Friday, December 15, 2017

Remembering My Murder Panel

A day or three back I referred to a trial, and noted that I had been on a jury that had had its sentence changed by the judge.  Needless to say, I had a few readers ask what had happened, and since it's Friday, I thought I'd end the week with a story and not an opinion.

I believe it was 1982 or 1983, and we were living in a small town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia, a town of maybe three or four thousand in a rural county of which our town was the county seat.  I was the MIS director for an accounting firm there, and we would ultimately buy out the computer shop in the firm to make a service bureau that did services for accounting firms in the area, the start of my entrepreneurial career.

I had gotten a jury summons, which meant in our county that you were to be available over a 60-day period to be called periodically.  You'd come in on a Monday, wait to be interviewed for whatever open cases they had, and if there weren't any or if you weren't selected for a case, they'd send you right back to your job and it might be two weeks before you got called again.

This day I did get called, and they asked me to sit on a case that seemed familiar to the other jurors, although not to me.  Both sides asked me some questions, and when it became clear I hadn't heard of the case and would be impartial, I was selected.  We sat right away and got started; the case would last a couple three days before we got to deliberate.  As the Commonwealth had presented, this was a murder case and they were asking for a first-degree verdict from us.  So we listened intently.

As things were presented to us, the setting of the crime was a building that was in a little village in the county.  It had a post office on one side and a store next to it, with apartments over each one.  A young man lived with his family on one side, and a couple lived on the other.  The young man heard shots one night, hitting his car parked outside below.  He went down to see what was going on, and got shot and killed when he did.

The accused was a fellow in his 20s, I think, who lived in the area.  Some footprints of his were found in the area where it would have made sense the shots were coming from, and I think there might have been a ballistics test that led to him as well.  Possibly a spent shell or two were found there.  Fingerprints were inconclusive, but it appeared pretty sound that the fellow had actually pulled the trigger.

He showed up each day for court dressed in a coat and tie, sitting with his attorney, a walrus-like fellow a couple years older than I, with a genial disposition.  The accused never spoke and did not testify.  Clearly the idea of the defense was to oblige the prosecution to make the case and hope for the lowest-impact verdict possible.

The prosecutor's first witness was the lady who lived in the other apartment, who was quite distraught when she testified as to what she recalled of that night, surprisingly distraught, thought some of the jurors later (in fairness, it didn't click with me at the time).  The police detectives were next, telling what they found and did not find, showing that they had followed standard procedures and indicating that it was not uncommon to have no fingerprints in such a case.

They finished, the defense finished their few witnesses, and we got the instructions. 

I believe about three years ago, I mentioned this case in a piece on this site.  I used it to point out one of the instructions, concerning circumstantial evidence -- of which there was a lot in this case.  The instruction was that we could consider circumstantial evidence if it was "consistent with guilt and inconsistent with innocence", a standard I've used ever since in a variety of situations not related to a court case.  Also, we were told that "premeditation can take one second."

Another, of course, applied here.  "You are responsible for the natural consequences of your actions", meaning, in this case, if you fire a gun randomly and someone gets hurt, you are responsible as the law allows.  That was added to allow this jury to decide that the accused might not have intended to hurt anyone, just to fire at the car, in which case we might decide a charge lower than first-degree murder.

The foreman of the jury was a stockbroker I knew pretty well -- this was a small town, remember.  We deliberated collegially, and I recall this curious sense we had as a group, that we had been entrusted with a sacred duty and were not to be influenced.  I wondered if juries routinely felt that way.

Ultimately, we found the fellow guilty of second-degree murder, use of a firearm in a felony, and one other charge I forget.  We all knew he had done it, but the Commonwealth's Attorney had never presented a motive for us to use to decide premeditation -- not even for one second.  We had nothing, so we came back with all we could, which was second-degree murder.  The three charges allowed us to sentence the fellow 26 years, and that's what we offered.  We got polled when we returned to court and affirmed we each supported the verdict.  Then we went home.

Not too long after, we read in the paper that the judge in the case had lowered the sentence to 10 years, without any reason I recall, and if the fellow who pulled the trigger is still alive, he has been a free man for at least 25 years.  I was not particularly happy about the reduced sentence; I wasn't afraid of the guy coming after jurors or anything when he got out, but I felt we had done our civic duty and the judge had overruled us.  That lasts with me to this day.

So, epilogue ... there has to be one, right?  Well, not a year later I had need of a lawyer for something, and so I sought out the murderer's defense attorney, whose office was a short walk from where I worked.  Heck, I thought he had been pretty good in court.  We went over whatever I went to see him about, and then I mentioned, or he recalled, that I had been on the jury for his client's murder trial.

All of the appeals, if there were any, were done by then, so he was free to talk about the case, and he did.  We had never gotten a motive for the murder, he told me, because the Commonwealth never found it -- but there was one.

Remember the wife who lived in the one upstairs apartment, who was so distraught testifying for the prosecution about the events of that night?  Well, she had been having an affair with the defendant.

Our defendant was apparently enraged when he found out that she was also having an affair with the young fellow in the other apartment, so he went into the woods near the building one night and started shooting at the kid's car.  The kid was really proud of that car, and the shooter figured he would come downstairs to check it out.  He did, and that was that.  If the jury had known that, we would easily have handed down a first-degree murder conviction.   

For years, I've observed jury trials and bemoaned the fact that juries have to go on only what is presented to them.  We have a Constitutional right to a jury of our peers, so that won't change, but every time a prominent trial ends with a surprising verdict, I always consider that they can only deliberate on what they are given.

Have a great weekend.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Appearance of Impropriety

It was an interesting conversation that took place between the Deputy Attorney General who oversees the FBI director, Rod Rosenstein, and various members of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday.  Rosenstein was in front of the committee for a happy visit, primarily to answer questions, or avoid answering them, about the investigation by Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

It's no secret why this testimony was required.  In the past week or two, it has come to light that several of the lead investigators for the FBI in both the Mueller investigation and the Hillary Clinton email "investigation", or "matter" as the Obama administration's Attorney General, Loretta Lynch ordered her team to call it, had some biases.

Specifically, we have know for a while that most of the attorneys hired by Mueller as leads on the case have been big, even maxed-out donors to Hillary, to Obama, or both, and to various Democrat campaigns and PACs.    We know that none of them were Trump campaign donors.  And there are close links to the Clinton "Foundation" and Fusion GPS, the outfit that arranged that phony dossier on candidate Trump.

Then we find out that the FBI-side investigators, including the same fellow who sat in on the abortive FBI interview of the apparently-already-cleared Hillary Clinton on her classified material-abuse investigation, were incredibly anti-Trump, virulently in fact.  That fellow, Peter Strzok, communicated his disdain in the course of about 10,000 texts back and forth with a married co-worker with whom he had an affair that may still be going on.

The texts included references to his ongoing work, and in one scary one he noted that "we can't take that risk" (of Trump getting elected); he also wrote of an "insurance policy" in case he was elected.  The timing on that was far too synchronized with the initiation of the FISA application that got the Russia thing started.

And it's starting to look like the application was based on the phony dossier on Trump that the Clinton campaign paid for through Fusion GPS, looking like the FBI in part paid for it and, worst of all, that Strzok was the one who turned the dossier into a FISA application -- right after telling his married mistress that he "couldn't take the risk" of Trump becoming president.

Rosenstein was asked several times about the "appearance of impropriety" in all that, including the brazen dominance of the DoJ attorneys roster by Democrat donors, and the potential for grave abuse by Strzok and 4-5 others with comparable conflicts based on statements, donations and actions.  He deferred, of course, and noted that those people had been reassigned and, in one egregious case, demoted.  Strzok, as we know, is now in HR, where he is in a position to affect who actually gets into the FBI.  Don't we all feel better now, right?

But nowhere in the televised part of the hearing did it come up that Strzok and the others had been with the investigation for months and months before their removal.

So what, we have to ask is the impact of that?  In other words, how much content has been processed, or even developed, during the investigation, and still part of the case file, that is immensely tainted by the work of several people with strong biases against the president and those working for him?

No one asked that, but I will.  Representative Bob, here asks this:

"What, Mr. Rosenstein, is being done right now, in the wake of the removal of biased investigations from the team, to delete any remaining evidence in the case file of their having been involved?  We know that the FBI used the totally-fake dossier to initiate the FISA application.  Has all the content in this case related to that dossier now been eliminated from the ongoing files?  Has all the work done on the case by these biased staff members been removed or does it still taint the team?"

You have to ask that.  If the prejudiced staff have been removed, but their work is still part of the case, the case itself is compromised and the $7 million or so of taxpayer dollars that Mueller has spent to date will have been wasted.

Come on, someone, ask that.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Lowering Standards at the Hall of Fame

This is not fun to write, folks.

So as you probably are now aware, the Baseball Hall of Fame "Veterans Committee" voted last week to induct two new members to the Hall of Fame.  This was not the usual process for selection to the Hall; normally a player becomes eligible five years after his last game, and can receive votes for the subsequent ten years until they receive 75% of the votes and are selected -- or they don't, and aren't.

There is a Veterans Committee, however, to sort of "clean up" what the main voters -- the Baseball Writers Association of America -- have done "wrong", and each year vote on candidates from a particular era of the game.  This year, they voted on more recent-era players who had dropped off the ballot, maybe 10-12 of them, and they actually voted to induct two of them.

Jack Morris was a pitcher for the Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays.  He will go into the Hall of Fame with the highest ERA of any pitcher elected.  He was an good-to-excellent pitcher for many years, but he went before the "judges" -- the BBWAA voters -- not ten but fifteen times (the rules were changed recently).  Each time, his name came up for discussion, and each time he did not get close to the requisite votes.

Alan Trammell was another Tiger, who also played for a long and distinguished career, in his case just for one team.  He was an excellent shortstop over that time but, like Morris, not excellent enough for the people who evaluate candidates to think worthy of induction.

I don't have to go into the arguments for their candidacy, to trot out this stat or that.  It was already done -- 15 times -- and each time there were not the votes.  So I would be pretty ticked off if I were a baseball writer right about now.  I would feel like a jury member who deliberated and determined a 26-year sentence for a felon after a guilty verdict, only to have the judge drop it to ten.  I know that feeling, as I was that juryman once myself (that's for you, Judge Robertson).

You have to know that every year over that time, the baseball writers would debate the arguments for Morris and Trammell and ultimately not get close to electing them.  So we have to ask.  The process for evaluating new candidates -- ten years (15 in the case of these two) of grinding over history and numbers -- is incredibly rigorous and laden with debate and writing.

So why is there a Veterans Committee in the first place, and why in God's name are they bothering to look at players from the last 60 years?  Is there an assumption that BBWAA voting members, who don't even get a vote until ten years of membership, don't know what they're doing? 

I will stretch a bit and say that players from the 19th Century, and a few from maybe 1900-1950, might warrant more scrutiny.  But Morris and Trammell were subject to that scrutiny in just the past few years, and were assessed for a really long time.  They didn't get any better as players during the process, and surely their numbers didn't improve after they retired.  Again -- I'm not debating whether or not they were good enough to be in, and I don't want to hear why they should have been in before.  But when they went before the court 15 times and failed to make a case 15 times, why was anyone still looking?

Another person was put before the Veterans Committee but failed to get the votes for induction.  That was Marvin Miller, who was not a player but the head of the Players' Association, the union that, for good or ill, revolutionized the business of baseball.  I couldn't stand the man myself; he was a classic union boss, a lawyer who came in at a time the players were subject to an abusive system and then pushed until it was the fans' wallets which were abused.

But he was, as any baseball historian will tell you, a huge force in the game for decades.  Because his impact is still being felt -- and assessed -- it is arguable that, even though the writers never voted him in, unlike a player, he could have been reassessed decades later and considered.  His argument was a heck of a lot greater than Morris or Trammell, in terms of impact on the game.

So the Veterans Committee decided to overturn the diligent work of several hundred baseball writers, most of whom take their votes incredibly seriously -- plenty of them regard that duty as a sacred trust.  The writers examined Morris and Trammell not once but fifteen times and decided "not quite", every time.  But the Committee decided they knew better, and there is no recourse.

At the same time, they voted "not quite" on Marvin Miller, whose influence, regardless of what I think of it, or of the man, was greater.

I don't know what will come of this, and I congratulate Jack Morris and Alan Trammell on their induction.  God bless them.  But if there's anything that should tell the Hall of Fame to dissolve its Veterans Committee, or at least not have them consider post-1950 era ballplayers, well, this is it.

I hope they consider this.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Pondering the Harassment High Road

Al Franken is gone from the Senate, or at least will be soon (but not soon enough), after the worst "I remember it differently but I'm leaving anyway" speech we will ever have to hear.  If you had to listen to it, you heard the words of someone who was made a sacrificial lamb by his own party, cleared out of the way against his will, and unwilling to admit that he did anything wrong.

John Conyers is gone from the House, after having been accused of harassing female associates for a long time.  He was 88 and, to look at him, one wonders if he even knew what he was doing, which should make the citizens of his former district in Detroit about as ashamed as possible that he was whom they chose to represent them.

More will be accused, and more will resign.  And we will be left sorting through the detritus of the "me, too" movement, which will include those who lost their positions because of harassing women, and more to the point, those who will be hurt as a result but are completely innocent.  And by "those", I am referring to women.

You heard it here first, or at least early in the process.

Do you remember when the first job discrimination suits were filed by black applicants for positions who sued to claim that they had been rejected because they were black?  I know this dates back to at least the mid-1970s, because I was part of one of those suits, and received a settlement for having been rejected.  Granted, I was "black" only in definition #31 of the dictionary, and the company I applied to never met me and so had no idea of my race, had they asked, but it still happened.

At the same time, and more importantly, black employees who were laid off or fired started suing ex-employers for having dismissed them because of their race.  That was a real problem with enormous unintended consequences.  I mean, you can pass all the laws you want, but the outcome of legislation and the outcome of legal and judicial precedent moves people's actions in ways not always desirable.

In this case, employers ended up looking at more black candidates, sure, but with a filter that said "Is this guy or lady more likely to sue me if I have to fire them for cause?"  In other words, they had to apply a more stringent set of criteria for black applicants, because the lawsuit movement had applied an additional cost risk to hiring black applicants.  Was it worth it?  Probably not.

So we know that "me, too" is going to have its own set of unintended consequences, with the victims being not (just) the actual victims of the Al Frankens and Harvey Weinsteins of the world.  Employers have already shown how they respond to an analogous situation 40 years ago, and they will do the same here.

In other words, I would not want to be an attractive female job applicant right now.  I mean I really would not.  You see, the logical unintended consequence of "me, too" is going to map directly to what happened in the '70s (and since, of course), because basic behavior doesn't really change.  Except that it will have a spin that will be hard to deal with.

It is illegal to discriminate based on race, sex, age and a few other things.  It is not illegal to discriminate based on competence, experience ... and attractiveness.  We know from studies that attractive females are markedly more likely to be hired than unattractive ones.  We don't even have to guess why; people gravitate toward more attractive associates of either sex.

It is pretty bad to be accused of racial hiring or firing bias; it is miserable and illegal to be deemed guilty of sexual harassment.  No employer worth his salt would voluntarily put himself in that situation if there were any alternative, and the alternative is to remove the temptation by hiring the less attractive candidate.

So what does the unsuccessful applicant do?  I mean, both my wife and I have been subject to age discrimination in hiring, but we only recognized it after we saw a pattern of multiple interview treatments, that did not match treatment we had experienced in the past, when younger.  What happens now when attractive applicants start to see a pattern of being "me, tooed" out of getting hired?  You see, they can't exactly sue, because not only is "attractiveness" subjective, but using it as a criterion is perfectly legal!

What happens when attractive unsuccessful job applicants band together with lawyers?  Whom do they go after in court?  Employers?  Harvey Weinstein?  Al Franken?  Their makeup artist?  Time magazine? There aren't really any deep pockets who are responsible; responsibility rests with a movement that is virtuous on its surface and in its intent, and which I have no problem with.

We know that the Democrats are trying to clear out their male abusers, so that they can claim the high road in the movement and try to paint the Republicans as anti-women.  I mean, we know that, and God help any male Democrat who wants to run in 2020, however pure, against a female Democrate in a primary. 

But there is three years' time before the election, and a lot of things can happen.  For one, if the pernicious unintended consequences of "me, too" become a major topic in a few months, we won't be talking about who is on the side of attractive women, right?  We'll be having some very weird conversations, and they won't be about Republicans.

Let us keep our eyes on hiring practices going forward, shall we?  I'm here to tell you that people act based on incentives and disincentives, and when you hike the disincentives to include the risk of accusations of harassment, you're going to see changes and see them quick.  And we will hear about them.

And I expect to write about them.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, December 11, 2017

A Strzok of Evil Intent

Darrell Issa (R-CA), the California congressman, is not a guy you would want to meet up with in a dark alley.  He has a pretty intimidating presence about him, but a lot of that is because, for the most part, he is smarter than you are and can verbally rip you to shreds.  I mean, I think I'm pretty good with language, but in his hands it can be lethal.

And I'm glad he's on our side.

So last week, Issa was seated along with fellow members of the House Judiciary committee, taking testimony from Christopher Wray, the recently-appointed Director of the FBI.  The FBI, of course, has been the subject of some harsh words after the unexpected news was discovered that there was some bias at the Bureau.

Specifically, it was made public that Peter Strzok, a senior-level fellow at the FBI, had been thrown off the investigative team of Robert Mueller, the special counsel on the RussiaRussiaRussia investigationinvestigationinvestigation, which to date has come up with exactly nothingnothingnothing.  Strzok had been removed after it came to light that he had written about 10,000 texts to a colleague at the FBI, who it turns out he was having an affair with, and a bunch of those texts were blatantly anti-Donald Trump and pro-Hillary Clinton.

That news was only 3-4 days old when the committee was hearing from Director Wray, and it was naturally a significant topic of conversation, even though the removal of Strzok and his transfer to a position in HR had occurred prior to Wray's tenure beginning.

So the turn comes around to Rep. Issa, and he starts out by asking whether political opinions could get an agent transferred or removed.  Wray properly answered "no", and I started to wonder where Issa was going, knowing it was going to be somewhere interesting.  After another question or two confirming that it was perfectly fine for FBI agents to have political opinions, Issa dropped his bomb.

Obviously, he said, if political opinions were a disqualification from serving on the investigation of a prominent political figure, in the case President Trump, "no one on the Mueller team would be left", as they all seem to have been donors to the Obama or Hillary campaigns, in most cases maxed out on contributions.

And that's where I picked up on what Issa was driving at.  If opinions were perfectly fine, and all the investigators and lawyers on the special counsel's team were Democrat donors, then what made Strzok any different to the point that he was canned from the investigation and moved to HR?

Naturally, Wray was not able to answer, and when Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) followed up somewhat later with some pretty strongly worded follow-up questions with the same intent, asking the same thing about why the rest had stayed but Strzok was canned, his queries gave a little more coal to the fire.

You see, aside from the existence of the Mueller investigation and the extreme leftist bent of the leads on it, there is the question of how it got started.  And there is a growing suspicion, backed by the facts, that the origin was in the fake dossier on then-candidate Trump.  That is the one initiated by the Democratic National Committee hiring a lawyer to coordinate opposition research, who in turn hired the firm Fusion GPS, who in turn hired a British agent named Steele to get Russians of some stripe to fabricate Enquirer-level stories about Trump.

That dossier, even though it was phony, somehow was used by the FBI in its application to the FISA Court to unmask the names of certain Americans, which is how Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was pulled into this in the first place.  Rep. Jordan was pretty animated about it, but he had a very straightforward request.  He knew that the FISA Court's activities were classified, but the process of petitioning them (as opposed to content) was certainly not.

Can you tell this committee, Jordan asked Wray, if Peter Strzok was the FBI person who prepared and submitted the application to the FISA Court?  That was not classified data, Jordan insisted, but merely a part of the process.  And if Strzok was the one who put together the application with information that was known to be false, could that have been the reason that he was thrown off the investigation?  And if all that was true, and the special counsel's activity was based on a lie in the first place, well, why was there even a Mueller investigation?

Wray, of course, did not answer the question directly, but indicated he would be willing to provide that answer as soon as he discovered what had happened.  But I'll tell you this -- President Trump tweeted last week that the reputation of the FBI was "in tatters", and if it turns out that an FBI agent was the one pressing a political agenda inside the agency, well, their reputation should take a hit.

And we should thank Reps. Issa and Jordan for asking.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, December 8, 2017

Of Embassies and Reality

On Wednesday, President Trump announced that the USA was officially moving to recognize the city of Jerusalem, Israel as the capital of that country, and proceeding to relocate our embassy there.  In doing so, he simply executed on a campaign promise he had made in 2016, which should have been lauded.  Promise made, promise kept, that sort of thing.

Moreover, it had been a previous campaign promise of pretty much all the past half-dozen presidents that they would recognize Jerusalem as the capital.  Barack Obama said that, as did George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.  We wouldn't dream, of course, that they said that in order to raise money from wealthy Jewish-American donors, never intending to follow through.

That would be, you know, lying and just wrong.

But they did, indeed, say it, and it wasn't just the presidents before Donald Trump.  The U.S. Congress also passed through a measure directing that we recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel -- in 1995, during the administration of good old Bill Clinton.  Of course, somewhere in there was a requirement that the president would have to execute on it or issue a delay, and somehow all the presidents since have managed to stall on that.

Until, of course, we had a President Trump.

But here is the thing.  On the talking-head network news, there was practically universal complaint about his actually acting on that plan.   Moreover, there was an identical phrase used by several -- at least four -- of the anchors, as if it had been distributed to them by the Democrats, although we know they never, ever would do that either.

The anchors all used the phrase "... [despite] 70 years of U.S. policy."  Now, you had to be contemptuous of the fact that the anchors were all using the same phrase, and couldn't be bothered to tweak the Democrats' talking points to suggest they actually wrote their own stuff.  But you have to be twice as contemptuous of the fact that it wasn't true!

If you had stopped the broadcast at that point in any of those network news shows and had a rational debate with the anchor, I would have asked a very simple question of the anchor.  What, I would have asked, constitutes "U.S. policy" on any issue?

If the United States Congress passes, through both houses, a resolution that the capital of Israel is Jerusalem as recognized by this nation, is that not enough to say that U.S. policy is that Jerusalem is the capital?  If four consecutive presidents promote the fact that they plan to move our embassy to Jerusalem in compliance with that resolution, is that not enough to say that U.S. policy is that Jerusalem is the capital?

Let's ask the anchors this -- You just stated -- all four of you -- that President Trump's announcement that we are actually going forward on the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital changes "70 years of U.S. policy", and you called that a bad thing.  How do you claim on-air that was not our policy, at least since the 1995 resolution and the overt declarations of the last four presidents?  Do the media make policy, or does the Government?

For the record, I have no dog in that fight.  I do not lose sleep worrying about where the U.S. Embassy in Israel is.  It has always seemed that sovereign nations have the right to decide where their capitals are, and it behooves foreign countries to locate their embassies where the nation's seat of government is, sort of like Portugal deciding to locate its embassy to the USA in Scott City, Kansas.  It's fundamentally no different.

Presumably our ambassador to Israel lives in Tel Aviv, where our embassy currently is, but has to commute the 45 miles or so to Jerusalem to do anything job-related (i.e., interacting with Israeli officials in the city where they think their own capital is), or has a second residence in Jerusalem.  Either way, it is ... OK, let's say it -- stupid.  Wasteful.  Moronic, even.

But the national media are not for a moment concerned about where our embassy is located.  Had Barack Obama followed through on his promise to move the embassy, it would have been hailed by those very same anchors as some kind of bold stroke by a bold "young" president.  "Breaking decades of U.S. policy?"  Never would have crossed their lips.

The bold stroke was actually taken by the 71-year-old current president, and will be matched in courage by the next nation to follow suit and move its embassy to Jerusalem.  I hear the Czech Republic is contemplating that now.

I wonder what the networks will say then.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, December 7, 2017

DACA Kids' Rights End at THEIR Noses

There was a fellow on the news yesterday as one of two opposing guest commentators discussing what to do with DACA people (we can't always say "kids", but I probably will here somewhere).  Those, of course, are young children brought into the USA by their parents illegally, but who have grown up here and have become American by default.

Something the "legalize them" guy said appalled me.  In the course of what might have itself been a specious argument, about how deporting them would be expensive and keeping them would increase GDP, he ended by saying that we should "legalize them and their families", and that would be wonderful for the country and show we are a nation of "grace."

I looked up at the screen when I heard "... and their families."

"Hold on there, Hoss", I yelled silently.  "What do their families have to do with this?"

And I am quite right.  Let us start with the notion that, despite my headline, the children who are subject to DACA have no rights under the Constitution; they are not citizens but people on an imminently-expiring grant to avoid deportation.  By the grace of the government of the United States, they are not being deported, along with their families, as they should be, right now.

So having dispensed with the notion of "rights", let's get to the point.  We are a compassionate nation, at least to a point.  We recognize that young children brought here not of their own volition, but who have grown up here, may have no right to be here but deporting them would not feel right, and we really don't want to do that.  They are "innocent", at least in our eyes, of illegality regarding immigration.

But they are still here illegally.  Worse, their parents, who brought them here, willfully violated USA immigration law and are criminals.  So they, my friends, are in a different situation.

We are going to have a difficult time being compassionate to the children but mindful of the violation of Federal law.  So I absolutely oppose any treatment of DACA kids (OK, I said it) that treats the parents the same as their children.  When the guy on TV added "... and their families", I would have argued right there and then.

I am fine with a path to legality and subsequent citizenship for those brought here prior to age 16.  I would insist on the same passing of tests, fluency in English and the like that we should require of legal immigrants, and a place at the end of the existing line, and granting legality of residence in some newly-created status.  But I'm OK with a program by which they can continue their lives as long as they complete all the citizenship tests within five years (and are to be deported if they're not citizens by then).

I am totally opposed to the same treatment for their criminal families.  I do not care (for this discussion) about their circumstances prior to leaving their countries; we have immigration law that covers asylum and they chose not to pursue residence that way.  So they are intentional criminals.

So how do we treat the families of those DACA children?  Well, they too need a path to legal residence, but it must take into account the fact that they entered the USA illegally, put their children in harm's way by doing so, and have a criminal status.  We are OK with them pursuing permanent residence and citizenship, but certainly not by just handing over the keys to the nation.

It is clicking with me that I did a piece on this in the past (I did, apparently, here).  My requirements and rules for those adult family members to stay would be as follows, and violation or non-compliance would lead to immediate deportation:

1) They have to register at the border, meaning that they have to return to their home country, come back through Customs and sign up with a CBP agent, the only way to enter the "adults" program.  Six months after this passes, those not yet registered are to be deported.

2) This DACA Families program is totally separate from the DACA program and every other immigration program, with its own rules.

3) To stay, you must have a job.  You cannot receive public assistance payments or food stamps, nor unemployment insurance, although your children may attend public schools and receive Federally-guaranteed college loans.  This is not meant to be easy, but if you live like legal, wage-earning Americans, it won't be hard.  And you will not be subject to Federal minimum-wage laws, so that you can more easily find work that allows you to meet this standard.

4) You must stay clean.  You will be subject to periodic drug tests until citizenship, and if you are convicted of any felony and certain misdemeanors, your time in the program ends and you will be summarily deported.  If you then enter the USA illegally, you will be subject to a minimum ten-year sentence in Federal prison.

5) You may drive, but the law will direct that the States issue drivers licenses with a special, universal and prominent indication (like a fat red diagonal stripe) that the driver is in the DACA Families program.  If a State fails to comply with this requirement (or #2 above), it will be subject to loss of Federal funds to its state universities.

6) You must show solid proficiency in English within three years of entry in the program (and if you fail the test, you have six months to retake it and pass or be deported).  And you must pass a basic citizenship test recognizing our nation's history, government and Constitution.  Of course, since they've already be living here, English and civics ought to be a snap, right?

7) You have five years to pass all the requirements for citizenship, or you are subject to deportation.

If you love your kids, and want them to stay and you to stay with them, all that is not that hard.  Considering you broke the law and have no rights, it seems a small price to pay to stay.

But you sure as heck don't get grandfathered in with any new DACA law.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Tackling One Thorny NFL Issue

Pun intended, folks.

I've been criticizing the NFL here for a host of different things lately.  Their commissioner is acting like a moron; he has far, far too much power and judge/jury/executioner authority.  The league has decided to give $100 million in "charity", much of which is going to end up in the hands of people who want to destroy America.  Their concussion-treatment history is appalling.  And they are driving fans away in droves by allowing their players to insult servicemen and women and veterans by failing to respect the American flag.

There is excessive violence on the field, as exemplified in Monday night's Steelers-Bengals game, which was so violent that it made the news -- not so much for a given dirty hit or injury, but that the game was practically non-stop injuries and dirty hits.  Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots is sitting out the team's next game, suspended for a clearly dirty hit in a different game, jumping on an opposing player who was already down -- and out of bounds.

People will be injured; that's football.  It's a violent sport to begin with, and we get that.  The players are huge people to begin with and getting bigger; there are offensive lines that average 300 pounds per lineman, which is literally twice my size.  When they run into each other at top speed, bones break.  And to get a ball carrier down, he has to be tackled, literally, such that a knee or elbow or butt touches the turf.

And that, friends, is the topic today.  Tackling.

Way back, once upon a time, I wrote a piece defending the NFL's salary cap.  My feeling was that, by capping the total salary a team could spend, it provided an equivalency of skill across the league (as measured by salary), or at least meant that the teams that were run the best, and coached the best, well, they would win more.  I thought, and still do of course, that any league wants the best-run and best-coached teams to rise to the top, rather than those with the biggest payroll.

What does that have to do with tackling, you might ask?  Well, tackling is a football fundamental.  The normal way to tackle an opposing ball-carrier is first to contain him so that he stops forward motion and cannot move forward unless he drags the tackler with him.  You do that with -- pay attention now -- your arms.

NFL players play the game for a living.  If they're lucky, they'll be in the league for three years and get out without permanent disabling injury.  So it behooves them to play the game the best way possible.

This is why I have to shake my head at the abysmal growth in what I can only call the "wrecking ball" technique used by defensive players to tackle opponents.  You watch football, so you know what I mean.  A defensive player simply runs into the ball carrier as hard as he can, trying to knock him down.  The arms are simply not part of the process; the player leads with his shoulder like a wrecking ball.

So here is my problem with that.  And let me point out that I have not played organized football at any level with the exception of the Phi Delt intramural "B" team about 45 years ago (for the record, I was a pretty good receiver then).  But I'm also not stupid, and certainly not blind, at least as long as my contact lenses are in.  So there are two things that bug me about that kind of tackling.

First, it doesn't work very well, unless the ball carrier is on the sideline and the "tackler" has an angle that forces the ball carrier out of bounds.  That's probably as reliable as good old arm tackling, I guess.  But on the rest of the field, as often as not, or at least really often, the ball carrier, who can typically see the defender coming, can position himself so that even though he gets hit hard, he maintains (or can retain) balance.

And if he does, he is likely to make some good yards thereafter, because the defender is now completely off balance and does not have a grip on the ball carrier.  Since that defender is the one who is supposed to tackle that ball carrier, his teammates simply are not there to help.  Big gain follows, friends, and that's not good, particularly at the professional level.

But the second thing that bugs me is different, and maybe more philosophical.  Tackling, good old two-handed tackling, grabbing the legs or less nether reasons, is intended to bring down the ball carrier by making it impossible for him to go forward.  Wrecking-ball tackling, on the other hand, is intended to hurt the player being tackled.  And that stinks.

As this week's violent games showed, breaking the bones of other players is not a really popular outcome.  So when an action, in this case a tackling technique, is intended to injure the ball carrier rather than bringing an appropriate body part to the turf (still attached to the ball carrier, we should add), well, that is an act of violence that should be inconsistent with the way football is played.

It's sort of like the whole "rip the ball from the running back's hands" thing we see all the time, which I'm not really a fan of either.  But as far as the wrecking-ball "technique", well, I don't want to see it banned by the league -- I want to see it stopped by coaches.  And I want to see the coaches stop it because it is particularly ineffective at actually bringing down the runner.

Remember what I said about the best-coached teams winning in a salary-capped league?  Well, check out the tackling technique of the teams that are consistent winners.  You find yourself repeatedly saying "good tackle" for those teams, because they coach their players to tackle effectively.  Yes, even they have players who do the wrecking ball thing, but hopefully they get it quietly pointed out to them in film review the next day.  And those teams win, and win a lot.

That will not change.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Impeachment, Really?

Yesterday I noticed that for a few moments there was a story lead on Yahoo News about some "Republican strategist" who was saying that impeachment of President was "closer than it may appear."  The article linked was from The Hill, for what it's worth, but at least to provide proper attribution.

I never heard of the "strategist" personally, not that it matters, nor whether I know for whom a Republican strategist (or Democrat, for that matter), works and gets paid.  It's not a profession I suspect provides consistent employment, even if the election season does indeed seem to go on 12 months a year.  But it is indeed the title given to a lot of the guests on the TV news these days.

But I digress.

The article was interesting in that it simply dealt with the notion of whether articles of impeachment could even be voted out of the House, and mainly whether it was possible based on the political climate associated with the ongoing Mueller investigation.  I should point out that as I write this, after many months of investigation, that investigation has generated exactly zero evidence for its intended purpose, i.e., that the Trump campaign colluded with Russians to throw the 2016 election.

But it's still going on, with no end predicted.  Go figure.  They have determined that retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn lied as to whether he had done this or that, all of which was done after the election, meaning that it had nothing to do with the election itself.  The "this or that", about which it is unclear why he felt the need to lie, had to do (I think) with approaches to foreign governments, including Russia, about policy issues.  These were issues where the Trump people differed markedly with the kicked-out Obama people, and therefore needed to ask certain foreign leaders, after the election, to keep their powder dry as far as retaliation, until inauguration.

Now those approaches -- themselves -- are not only legal, but they are encouraged (and maybe mandated) by congressional-passed law covering transitions of new administrations.  So it was certainly foolish of Flynn to have lied about things that were not illegal in the first place.  Of course that means that the "crime" on his part was, in effect, created by the investigation but exacerbated by his own suspicions of the questioners.

That said, Flynn can't be impeached, since he doesn't hold office.  The left is not targeting Flynn as a main point of attack but as a means to an end, the end being to try to bring down the Trump presidency.  Since that is their goal, and not "justice" or "truth" or even "accuracy", the only means to do so is the political one.  Since they can't be bothered to wait for an election (the actual political mechanism), they want to impeach President Trump, and do so now.  Perhaps that is why the Hill article nowhere mentioned anything done by the president that actually warranted impeachment.

So I struggle as to whether I want them to do so or not.  I think there is a reasonable argument for my wanting them to go ahead and pose articles in the House, and for Speaker Ryan to go ahead and let them go to the floor.

I'm thinking ahead here.  There is not a snowball's chance on my stove top that articles of impeachment would be voted out of the House.  First and foremost, there is no crime.  It would seem to be a prerequisite for an impeachment hearing that a crime would have been committed by the subject, right?  So I'm not sure what the leftists' bill of particulars would even be.

Robert Mueller and his legions of Hillary Clinton donors have come up with exactly zero indication of an actual criminal action on the part of the President after months of diligent and highly-biased research.  It ought to occur to Mueller that he has made a sacrificial lamb out of Gen. Flynn, that it's all there is, and wrap up the investigation this week, rather than blowing through more millions in taxpayer dollars.  A decent fellow would do that, leaving Flynn as the Scooter Libby of this non-scandal.

More to the point, with no crime uncovered, nothing even remotely untoward in the campaign, and no collusion (which is also not a crime, but apparently didn't happen anyway), how would an impeachment effort go?  And that is the key.  If the Democrats were to make an actual effort to put a bill of impeachment forward, they would look so stupid, so empty, so senseless that it would put their party at grave risk of being embarrassed to the point of having no chance in the next elections.

I'd be thrilled, of course.  The more the Speaker let the Democrats dig a hole for themselves, the worse the left would look, as if they had no actual ideas to put forth (duh).  They would be the party that tried to overthrow a president with no crime having been committed, and using the act of impeachment politically to do so, something which wasn't exactly helpful to the Republicans even when Bill Clinton was impeached for actually committing perjury.

Oh, it would be nice for the USA to turn on the Democrats for that.

But there's also this.  You know and I know that an impeachment effort would go exactly nowhere, probably not even getting voted out of committee to the floor (unless some chipmunky Republican committee members read my last few paragraphs), and certainly not passing the House.  The effort would surely poison the Democrats for a long while.

However, to let it go that far would create an unholy precedent.  Even though impeachment is a political process, that doesn't mean it should be used for political purposes.  In other words, if the "crime" for which the articles are put forth is not a crime at all, but a political disagreement with the president acting in accordance with his Constitutional duties, that means that it can be done again later on, by the other party when in power.

I don't know if we want to see that.  Donald Trump has not committed an impeachable offense while president, in any stretch of the word.  If we were to let articles go forward for a vote, then there is nothing to stop House Democrats from trying again a month later on no better grounds.  And there is nothing to stop Republican congressmen in the future from proposing impeachment without criminal act for a Democrat president, even one who did nothing more than tell the Russian representative to "tell Vladimir I'll be more free after the election."  Whatever that meant.

This is America.  Our Constitution is a really precious document, preserving as it does the nature of a free nation, and protecting us from a rapacious government.  The Constitution does not have impeachment of a Federal official in there so that we can execute the removal of a political opponent, but to prevent corruption by those officials.  If we redefine grounds so that it is allowed, even once, to vote articles that are completely political, we open a Pandora's Box that can never be closed.

As much as I like seeing Democrats act stupid -- and there is massive precedent for that every day -- the precedent of a crimeless impeachment proceeding is a Constitutionally threatening case that's just not worth the humor in seeing Democrats flail.

We need to let them fail on their own merit, repeatedly and completely.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, December 4, 2017

Where, Oh Where Is Shohei Going?

The name of Shohei Ohtani is being bandied about the world of baseball these days, and I thought I would do some bandying myself.  There are a few reasons for that, but those reasons are fascinating because they all bring in very unusual aspects of the game that we have not seen previously.

Ohtani is a ballplayer from Japan, who until now has been toiling for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in the Japanese baseball leagues.  Nippon Ham is, of course, the sponsor of the team.  They are a meat-packing company that has been around for about 70 years; they are commonly called Nippon Ham in Japan, or at least the Japanese words for Nippon Ham.  The team plays in Hokkaido.  They are called the "Fighters", and only now are the American media types properly referring to them as the Fighters, after years of ignorantly calling them the "Ham Fighters."  Don't ask.

But I digress.

Ohtani is only 23 years old, and he wants to come to play in the majors.  Many Japanese players have come over, of course, since Masanori Murakami, the first of the modern era, pitched effectively for the Giants for a couple years in the mid-1960s.  Murakami was only 20, but most players coming over since then have been older, subject to the arcane "posting" system that requires Japanese teams to agree to offer their players for a bidding war for the right to sign them.  Since the players have no value until they've played for a while, they don't get posted until they're closer to 30.

That system is on its last legs, but it still applies, so it has impact here.  Nippon Ham has agreed to let Ohtani come over, and major league teams will be able to bid on him.  It's not strictly an auction in any sense, however.  Ohtani will end up choosing the team whose offer he wants to accept.  That team will pay Nippon Ham $20 million for the rights to the services of the player, separate from the salary Ohtani will get that is, of course, paid to him.

Why do we care?  Because Ohtani is a very, very different player.  By Japanese standards, he pitches very well, he hits very well, and he wants to do both in the majors.  And he wants to do them full time, meaning that he would take a starting rotation spot, and when he is not pitching, he would play the field (or DH if he goes to an American League team).  No one, we should point out, is doing that, certainly regularly, nor has any pitcher regularly played the field or DHed since, well, no one anyone can remember.

Now, I said he "does both well", but that is a pretty squishy assessment.  He has been doing his playing in the Japanese leagues, and the competition there is generally thought to be about Triple-A level, the highest level of the minor leagues over here.  Players have, of course, come over and starred.  Hideo Nomo threw a couple no-hitters in a fairly lengthy USA career.  Ichiro Suzuki was successful enough to have come over at 27 and still gotten 3,000 hits, and will probably play in 2018 at age 44, delaying his inevitable Hall of Fame candidacy.

But there have also been some failures with short careers, who were no different from American Triple-A players who had great careers in the minors but never really got it done in the majors.  Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu come to mind there, and some position players we don't recall.

So with the background of the uncertain level of competition this two-way player Ohtani has faced, the major-league teams have to decide how good a player he really is.  It is generally assumed that is "excellent", but what if he turns out to be about a 5th starter-level pitcher?  Do you just let him hit and maybe get a start once in a while or do long relief?  The man wants to start and hit.  He even sent a questionnaire to the 30 teams asking how they would use him, to help him decide.

There is also the question of money.  International players are restricted in initial salary to what the teams have in their "pools" -- all teams get a certain amount to sign international players, and while they can actually trade players for another team's pool money, the most that any team has is about $3 million or so, relatively little compared to what a star player would be making a few years later.

So Ohtani can be really picky about going to a team that intends to use him the way he wants to be used, figuring that the money will come.  At 23, he is apparently idealistic enough to know that he will make his money; more important to him is how historic a player he can be.  And he has already declined to take offers from New York and Boston, apparently preferring to play on the west coast.

I don't know where he is going to end up, nor do I know if I care if the team I root for gets him or not (and we already know they won't, which is OK).  What I do care about is that an American player, with half the skills Ohtani is supposed to have, has exactly zero control over what franchise he signs with.  He is subject to the Rule 4 amateur player draft, meaning that the teams annually select players from high school and college in roughly inverse order of their record in the league the prior year.  But Japanese (and Latin and other) players can choose their teams, choose their cities and negotiate free of the same restrictions that American players do.

Shohei Ohtani has done nothing to deserve treatment any different from an American amateur player, but he gets a much better shake than USA players subject to a player draft.  I wish him well, but I absolutely want to see major-league baseball subject every incoming Japanese player to a draft sequence that is fair to all teams and fair to the American amateurs.  I realize that the international signing pool is an attempt to level that, but if I were a 22-year-old who just got drafted by a franchise with no expectation of incipient success, I'd be screaming.

I'm 66, and I'm screaming.  Fix the system!

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, December 1, 2017

What the Heck Is the NFL Doing Now?

The NFL is a steaming mess right now.  The football itself has become greatly subordinate to non-football issues, thanks to good old unemployed Colin Kaepernick and his take-a-knee action during the playing of the national anthem.  Some players are still doing it, which is offensive to veterans and those who support them, but apparently their feelings are not looked at as being "triggered", at least enough to get the players to stop.

This is harming attendance, both at the games and on TV, which lowers advertising rates and cuts NFL revenue.  So the NFL needs the kneeling to go away, but it won't force the players to do so, because ... well, the inmates apparently do run the prison, even inmates who make a ridiculous amount of money.

So the NFL, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to put up $100 million over a period of a few years, which it will donate to, and I quote, "social justice charities."  I'm not kidding, though I wish I were.

I heard that on the news this morning and, chipmunk that I am, my first question was "which charities?"  Of course I asked that.  And needless to say, the answer was out there on the Internet, so it must be true.  According to a report on ESPN, 

"National funding would be allocated accordingly: 25 percent to the United Negro College Fund, 25 percent to Dream Corps and 50 percent to the Players Coalition, which has filed 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) paperwork for nonprofit status as a fiscally-sponsored project. This week, the coalition hired the Hopewell Fund to oversee and advise the group, which hopes to work with grassroots and nonprofit organizations in its areas of focus."

For the record, the "Dream Corps" is closely associated with Van Jones, an avowed communist who works at MSNBC.  The Players Coalition, which gets half the money, funds a number of advocacy groups also funded by George Soros, which are seriously anti-Trump and of leftist bent.

The United Negro College Fund supports Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with scholarships and financial support.  If 100% of the NFL's contributions went there, I suppose it would be OK, as long as you assume that the racial orientation of those schools does not imply any bias on the part of the NFL.

But the rest of the donations' designees are fair game for questioning.  The decision as to who gets the money was made by representatives of the players, not the players individually.  I would like to think that Alejandro Villanueva of the Steelers, a veteran himself who defied orders to stay in the locker room during one anthem to emerge and salute his flag, well, he might not be too happy with some of where that money is going.

If there has to remain, in the new tax code, a deduction for charitable contributions, the one aspect I like is that the choice is mine; I get the deduction no matter what registered charity I support.  It doesn't have to be a narrow choice of "approved" charities from Mama Government.  That's why the idea of a players' union (or any union) deciding where money is to be donated is a pretty poor situation.  "Social justice" is such an ambiguous, nebulous term, so nebulous that someone in power can use that as cover to funnel dollars to advocates of violence, such as Black Lives Matter ("BLM"), or Antifa.

By the way, I would kind of like to see them give money to BLM.  BLM always insulates itself from lawsuits by claiming it is not an organized entity.  Give them money and all of a sudden someone has to step forward and take it, after which the police organizations should have lawyers and process servers all over the recipient.

Now if I'm the NFL, first, I would tell the players that if they kneel, they're suspended for two years.  But I would also say "Sure, we'll give you $100 million over ten years for "social justice."  But it is to be allocated such that every eligible player privately designates the recipient of an equal proportion of the funds, from a list of 100 authorized charities."  That way, each player can make the allocation based on his own conscience.

That won't happen, but I won't likely know, since football is generally off my radar now, at least until the players show themselves to be patriotic Americans.

Army-Navy, real football, honest and passionate, well, that's December 9th.  My late father and father-in-law, both WWII Army vets, will be watching the game from above.

That's the football I care about now.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Christmas Music and Grinchery

Now, I don't want to be a Grinch, especially around Christmas time when people actually use the word as a pejorative.  I want people to be able to enjoy what they choose to enjoy and have a good-old time doing so.  Lots of decorations?  Great!  Sparse house with a little tree?  That's good too.  I'm easy.

But while you are enjoying yourself, you ought to have the ability not to have to endure things that are not as pleasant.  And that gets us to today's topic, a little aside into the topic of Christmas music.

Now, there has been Christmas music for hundreds of years, lumped into the broad heading of "carols", even though I don't know if there are some Christmas songs that are properly called "carols" and others that are not.  I don't care, either.  Lexicographical debates are for another time.

What I do actually care about is the execution of the songs, and in some cases I am happy to use that word in its literal, punitive sense.  Just because people know your name doesn't mean that you have the right to abuse music.

This all came to light this year, when the satellite radio company SiriusXM expanded its offering to have no fewer than four holiday-music channel choices -- classical carols, soul, contemporary and traditional.  OK, maybe they had four last year.  Matters not.  It was a great idea.

I have a car with a satellite radio, as most have these days.  We subscribed to SiriusXM years back for our cars, so in our car we have access to the channels they have, including sports, news, weather, traffic and, of course, music.  While driving around in December, we would always tune to the Christmas music channel, sometimes grumbling about the poor fidelity of the arrangements that current "artists" would feel the need to perform.

So it was very comforting to know that we could now drive around and listen to a channel with only "traditional" renderings, meaning that the singers were still singing a variety of Christmas songs, but they were by those singers we could expect to be faithful to the songs' melody and most of the words.  Lots of '50s and '60s artists -- Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Four Freshmen, but also Carpenters and other artists who held the music above themselves in importance.

We are very grateful to SiriusXM for presenting that choice to us.

However ... at home, there are days when rather than TV programming in the background, we simply run music from one of the TV music channels available on our cable service.  You know what we mean; cable services typically provide 50-100 channels of music from a service like "Music Choice", which charges the cable system a fee for carrying their programming.

And in our home, the small local cable service provides one single channel of Christmas music, among the 50 music channels that are provided from the service that they use.  For reference, DirecTV, the nationwide satellite TV company, provides about 85 channels, although in fairness only one of theirs is devoted to Christmas music, too.

So if we want to run Christmas music while decorating the tree, or looking at old pictures, or reading a book, we have that one choice, called "Sounds of the Seasons."  Now that channel does have a goodly share of what we would be happy to listen to -- the '50s and '60s singers respectfully performing classic and familiar Christmas tunes.

Unfortunately, though, mixed in is an unhealthy dose of current performers doing "current" (i.e., melodically-tortured) versions of songs we once knew.  The songs are cycled through, so on successive days you are likely to hear a given recording 2-3 times or so. 

And accordingly, we are subjected to hideous renderings, such as Beyonce's sacrilegious destruction of "Silent Night", or the utterly unlistenable, melody-free, rhythmically-challenged version of "A Little Drummer Boy" done by Wyclef Jean, or anything recorded by Justin Bieber.

Now, I get it -- there are people who say they like that stuff.  I don't know that I necessarily believe that, but I will stipulate it for the record.  What I will say, though, is that few indeed are going to be the people who can tolerate both.  The assumption by the Music Choice people appears to be that the people with actual taste will simply agree to suffer through execrable pop tarts' and rap types' recordings while waiting for the next Sinatra track, while the pop tarts' fans will hide while Bing is singing "Winter Wonderland" -- as it was written.

But few indeed are those listeners who are fans of both.  For the same reason there are 49 other channels, the providers really ought to think seriously about doing what SiriusXM has already done, and provide parallel tracks -- two channels, so that both types of fans can be satisfied 90% of the time, rather than ticked off (good Lord, but that Beyonce "Silent Night" is bad) 50% of the time.

So I'm reaching out, rather than just blogging a complaint.  I have sent a nicely-worded note (and you know I can do that) to Music Choice to propose that they follow the SiriusXM lead and add a second Christmas channel.  If anything happens, I'll let you know.

In a world where music quality is dying, as the performers all seem to elevate themselves above the work of the composer and lyricist rather than respecting them, it is a comfort to us that we could possibly enjoy Christmas music on its own merits, and not because Justin Bieber has to insert 50% note-wandering in place of written melody.  It's not about you, Biebs, it's about the music.  It's your profession, you should know better.

I'll keep you posted.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Pettiness at the Top of the Left

So ... yesterday was to be a meeting at the White House, where President Trump had invited the Senate and House leadership of both parties to sit down and try to come to an agreement on a budget deal that would prevent a government shutdown.

That invitation went to the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI), and the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-Mars, apparently), as well as the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the minority leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY).  The meeting was all set up, and was on the books.

Then, of course, President Trump tweeted out that he expected "Chuck and Nancy" (their names, last anyone looked) not to be able to reach a deal because of their insistence on opening the borders and raising taxes.  Chuck and Nancy responded by taking their ball and going home, not bothering to show up for the meeting.  "We'll work with the Senate and House Republicans", they said, instead.

Now they have not been working with congressional Republicans to date, as evidenced by the zero Democrat votes on most every bill to date, so we hardly expect that their promise will come true.  They'll go do Democrat things, which means spouting notions that never worked and are counter to the interests of American citizens.

But this grandstanding thing, with or without Trump tweets, is a pretty sad approach to governance.  Donald Trump is, after all, who he is.  Facing an almost unanimously opposition press, he tweets to let the nation know what he is thinking and expecting.  If the media were, in fact, balanced, he wouldn't have to do that, but they're not, and he does.

Now, I suppose this is a case of the leftists being all happy that Chuck and Nancy decided not to meet with the president they detest, and the Republicans pointing out that without negotiations, things don't get done.

But gee, folks, at least sit down and meet.  You were going to emerge from the meeting lying about what was discussed and agreed to, since that is what you do, but you simply look petty by not sitting down.  This is not whether you are personally offended, people, this is about what is good for the nation.  If you have differing ideas about that, you're better off sharing them with the nation and the president, not grandstanding.

That all suggests to me that Chuck and Nancy, and the Democrats in general, do not want to negotiate, they don't want to deal, and they simply have only a political bent.  If they wanted to get something done that they would be OK with, the best way is to sit down and negotiate, because whether they know it or not, they look pretty bad.

They're going to get nothing done, and I just feel that if part of the Federal government has to shut down again, Donald Trump will find a way to get the country to think that it's probably a good thing.  I already do.  And that won't smell good to the Democrats, who had a chance to have some influence.

But they don't want influence.  They want power.  And the USA took that from them last November.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Hall of Fame Logjam? Bosh!

Buster Olney is a baseball writer who writes, unfortunately, for ESPN as opposed to a medium I'm not sick of.  But Olney is certainly informed and a good writer, worth reading almost all the time.  I mean, he's almost as good as I am, in his own way, and certainly more modest.

But I digress, slightly.

This week, Olney did a piece on the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is timely in that we are about six weeks away from the announcement of the voting for the 2018 class of inductees.  There are several very worthy candidates in their first and second year of eligibility (Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman), and Olney's premise was that their presence would make it difficult for some others to be elected.

Now, let's explain the process briefly.  A player becomes eligible if he has played a certain number of years, and is also five years removed from his last appearance in the league.  The voting is done by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and in order to be voted in, a player must receive 75.0% of the votes cast, or more.  If a player does not get inducted, but is named on at least 5% of the votes cast, he can appear on the subsequent year's ballot, until he has appeared ten years (it used to be 15 years).

And -- a given writer can only vote for ten players on any one ballot.  That's serious plot material.

Olney's point was intertwined with the good old steroid issue.  There are several candidate players -- Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, of course, along with Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa and a few others -- who were heavily linked to steroid use, although I'm not here to suggest who did and who did not "use."  That's not the point.

The point is that a lot of BBWAA voters are conflicted about whether Bonds, et al., should be in the Hall of Fame at all.  They have been receiving 40-50% of the vote the past few years, which means that (A) they don't get in, and (B) they will take spots on at least half the ballots the subsequent year.

The ten-player-per-ballot rule should not be a problem, after all.  We all know that there are nowhere near as many as ten players of Hall of Fame caliber who become eligible each year.  The problem is that there are marginal candidates -- Mike Mussina, for example -- who are not overwhelmingly thought to be deserving; many vote for him but others don't see him as quite at that level.

The "steroid players" -- particularly Bonds and Clemens, but also Ramirez and possibly Sosa as well -- were all of Hall of Fame-level careers without question.  So those writers who don't believe that suspected steroid use should matter, well, they keep taking up half their ballot with those guys, year after year, and that's perfectly sound thinking.

Of course, if their ballot is full of steroid suspects, there is only enough room for the obvious new candidates -- this year Jones, Thome and then guys like Hoffman, Omar Vizquel and maybe one or two who they decide really should be in.  Bang, ten votes taken up and no room for some people Olney deems worthy, like perhaps a Curt Schilling.

Olney's solution is to increase the number of players per year that someone can vote for, but I don't really agree with that.  I'm for a smaller Hall of Fame; there are already guys in there who really don't belong in my opinion.  Then you have voters saying that, well, "if Luis Aparicio is in, then I have to vote for Vizquel because he was a better player", which is using a "better than the worst" logic I can't stand.  If you increase the number of players you can vote for, it is likely to lower the standard and increase the amount of "better than the worst" voting -- we need to decrease that.

My solution is, of course, better.  I would keep the ten-player-ballot rule and do two things.  First, I would shrink the number of years on the ballot further, so that there are only five years of eligibility.  If you are a Hall of Famer, the writers should know that, and 75% of them ought to be voting for you -- or you don't belong.  Then second, I would drastically increase the percentage required to stay on the ballot, from 5% to 50%.

These actions would serve to force the voting writers to make up their minds quicker.  When a player comes up for his first ballot after five years from his playing days, if half the voters don't think he belonged then, well, his numbers aren't going to get any better.  But if he is a legitimate candidate, he'll get the votes needed to stay on -- and it's 50%, not 5%.  It would also serve to remove the whole distinction between first-ballot Hall of Famers and others, a distinction that never made sense.

So implement my guidance and see what happens.  The clogging of the ballot that Olney decries goes away, because only newly-eligible players and those with 50% from the previous ballot are on it.  Historically, you might have 4-5 players, at most, who get 50% but are not voted in with 75%.  The past six years, it has averaged just over four in that range.

And to elaborate further, yes, last year (2017 class) there were six players who got 50% but not 75%.  However, four of them wouldn't even have been on the ballot with my rules, because in a previous year they had not reached 50%.  You see what I'm saying?  If we make the rules push us toward an early determination as to whether a player deserves to be in, not only do we eliminate the clogged-ballot problem, but we raise the standard of who belongs in, to a reasonable appraisal of a player's worth.

I think we may have a pretty crowded class this year; there are several worthy candidates who should be inducted.  The steroid guys are getting higher vote tallies each year, though they're not quite close to 75% yet (Clemens and Bonds were both at about 54%, for both, their first year over 50%).  Really, I believe my approach would be widely appreciated and even the writers would grudgingly approve, at least after a few pointed articles.

I've been to the Hall of Fame a couple times in my life.  I don't expect to get there again, but I highly recommend visiting it if you have not been there and to its companion Baseball Museum, both in Cooperstown, NY.  It's a pilgrimage.

We just need to have the right people in there.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, November 27, 2017

All I Want for Christmas is Tax Reform

That's not actually too far from the truth.  I'd like long-term assignments at work (I'm independent, after all), and maybe a winning lottery ticket, but the former being routine and the latter being a bit of a pipe dream, I'll take tax reform.

Now what constitutes effective tax reform is a whole 'nother thing.  After all, if you look at the 70,000-odd small-print pages of the tax code now, and then you look at the Senate Republicans' version of the reform that has been leaked out, well, it looks like it's just a bit of a different presentation of the existing code.

I want something real -- and I expect that President Trump wants that, too.  And I also expect that the House leadership on the Republican side is pretty much on board with real reform.  But could we possibly try to get something that is going to achieve what is needed?  I'm not sure.

What is needed, by the way?  Well, it starts with simplification.  The two polar opposite approaches are (A) what we have now, a steaming pile of legislative elk dung, and (B) a completely flat tax system as described in this brilliant essay from 2014.  If we are not leaving the current system in place, and we don't think we can get a completely flat system, purged of spaghetti code, then at least we have a right to keep pushing the reform bill to the flat side of that scale.

Remember that taxation is not based on a notion of fairness; its purpose -- which we often forget -- is to generate the amount of revenue needed to fund the Constitutionally-approved functions of the Federal government.  "Fairness" is not part of that equation, although "unfairness" is not particularly welcome, either (the problem with "fairness" in an income tax is that you can't cut rates for people who aren't paying anything).

The income tax generates a gargantuan percentage of those revenues, of course.  And if you taxed income at 100%, no one would bother to work.  If you taxed income at 0%, no revenue would be generated.  So there is an obvious balancing point, a rate that would be high enough that it would actually produce revenue, but low enough that it would not disincentivize working.

I would be thrilled if Congress started with a simple, two-parameter system, X and Y.  The first X dollars are taxed at a rate of zero, and every dollar above X is taxed at Y%.  I would think that X should be about $25,000, and Y should be about 17%.  Obviously those two figures are dials that can be turned a bit to approach that peak tax revenue outcome; and it makes little sense to gauge an outcome by looking at applying those parameters to a recent year's income pattern because of the huge impact a flat tax would have on the economy in general.

But I don't want to get too much into proposals and philosophy, as much as I want to talk spectrum.  There is a spectrum, from the hyper-complex, spaghetti-code version we have now, all the way to a simple, flat, two-parameter, back-of-the-postcard version that puts H&R Block out of business.

And I want every stinking Congressman from both Houses to start with the latter end of that spectrum, and determine that he or she will support only a bill that is far, far over toward the flat side of the scale.  Anything -- any provision that moves away from that side by subsidizing this or penalizing that, well, that has to be justified and the standard has to be astronomically high to put it in the bill.

I want it to stop, the idiocy that tax provisions influence what we do.  Don't incentivize me to get married, or to have kids, or take out a mortgage, or to donate to charity.  Let me decide that based on the exigency of my own circumstance and not the tax code (for the record, though, I am married, have kids, have a mortgage and donate to charity).

The government will find that after a few years it can pay for those Constitutionally-mandated Federal roles just fine, especially if the Federal role is reduced to just the Constitutionally mandated one, of course.

I'd rather have that for Christmas than a tie.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, November 24, 2017

On Our Neighbors' Watch

My best girl and I live on a small street in a "planned community" in the Carolinas.  As we've chronicled here, when not off on any of the various topics that distract me from my actual living, the area is a very "under-construction" one, such that on our street, the longest-term residents have been  here barely a year.  About ten homes, mostly couples, are occupied, and several more are soon to be.

When we got here last March, one of the first things we did was to host a party for the seven couples already resident on the street.  All showed, and we had a great time.  As I have also written in these pages, we have life stories, and since hardly any of the couples really knew each other all that well yet, a lot of fun was had by all in trying to learn about each other.

I'll be honest.  One of the reasons we threw the party that soon was to start something.  I have always maintained that if you want to have good neighbors, the easiest way is to be one yourself -- first.

We moved into a home in Virginia in 1999 in a similarly new street, with mostly people who had just built there.  Shortly after we moved, we had a snowstorm that dumped maybe a foot of snow on the place.  I took out my trusty snowblower I had just bought, and plowed out my driveway and the sidewalk in front of my house.  Since my snowblower was bought at the end of the previous winter in a clearance, it was pretty big -- the only one left in that sale -- and the job didn't take long.

I looked at the snow on the neighbors' driveways and figured that maybe not all of them had snowblowers.  So I just continued down the block a couple houses on each side of the street, and cleared their driveways and sidewalks too.  Took very little time.

It was morning, early, so I never actually saw any of the neighbors.  To this day I wonder if any of them knew who had done their driveways after that storm.  But for the 17 years we lived there, it was the nicest street.  People did for one another and became acquaintances, if not friends.  We were a bit older than some of the neighbors, and younger than others.  We didn't have kids in the house either, so we didn't have that much in common with any of them on a fairy heterogeneous street.

But we were all nice to each other and never had an issue.  We put a sprinkler system in after a year or so, and because of a misreading of the plat, the sprinkler heads on one side turned out to be on the neighbor's property.  It could have been a huge deal, but we just laughed about it, and Ed, the neighbor, sort of thanked me for watering six inches of his lawn.

Cut to 2017.  We hoped the party we held this summer would start a social relationship among the little sub-community here.  There certainly have been a lot of knock-on-the-door visits up and down the street, and it seemed to have gotten a little traction when one of the wives held a block gathering of the ladies last month, and four of the "abandoned" husbands played golf together.

Then this week we got an invitation that made me smile.  One of the couples on the block will be hosting a party for the street for everyone.  We'll all be there, I'm sure, and I believe we have cracked the ice socially, ice that was pretty thin to begin with.

Surely this will recur frequently.  And my best girl and I (OK, she did the work) just delivered fresh-baked pumpkin bread up and down the street for Thanksgiving, still trying to do our part.

Why does this even matter, you ask?  Because I believe that neighborhoods are what you make of them.  Our neighbors in the coming years will need us, and surely we will need them.  Not just in emergencies and for favors, mind you, but because a sense of community is a rock that blesses humankind.  We are not hermits, we are social beings.

We have friends, and on this day after Thanksgiving, I find that it is yet another thing I am most thankful for.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks Today

For surviving another year ...

For the continued health of my family ...

For a new home and the capacity to provide it for my wife and me ...

For the family who will visit soon ... enough

For friends and an amazing new "family" of neighbors ...

For a leader in the White House, finally ...

For Your guidance, and the strength to take it ... though not as often as I should

For you, the readers, and for enough things to write about that I can scratch that itch.

Bless You, Lord, for all you give us.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dancing with the Wrong Stars

Last night was the final episode of the latest cycle of "Dancing with the Stars", a TV show that matches professional ballroom dancers with celebrities of various levels on the alphabet-list.  The pairs do actual ballroom-based routines each week, with one couple dropped each week until a winner is crowned.

Last night the winner was a young man named Jordan Fisher, a Broadway actor, singer and dancer (mind that, please) whom I had never heard of before the competition.  He appeared in the Broadway production of Hamilton, which I had heard of, of course, but outside New York the recognition of Broadway types drops off dramatically until it approaches "Say who?" by the time it gets down to the Carolinas.

I was disappointed for the show that he won.  Not for the young man, who appears to be an extremely nice fellow, humble, likable and obviously immensely talented.  He was clearly -- too clearly -- the most talented dancer of the dozen or so celebrities who started the competition months back.

But as one judge said in the first week, and I'll paraphrase but approximate what she said -- "No one should be this good the first week."  Exactly.  That's the point.

You probably have seen the show, but in case you don't know the basics, here goes quickly.  "Ballroom" is a formal branch of dance, with specific rules for each dance -- waltz, cha-cha, rumba, quickstep, etc. -- that must be followed in competition so that the dance is legit.  The professional partners choreograph about a 90-second routine, around the assigned dance with the assigned music, each week.

The couples perform, and three judges give scores on a 10-point scale.  The total of all points to all competitors are added, and (behind the scenes) a couple is given a score that is the percentage of their points, to the total points given out.  For a day or two after the show airs, people vote in from the Internet and phone, and all those votes are added.  A couple is given a score that is the percentage that their audience vote total is, of the total of all votes for everyone.  The judge-percentage score and the audience-percentage score are added, and the lowest number gets the couple booted off on the next show.

So ... who are the celebrities, and why am I writing this?  Well, the "why" depends on why you think the show even exists.  Remember what the proper answer is to almost any question that starts with "Why"?  I'll remind you.  "FTM" ... "Follow the money."  So any notion of fairness or suitability pales before the fact that DWTS, the show itself, is there to sell advertising and earn dollars.

Here's the problem for a lot of us, and certainly for me.  The attraction of the show is that the celebrities are (supposedly) not dancers, they are athletes or singers or actors, skaters, governors, writers, an astronaut here and there, a disproportionate number of Disney kids (Disney owns ABC, the network on which DWTS airs), and YouTube "sensations."  It is attractive to us as viewers not just to see them bumble around the stage Week One, as they try to learn choreographed ballroom routines, but as they improve over the weeks of the show.

I'm only I; I can't tell you why you do or don't watch the show.  But to me, the journey is fascinating.  Drew Scott of Property Brothers fame was on this year, and he was as graceful as an old mill horse at the start.  He survived somehow to the final week, and while he didn't ever become a marvelous ballroom dancer, he got a heck of a lot better by the end.  That, friends, was fun to watch.

What was not fun, though, was watching Jordan Fisher.  It should have been fun -- a great talent, a nice kid, and all.  But you got the sense early on that he simply didn't belong there, as if it were the case of a professional operating in a higher league, Nolan Ryan pitching to Little Leaguers.  Here was a young man whose profession includes singing and dancing on Broadway.  What was the thinking that he should compete in this?

"Sure", I hear you remind me, "Ballroom is different."  Well, yes, it is.  But at a certain level of capability in the profession, learning ballroom routines for a Broadway star is no different from learning the choreography for a new show, except having to avoid improvising aspects (like the hold and the footwork) that are specific to each dance.  Jordan Fisher already was at that level.  So while here was a trained entertainer with a strong background, the others are not paid to dance as part of their living.

I started to feel this way some years back when Kristi Yamaguchi, the Olympic figure skating champion, also won.  Figure skaters are trained in what are essentially dance routines, and they start really young.  She was competing with people like Penn Jillette, Steve Guttenberg, Adam Carolla and Priscilla Presley.  She was amazing from the start.  Was it a surprise at the end?  Not much.

In this season's case, only two things were going to happen.  Fisher was going to win, in which case it was a foregone conclusion for three months that took the starch out of the competitive interest in the show (i.e., what keeps men interested).  Or, he was not going to win, in which case the winner would have to have been someone markedly less of a dancer, turning the competition into a popularity contest that it shouldn't be.

I could really appreciate Dancing with the Stars a lot more if a bit more thought went into balancing the selection of contestants.  Granted, you run out of B-listers eventually, but either way, it is still a competition show, and if the competition is rather uneven from the first week because someone is, you know, a professional already, it de-starches the premise.

I imagine that I'm ultimately asking for poorer-dancing "Stars", and yes, that's probably right.  It's the journey, after all, a celebrity convincing the judges and voters that you are going to get better, you're going to improve and work hard.  That ballroom is important to you while you're in the competition.  That's my winner, I think.

It's not the Broadway star with a 50-mile head start.

Copyright 2017 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.