or psychologist, and try to deal with our issues in a rational way that focuses on us getting our arms around circumstances.

We would not run to Rolling Stone magazine and make up a story.

Then again, I (and, presumably, you) do not have a need for attention so strong as to make up phony stories about an event that never happened, and certainly would not do so, regardless, in such a way as to allow the destruction of the reputations of otherwise innocent people.

The trial of Rolling Stone and this "Jackie" person is going to come to a conclusion here in the next few days.  I only have the evidence before me reflecting the reporting that has gone on since, but in this case I know exactly how I hope the trial turns out.

At which point at least one news outlet with a shred of decency should protect actual rape victims by identifying and publicizing the name of this "Jackie."

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Paid to Riot: No Story?

I'm sure that we're all now aware from the Wikileaks emails that, according to senior Hillary Clinton campaign official John Podesta, the Clinton campaign itself, presumably through laundered money and surrogates, actually paid people to riot and incite violence at Donald Trump rallies and events.  It was also apparent through these emails that Mrs. Clinton was aware of this effort -- a question to that effect was actually asked and answered in a parallel research effort, complete with videotapes.

And so ... I'd like to ask a few questions.  And so should the American public, and certainly so should the press.  Of course, those questions will not be asked, let alone answered.

(1) Hillary was aware of the fact that rioters were paid to cause violence at Trump rallies; that is now out there and she can't deny it.  There is no plausible deniability available when someone asks on video, for the record, if she knew about the activities and the answer is "yes."  People get hurt when violence is incited; that's what "violence" means.

Why did Hillary Clinton not respond immediately when the suggestion to pay rioters was raised, by saying that such activities were not to be tolerated on her campaign?

(2) Actual people are shown discussing actual plans to incite actual riots.  They're right there on tape, and it is quite clear who those people are that are doing so.  Incitement to riot is illegal; conspiracy to do so or to commit violence is illegal; it is similarly a violation of Federal election law to do all that stuff.  We know who those people are -- it's a video.

Why is the FBI not opening an immediate criminal investigation into these activities, subpoenaing witnesses and hauling the people on the videotape up for a heavy grilling on this activity under penalty of law?

(3) The immediate answer by any Democrat in regard to anything associated with this explosive revelation, or anything else associated with the illegal activity here, is to parrot back the party line, which is "Russians Russians Russians Russians Russians."  Because the Russians might have been the ones to (or if you ask any Democrat, "did") hack into Podesta's email, the contents of anything found there, no matter how repugnant, are apparently less of an issue than the suggestion that the nasty old Russians were involved.

Why was Chris Wallace the only one in the entire press corps, from any news organization whatsoever, with the opportunity to ask Mrs. Clinton directly anything whatsoever associated with the content of the emails, who has actually tried to ask her that? 

I have to say, I wish that Wallace had not let her go on about the Russians for so long, and had made her answer the question.  It was so predictable that when I was watching the debate, and he asked her a question about one of the Wikileaks revelations, I turned to my best girl while he was just starting to ask the question, and said "Watch her ... it'll be RussiansRussiansRussiansRussians", and sure enough, it was.

It is quite evident that there were serious criminal activities and serious violation of election laws exposed in the last two weeks.  The Russians didn't do that.  The press need to be writing about this and asking Hillary and her campaign some bloody serious questions and making them answer them without the word "Russians" in the answer.

More importantly, though, the FBI has a big, fat investigation staring it in the face that, I'm afraid, may never get started, and certainly not before the election.

That's a bloody shame for my country.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, October 24, 2016

Hockey and the Cello

I suppose that it seems like fun to get away from writing about politics and remember silly events of many years ago.  Interestingly, as we now live in a different area since September, and are making brand-new friends, we start describing our lives to each other, recalling and telling stories we had not thought of or told for years.  Some of them are fodder, I guess, for this site.

Back in the 1970s, I was performing in opera, operetta and related theater activities in Boston, before I decided that it was a poor occupational choice to find yourself having to work with actors the rest of one's life.  In one such endeavor, I was performing in a production of the Stephen Sondheim work, "A Little Night Music", the musical based on the play "Smiles of a Summer Night."  Its signature, still often-done song, is "Send in the Clowns."

This work was a fun piece, set in Sweden, still on Broadway then and in road companies around the country.  The musical requires an actor to play Henrik, the 20-year-old son of the protagonist.  Henrik is a seminary student who is quite stressed, and when he is stressed, he plays the cello.   He feels himself to be totally irrelevant, and those around him don't help, ignoring him and constantly responding to his earnestness by telling him, "Later, Henrik" (about which he sings; here is a clip of his song "Later" ... in fact, you need to see it for this story to make sense, but just advance to 0:58 where the song starts). 

Henrik is not an easy part to cast; it requires someone who can fake playing the cello, sure, but more importantly it requires a tenor with a lot of flexibility and some really high notes he can control while looking like he's playing the cello.  And, per the song, he has to be short.

I realized how hard it was to cast when I auditioned for the part as a 26-year-old actor, got called back and realized I was the only person who had been called back for the role (I could actually sing back then).

So we went into rehearsals, and came right down to two days before opening night, with full dress rehearsal the next day.  The cellist in the orchestra, who was from Long Island, had worked very long hours with me to ensure we were in perfect sync on "Later", and it would look for all the world as if I were actually playing (the bow was chemically anesthetized so no sound would come out of it).  Two days before opening, we were in good shape.

Now, it should be pointed out that I am a hockey fan, although that is not relevant for this story.  What is relevant is that both the cellist and the music director (conductor) were also hockey fans.  The music director was John Melnyk, a native of Winnipeg, a very good and nice man who lives back there to this date, as a professor at the university.  The cellist's name, sadly, is long-forgotten.

As luck would have it, an NHL hockey team (Montreal) was playing the New York Islanders on the night before dress rehearsal in that year's Stanley Cup playoffs.  The two of them repaired to one of their respective apartments to watch the game and support their respective teams.  I'm not sure how an NHL playoff game would have been on TV in those days, but it was Boston, so I guess it was a big enough deal to be broadcast, else this story would have died there.

So as luck would have it, and after a beer or four, the conductor and the cellist were anxiously following the game when the Islanders scored a goal that was apparently critical to the outcome of the game (I looked it up; it was an overtime game-winner).  The cellist was ecstatic and, lubricated no doubt by consumed suds, leaped out of his seat with arms raised.

Unfortunately, he had not reckoned with the small gap between his seat and the low ceiling, and in his excitement, slammed his fingers against the ceiling, breaking at least one of them.

I do not doubt that, even if you do not in fact play the cello, you may infer that a broken finger is a total impediment to playing it, as the conductor and the cellist realized on their way to the emergency room to get a cast put on.  You may also infer that, somewhere on that drive, the topic of the show, the performance, and also who was going to tell me that I was going to have to spend the next two days figuring out how to work with a new cellist.

The show, of course, went on; the fractured cellist never recovered in time to take his spot as my accompanist back before the show closed, and the performances of "Later" were, sad to say, never as good and well-timed as they might have been had we gone on with the original cello-playing gentleman in the pit.

Whose name, as I mentioned, is mercifully lost to the ages.

I have told this story for the last forty years.  A year or so ago, it occurred to me that my meandering storytelling style might have led to some embellishment, and that it might be a good thing if I were somehow to circle back with any of the involved principals to see if they remembered it as had I.  So I used the glories of Al Gore's Amazing Internet to locate the conductor, John Melnyk, whom as I mentioned, I assumed to be back in Winnipeg and was thus fairly easy to locate.

I rattled off, in an email, the story above as I recalled it, noting that I was sure to have inadvertently let most of the facts "evolve" over the years.  "How close", I asked him, "did I get the details?", rather assuming that outside of the fact that the cellist broke a finger, the rest might have been a bit factually suspect.  "Was it a pretty big stretch?"

"Nope", the good professor replied, "That's about what happened."

Oh, well, at least I feel better about all the other stories I tell.


Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, October 21, 2016

Clif, Claf and Me

I have no end of stories of my life in which I am the butt of the joke.  I don't have particularly low self-esteem or self-worth, but I do have an unending ability to laugh at myself.  When you have done some things like barreling over Lucille Ball on national TV, you had better be able to laugh at yourself.

So I encourage you to go up to the search box and plug in the word "anthem" and search on it.  You will find that once upon a time I was the anthem singer for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.  You'll see a few mentions of my doing that back in the 1970s, but not how I ended up doing that, and that's today's "laugh at Bob" story.

In the summer of 1977 I was singing professionally, with the Boston Light Opera and elsewhere, and was working for the computer company Burroughs during the day.  I was also trying to get far away from Boston, to which I had moved for college in 1969 and of which I had gotten very tired -- I did not want to raise children there, for one.

However, I had an ambition that needed to get satisfied before we left the area, and that would be to sing the anthem at Fenway before an actual game, to walk on that field and enjoy the grass, that sort of thing (the real grass, the green stuff on the field you walk on ... don't get wise).

This piece would get really long if I got into what I had tried before this story picks up, so rest assured I had tried a lot of things.  All to no avail.

So let's go back to the time of the 1970s, and trust me when I say that the talk radio era, particularly sports talk, was in its infancy then.  A few cities had radio stations with show hosts talking sports, with listeners calling in, and Boston was one of them -- WITS-AM if memory serves; 1510 AM if memory really serves.

WITS's afternoon show was done by two "senior" local sportswriters from the papers, Larry Claflin and Clif Keane, one from the Herald and the other from the Globe.  They billed as "Clif and Claf", of course, talking for three hours daily with a healthy number of listeners' calls taken and answered about the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins.  Nothing got solved, but a lot of advertisers' products were sold in those three hours.

Sometime in the summer -- according to, it would be the second week of July -- the Red Sox were in Cleveland playing the Indians.  Before games in Cleveland, the anthem was usually sung by a local singer, Rocco Scotti, and Scotti, it should be noted, did a great job.  He passed away last year at 95, and we'll miss him; he honored the country when he stood before the mic.

I'm listening to him on TV, and having some interesting thoughts.  Hmmm ... maybe if I ...

So sure enough, the next day I call up the old Clif and Claf show.  When I get on, I turn on a phony Boston accent of some kind (trust me, not being from anywhere near there, I definitely do not have one) and start in.  "Hey, you heard that guy Scotti singing last night before the game, right?  So they got an Italian guy singing out there in Cleveland.  This is an Irish town, right?  Shouldn't we get an Irish tenor to sing at Fenway?  And I've got just the guy ... heard him sing in Brighton the other day ..."

I took a minute or two, going on to Clif and Claf about the "real" me, in the third person, of course, and "why this guy Sutton ought to be singing at Fenway.  A real Irish tenor, just what we need.  You guys ought to figure out how to make that happen."  That sort of thing. Naturally, they start joking about it (I will not say that there might not have been a drink or two in front of one or both of them; they were Irish, after all).  I said goodbye and finished talking with them.

For about 30 minutes.

Then I called back, this time with a different local accent.  "Hey, you shouldn't knock this guy, I've heard him ... he can really sing, and it would be a great idea to get him at Fenway ...".  All of a sudden it was "An Official Topic", and every day for a few weeks there would be a couple-three calls or more about why this guy Sutton ought to be singing at Fenway.  And let the record show it was not always I calling in, although for the most part it was, varying accents constantly.  What Clif and Claf were thinking is lost for the ages; both are gone many years now.

Apparently I wore them down, because after a few weeks of this, one of them finally declared on the show that "... if this guy Bobby Sutton was out there, and anyone knew him, he should call in the show."  Which, after a courteous 45 minutes to play out the ruse, I did -- except that I called the station, not the show's dial-in number, which I figured would be what would have happened, had this person not been listening to the show, and simply had gotten called by someone who was, telling him to call the show.  Got it?

Sure enough, they patched me in to the actual program, and there are Clif and Claf, asking about my background.  Quickly affecting what I fondly believed to be an Irish accent, for some reason, I told them someone had told me I was supposed to call the station -- "How can I help you folks?", I asked them.  They said, and this was all on the air, that people had been trying to get them use their contacts to arrange for me to sing the anthem at Fenway.

"I'd certainly be happy to do that", I told them.  OK, except then they asked me, "What's your favorite Irish song?"  I did not know where this was going, so I said "Danny Boy."  (At least it was Irish, which I was not very.)  "Sing it for us!", they asked, again, still on the air.  So having dug myself a hole, but still in pursuit of my ambition, I sat down at the piano in our apartment and, accompanying myself, gave the metropolitan Boston sports-listening area, and Clif and Claf, a quick chorus of "Danny Boy."

Modesty aside, I actually could sing a bit back then, and I suppose that, even over a radio-telephone patch, they were impressed enough to where they did indeed contact the team's PR Department, and a few weeks later, I sang my very first major-league game national anthem at Fenway.  Of course, I had to keep that brogue through every subsequent dealing with the team, and had to explain to my brother why, when he would visit and see a game, he had to talk like an Irishman when he was with me, and for that matter, why I had to talk like one (he didn't mind; in fact, the first game he ever attended that I sang for, he caught a foul ball).

By the way, from the "I thought so" department, I will tell you that the mic-stand I would sing from, in the on-deck circle, had a cord that ran into the home dugout, where it was plugged into exactly nothing.  Yes, boys and girls, as with all the early stadiums, the singers had to record the anthem and lip-sync it, since the acoustics were so inhospitable that if you sang live, you would hear yourself a few seconds later and go nuts.  That lip-syncing could lead to some fun experiences, as I wrote here not long ago.
At any rate, however foolish I had to be, however many silly things I had to do to make it happen, I did get to achieve my ambition.  I even have a cassette of that first time doing the anthem there, a tape of the radio broadcast that ends with the Red Sox announcer, Ned Martin, telling the audience what a great job I had done.  That was pretty neat.

I also met Clif Keane in person in the press room after that first game.  The next day he mentioned it on air during the show, wondering how such a big voice came out of such a little guy.  Apparently he was unfamiliar with the mechanism of how a sound engineer playing a tape was the one who controlled the volume in the stadium.  Just saying.

It's almost 40 years since that experience, but fun to recall.  Clif and Claf are gone, as is Ned Martin the announcer, and John Kiley the organist who accompanied that tape.  And Rocco Scotti, the inspiration of it all, who outlived all of them, is gone, too.

The story, though, is quite alive.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Useless, Useless Debate Formats

It gets a bit scary sometimes, when I have a thought that I'd like to turn into a piece for this site, only to search back through the over-500 previous columns to find that I wrote it two years earlier.  That would seem to be the case here, as I addressed the topic of the presidential debates a couple years back.

I suppose that it's "nice" to have gone back and found out that I had not changed the details in terms of what I felt then and how I feel now.  However, in the 2014 piece I was thinking two years ahead to this season.  It is now the end of debate season, three weeks from the actual election, and I am a lot more passionate about those thoughts.  So you get them again.

We have been "treated" this past month or so to three presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  They were universally awful, and it's pretty obvious why, at least to me.

First, I regard them as "awful" simply because they did absolutely nothing to help the voting populace understand what the candidates would do if they were to be elected.  I say that first, because that's precisely what the debates should be about, and that's precisely what we did not get.

We need a president.  We need a leader, no matter what your political leanings may be, and a leader who has a set of principles fleshed out to some extent by approaches and strategies to implement or support those principles.  Even if you are a liberal, that's what you need -- someone to articulate what they believe in, and how they would pursue those goals.

Unfortunately, the debate structure is an inane, counter-productive model for doing that.  We are not electing a president based on debate skills; those skills do not really translate to anything a president needs.  So the purpose of having any structured forum should not be to show debate skills, or even mastery of the issues at some micro-detailed level.  It should be some kind of forum specifically designed to allow the candidates to present the principles that guide them, and the approaches they favor using.

That, friends, is not a mano a mano "debate."

Back at M.I.T. in the 1970s, we were almost always allowed to bring reference books and notes into final exams.  The idea was that you were not at M.I.T. to memorize formulas; rather, you were supposed to be taught where to find what you needed, when you needed it.  I think, for the most part, employers of my fellow alumni would attest to the fact that we made really good employees, because we focused on process rather than rote memorization.

I think the analogous concept applies to the debates.  Not only does the artificial drama and pseudo-conflict we get now obscure a real presentation of the issues, but it puts weight on memorized "zingers" and learned lines.  That does not help the voter one bit -- memorization is not what a president needs as a skill.  Moreover, engagement between the candidates is also phony drama that reflects zero on skills a president needs.

So going back to what the voter needs (as opposed to what the political parties and the media want), it is patently obvious that the format needs to change.

I would -- and will here -- argue for a format that leads to the education of the voter.  So, to me, I think it is appropriate for the questions to be provided in advance to both candidates, so that they can prepare the answers in a way that best informs the voter watching at home.  I would even be OK essentially banning references to the other candidate in any way (or having a final wrap-up, five minutes each, to counter-argue statements of the other candidate).

So ... my debate would feature:

- A moderator serving only the function of timekeeper and deliverer of the questions; it does not need to be someone from the press (or if so, a dual-moderator structure with one from CNN and one from Fox, something like that)

- Automatic shut-off of microphones five seconds after the buzzer

- Manual shut-off the mics if the rule about not referring to the opposing candidate is breached

- Questions submitted in advance to both candidates, with prepared notes allowed

- Physical separation of the candidates (they don't need to engage; they could be in different rooms or different zip codes -- this is not about engagement or confrontation

- No audience; the audience serves no purpose whatsoever.

I earnestly believe that events like debates should be laid out so that they achieve the best interest of whom they are designed for, in this case, the voter.  Were we to start from a blank slate, we would never put them together the way they are now, because they don't achieve the desired end (informing the public).

So let's start again from a blank slate and do better.  We have plenty of time -- four years now, you know.

If we still have a country then.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Next First Lady

I happened to hear a video of an interview with Melania Trump yesterday.  She is, of course, the wife of Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president, which means that if he were to be elected, she would be the first lady.

We do not vote for the first lady.  She comes along with the package, and I'm not sure that I can recall where any candidate has benefited or lost votes because of who he was married to.  We didn't really know Jackie Kennedy much until she became first lady, and her husband never ran for office again after he was elected in 1960.

In 2016, we have way more mentions of Bill Clinton, who would be the "first lady", or whatever he gets called, if God forbid, Hillary were to be elected, way more mentions in the press than we do of Mrs. Trump.  We understand that; Bill is a former president, known worldwide, and he has been out on the campaign trail.

Bill actually being on the campaign trail is a mixed blessing.  He has dumped lines out there, for example calling Obamacare "crazy", and calling Trump supporters "rednecks", that are fairly controversial, or would be if the press weren't too busy licking his boots to make an issue of it.  But he is out there, and at worst he is a neutral contributor to the Hillary campaign.

Melania Trump is a whole different being.  Obviously, she is not out on the campaign trail, which is ostensibly to be at home with their son, who is ten or eleven years old, and we get that.  If I were either Donald or Melania, I would not be wanting my son of that age to be home alone (i.e., without a parent present), with someone else watching him, when the Clinton hit machine is in full force attacking his father.  That young boy needs a parent right there.

Unfortunately, by not being out there, we are only given small glimpses of exposure to the type of person we can assume she is, from the collective interviews.  That's pretty much a shame.  Having seen Melania Trump speak with reporters and interviewers a few times, I'd actually be really happy to have her as first lady -- and on the campaign trail.

She is an elegant lady, careful in her speech -- English is not her first language, of course -- but clearly passionate about her family and her goals for them, and for her causes.  I think you can tell that she is more upset about the things her husband has said in the locker-room vernacular, themselves, than the fact that they came out in the first place.  I also think that she made that clear behind closed doors.

The role of the first lady is complicated; some seek out the spotlight, while others simply work in the background, either for their family, their causes or both.  We have to respect that choice.  After all, the first lady is not the one elected, but the spouse of the person who will lead the nation.  Her opinions, in fact, her history as well, do not affect the country (her aim with an ashtray in the White House, however, could have, had it been any more accurate in the Bill Clinton era).

So to say that I would be quite happy to have Melania Trump as first lady, isn't to say that it would make the running of our nation any better.  But I think it would simply be a successful tenure, where the first lady's presence and carriage before the nation would be a great benefit, notwithstanding the expectation that the press would find ways to mock her (though for what, I can't imagine).

Just a wandering thought on a Wednesday ...

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Going to Mars

This past week, Barack Obama, whom we keep trying to forget is the current president of the United States, said something to the effect that we were going to try to have a manned mission to the planet Mars in the 2030s.

Let us set aside, or get out of the way quickly, all the immediate thoughts about perhaps sending him there now, as an involuntary astronaut, and perhaps having Hillary Clinton as his co-pilot on the trip.  I admit that thoughts like that were my immediate reaction when I heard, a day or two later, that Obama had actually said that.

Then I started to ask myself the obvious question.  No, it's not the one about why we should go to Mars; that would be an interesting question that otherwise like-minded folk could agree or disagree on.  I don't know that I actually have a strong opinion about it; it's a question between the proper use of the money it would take (i.e., should we borrow it from China) vs. the potential secondary and tertiary scientific benefits that might come from the development of the vehicle and systems needed to do such a thing.

My question is actually much simpler.  Why would Barack Obama, who is a totally political being in the last couple three months of his unfortunate presidency, care one bit about going to Mars?  Do you see what I mean?

Obama can do exactly nothing about it.  We are already into the government fiscal year 2017, so there is nothing that is going to get redirected in the NASA budget that wasn't already there, for the purpose of starting this.  Barack Obama will be mercifully out of the White House by the time anything could even get started.

So again, why would he bother?  His approval ratings are easing higher, presumably because he has been out of the public eye and therefore not in a position to screw any more things up visibly.  He simply does not have to hitch his creaky wagon to something like a Mars expedition, certainly not in any association with an actual effort to go there.

I have to go back to the whole "political beast" part of the argument.  Obama is always going to want to keep spending our money, so he can justify his successors' reaching into our pockets ever more, whether it goes to NASA or HUD.  He clearly has more sympathy for spending on HUD, but his comments were about NASA.  So why ...?

The political part apparently is associated with the "legacy" part -- Barack Obama cares about what people will think about his presidency even more than getting anything done during it.  That's why he insisted, despite the change to the situation, on moronic adherence to campaign promises and statements that he made years earlier, like setting deadlines to pull US troops out of places that led to the rise of Islamist terrorism.

But Obama can say he "kept his promises."  Yippee.

Nope, I think this has to do with John Kennedy, the former president from the 1960s, as opposed to the utility infielder from the 1960s. Remember old JFK talking about getting a man on the moon before the end of the '60s?  You might.  Hardly a news clip remembering Neil Armstrong or the Mercury astronauts goes by without the obligatory clip of JFK's speech about how we would get a man on the moon, and return him.

The left controls the media.  They will rewrite the facts of Barack Obama's abysmal legacy the day he leaves office, and Obama knows it.  That's why the press keeps letting the Hillary campaign refer to the birther movement as the "racist" birther movement, trying to discredit "the first black president", even though the birth movement had zippo to do with Obama being half black.

Obama knows that it is almost inevitable that NASA will continue pushing to try to get a man on Mars, and he wants to have his John Kennedy moment -- even though he will have had nothing to do with it, and will have almost eight years of trying to take funds from NASA to spend on wasteful Federal pursuits.  He knows that Mars is inevitable, and he knows the slavish, fawning press will start replaying clips of his declaration until we forget that Barack Obama couldn't have cared less about NASA in actuality, and certainly not until his term was mercifully over.

What a depressing state of affairs, to think that we can already predict how this is all going to play out.  Certainly Obama can, and that's why we have speeches like that.

But Barack Obama, you are no John Kennedy.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, October 17, 2016

It Wasn't MY Wedding

I think I mentioned way back that I was the secretary of the MIT Class of 1973.  At any rate, I am still the secretary of the MIT Class of 1973, a position I have held in some form or fashion since 1975.

I wasn't a campus politician; I went to class, played on the golf and bowling teams, did intramural sports and was an active fraternity member.  That took enough time, that and I wanted nothing to do with campus politics.  The actual, elected class secretary during our undergrad years had been a young lady who sadly passed away a few years ago.

There is an MIT magazine called Technology Review, a wonderful periodical done six times a year.  It covers true leading-edge technologies that I mostly don't understand, so it gets fairly wide circulation outside the actual MIT community.  But it is also the MIT alumni magazine, and the back half of each issue is about the school itself, wherein each class secretary sends updates from his or her classmates.  It's all email now, but back then the updates were mailed to magazine headquarters and compiled and forwarded on to the secretaries to write columns from.

In 1975, I contacted the magazine to ask why no updates from '73 had been in the magazine for the prior year.  I was told that it was because "your secretary hasn't sent any."  They added, "If you want, we'll send you the updates and you can write the column."  I said "sure", and from that point on, I got the updates and dutifully mailed in the columns.

I didn't sign them as "Class Secretary", because I wasn't.  I was just another flunky who volunteered to do something no one else wanted to do (ironic, if you look at my current profession).  I signed the class notes as "Bob."

Then came the class's Tenth Reunion in 1983 which, like each of the first 39, I did not attend.  Apparently I was elected the "actual" secretary at some meeting of the class during the Reunion, and that's where this story comes up.

A month or so after that reunion, I received a three-page, hand-written letter from a classmate to my home in Virginia.  He was known to me, but not more than (I thought) a very casual acquaintance.  He had been the editor of the campus newspaper, and if memory serves, he was from Maine.  If we had passed in the hallway as undergrads I would possibly have nodded, but only if we were pretty much the only people in the hall.

Early in the letter, he was describing the reunion, so I was thinking that he was going to be writing to tell his class secretary what had happened -- including that I had been elected the actual secretary of the class.  That, by the way, remains the only way I know to tell you that I am the secretary; no one ever reported to me in any official capacity that I have that job, and it is 33 years later.

But I digress.

By about the bottom of the first page, I remember starting to think that there was something a bit odd about the tone of the letter.  Some of you may not be old enough to remember actual handwritten letters, so you'll have to trust me when I tell you that; what I was realizing was that the tone was quite a bit more familiar than our very casual acquaintance would have led to.

I read on through the second page; there was more of the reunion but mostly a bunch of information about people from the class, many of whom weren't at the reunion.  The tone, again, was odd in the sense that it was written as if I knew these classmates -- and I didn't.  But he was assuming I did, and that didn't make sense -- he really didn't know me, and wouldn't have had any reason to know who I did and didn't know well enough to have cared about them.

Have you ever had an experience like that?  You're reading something that should otherwise make sense, and it just doesn't.

And that was where my mind was at, right up until the middle of the last page, when he made reference to yet another classmate I didn't know.  That fellow, he lamented, he "had not seen, Bob, since your wedding last year."  Oops.  Not only had the classmate (and the letter-writer) not been at my wedding, but I had been married years earlier!

You would have thought, perhaps, that 33 years ago I would have written the fellow back to ask whom he thought he was sending the letter to, because it was pretty obvious that he thought I was someone else.  But I never did.  And I haven't done so since.  Although I have told the story a few times in the intervening decades, I have never contacted him to see if he even remembers the letter.

I think I'm going to do that.  Life is too short to leave a mystery hanging out there.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, October 14, 2016

See Ya, Big Papi

Earlier this week, the Boston Red Sox lost game three of a best-of-five series against the Cleveland Indians.  This game was important in two ways, the first being that it was the third win for the Indians, meaning that they advanced to the next round of the playoffs against Toronto.

Equally important, of course, is that it constituted the end of the career of Boston's designated hitter for the last 14 seasons, David Ortiz.  Known as "Big Papi" to the league and to baseball fans, Ortiz had announced before the season began that, at 40 years old and with numerous aches and pains from his long career, this would be it for him and he would retire at season's end.

Ortiz then went on to have a season at the plate that 40-year-old players have never had.  Aches and pains aside, and preparation aside, he homered 38 times.  More importantly as far as offensive production, he got on base over 40% of his times to the plate, and slugged .620 -- the latter meaning that on average, for every hundred at-bats his hits alone were worth an amazing 62 bases.

Now, it's important to note that he led both leagues in each of those two statistical measures, and it wasn't all that close.  It is more important to note that those were not two cherry-picked numbers taken to find something that Ortiz led the majors in.  These were, as I had mentioned in an earlier piece, the two individual offensive metrics most correlated with team run production.

In other words, not a single player in the major leagues produced more offensive contribution to his team than a 40-year-old designated hitter with creaky knees and bad feet.

And a rather coarse mouth.

Big Papi will be remembered for a lot of things, including some really important hits at some really important times, and being a pivotal part of the 2004 championship team that broke the fabled "Curse of the Bambino."  But he will equally be remembered for his impassioned speech at Fenway Park in the first game back after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

You've heard it; we all have.  After telling the fans that Boston the team, and Boston the city, would not be bowed by Islamist terrorists (OK, he didn't use those words, but I will), he finished by declaring "This is our #$%%&$% city!".  No, he didn't speak typographical symbols.

It says a lot about what we, as a nation, felt about Ortiz that he took almost no flak for using a really bad word in the middle of a speech to 38,000 people there (many of them kids) and millions on TV (many of them kids).  I mean, I do not use that word or any of its other forms, ever.  I would be happy if I never heard it again.  But Papi, well, I guess we all gave him a pass.

We all, at least we who are Red Sox fans (but a lot of others) would have liked to have seen Ortiz make it to the World Series in this, his last season.  Then again, there are fans of the Indians (no World Series championships since 1948) and Cubs (none since 1908), both still in the playoffs, that would argue that they're even more deserving of having their wishes met.  That's fine.  If both manage to get to the Series, some city is going to have a heck of a party at the end.

David Ortiz may or may not make it to the Hall of Fame.  Suspicions about whether he might have used banned substances, the kind of thing that has kept Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens from the Hall, have existed since a piece was published regarding the 2003 testing that was done by Major League Baseball to see if there was a sufficient problem (they decided that there was, based on a total number of positive tests as a percentage of all tests).

That unconfirmed report named over 100 players by name; however, the number of players named exceeded the number of actual positive tests reported, so obviously there were players named who had not tested positive.  Moreover, after the ban was subsequently put in, Ortiz, who was named in the report, never tested positive one time.  And unlike other players, Ortiz was able to accumulate 13 years of clean testing to bounce his best years against.

I believe that in five years, or not too long thereafter, Ortiz will indeed make it to the Hall of Fame.  He certainly had a career worthy, and from the "Fame" part of the equation, well, it would be hard to argue.  David Ortiz led not only his team but his city, including through a terrible time in its history.  He was a memorable player and a memorable character.

Ortiz is not ever going to be thought of as the greatest Latino player to play for the Red Sox; Ted Williams preceded him and no one is going to try to make Ortiz out as a better Latino player than Ted Williams.  But Papi is in our immediate memory, and it is a reasonable thing to celebrate his career and his legacy.

We will miss him.  Another Big Papi is not coming along anytime soon.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Chris Wallace's First Question

Amidst all the latest batch of Wikileaks-driven leaked emails from the Hillary Clinton Memorial Archives, we find a curious set of communications while Hillary was Secretary of State that regard Haiti.  These should be an interesting question source for the next debate.

Back in 2011, there was, as you know, a major 7.0 earthquake that struck southern Haiti, devastating Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas.  Many well-intentioned elements immediately did what they could to start a relief effort there, including the Red Cross and other agencies.  The U.S. government got in the act as well, trying to provide some support to the disaster victims.

Of course, when disasters happen, a lot of money is spent on relief.  And when a lot of money is spent, you can expect a lot of snakes and frauds to leap in to try to enrich themselves.

The Clinton family, snakes and frauds themselves, attracts a lot of them as cronies.  We are already aware of that, gleaned from recent revelations showing that Clinton campaign donors and "Foundation" donors were given lucrative contracts for Haitian rebuilding.  We now know that they used that money to build in areas unaffected by the earthquake, as opposed to those who needed it.  We also know that they claimed to be planning 60,000 new jobs to help the Haitian economy recover, but did not even create 10,000, and the few they did create were nowhere near the affected area.

So now we read, in the leaked emails, that there was a curious relationship between the State Department under Hillary Clinton, and the Clinton Foundation, during the immediate aftermath of the Haitian earthquake.  Specifically, those donors wanting Haitian rebuilding contracts would go to the Foundation, who would then contact State Department staffers close to Hillary to try to get contracts for the donors.

The corrupt part of this is that internal State emails would refer to these donors as "FOBs" (friends of Bill) or "HRC friend" (friend of Hillary), so as to make sure their pleas for contracts got properly handled.  As one who lives in the world of Federal contracting, I can tell you that this is simply beyond any previously-known level of corruption, and all the way to indictable action.

So ... in a few days, there will be a debate to be held, the last presidential debate of this election cycle.  The moderator will be Chris Wallace, the long-time journalist from Fox News.

Note that while we have known about the Haiti corruption and donors receiving contracts to work there, we only now -- i.e., since the most recent debate -- gotten these leaks that senior State employees, paid by you and me, were making decisions based on who was or was not a personal friend of Hillary or Bill Clinton.

I don't know if Chris Wallace has planned the questions he will ask Hillary at the debate as of yet.  But I have one that I'd like him to ask her, and I would like to make sure that he gets a legitimate answer (i.e., not to let her go off on Russian hackers, but to be forced to answer the question).  That question is this:

"Mrs. Clinton, we now have evidence that senior officials in the State Department, while you were Secretary right after the Haiti earthquake, were sent emails from the Clinton Foundation on behalf of friends of yours and former President Clinton, who wanted contracts for rebuilding.  We also know that inside State, those friends were referred to as 'friends of Bill' or 'friends of Hillary' as they were seeking contract awards.  Such awards are supposed to be completely made based on open competition.  My question is this -- why would taxpayer-paid employees of the State Department care whether anyone seeking work from the Federal government was a friend of yours?

Do you think that one will get answered?  Or asked?

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Tossing It All Away

It was a fun campaign.  It is no longer.

The most defeatable Democratic presidential candidate in recent memory, certainly since Michael Dukakis, is headed toward the White House, simply because the Republican establishment has shown itself to be everything I have complained about in this column in the past.

Over the next four years, several Supreme Court vacancies are likely to need to be filled.  Obamacare could metastasize into some form of single-payer behemoth sucking the financial life out of the USA.  ISIS legions will overflow our borders, many disguised as Syrian refugees, and will proceed to cause unimaginable harm to our basic way of life.  Our absurdly-high Federal debt may again double.

All of that needs conservative leadership in the White House to stop it.  At the moment, there is exactly one conservative running for president, and given there is only one month before the election, there is not going to be another one showing up in the near future.

That guy is Donald Trump, and he's not winning this election if things don't change pretty darn soon.  And one of the reason that's going to happen is that the Republicans who are crying their eyes out now about Trump and a bunch of irrelevancies, are so focused on their own political lives, and their own jobs, and their own security, that all the things that I just said needed to get fixed are not going to.

But they will have their jobs -- maybe.

I've complained enough in this column about the sad failure of the Republican leadership to execute on the mandate they were given in 2014 when the electorate gave them a Senate majority and a huge House lead.  We asked them to fix all of the above, and they fixed their job security.  We asked them to protect us and start working on the financial disaster that is the Federal budget, and they did neither.

So it seems particularly disgusting for those selfsame people to be distancing themselves from Trump in droves, when their own contemptible inaction, after the nation handed them power we begged them to use properly, is a big reason those problems are out there and in need of resolution.

They're making a huge mistake.  They need to stop worrying about the locker room and start worrying about the Oval Office and who is going to be working there.  There is no upside for the country in having Hillary Clinton, the incompetent, corrupt liar, handed the reins of power.  There is severe downside in having Hillary Clinton appointing political hacks and cronies to Cabinet positions, where they will be concerned only with power and not the good of the country.

Has power corrupted everyone at this point, to where the electorate is going to get the short end of the stick?  It certainly appears so.

Donald Trump is an imperfect, flawed candidate, but his appointees and advisors can, at the very least, be expected to represent a vision of the country's progress more in line with the electorate's vision than Hillary Clinton's.  He is what the alternative is today.

The suck-their-thumb Republicans off on their own trips this week are embarrassing, not just because they're doing things that ensure Hillary's election, but because they are the very people who walked out on their responsibilities when the nation gave them the power to try to fix them.

It is no longer fun.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Skewing of the Independent Mind

That's "skewing", not "skewering", although independent voters this year may feel there's at least sometimes more of the latter.

I got to thinking, after last Sunday night's debate that it must be hard as all get-out to be an independent these days.  Now, I don't really know what it means to call yourself an "independent" these days.  It's not "moderate" because there are no such things.  Let's say perhaps that a better term would be "undecided."

But we'll call them "independent" because it's as good a word as any to use.

And I believe that the independent voter is forced to be looking at two candidates without even using the same scale to evaluate them.  In other words, as you, as an independent, evaluate Donald Trump, you are thinking "Businessman ... made a lot of money ... employed a lot of people ... no experience; never held office ... 70 years old ... really crude mouth ... good father with great kids ... unpolished debater ... no details, just 100,000-foot attitudes ..."

You're looking at all those things and evaluating whether to vote for him based on all that and whether it is workable as a president.

Then -- you switch over to Hillary Clinton and a totally different set of attributes come to the fore.  You're thinking "Career politician ... married to governor and president ... corrupt ... senator, Cabinet official ... Clinton Foundation ... polished in debates ... caught in many lies ... email server ... would be first woman president ... Russian reset, Libya, Syria failures ... let USA sell uranium to Russia in return for donations and Bill speech fees ... policy in detail ... destroyed lives of husband's victims ..."

Do you get my point?  For almost all of these ways in which we are looking at the two candidates, we are looking at completely different attributes.  It is as if the terms "better" or "worse" are completely useless, because the way we are looking at these two candidates is on two different scales, two different sets of attributes, two different sets of issues.

Nixon and Kennedy debated in 1960 in a campaign dominated by claims to two Asian islands, Quemoy and Matsu, that we no longer remember.  But the voter could compare the way each candidate would approach the issue, and make a decision.  We have nothing like that now, because we're not getting the kind of issue-based discussion in the debates that we need.

I mean, let's face it, I was never going to vote for Hillary because she's a liberal and I'm not.  The corruption and incompetence are just poisonous icing on the cake.  I'm not an independent.  There are no issues where I would trust her leadership because I don't agree with her views in the first place.

But if you're an independent, I don't know what you do.  I just know that your scoring system is impossible, because there is so much noise obscuring the signal, for one, and because the evaluation of each candidate is on a completely different scale -- or set of scales.

So let me try to help.  Set the candidates aside, for the time being.  The current administration has doubled our debt, made the USA the butt of jokes around the world, weakened our military, over-regulated business to the point that we have the lowest labor force participation in several decades, and cares a lot more about gender-neutral bathrooms than ISIS in our backyards.

Ask yourself which candidate represents the continuation of all that.  And unless you think that is a good thing, worth another four years of it, I think you know what to do.

Scales be darned.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Monday, October 10, 2016

#500: What's REALLY Important?

We survived.  Seven people here in North Carolina did not, and that is particularly important (and tragic).  Hurricane Matthew was a dramatic storm, with high winds ripping through the eastern part of the state, far bigger a chunk of the state than had been expected.  Floods are rampant in areas that had been at fairly high water levels previously.

It's still pretty breezy here, and as I write this, there are ongoing rescue efforts to find and remove people put in some precarious positions by the storm.  Coastal Georgia, Florida and South Carolina are cleaning up as we speak, and some coastal areas are simply not going to be the same.  Some dams are at treacherous heights.

If you've never had the eye-wall of a hurricane go over top of you, it's a pretty scary experience.  Nowhere better to go, nothing you can do.  Mother Nature can be a mean mother.

That's really important.

ISIS is here.  Born of an ideology that was allowed to take root and gain funding when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama refused to allow American projected strength to stay in Iraq, radical Islamist terrorism is here.  Islamist terrorists are killing innocents in great numbers in the Middle East, and they're already killing innocent Americans here in our workplaces and social settings.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton support bringing unvetted or under-vetted people from those regions here, although no one thinks it a good idea, save for them.  There are thousands of square miles of territory in their home regions where they can practice their own culture and their own faith, with their own language.  They would probably prefer that.  But no, political beasts like Obama and Hillary value votes ahead of the lives of innocent Americans; they will try to bring them here, and will shrug when the next phony refugee commits crimes here.

That's really important.

We are, as a nation, $20 trillion in debt.  We owe that incredible amount to many other countries, including China, who wants to destroy us.  Our economy has soured so badly that entrepreneurs are not able to raise capital to start or sustain businesses.  We laugh when banks advertise that they want to lend to small businesses, because they certainly don't want to, and they don't do it.  Accordingly, the USA is not creating jobs.  Few new good jobs, and tax revenues lag.  As a result, we can't pay the principal on our national debt, and the interest cost we do pay keeps rising.

Businesses that would provide those jobs are not creating them here, because it's too expensive.  Minimum-wage laws, excessive regulations, slow Federal agency responses, all make it easier to ship jobs overseas or simply hire fewer, better people -- or automate.  You can't tell businesses to hire more; wages reflect the value added by the employee's efforts, not what the employee actually needs.  So job growth is slow, wage growth is non-existent, and it's not clear who cares in the White House.

That's really important.

And this, friends, is the 500th column on this site.  That might only be important to me, but I'd like to think that occasionally something I wrote made a difference, even to one person, even once.

Shall I tell you what's not important?  Sophomoric comments that are made in any locker room in the USA on any given day, like the ones that occupied 30% of the presidential debate last night.  If you, my friend, are not looking first at the things I point out as being important, and plan to cast a vote for Hillary Clinton, despite the proven incompetence of the Democrats' candidate at solving anything important to the life of the USA, then I don't know what I can tell you.

I think I'll look out at the wind again.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, October 7, 2016

One More Interruption

I suppose that, even though I only watched it once (my head hurt too much the first time), the vice-presidential candidates debate still haunts me.  Maybe that's because it made my head hurt, or maybe because, even though one of the candidates was formerly the governor of the state I lived in, I didn't really think I had heard him actually talk about anything previously.

Tim Kaine was an embarrassment to himself, to (in my case "former") Virginians, and to the Democratic Party as a whole.  I didn't vote for the guy either as governor or as a senator, but I wouldn't want to be asked if I did, or if he in any way represented the otherwise-genteel Commonwealth or its citizens.

After all, I lived longer in Virginia than he has.  I had some pride.

Mr. Debatus Interruptus obviously went into Tuesday's debate with instructions and a few things to make sure he did, to wit:
- Do not, under any circumstances, let Mike Pence talk for more than 45 seconds without interrupting him with something that Donald Trump supposedly said, factual or not, accurate quote or not
- Do not, under any circumstances, let Gov. Pence say anything about Hillary Clinton without immediately speaking loudly over top of him, especially if it involved the Clinton Foundation or the private email server
- Rattle off every one of a series of a dozen or so Trump quotes, multiple times each, being sure to twist the words so as to make the perceived meaning far more negative than the original intent
- Rattle off every one of a series of canned quips that his handlers came up with, once each, as if he would get five lashes from one of Hillary's lackeys for each one he neglected to say.

"Putin is a strong leader" (not what Trump said in context).  "Women are pigs and dogs" (not what Trump said about women).  "Mexicans are rapists and criminals" (not what Trump said in context).  There are not enough Pinocchios available to the fact-checkers for trampling on context like that.

As a now-former Virginian, I would have certainly preferred had Kaine not made Hoosiers look even more gentlemanly than Virginians by contrast, even though Kaine is actually from Minnesota.  He could have done that by answering questions with actual policy positions from the Democrats.  Surely he would have not risked embarrassment to his ticket -- he ended up embarrassing them horribly -- had he simply come across as calm, measured, presidential.

Instead, his continued rudeness served to point up Mike Pence's calmness, measured approach and very presidential demeanor, by contrast.

You have to wonder about the judgment of the Clinton camp sometimes, as if they're trying to run the campaign by stalling until Election Day.  No press conferences, a few prepared interviews with compliant questioners (such as the Steve Harvey piece in February that, he admitted, included only questions provided and blessed by Hillary Herself), keeping her under wraps and out of sight.

But this was strange.  Kaine was quite obviously wound up like a wind-up doll, hyper-caffeinated and robotically following marching orders.  Who in that campaign decided that having him be an utter jerk was a good idea?  And, for God's sake, why?  As I noted above, if they had just asked themselves what would be the least harmful approach, it would have been to out-Pence Pence, and just be a decent guy -- which some people claim that Kaine actually is, or at least was at some point.

I would like to hope that Donald Trump, even though he is a New Yorker and thus constitutionally challenged at being calm and nice, watched that debate and saw how contrasting styles can be really effective.  I want to hope that the different format of Sunday's presidential debate, a town hall style, gives him an opportunity to come across as more thoughtful, less reactive and volatile, and capable of making Hillary Clinton look like the pompous, self-righteous creature she is.

I want to hope that Trump is practicing ways to incorporate calm, measured mentions of the worst of Hillary's corrupt acts -- Uranium One, for example, in response to any reference to her actions as Secretary of State in regard to Russia.  The corrupt influencing of Haiti earthquake relief to enrich Clinton construction cronies, while building in a far-less-damaged part of Haiti to the cronies' advantage (valuable with the hurricane this weekend as a visible disaster).  I want to hope that he is practicing doing so in a calmer, more measured tone than in the first debate.

Tim Kaine put the Clinton ticket at risk by showing one member of the ticket, the only time we will see him, as being a horse's back half.  There is an incredible lesson for the Republicans,when they ask themselves why Pence won the day on Tuesday.

May they, and the top of the ticket, learn it.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, October 6, 2016

What is "Leadership"

There were some strange moments during the vice-presidential debate on Tuesday between Mike Pence, the Indiana governor and Tim Kaine, the senator from my old home state of Virginia.  OK, "commonwealth."  I don't live there anymore, so I suppose I don't care as much about the formality.  OK, I don't.

What I do care about is a weird exchange between the two VP hopefuls that had to do with the odd combination of Vladimir Putin and the notion of "leadership."

Specifically, Kaine kept going back to a statement made by Donald Trump comparing the strength of leadership of Putin, the head of Russia, with Barack Obama, who sadly is the president of the USA.  That statement, and I'll have to paraphrase because I don't recall Trump's actual words, was to say that Putin was a stronger leader than Obama was.

Tim Kaine thought that was such an embarrassing statement that he kept asking Pence if he "really believed" what Trump had said, and I have to say that I was a bit surprised that Pence didn't say "Of course Putin is a stronger leader, and that's not even in question.  Obama is weak as a kitten!"

As I was wondering why anyone wouldn't think Putin was a stronger leader, it sort of came to me as Kaine said something else about Trump's statement.  Whatever it was, I realized that Kaine was talking far less about strength and far more about something like "inspirational qualities."  That's giving him the benefit of the doubt, of course.

Kaine, at one point, said that Trump had called Putin "a great leader", which was not what he said, meaning that Kaine lied explicitly, not for the only time, of course.  Trump said that Putin was a "better leader than Obama", which in the meaning of his context was perfectly accurate.

Obama is terrible at leading our country.  He has been unsuccessful at implementing any improvements whatsoever; the economy is limping along, Obamacare has failed miserably; our debt has doubled, ISIS is here already, our enemies don't fear us and our friends don't ... well, I think there are no friends left.

Vladimir Putin, whatever one thinks of him, is the leader of his country by virtue of having been "elected", or whatever they do over there, in the same way that Obama is the leader of this country.  I interpreted Trump's comments to mean that they're both the "leaders" of their respective countries, and in that role, Putin is a heck of a lot stronger than Obama.  I don't even think you can question that; Putin is a bully in  his role, and Obama is a wimp in his.  Neither is good, but Putin is "stronger" at it.

There was, I believe, a real disconnect in what the left thinks is "leadership", especially in the whole "force for good" way -- as the left defines "good."  I thought Ronald Reagan was a marvelous leader, because he had a modest number of core principles and fought for them, sure, but he got others to see his way and support him, plus he was very effective at getting them done -- and admired by the nation as he did it.

The left is too hung up on the "inspire" part, and too fearful of the "strength" part even to let it creep into their definition.  Oh, Putin leads all right.  He may not inspire much (I'm not a Russian, so I can't tell you), but he is their leader and he leads his country with strength.  The strength of a bully, but it applies.

Obama inspires, too.  Not me, and not half the country, but he can read a speech.  His fecklessness as an actual leader is based his having never led anything at all before being immaculated as president, and not knowing what to do other than to ram through legislation and issue illegal executive orders.  He is not a leader in America's sense of the word, which is why the rest of us were so confused as to why Tim Kaine could possibly have thought it odd for anyone to think Putin a better leader than Obama.

Of course, Kaine then lied and said Trump called him a "great leader" which, of course, he hadn't.  But the truth and Democrat candidates are distant cousins.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Does the Vice-Presidency Matter?

I've never been afraid to write a piece on Tuesday to be published on Wednesday, knowing that something was going to happen Tuesday night that might make my piece less relevant.

In today's case, there was a vice-presidential candidates debate last night.  Someone won, someone lost, probably; someone dropped a few jolly zingers and someone was the butt of some other jolly zingers.  And apparently one was a real jerk (hint: the one on the left). The two second-spot candidates don't strike anyone as the topic of ridicule, so it will have been interesting to have seen what happened.

Maybe they actually talked about things we are really interested in, like the economy and terrorists and stuff.  Naaaah.

At any rate, all that got me thinking yesterday about the importance of the vice presidency, or its relative lack of importance, and that started to make me wonder why anyone even ran for the office in the first place.  That's the job that FDR's first vice president, John Nance Garner, an irascible Texan, once famously referred to as being not being worth a bucket of warm spit, only he didn't say "spit."

Tom Lehrer, the comedian who wrote and sang truly funny satirical songs in the 1960s, once asked in song what had ever happened to Hubert Humphrey, the senator from Minnesota who became VP under Lyndon Johnson and promptly disappeared from view for four years (until running for president and losing to Richard Nixon):

"Whatever became of Hubert; we miss you so tell us, please
Are you sad, are you cross, are you gathering moss
While you wait for the boss to sneeze? 
Once a fiery liberal spirit
Ah, but now when he speaks he must clear it
Second fiddle's a hard part, I know
When they don't even give you a bow"

That's pretty much what I was thinking, and why the choice of vice-presidential running mates, of so little relevance or impact on the actual elections, is agonized over by the presidential candidates.  Sure, the VP presides over the Senate, but that turns out to be a mostly ceremonial role unless the Senate is split 50-50 by party, which it pretty much never is.

The VP actually has so little to do, and is forced to live in the District of Columbia, which means you are punished for taking a job that entails little other than what the president doesn't have time to get to.  Given the amount of golf and campaigning that the current president has time for, it's no surprise that it's hard to remember that the current vice-president is ... is ... is ... oh yeah, Joe Biden.

Too bad Uncle Joe didn't end up running for president.  He would have had to have told us what he did for the last eight years.

Actually, the previous VP, Dick Cheney, was actually one of the busiest and most productive.  He also worked as VP, apparently only doing what he thought best for the USA and not necessarily what people thought he should do.  A close friend of mine who worked for the second President Bush (43) once told me that Cheney was so active as vice president because "he wasn't ever going to run for president."

I'll be interested to see when we have another VP who makes a whole lot more out of the job.  Last night we heard questions of two men who are taking months out of their lives and careers to run for a job that mostly consists of waiting for the phone to ring.

I don't know the solution; I don't even know if there's a problem.  I just know that if I were made VP tomorrow, I'd insist on living far from Washington as a condition of taking the job.

And that's the truth.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Times, the Taxes, the Trump

Much as I don't like rehashing points from earlier columns, the New York Times keeps pulling us back to arguments we already "won."

In this case, we go back to an earlier piece on why I thought it senseless for Donald Trump to release his tax returns regardless of what may or may not be in them.  Therein I explained the principal points underlying that thesis, namely:

(1) As an American and a businessman, Trump should have been trying to pay as little tax as possible and as legally as he can, including based on his fiduciary duty to his shareholders and investors, let alone his family (which to an extent is the same thing, but supports the argument just as much); and
(2) Not three people in 1,000 could actually understand the implications of all the forms filed therein, let alone the relationship between the filings of one year and the carryovers from previous and subsequent years -- especially for a businessman of many interests.

At this point we should note that Hillary Clinton's returns were considerably simpler, in that for years all she did was either live off the taxpayer as a senator and a Cabinet member, or deliver speeches for companies and foreign interests trying to buy influence.  The influence doesn't show up on a tax return, and the speeches came with first-class airfare and hotel paid for, so all she had to declare were the 1099s from the influence-buyers.  No jobs created along the way, of course.

But I digress.

The point, of course, is not that Trump declared a $900 million loss in 1995, the only actual "facts" that were in the story (and we have to assume that the three state returns purporting to show that were even accurate -- but we'll stipulate that for the nonce).  The point is that the tax code has grown into a horrendous, bloated mess that requires legions of accountants to try to figure out.  Even if you wanted to pay as much tax as was legal, you'd still need the accountants just to be in compliance.

But this piece is a simple point, and it does not reflect well on the Times.

You see, the point of their story is that the 1995 losses, if correct, meant that Trump "could have paid [oh, horror!] no taxes for as much as twenty years!!!"  OK, I added the exclamation points.

Now, whether or not he actually did pay tax, or no tax, or in which years, is beside the point, because this piece is about journalism as much as tax policy.  And the journalism stank.

In the absence of anything but three 1995 state returns and without any Federal ones, all the Times could do would have been to look at the law, which covers how many years before and after 1995 an American can spread out (carry over) the losses.  So if Trump didn't earn more than $900 million over the subsequent 18 years or whatever the law limited him to, then he would not owe taxes on those years because his "extra" loss from 1995 would carry over.

Of course, he himself said that he had made some $600 million in 2015 alone, so it's certainly possible that his earnings in the later 1990s ate up all those losses and then some, as his businesses recovered.  But we don't know.

And as my earlier piece noted, it only matters that he tried to pay as little tax as possible.  That, as he said, is a reflection of normal business practices and what a normal, intelligent American with an actual taxable income would do.  If he tried to pay as much as possible, he would be stupid and disqualified as president.

So how did the Times manage to stretch "With that loss he could have had no tax liability for 20 years" into an actual front-page article, without even having a copy, real or not, of his 1995 Federal return, let alone any returns from subsequent years?  Couldn't be that agenda overtakes ethics, could it?

It would seem to be a stretch so terribly unworthy of a large-city newspaper as to be beyond belief.  But that is what has happened in contemporary America.  I'll be the first person to say that the Constitution's protection of the press is sacred and not susceptible to modification or interpretation.  But with great freedom comes great responsibility.

By taking a "could have" or "would have been allowed to" and turning it into a front-page story intended to imply a "did", the once-great New York Times has collapsed into a piece of paper better intended for lining bird cages.

They really screwed up on this one.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, October 3, 2016

Where Are the Yoga Emails?

Gradually, drip after drip, the emails from Hillary Clinton's private email server have been released by the State Department.  That would be the server that we know was set up in 2009, started on the day Hillary's confirmation hearings started, with the intent to obstruct any possible FOIA inquiries that may have occurred thereafter.

Hillary Clinton went about nine months without taking a single question from a reporter in a press conference about anything, let alone the email server and obstruction of FOIA inquiries.  So all we have to go on is the transcript of the FBI's interview with her, under oath, as part of the investigation they did.

Oh, wait a minute, she wasn't under oath.  And there wasn't a transcript. And all the people who worked on the server either no-showed when asked to testify before Congress, or took the Fifth Amendment.

So all we really have to go on is her speeches about the whole affair, and where she did interviews over the last couple years.

And we all remember what she said, or at least we should.  Her server was wiped clean (not "with a cloth") after her lawyers -- who, by the way, did not have the security clearance necessary to view classified information -- deleted tens of thousands of emails.  They were deleted because they were "personal", in Hillary's words.

They were about -- and this is what Hillary Herself said -- "yoga classes" and "Chelsea's wedding plans."  For almost, or more than (who can remember?) two years, that has been the narrative, because that's what she said the soonest after the wiping took place, right?  Yoga classes.  Chelsea's wedding.

So let's take her at her word.  Except there's one problem with that.  If the deleted emails were "personal" and about "Chelsea's wedding", then now, after the FBI recovered as much of the deleted content as contemporary technology allowed them to do, and we were able to discover that highly classified material was indeed part of emails that were found to have been on her server in the first place, where are the yoga emails?

Seriously, has anyone seen even one email about yoga or the wedding?  I can't say as I have, because I haven't actually looked at them one by one, but there is a problem here.

We are going off Hillary's statement about the emails' topic, and it would certainly help her claim to even a shred of truthfulness if a bunch of those emails that were deciphered actually were about yoga.

So if the "Justice" Department and the once-respected FBI are so in Hillary's corner, why don't they just dump out to the public all the yoga emails they found.  That would certainly grant at least a shred of defense to her claims of a year or two ago.

Of course, if the emails had been about yoga and the wedding, we would have seen a bunch of them once the FBI cracked the code on her server.  They did find classified communications, which she claimed weren't there at all.

But no yoga.  Not even one have we seen.  What she said wasn't there indeed was there, in spades, and what she said was there has never been found.

Makes you think.

Copyright 2016 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.